A Family Tradition We Aren’t So Proud Of.
“11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister[j] or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” James 4:11-12 NIV
At the time of this writing, the Fourth of July is right around the corner. I am reminded of many family traditions my family has had while I grew up. Some are traditions that we hold tightly too and love, like family time on holidays, Christmas and Thanksgiving get-togethers later in the year, sharing of gifts for Christmas, and fireworks for New Years. There are also traditions that we may not be as fond of like the stress and work of cleaning the house. In this devotion, we will look at a family tradition in the Christian church that we aren’t very proud of.
In the last few devotions, we’ve seen James come down pretty hard on believers – calling us to live our lives with a practical faith. He called us to “tap out” to Jesus and to live our lives fully surrendered to His will. James called us to have a faith that takes action.
Given the strict teachings we have received from James in the last few chapters, one of the great challenges that arises within the church is the growth of judgment and legalism. Sadly, James shows us that conflict within the church, division, gossip, and criticism of our own brothers and sisters are a church tradition that goes all the way back to the early church! There it is… a Christian family tradition that we sure aren’t proud of!
Since the early church, there has been a dangerous tendency to take the words of the Lord and use it to judge the behaviors of others rather than applying it to ourselves first and to how we are living out our own faith. Remember Paul says in Ephesians that the “sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.” Rather than letting the sword of the Spirit cut deep into our own hearts (which often hurts), it is easier to use it to cut others. When we judge our Christian brothers and sisters without love or mercy, James tells us, we are making ourselves the Judge and lawgiver. That is NOT whom God intended that we be. When people don’t live up to the high standards that we think they ought too, and we speak poorly of them because of how they are living their lives – we become the guilty party! Ouch!
James puts a quick stop to that in James 4. “Brothers and sisters,” he starts off lovingly, “do not slander one another.”
When they read this, the early church might have wondered, “But isn’t this the law of God? Don’t we need to hold people accountable? We cannot have people in the chuch living in sin.” James then turns the table on them (and us) when he says, “When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” (emphasis mine).
Ouch! James is saying, “When you speak evil of a brother or sister, YOU are the one who is not being obedient to the law of love. When you slander someone, YOU are the one who is guilty. James reminds YOU need to look in the mirror and be sure that YOU are not in sin YOURSELF.
Gossip, slander, and division are definitely a long standing tradition in the Church of Jesus Christ that we are not proud of. If we would only devote ourselves to obeying the Word of God in our own lives rather than investigating how well others obey it, the church would be dramatically transformed.
How many church splits could be prevented? How many church conflicts would be instantly resolved? How much would the reputation of the Bride of Christ improve in our communities if we spoke well of each other? How many more souls would be saved if the church were truly a safe place for God’s children to grow in? How many more people who don’t know Jesus, could be positively impacted by the Gospel if we gave them a better example of what a community of faith ought to look like? How different would the church be if we were to step off the judge’s bench and let God be the judge?
Far too often, we live our lives as if our message to God is, “God, You love them… I’ll judge them.”
James flips that and teaches us that God is instead saying to us, “Christ-follower, you love them… I’ll judge them.”
To those who have been hurt by vicious church rumors and cutting words, from those within the church, I apologize. This is a tradition we should not hold.
To those who have given up their faith in Christ because of mean-spirited people who are in the church, I apologize. This is a tradition we should not hold.
To those who are confused because their hearts have been broken by gossip or quarrels in the church, I apologize. This is a tradition we should not hold.
Might I suggest however, that there is still hope to be found in the Bride of Christ? Could I be so bold as to say that while there are still mean spirited and broken people in the church who let their tongues go more than they should, there are still many who are being lovingly transformed by Jesus Christ?
Yes we have our flaws.
Yes, we’ve make bad decisions.
Yes, we can be more judgmental than we ought.
Please don’t give up on Jesus or His bride. We need grace as well. Please don’t let someone else come between you and Jesus Christ. Don’t let this harmful family tradition that we (as Christians) are not proud of, push you away from the loving arms and embrace of the Savior. We, the church of Jesus Christ, are in desperate need of His grace. There are many of us trying our best to be faithful to His words and to live out an authentic faith. Let’s continue to follow Jesus together.
Forgive me dear Jesus for the times that I have been too judgmental of my brothers and sisters in the church. Open my eyes to see where I need to grow. Empower my tongue to speak life to and about my family in Christ. Increase my heart and capacity to love others as You do. May I decrease that You would increase in me.
Lord Jesus I pray for Your bride, the church, that we would allow Your Words to radically change us FIRST. Lord I pray that we would grow in becoming communities of faith that You see as safe to bring up Your children in. Help us that we would be a light in the world around us. In the strong name of Jesus Christ, amen.