What is the Meaning of James 4.11-12

“Don’t Speak Against Others”

James 4:11-12

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 4.11-12

James 4. An assassin… in our culture the very word evokes feelings of suspense, evil, espionage, and murder. Assassin …the word has been used in countless movies, video games, and TV shows.

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One of the most exciting assassination attempts and maybe the earliest in all of literature is found in the book of Judges, one of my favorite Bible stories. Ehud was commissioned by the Israelites to rescue them from the power of the Moabites.

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The Israelites commissioned Ehud to assassinate Eglon, the king of Moab. The Moabites had conquered the Israelites and they devised a plan to come out from underneath their power. Ehud is to give a gift to Eglon. So the lefthanded Ehud binds a sword on his right thigh under his cloak. He and those who are carrying the large gift go to Eglon to present it to him. And the author of Judges notes that the king Eglon was a very fat man.

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Ehud then escorts the gift carriers to Gilgal, but he himself goes back to the king. And he says to the king, “I have something special for O king.” And the obese king Eglon tells everyone to leave the room.

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Then Ehud approaches the king. They are now all alone in the cool roof chamber. And Ehud says, “I have something from God for you.” And King Eglon rises from his seat … and Ehud stretches out his left hand and takes the sword from his right thigh and thrusts it into his belly …

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And then the daring escape with the Mission Impossible theme playing the background…. He locks the door of the roof chamber to buy him some time before someone finds the body and then … he escapes, probably through, shall we say, a specially designed hole in the floor. For all the gruesome details you can consult Judges chapter 3…, but an Ehud was an assassin, he killed a political figure for the sake of gaining freedom for the Israelites.

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And in James 4 this morning, James talks about assassination…character assassination. The defaming or slander of others, especially Christians. Malacious evil speaking that brings down other people, and destroys their reputation.

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Let’s read James 4:11-12…

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James 4:11–12 11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

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Just like a sword can be used to assassinate someone, so also your speech can be used to assassinate someone’s character. “Do not speak against one another, brethren.”

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  1. The Command: Do not Speak Against Christians (v.11a)

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Now, if I say to someone else that you cheated on your taxes and it wasn’t true, that’s wrong, it’s called slander. Or if I say that a restaurant is putting dog meat in their tacos and they aren’t, that’s slander. I could be sued for that. That’s illegal in the eyes of man.

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But what’s illegal in eyes of God is simple speaking against someone. James goes beyond just slander. James forbids any speech that in effect runs down another person, even if it is true. Any speech that has as its purpose to put down others is wrong, even if it’s true!

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So of course you should never lie against anyone to ruin their reputation. That’s slander. You should never slander anyone. You should never lie against someone… That’s one of the 10 Commandments Exodus 20:16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

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That’s easy; and easily agreed upon. But James says that we also must not speak in such a way that’s intended to make another person look bad, even if it’s true. … but we understand that there are times when you must say things about someone else that are true and that hurt their reputation.

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For example, if someone is in the grip of some sin and you go to them and call them to repentance and they refuse to repent. What do you do? Well, Matthew 18 tells you to go and get one or two more people and then confront that brother again about his sin.

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In order for those two other people to come with you to go confront that other brother about his sin requires that you tell them about this brother’s sin. This is loving confrontation that’s intended to help the sinner.

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That’s not what James is talking about here. What James is talking about is speaking negatively about somebody else for the express purpose that their reputation is harmed. Or speaking against another believer in daily conversation, just simply stating facts that are bad about someone else…not so that you can go confront them, but just to talk about them negatively for whatever reason. “Boy does she have a lot to work on!”

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It is very easy for us not to lie about someone to ruin their reputation, but it’s much more difficult to make sure that we are not assassinating somebody’s character with true information, either to their face or behind their back.

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ILL: On a voyage, the mate of the ship, yielding to a temptation, became drunk. He had never been drunk before on the long voyage. The captain entered in the log of the ship the record for the day: “Mate drunk today.” When the mate read this entry he implored the captain to take it out of the record! “Sir” he cried, “when the owners of the ship read it, I’ll be fired!” And the captain well knew that this was his first offense. But the captain refused to change the record and said to the mate, “This is the fact, and into the log it goes.”

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Some days afterward, the mate was keeping the log; and after he had given the latitude and longitude, the run for the day, the wind and the sea, he made this entry: “Captain sober today.” The indignant captain protested when he read the record, declaring that it would leave a false impression in the minds of the owners of the vessel. They’d think that it was an unusual thing for him to be sober.

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But the mate answered as the captain answered him, “This is the fact, and into the log it goes.”[1] It was true, but it was a bad thing to say because it falsely harmed the captain’s reputation.

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Proverbs 22:1 A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold.” A good name is to be more desired than great wealth … In other words, someone’s reputation is more important in this life than great wealth! And for you to bring that person down with your words to someone else … that’s taking something quite valuable from him. Protecting people’s reputation is protecting their greatest asset. Protect, actively protect people’s reputation.

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Again, there’s a difference of course with this and say warning someone else about a false teacher who has denied their only master and Lord. There’s a difference between doing that and you telling all your husband’s faults to your girlfriends.

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And for Christians, we have all the more reason not to speak against each other. By our very nature, those who are born again are growing. When someone has repented of their sin by the blood of Christ and he’s been cleansed by God, washed freely …

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…and God has saved them and given them a new nature…there is a desire to grow… And he or she is aware of their faults. And is thus seeking to overcome them.

… and to bring up their faults either to their face or to somebody else behind their back just for the sake of conversation… that is in direct violation of God’s word. Protect people’s reputation…

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You would then be a fault finder. We need to remember what James told us back in chapter 2 verse 13 you could flip there real quick … James 2:13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy…

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What happens when we are critical, faultfinding, and we tear down the reputation of others and assassinate their character… When we do that we are being judgmental and not merciful.

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And turn quickly to Matthew 7…Matthew 7:1 is a favorite verse of some people…Jesus is really condemning a critical, hypocritical judgmental attitude in this verse…

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…Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Now that’s an often abused verse!

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Jesus is not saying you shouldn’t make a judgment call. In fact a little later on in the passage, look at Matt 7:16, Jesus says, “you shall know them by their fruits.”

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In other words, people’s personal lives indicate whether they are true disciples of Jesus or not. If the person desires to live in adultery or is known as a drunkard and loves living like this, it’s clear that that person is not saved. It’s not me judging them; but it’s me making a judgment call based on the revealed truth of Scripture.

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Jesus is not condemning knowing people by their fruits when He says, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”

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When the captain in our story logged the drunkenness of the mate, that was his responsibility. He had to put that in there. That wasn’t wrong; he wasn’t ‘judging’ the mate and the captain wasn’t doing that to be mean to the mate; he was simply doing his job.

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So when Jesus says do not judge so that you will not be judged, he isn’t condemning making judgments, but he’s condemning that judgmental and critical spirit. He is condemning the spirit that says, “Here, let me take that twig out of your eye…but the whole time, you’ve got a 2×4 in your own eye! You are being judgmental, critical, and a hypocrite. You’re running down that guy’s reputation speaking against him, but the whole time you’ve got problems yourself!

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That’s what Jesus is condemning. And that’s what James is condemning … he says do not speak evil against others.

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APP: So when you criticize your spouse…. or you call your mom “mean”… or when you bring your coworkers down to make yourself look good …or you gossip and spread facts that hurt the reputation of another believer … this is wrong! It’s sin.

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APP: Why do people do this? Perhaps they’ve hurt you and you are getting revenge. Perhaps you esteem yourself so much you can’t believe how unspiritual other people are… And you are like that Pharisee…

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…‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.’

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And it feels good when you can make other people feel below you either in their skills or with her character … And you enjoy when other people sin or make mistakes…or suffer some fall into sin… Because it makes you look more spiritual and to whisper that sinfully delicious morsel although true….and you whisper that to another … that just boosts your ego…

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Proverbs 18:8 The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.

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I think we need to be more aware of this kind of thing. I’ve done it and I know you’ve done it, too. I’ve heard it from close friends and I’ve been spoken evil against in my life as well.

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Do not speak against others …James says … back to James 4….

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TRANS: This can’t be that big of a deal, cannot it? I mean I don’t lie when I speak negatively about others…, so it can’t be that bad… “I mean come on, what I just said was the truth!” … No, negative speaking that runs others’ reputation into the ground is sin.

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And James presses the weight of the issue and why this is really bad… first … it’s evil because when you speak evil like this, you judge the law and fail to practice the law

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  1. Reason #1: You judge the law and fail to do the law (v.11b)
    1. If you speak against a believer, you judge the law

      Don’t speak against others because when you do you actually are making yourself a judge of the law and you are failing to practice the law.

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      James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. …why? Keep going … Because he who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.

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      So don’t speak against others because if you speak against others, you actually judge the law.

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      EXP: What does he mean that when you speak critically against others, that you judge the law?

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      Well, let’s first talk about how this breaks the law of God. Obviously, when you speak evil of others, you are breaking the law of God. When you assassinate somebody’s character and bring down their esteem in the eyes of others… You are breaking God’s law.

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      What law? James has spoken of the law before. You can turn back to James chapter 2. James chapter 2 verse 8 where James uses the word law and we’ll see that he uses it to refer to the great commandment of loving others.

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      James 2:8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well.

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      So what is the royal law? It is the law that you shall love your neighbor as yourself. You remember Jesus when he was asked what the greatest commandment is he said that you could summarize the whole law of God and the prophets on this commandment: love God and love others.

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      You are to love people. What is love? 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act rudely…it does not serve itself, is not easily angered, and it isn’t resentful… 6 it isn’t glad about injustice, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails…

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      That is love. So when you speak about that person that way are you being kind? Are you speaking about that person that way because you are jealous or arrogant or rude? Are you really serving yourself when you say that? Are you doing them a service when you say that? Or are you saying it because you are resentful and you’ve been harmed and want revenge … check your motives…

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      And so when you speak against somebody else like this you are breaking the law of God, you are breaking Christ’s law that you love your neighbor as yourself. “He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother is speaking against the law and is judging the law.”

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      So how is it then that when you speak evil, you are actually judging the law? That’s what James says, you are judging the Law! When you break the law you’re basically saying, “I have no need of that law.” Why do I need that law? I’m going to break that law. I don’t need to love my neighbor as myself, I will use him for my own good.” “Why” James says in return, “you have just judged the law … you’ve placed yourself above the law of God. And you think your thoughts are better than God’s thoughts.

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      ILL: Satan is an expert at this. With one simple question, he can destroy a reputation. He asks God, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9). Listen to that question closely … “Does Job fear God for nothing?” He’s implying that James fears God for some material gain! And boy would that be utterly sinful! And so with that one question, he assassinates Job’s character … the man whom God says was the most righteous man in all the earth.

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      And if he wanted to, Satan would have a lot of ammunition to bring against you into the court of God. And no doubt he has tried; he is called “the accuser of the brethren” for a reason; but you let him keep his job. Accuser of the brethren … That’s one job title you should never aspire to.

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      APP/EXP: So in the heat of the moment, in your most weak times, learn by God’s grace to keep a close watch on your tongue. Otherwise, as James says as the end of verse 11, you are no longer a doer of the law, but a judge of it.

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      And he has exhorted us to prove ourselves to be doers of law in chapter 1. So prove yourself to be a doer of the word and grow in this area too. Build each other up! Encourage each other, tell those you criticize the most that they’re doing a good job.

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      Repent to God…if you have spoken evil against someone behind their back, ask for forgiveness from God and from those who heard you. Also praise the person you harmed to those who heard you…You could also quote Proverbs 17:4 to them out of concern for them … “An evildoer listens to wicked lips; A liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.” I sure hope you didn’t listen to me when I said that! Don’t listen to that stuff!

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      This is the stuff of gossip, isn’t it? And the church needs a real character lift with this sin.

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    TRANS: Why is speaking against others so bad? First, James says because you are judging the law and not doing it. You say, “I don’t need that law that says I’m to love my neighbor” and so you put yourself above God’s law and break it.

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    And the second reason 2 not to speak against others is that not only are you putting yourself up above the law, you’re actually putting yourself up above God himself!

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  2. Reason #2: You replace God as judge

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James 4:12 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

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God is the judge; let Him do His job! And He’s the one who gave us the Law in the first place…

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Isaiah 33:22 22 For the Lord is our judge, The Lord is our lawgiver, The Lord is our king; He will save us—

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When you condemn the faults of others, you are taking over God’s role. Jesus said John 5:22 “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.”

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And you are judging others? Are you criticizing him because of your jealousy or you are judging her wrongly assuming that you know all the facts and you don’t … Or you are claiming to know their motives as to why they did this… And you’re saying those things against them while you have a big log stuck in your own eye… and you haven’t judged your own sin first?

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ILL: In the southern United States, there’s a great way of making this kind of thing sound really holy and sanctified. I lived in the southern US for about 10 years and we could spiritualize this kind of talk …. If you lived there and you heard anybody say something negative about a person like James prohibits…they would immediately add … “bless his heart.” “Boy, is so and so a horrible worker, bless his heart!”

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And that seemed to make it holy that you said that! “Well, I guess it’s ok, he just blessed his heart, so it’s so bad I suppose…” Wait a second, who are you to say that? My friend, “there is only one Lawgiver and Judge…”

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And I’m telling you right now, you are not him!

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We must be mindful of that when we are tempted to bring down others. God is the judge; he is the only one, the only law giver. And when we disdain his law, we make ourselves a judge of the very law God himself gave and we usurp his right as judge.

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A blasphemous sin. How dare we shove God out of the way, reject His law, and take over His position! Divine insurrection…we trying to thwart God and take over his throne…assassination!

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But God alone has the power to destroy. He will do His job; your resistance is futile!

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Matthew 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

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Deuteronomy 32:39 ‘See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.

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“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy;”

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When we speak evil of others, we lose sight that the Judge of all the earth will do right! We’ve forgotten Him, that we live in Him and He in us.

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ILL: Job .. turn to Job 40 … Job had wondered why all the bad things that did happen, happened to him and questioned God and wanted his day in court with God so that he could prove that God was wrong to have these things happen to him… and he wanted to show God up ….

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That’s us when we speak evil of others: when we bring others down instead of building them, we judge God’s law we fail to love our neighbor as yourself and we don’t build others up and encourage them. We sit in judgment of God and his law and usurp his authority!

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And God puts Job back in his place and we receive take these words and let them humble us as well…

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Job 40:6–14 6 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said, 7 “Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me. 8 “Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? 9 “Or do you have an arm like God, And can you thunder with a voice like His? 10 “Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity, And clothe yourself with honor and majesty. 11 “Pour out the overflowings of your anger, And look on everyone who is proud, and make him low. 12 “Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him, And tread down the wicked where they stand. 13 “Hide them in the dust together; Bind them in the hidden place. 14 “Then I will also confess to you, That your own right hand can save you.

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 4.11-12

Paul says … Ephesians 4:30–32 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

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The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. And in Christ, we have cleansing. If you confess it and for sake it, you will find mercy.

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Be like Zaccheus “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

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Have you stolen someone’s character or defrauded them of their reputation? Make it right! Find the good and praise him or her to others.

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537, Not I but Christ.

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Go to James Main Page

Go To New Testament Books

Go To BibleTrove Home Page

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  1. http://www.moreillustrations.com/Illustrations/slander%201.html

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