Don’t slander

Some communities become toxic, and you’ve probably been around one before.

Workplaces can digress into name-calling and back-biting. This group against that group. So-and-so’s mad at so-and-so.

Sound familiar?

It happens in schools across the world. Rumors—usually bad ones—spread like wildfire among teenagers. She’s mad at him, he’s mad at her, her clothes are out of style, and he’s got a weird haircut.

And on it goes.

People talk, and because we live in a fallen world, people talk badly, and they hurt each other with their words.

But there’s no place for it in the church.

James says this:

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)

I sense some frustration in James here, don’t you? It seems like he wants to say something like, Don’t you guys know better than to slander one another? Aren’t you out of middle school? Most importantly, aren’t you followers of Jesus?

The problem with slander, James says, is that we set ourselves up as judges. We decide that we’re qualified to pass judgment on someone else’s behavior.

There’s a major problem with that, though—we’re not the judge. There’s only one Judge, and he hasn’t asked for our help.

Maybe you’re seldom guilty of this, but most of us struggle with it. Regardless, we should commit never to talk badly about another believer.

In your devotional time today, ask God to forgive you for the bad stuff you’ve said about other Christians, and ask him to put a gate over your mouth. It’s really simple—there’s no good reason for us Christians to talk badly about one another. We’re on the same side, and we’ve got more than enough to do to keep us busy without wasting time with such destructive habits.

James is venting a bit, isn’t he? Notice how he closes with this word of chastisement: “Who are you to judge your neighbor?”

Amen to that.

Draw near to God

I can’t imagine what it’ll be like to be in God’s presence, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be the best thing about heaven.

What will it feel like?

What will he look like?

What will it be like?

I want that, but I’m not ready for it yet. People can’t be in the presence of God, not actually, not yet. We couldn’t survive it.

Whenever God revealed himself to people in the Bible—even in some kind of limited way—he spelled out the things they must do to be ready . . . and not die.

After the Israelites left Egypt, God met them at Sinai to give them his law, but he couldn’t just “come down” and talk to them. He told Moses to consecrate them for two days, let them wash their clothes, and be ready the third day. And then he put limits concerning how close they could come to the mountain where God would reveal himself. Get too close and die. Break through the barrier to try to get a glimpse of God . . . and die. It was a serious matter.

That’s the way it’s always been. We can’t come close to God because of our sins. We’ve got to be cleansed to enter God’s presence.

That’s why verses like this one are fascinating: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8a).

Us? Close to God? How?

Through Jesus, of course. He cleanses us, makes us holy, and grants us access to God.

Remember the temple’s veil being torn in two pieces during the crucifixion? That veil had always symbolized a barrier between sinful people and a holy God. When Jesus died, he tore the barrier down.

But what James puts right after he tells us to draw near to God is interesting: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8b-10).

We still don’t come to God flippantly. He’s forgiven us, but that doesn’t mean we stop repenting. He’s declared us righteous, but we still acknowledge our sinfulness.

We’re reminded of that weekly when we come to the Lord’s Table. We don’t deserve to commune with Christ, and it’s incredible that he lets us sit and eat and drink with him.

But as we draw near to him we remember.

We remember the ways we’ve sinned against him. We remember the times we lost focus and said something wrong or did something sinful or thought something impure.

And so we draw near to God, but not without remembering what it cost to give us that access.

One day—when we receive our glorified bodies—we’ll draw near to him with no barriers at all. No sinful flesh, no broken vessel. We’ll bask in his immeasurable holiness and light.

That’s the day we’re all waiting for.