“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.” James 4:11
Judge – Strong’s G2919 – krinō – to pronounce judgment; to subject to censure; of those who act the part of judges or arbiters in the matters of common life, or pass judgment on the deeds and words of others: universally, and without case, hence equivalent to to condemn
Conversation can easily turn sour when someone begins sharing negative things about another person. It might be an attempt to avoid confrontation, just needing to vent or to get a second opinion before saying something. However, the result is that the person hearing forms opinions or says things without full knowledge of all the circumstances. We end up speaking evil of others, condemning them on the word of another, often with little to no facts to back up the case.
When I was younger, I remember always hearing. “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” It was good advice then and it is good advice now. God pretty much is saying the same thing when He says “Don’t speak against one another.”
He tells us that if we have conflict with someone, we are to take it directly to that person. ““If your brother sins , go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
We are told to go talk to the person privately to discuss an issue. Only after we have talked with the person one to one and it is not resolved do we bring others into the conflict. At that point, we are still not speaking against our brother to some else; we are speaking to our brother, with witnesses. The others have the opportunity to hear both sides of the story at the same time. Then if needed, you take it to the church for counsel before writing the person off as someone you can not reconcile with. Even then, it is not okay to talk bad about the person to others.
God even instructs us to seek reconciliation before we give an offering. “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Matthew 5:23-24
Note, that it says “if your brother has something against you”. So if your the person who hasn’t been willing to be reconciled, you need to do seek forgiveness before giving your offering. We are called to live at peace with others, as much as it is up to us. We can’t make someone be at peace with us, but we can try to be ministers of reconciliation. It doesn’t mean we can’t have healthy boundaries, it just means that we try to make things right with others. It doesn’t matter if we are the one being wronged or the one in the wrong, it is on us, as Christians, to try to make it right.
I know I have said “I tried. They won’t accept it.” I have learned to never completely close the door. You never know when God will open that door back up in the future. When I was a teenager, I said some terrible hurtful things to someone in my family. The relationship was severed and despite several attempts on my side to try to reconcile, the door was shut by the other person. I had peace, knowing I had repented for my actions and tried to reconcile.
In the years that followed, she would come up from time to time; I didn’t speak ill of her. I knew I had hurt her deeply at a time where she was already wounded. I was not responsible for her response to me, but so did own my actionsHer picture remained on my shelf with the other family members. I would tell my children stories about her. Twenty years later, I felt prompted to reach out. I sent a letter, which was the same way the door was shut two decades before, after calls I made went unanswered. We were able to reconcile. She was able to meet all of the family that came along after our split. God was able to restore what was lost so that I could be there with her as her health failed.
I have also said “They will never change.” as an excuse to not try to reconcile. It is a very short sided comment because the Bible says “For nothing will be impossible with God.”” Luke 1:37 I can not limit God with my negative words about someone else, but words do have power. And I shouldn’t speak against someone else in those words either.
When we talk evil about someone, we are breaking the old covenant law “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16 We are disobeying God. We are acting as a condemning judge not correcting one another in love. We are taking matters into our own hands trying to get others to condemn them also without knowing both sides of the story.
It is easy to fall into the trap of listening to something about someone that is not present. We have to guard our hearts against that so that we do not condemn someone without knowing both sides of the story. It is best for us to remove ourself from talk of others if they are not present.
It is just as easy to start venting about someone who is not there to tell their side of the story. We need to guard our mouths from speaking against anyone else. We are to take it to them first, if needed add witnesses, but we should not be talking about someone without them being there to defend their side of the story.