There is something refreshing about fellowship between believers. Believers should be in harmony with one another. The Psalmist called such harmony good and pleasant (Ps. 133:1). Fellowship reflects the perfect unity between the godhead. When one of the Triune God speaks, he speaks in perfect harmony with the other persons of the godhead.
Believers, thanks to the old nature, have an unholy tendency away from such fellowship. Our words too often tend towards slander. At the drop of a hat we can open our mouths and speak against one another. James tells his readers to stop doing that. The wording used is one that means to backbite, or to tear another to pieces. MacArthur described it as mindless, thoughtless, careless, critical, derogatory, untrue speech directed against others. In all likelihood, such a cruel activity would take place out of the presence of the person being verbally shredded.
Yet God teaches that the mark of a godly man is that he refrains from speaking against others (Ps. 15:3), while it is the mark of an ungodly man that he slanders others (Ps. 50:19-20). Solomon even warned about going around with talebearers (Pr. 20:19).
I suppose in heaven we will finally learn just how many walked away from the church because of a poisonous, backbiting tongue. We will learn then how many died bitter and broken, poisoned by their own lips as they attacked others. Historians recorded that David Livingstone’s wife died of a broken heart from the backbiters of the white settlements in Africa. The dripping sewage of a backbiting tongue only serves to show just what wickedness can arise from the human heart.
For James’ readers, two things were happening: by speaking against one another, they were speaking against the Law and they were condemning the Law. Can there be a more dangerous place than that of elevating oneself above the Law of God? Can we, who are imperfect, place ourselves in the position of speaking harshly against and criticizing—even condemning—that perfect Law of God? According to Phillips, It is the work of the Spirit of God to apply the Word of God to the consciences of the people of God. That is not our work but God’s work.
If we are in the position of speaking against and condemning the Law, we have also chosen to speak against and condemn the Lawgiver. There is one who did that in the most evident of ways; his name is Lucifer. He declared in Isaiah 14 that he would be like the Most High God. He was soon cast down. One day Lucifer will be forever cast away, because there is only one who can save and only one who can truly destroy. It is in the power of the Sovereign, Omnipotent God, not us.