11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (James 4:11–12, NKJV).
God’s prophet gives us a plain warning not to speak evil of one another. “Speak evil” translates the Greek word katalaleo, “to be a traducer, i.e. to slander:–speak against (evil of)” (Strong’s Greek #2635). Words that belittle, defame, and libel other Christians (or anyone, for that matter) are sins against brethren, against God, and His law. James does not negate the accurate, appropriate judging of sin. For example, the apostle Paul said we judge unrepentant Christians (“those who are inside”) by applying corrective discipline and putting away the evil person from ourselves (1 Cor. 5:12-13). James is condemning unrighteous judgments that are void of divine truth. He addresses and exposes the sinful “wars and fights” that arise among Christians in this context (James 4:1). Divisive, factious words and actions are worldly and prideful (James 4:1-6). We “become judges with evil thoughts” when we quickly think the worst, grumble and complain against one another, and show partiality in our treatment of one another (James 2:4, 12-13; 5:9). We become the law or standard by which we judge others. James cautions us to remember God is the Lawgiver to whom we are all answerable. He saves and destroys; therefore, we give place to His judgments. Let us not become judges of one another to our destruction.
2 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; 3 meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, 4 that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. (Colossians 4:2–6, NKJV)
Paul urged Christians to rely on the power of prayer and divine providence to spread the gospel. Thankful hearts are alert to blessings from God’s hand (v. 2). Trusting in God’s foresight and provisions, we pray for open doors (access, opportunity) for God’s word to reach hearts and lives. We pray for those who walk through those doors and teach others (3). Paul relied on brethren praying for him. Although in prison, he yearned for their prayers so that he (and they) would use wisdom in speaking the gospel to the lost. While God opens doors for the gospel, we must be wise, prudent, and gracious in choosing our words. Time is precious, so use it properly. Doors of spiritual opportunity are too often closed by impulsive words and unwise actions. So, let us work on aligning our motive (“to answer each one”) with well-placed, gracious words of truth. When we do, we trust God will work through us for His glory (Phil. 2:12-13).
Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:26, NKJV)
The world hates those who follow Jesus. If you think that language is too strong, please recall it is Jesus who said it: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). Everyone who practices evil hates the light of truth because it exposes their sin (John 3:19-20). When you obey truth its light shines brightly, and the world of darkness hates you for it (John 3:21). Those practicing sin will speak evil of you for not joining them in their sins (1 Peter 4:4, 12-14). If you are more concerned with what people think about you than with what the Lord thinks of you, then you fall under the “woe” Jesus pronounced in today’s verse. People will speak well of you when they know your life and words will not expose their sins. If that is the case, then you are not being the light of the world (Matthew 5:16). “Take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35). Resolve to please God, no matter what people say about you (Galatians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 5:9).
If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11, NKJV)
We ought not think that God will automatically accept whatever we say and do in worship and service to Him. Our teaching must be according to the utterances of God. God inspired the Scriptures, and what we say and teach to others must conform to them – the “pattern of sound words” given by the apostles and prophets of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 1:13). Our worship must be “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Our service to God will be “acceptable to God” when it agrees with the “perfect will of God” that He has given us in His word (Rom. 12:1-2; Jas. 1:22-25). By conforming to the revelation of God, our words and our service will honor Jesus Christ, not ourselves. Since Jesus possesses glory and the sovereignty to rule over us, He deserves nothing less than our full strength and vigilance to only speak and follow His word.
34 “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” (Matthew 12:34–35, NKJV)
Our heart is the source of our words, expressing what is in our heart. Jesus is quite emphatic that good words do not proceed from an evil heart. Conversely, a good heart does not speak evil things. We deceive ourselves if we think we can speak evil things and yet lay claim to having a good heart. So, we must “either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit” (Matt. 12:33). Be careful of the words you speak. They define who you are. Your heart is known by your words, and by them you either will be justified or condemned in the day of judgment (Matt. 12:36-37).
17 “But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” 18 So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:17–20)
The gospel of Jesus was spreading in Jerusalem, and the Jewish rulers could not deny the notable miracles being worked by Peter and John (Acts 4:4, 15-16). So, they threatened them in a vain attempt to silence their message. Enemies of the cross of Christ continue to intimidate those who speak the truth about sin, righteousness and the judgment to come. Threats against Christians who speak and live their faith are on the rise. Do not be afraid of their threats. Their tactic of intimidation exposes their cowardice. Continue to live your faith and boldly speak the truth, fearing God rather than men.