Letter of James 9

C 4.3
(ii) Evil speaking (4,11–12). Against slander. James attacks the general human failing of being critical of others and points out that those who do this are being critical of the law.

Short lexicographical note. The word that is translated here as 'to speak against' or 'to slander' is "katalalia". This word has several meanings in the Bible, as follows: [i] 'to speak against', 'to accuse unjustly' [1 Pet. 2:12; 3:16. ii] to question legitimate authority [Num. 21:5]. iii] To slander in secret [Ps. 101:5].

These two verses form a separate unit of content. There is some discussion among experts as to whether this unit is the end of the previous one or the beginning of a new one or is simply a transitional unit. Without going into more detail, we will treat this unit independently but consider it linked to the previous unit. It seems quite safe to say that it has a relationship to the call to repentance since the control of language is part of that life change to which James calls his readers.

It is not difficult to connect these verses with the previous section, even though they may seem to us to be out of their logical place. We simply must ask ourselves, why do we speak evil of others? Why do we slander the other? Of course, the objective of slander is not to help the other person to improve, it is not to correct them with love so that they grow and mature. That kind of criticism is not what Santiago is talking about here. Santiago speaks here of a type of criticism that is destructive, a product of envy, arrogance, pride, and rancor. This kind of criticism is typical of quarrels among human beings, also in the church, then and now, we can see this, unfortunately. Slander is one way of destroying the other, perhaps not physically, although it can end up like that. But it certainly affects psychologically and emotionally the person who is the object of the slander, it affects their honor, their life and that of their family, it is a mode of abuse and mistreatment that directly attacks the commandment of love of neighbor and love of God. The one who speaks evil and slanders his neighbor thinks he/she has a right to do so and therefore sees himself/herself as someone superior and better. Slander is ultimately a manifestation of pride and arrogance which God opposes [4:6] and which should be avoided with an attitude of humility before God [4:10].

But Santiago, take one more turn, and go one step further. Santiago equates slander with putting someone on trial. By doing so, we put ourselves in a position of superiority over our neighbor and by that same superiority in which we place ourselves, we believe that we have the right to judge our neighbor. It is possible that at this point James had Leviticus 19,16 in mind: "You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people”. Following the reasoning of James in the preceding chapters we can develop his argument as follows: Slandering the brother violates God's law that commands us to love our neighbor. The slanderer does not, therefore, comply with the law. And James has told us before that he who does not comply with the law judges it. Therefore, the slanderer becomes himself a judge of the law. That is to say, it places itself in a position of superiority with respect to the Law. He denies his authority over them. And here again we find the idea-force that runs through the whole letter: Our faith is real [it is true faith] if and only if there is obedience. But the arrogance of the slanderer goes even further, whether we are aware of it or not. In judging, we are usurping God's place, only God is Judge and only He can judge. This way, the slanderer puts himself on the same level as God.

Thus, in the light of these verses, we can state that James does not condemn that fraternal correction necessary for the maturity and growth of the community. Nor does he condemn the community's right to correct bad behavior or to denounce deviations from the Gospel. What James condemns is the slander which has its origin in envy and which judges and condemns others by saying that they are guilty in the eyes of God. Such behavior is a manifestation of earthly wisdom and friendship with the world [3,15; 4,1.4]. James urges his readers to replace that wisdom by which it comes from God, a wisdom characterized by humility, impartiality, and peace [3:17]. Flirting with the world is incompatible with faithfulness to God [4:4-5]. Even so, God is always ready to approach the sinner who, in repentance, abandons pride and sin and humbles himself before him [4:6-10].

Questions to think about
1. What do you do if someone slanders another in your presence?
2. How is constructive criticism different from slander?
3. What is your response when you find yourself judging or speaking ill of others? Is that the appropriate response?
4. What do you think you can do to eradicate gossip in the Church?
5. Do you consider gossip to be a form of slander?

(iii) Rash confidence (4,13–17). The folly of planning apart from the will of God is vividly described and its tendency to arrogance noted.
The person who loves the world not only judge others, but also, they think they’re in control and they boast. This passage is a vivid criticism of the attitude of those people who, in a situation of well-being, arrogantly assume that they can live and plan without regard to God. Selfishness, arrogance, and self-sufficiency, this is the central topic of this passage. Here we are presented with a way of understanding life that does not take God into account, a way of understanding life marked by an excess of self-confidence; this is a type of confidence that excludes God, which believes it does not need Him. Believers, says James, must respond decisively, affirming the biblical worldview marked by God's Providence [4:15]. James urges his readers [v. 14] to see life from a Christian perspective. He does not say that it is bad or that one cannot or should not plan, but he encourages them to make their plans in recognition of God's providence and sovereignty [v.15]. Finally, James suggests that, in fact, they already know what they have to do [v.17]. Do we? I think we do.

These verses speak of the myth of self-sufficiency and the fiction that we can control our life. They make us wonder where our heart is and test the strength and depth of our faith. In a world like today's where we are continually being told that we can control everything from what we eat to our food, this text teaches us exactly the opposite. And that is an important, hard and difficult lesson to learn. The reality is that we do not control anything because we cannot even control the basics in relation to ourselves, our body [our height, the color of our eyes, etc.] much less the length of our life. Certainly, God has given us the possibility to make decisions but that does not mean that we can control our life as such, especially in the case of believers since like Jesus we have decided to live a life of obedience to God. That means giving up the fiction that we are in real control of our own life. And this is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity, when we surrender our freedom to God is when we receive true freedom, the freedom of the Children of God, we are freed from our sin and our submission to the law of the world that pushes us to reveal ourselves against God and against heavenly wisdom. Then, we can receive the wisdom that comes from above and we can lead an authentically Christian life, a life that is not only words but above all, works. The sin of which James speaks is the oldest in the world; it is original sin, the desire to become independent of God. The human being believed the lie of the devil that without God we would be free and with real capacity to decide and the human being took the bait.

Furthermore, Santiago touches here on the theme of the transitory nature of human life, the theme of the brevity of life. This is a recurring theme in the Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, but also in the later Christian tradition. The concept that tradition used is summarized in the Latin phrase "memento mori", remember that you must die. And this is not for morbid pleasure but as a reminder that we must always count on God in everything we do. The person who recognizes the brevity of human existence and its precariousness is the one who can make the most of it because he is aware of his need for God and is always open to listening to God and obeying him, thus making the most of what he does. Once again, we can find the sources of James in the Old Testament. The book of Proverbs [27:1] says: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” King David also expresses his regret for the brevity and fragility of human life [1 Chronicles 29:15]: “For we are sojourners before You, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope [of remaining].” Job 7:7, 9:16 and Psalm 39:5-16 describe human life as a "breath" or a " sigh".

But not only the Old Testament is present in this paragraph, the influence of Jesus' teachings on James is also evident [Luke 12:16-20]: “16 Then He told them a parable, saying, “There was a rich man whose land was very fertile and productive. 17 And he began thinking to himself, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place [large enough in which] to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my storehouses and build larger ones, and I will store all my grain and my goods there. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many good things stored up, [enough] for many years; rest and relax, eat, drink and be merry (celebrate continually).”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of
you; and now who will own all the things you have prepared?’” This passage gathers several themes that James uses in these verses. We can therefore say that this teaching is the basis of James' exhortations in this section.

In summary, the believer who practices a living faith must recognize the sovereignty of God in his life, first through a renunciation of all self-sufficiency and then through a total dependence on the will of God. The believer should not boast of his cleverness in planning, but in his recognition that both his life and his activities depend on God, who is the absolute Sovereign of all. We flirt with the world; we think we’re in control; and then there is a third characteristic of the person who is a friend of the world: we think this world is all there is, as we will see in the next section [James 5,1-6].

Questions to think about
1. In what ways do we effectively live as though we are in control of our own lives?
2. How can we take appropriate responsibility for our lives without drifting into the spirit of secular independence that James is warning us against?
3. What do you think the words “God willing” really imply


Bookmark and Share