Why We Wound Others with Our Words, Part 1
From the series Five Lies that Ruin Relationships
Gossip, slander, rumors, lies, we’ve all felt the sting of wounding words - and truthfully, we’ve delivered a few ourselves. In this message, Chip shares how to begin controlling our words and how to respond when we are wounded by the words of others.
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About this series
Five Lies that Ruin Relationships
Wrong Beliefs Produce Wrong Behavior
Have you ever looked back over a situation or relationship in your life and wondered how it became so messy or difficult? In the series from the book of James, Five Lies that Ruin Relationships, we'll define five of the most common lies that have the potential to ruin relationships with those we love. We'll also uncover the source of quarreling, how our words wound, and how not to make decisions. And together, we'll ask and answer the question: do wrong beliefs produce wrong behavior? We will discover that when we confront the lies we believe, there is power in knowing and applying God's truth to our relationships.More from this series
Few things have the power to ruin a relationship like critical, accusing, defaming, hostile, inaccurate, and even slanderous words. Think about that. Few things, in all the world, have the power to literally destroy, or ruin, a relationship like critical, accusing, defaming, hostile, inaccurate, or even slanderous words.
And if you’re wondering about whether that’s really true or not, let me ask you a few questions. Has anyone ever said anything about you that was untrue, misinformed, negative, judgmental? Has anyone ever communicated something behind your back, and you found out about it, that they wouldn’t say to your face? Anyone been critical of you? Anyone said something to another person that questioned your motives, your integrity, your character?
Has that ever happened to anybody in here? It sure has to me. Now, here’s the next question: How did it make you feel?
So, James chapter 4 – we’re going to look at verses 11 and 12. And listen to what James says. He says, “Brothers, do not slander one another.” That’s a command. Now, he’s going to give a reason, “Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the Law and judges it.” And now he’s going to make some logical deductions. “When you judge the Law, you’re not keeping it, but you’re sitting in judgment on it.”
And then, verse 12, he’s going, “Well, wait a second. You’ve got the wrong job description.” “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But you” – put a circle around the little phrase but you, because everything, so far, is in the second person plural.
He’s talking to the Church, the Church, the Church, “Brothers, brothers …” In fact, in this translation, it says “one another.” Literally, in the text, it’s, “Brothers, when you do this against one another” – the idea is in general, but it’s “brothers.”
And then, now, “but you” is singular. He is now shifting from, “This is a problem.” Literally, the translation could be, “Stop slandering one another.” It’s in the present tense, so, habitually, this was occurring in this church. He says, “Stop doing it.”
And then, now, that’s in general. Now the “but you” is singular. “Who are you” – individual – “to judge your neighbor?”
Now, to get the spirit of it – I like circles and boxes. In verse 11, put a box in your notes around the word brother. Put a box around the phrase one another. Then, skip down to the next line, put a box around the word brother. And then, go all the way to the bottom, and put a box around the word neighbor.
There are only two verses. But do you see that this is of a highly relational context, that this happens among people who are committed, and ought to be loving and caring for one another? “Brother, brother, brother, neighbor.” And when he talks about the “Royal Law” – remember in Leviticus, when Jesus was asked, “What is the greatest of all the commands?” And He talks about loving your – who? – as yourself? “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now, there are three strong verbs, so I want you to put a line under the word slander, and then I want you to put a line under the phrase speaks against that happens in the second line, and then another line under speaks against.
So, the issue he is talking about has to do with brothers, neighbors, and relationships. And then, he’s going to use the word slander, and then he’s going to use this word speaking against: kata – “down; against; to tear down” – laleō – the idea of, “to say, or to speak.”
And then, the final thing I want you to do – you’re going to have to figure out whether a box or a circle is going to work – is, I just want you to notice – maybe you could put a number. This concept – he goes, “Brothers, slander,” then, notice, in the second, “who judges him.”
“Judge” – put a number “one” over that. “Judges it” – put a number “two” over that. “When you judge” – number three – “the Law, you’re not keeping it, but you’re sitting in judgment” – put a “four” under that one. “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge” – put a “five” underneath that, and skip to the very end, and put a “six” under, “Who are you to judge?”
Now, basically what we’ve learned are basic Bible study skills. Bible study skills – you want to observe, What’s really going on? What does it say? Then, after you do the observations, What does it mean? And then, you ask, What does it mean to me?
And so, the context – we know, brother, brother, brother, neighbor. It’s a relational context. We know it has to do with our speech, because it’s slander, speak against, speak against. And then, we know there’s something having to do with the Law, but the emphasis has to do with judging. We are judging in a way that is inappropriate, and this text is going to teach us that there is only one true Judge. Is that fair, from what the Bible actually says there? See, you’re just learning Bible study methods.
Now, let’s break it down together. As I studied this passage, the first outline point for me is, it’s clear that we’re commanded to stop tearing one another down by our slanderous speech. That’s what he’s saying. If you summarized the command, he’s saying, “Stop” – because it’s happening – “tearing one another down by your slanderous speech.”
And you say, “Well, what is slanderous speech?” The word slander means “to say something untrue,” and that’s a decent translation. It’s maybe not the very best translation, because this word is a little bit more than slander.
Slander is when I say something about someone that’s untrue. This word, however, has the idea that I could say something that’s true, but my tone of voice, or my motives, I say something that’s is true, but my real goal is, when I get done saying it, you think less of the person.
You know how we can say something true about a person, but you say it in such a way that, “Well, I mean, for someone with that kind of attitude, or from that kind of family background, and with all the other issues they have, you know, you understand.” Right?
The word speak against, here, is a compound word. It literally means “to tear down; to say something negative about another person that leaves the impression that this person is less than, than when you began to speak about them.”
And so, it is the speaking down, the tearing down, the defaming. There’s a spirit of criticism. It’s the idea of fault-finding. It would include gossip. And it often has the connotation of saying these things when the other person is not around.
If you wanted to summarize the idea of what it means to not have slanderous speech, it’s when anything comes out of my mouth about another person, and when I get done talking, you think less of him, instead of more of him. That’s what is being prohibited. When anything comes out of your mouth – and you’re talking about your boss, your neighbor, your pastor, your friend – and when you get done speaking, the person who is hearing has a lower or more negative view of that person, James says, “Stop it.” Strong command. Is that clear?
The second question is: how is slanderous speech commonly practiced? Is this just something that happened in the first century, or does that happen here? And I’m going to give you three quick examples.
For me, there’s first-degree slander, second-degree slander, and third-degree slander. First-degree slander happens in normal conversation. You don’t even mean it. It’s not willful; it’s not intentional. It’s a coffee break, it’s around the office cooler, it’s in the car, it’s around the dinner table. And it often happens as you’re in the car, driving from a worship service.
And just in casual conversation, you say things about another person. And, by the way, here’s the deal. We’re going to see this in a minute. This is so commonplace among Christians. This is so a part of how we think, and how we operate. It’s not like we see something terrible, and we go, “Oh, I can’t believe I did that!” We do this so unconsciously, when we’re doing it, most of the times – and everyone else does it – we don’t even see it as a big deal.
“Well, you know what – I don’t know about you, what did you think?” “Oh, gosh, the music today, it was really loud. It was really loud. And do you really think it’s appropriate to wear a pink shirt with purple polka dots, and lead worship? And did you see Ethel up there?” “Yeah, that blue dress, someone has to tell her that blue dress just doesn’t make it with her figure. You know?”
And, “What do you think?” “I don’t know, five minutes long again. I thought we were supposed to get out on time. I don’t know…” “Who picks out the colors for these hallways? Why are we spending all the money on…?” And, “You know the elders? I don’t know what’s with these guys, but they are so insensitive to…” Just common conversation in the car.
“I can’t believe our boss. He didn’t ask my opinion, and then here – did you sit in that meeting? Did you see what he said? Did you see how he said it? That PowerPoint presentation – my fifth-grade daughter could make a better one than that.” Just in normal conversation.
Second-degree slander is in the form of prayer requests. Oooooh. Someone walks up, and it usually starts with, “I really shouldn’t say anything.” By the way, when someone says that, a good answer is, “Then don’t.”
It starts out with, “I really shouldn’t say anything, but so that you can pray – and please don’t pass this on – but Bob and Judy need prayer.” “Oh, really? Why?” “Well, they’re having troubles, you know. I mean, ever since their son that had the drug problem – oh, you didn’t know about the drug problem? Well, you can pray about that, too.”
So, in the form of a prayer request, we say things to people that – do they pray? I hope so. But their evaluation of that person goes down a number of notches.
First-degree is normal conversation. Second-degree slander is in the form of prayer requests. Third-degree slander, for me, is under the guise of getting help with a problem relationship.
I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, I’ve actually done this one on multiple occasions, I’m ashamed to say. And this is when you have a real problem situation. It’s often in the church. It can be in a family situation. This happens all the time in work situations.
If there’s going to be a big breakdown with which part of the church is going to be for this pastor, and which is going to be against; if it’s a family situation, and it’s a mother-in-law, and it could divide the family, then what I want to make sure is, everyone understands how lily-pure I am and, “In light of all the different things she’s done with all the other kids, over time, and when she did come out of rehab, she probably still had some things she was struggling with. But I believe people need good psychological treatment. She’s had years of it. So, I don’t know, maybe it’s a relapse! Of course, on the medication that she’s on, it’s probably not her fault. It’s probably an adverse reaction. She’s just having a bad day. And if I took that many pills, then I would probably react that way, as well.” And it’s called “third-degree slander.” And James says, “Stop it.”
So, why do even sincere Christians – and this is the deal – why do sincere Christians get caught in the web of speaking against each other? How could this happen to people who love God? And I’ll give you two reasons.
Reason number one is, this is where I think we buy the lie. And when it comes to relationships, it’s very subtle, but here’s the lie I think that we believe: If other people would shape up, my life would work out. I have a conflict with my wife, a conflict with my boss, a conflict with one of my kids, a conflict in a church situation, and, underneath, it’s a very subtle lie: If this person would shape up, if they would just stop doing this, and start doing this; if they would just start doing this, and stop doing that, things would be fine!
The problem is the other person. And so, what I have to do is, I have to slant it in such a way that I say words that put them down, and words that put me up, so that others can really see what the real situation is so that person can change.
See, the problem is the other person. “The problem is my boss. It’s not me!” “The problem is my wife. It’s not me!” “The problem is my – after all we’ve done for our son – he’s seventeen years old, and he’s doing this. The problem isn’t us! We’re great, loving, amazing parents! It’s him!” “The problem isn’t me. It’s that pastor!” Or, “The problem isn’t me, the pastor; it’s that church!”
So, we think it’s the other person’s problems, and we share things with other people, like, “Well, you know, my husband, being as insensitive as he is, he’s just not meeting my needs.” And you share that with a person of the opposite sex to get sympathy. And that’s how bad things go.
Or, “You know, my wife, I don’t know, it’s her family background. You’ve got to understand. But all she does is, she is nagging, and criticizing, and, my lands, I don’t even feel like going home anymore.” All the while, the wheels are turning, and there are hurts, and issues.
Or, “It’s my boss. It’s his lack of compassion. It’s his lack of skill. He just doesn’t have expertise to do the job.” Do you see? The problem is the other person. “It’s the elders – they’re not sensitive.” “It’s the pastor – he’s got hang-ups. He’s not accessible.”
And so, what we do, unconsciously – and, by the way, I’m not saying you do it willfully. I’m saying unconsciously there’s a lie, and the lie is, there is interpersonal conflict, or there is a problem, and you unconsciously zoom to the solution: If that person would shape up, then things would get better. And if that’s the assumption, you will find things coming out of your mouth that push them down and position you up.
And you say, “Well, why would I do that?” I’ll give you my reasons of why I do it. And if they fit, you can wear them, and if they’re too convicting, you can wear them later.
When I find myself doing this, it’s to cast blame, and avoid responsibility. When I do this, I often find myself, what I’m really doing is justifying my behavior, because if I’m part of the problem, then I have to deal with some of my stuff.
Often, when I do this, people have hit home, and I’m afraid I’m going to be rejected, and the best defense is often a good offense. So, if you’re afraid that you’re going to be rejected, what you do is, you put down the other person first. I’ve found it very effective, by the way.
Fourth, I find myself doing this to mask my insecurity. I’ll tell you, your life will get a lot better if you can just realize everyone on the planet is desperately insecure, and they just figure out creative ways to mask it, like you do, and like I do. I don’t care how old they get, how mature they get, how well they know the Lord – we all make progress – we’re desperately insecure people.
The final thing that I find myself is, I do this to get other people on my side. If I see a storm cloud brewing, and there are going to be real problems, I unconsciously begin to drop little nuggets that speak down, that are critical, that put down, that show people in a negative light, so that I will be seen in a positive light, so when the conflict comes, in my mind, in my flesh, somehow I’ll come out of it a little bit better.
Now, I hope none of those are your situation, but if any of those happen to be things that you’ve ever done – I think that’s why it has become common in Christian circles.
Notice, what do you have circled in your notes? Brother, one another, brother, neighbor. What do you have underlined? Don’t slander, don’t speak against, don’t speak against. Apparently, it’s happening.
So, the first reason, I think, we get caught up, we buy the lie.
And the second is just the perverse appetite we have for information. Proverbs 26:22 says, “Gossip is so tasty; how we love to swallow it.”