James writes about the sin of slander, defined as saying critical things about someone else when they are not present or in a position to defend themselves. The shock is that he is referring to Christians speaking ill of other Christians, it has permeated even into church fellowships! Now, we may think that we are immune, people often tell me about how wonderful their church is, but Christian fellowships are especially vulnerable to this kind of behaviour. We all act nicely towards each other and behave as if there is nothing wrong, so the only way to expel our feelings of disgruntlement are to whisper things about each other behind others' backs or nowadays to send poisonous texts or emails. Peter and Paul also condemn this sin and they focus on how gossip is used to spread slander. Little groups get together and pass on confidential pieces of information which destroy someone's good name, often the person in leadership. Peter talks about ' getting rid of all evil behaviour' and his list includes 'unkind speech' (1 Peter 2 v 1); Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 v 20 writes that he fears that when he revisits the church in Corinth he will find things he won't like and one of them will be slander! Throughout this letter, James reminds the readers of the power of speech to do harm and that it reflects what we think and feel inside. Out of the overflow of a gracious heart comes gracious speech; out of a heart which is filled with selfish ambition and jealousy comes slander and gossip. Now you may glance through this thinking that it isn't about you and I'm very thankful if that is true. But take a moment, reflect, think about any times recently when you have spoken harshly about someone. I recognise that as Bearfield church leader, it may be that I was the focus of your ire: I have heard plenty of criticism of church leaders by those in other fellowships. Please come and talk to me if you have issues with what I do or don't do or the way I do things. James is not stating here that the early church leadership was perfect, but at least for a time we have been appointed by God to fulfil what He has called us to do. I've been studying the early Biblical books recently and the story of Miriam in Numbers 12 challenged me. She was responsible for raising Moses as a baby, but became openly critical of his leadership during the Israelites time in the wilderness and the results of her complaining are to be read in the opening verses of that chapter.
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