Contempt for God’s Court: The Problem of Self-Appointed Judges - James 4:11-12
Have you noticed the rising popularity of courtroom TV shows? First, there was Judge Wapner on The People’s Court. Then along came Judge Judy. You can also see the professional boxer and boxing referee turned judge – Judge Mills Lane. The newest TV judge is Judge Joe Brown.
I wonder if the popularity of these shows doesn’t have something to do with the fact that people like to dream about being a judge themselves. Wouldn’t it be nice to sit on the bench and pass sentence on people. I know I find myself thinking that way sometimes.
The truth is, there is a part of every one of us that likes to play judge. No, we are not elected by the citizens or confirmed by the congress. We are self-appointed judges. We place ourselves on the bench and pass judgment on our friends and family members. We observe the lives of our neighbors or fellow Christians and we make judgments about them. As someone said, a sport that almost everyone enjoys is jumping to conclusions.
We are like the little boy who was showing his kindergarten picture to a visiting neighbor. He began pointing out and describing each classmate. “This is Robert; he hits everyone. This is Stephen; he never listens to the teacher. This is Mark; he chases us and is very noisy.” Pointing to his own picture he said, “And this is me; I’m just sitting here minding my own business.”
James has some words to say about this tendency to appoint ourselves as judges. In 4:11-12, he warns us against assuming a position that we are not qualified to assume. When we appoint ourselves as judges of others, we are showing contempt for God’s court.
James tells us three reasons why we should not appoint ourselves as judges.
I. Our judgments tend to be slanderous (v. 11).
A. Stop slandering one another.
1. Slander means to speak against.
a. It refers to speaking evil of someone.
b. This could be false accusations or lies about
a person’s character or behavior.
c. This could be malicious gossip about the true
shortcomings of another person intended to
harm them or put them down.
2. The language indicates the cessation of a practice
already in progress. STOP doing this.
B. Scripture clearly condemns slander.
1. Eph. 4:29-31
2. 1 Pet. 2:1
Morris Mandel wrote, “Gossip is the most deadly microbe. It has neither legs nor wings. It is composed entirely of tales, and most of them have stings.”
ILL/APP: Pastor Alan Redpath spoke about a code of conversation that he and some colleagues adopted for their discussions. It was based on the word THINK.
T – is it true?
H - is it helpful?
I - is it inspiring?
N – is it necessary?
K – is it kind?
If we followed such a code of conversation, it would no doubt protect us from committing the sin of slander. James warns us about judging our brother because of our tendency to slander others.
TS – James now gives us a second reason why we should not appoint ourselves as judges of others.
II. We place ourselves above God’s law (v. 11).
A. What does it mean to judge a brother?
1. This is not referring to judging in reference to clear issues of sin. Scripture tells us that the church has
a responsibility to judge and discipline in such areas.
2. Rather, James is speaking of judging the motives and
actions of a brother in areas of personal preference and conviction where Scripture does not clearly speak.
3. James is talking about speaking against a brother on disputable matters.
B. When we judge a brother, we judge the law.
1. We are to keep the law which tells us to love our
neighbor (see 2:8; 12-13).
2. When we speak against our neighbor, we are not
keeping the law but breaking it.
3. Thus, we have set ourselves up as judge of the law
and have independently decided we are above it.
4. So, we have stopped being doers of the law and we
have assumed the position of judging it.
ILL: Back in October of 2000, an interesting baseball game took place in Cuba. During an exhibition game against Venezuela, 74 year old dictator Fidel Castro grabbed an aluminum bat and walked to the plate. When Castro approached the batters box, Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela came to the mound to pitch. After five pitches the two heads of state were locked in a full count. Castro watched as the 3-2 pitched sailed through the middle of the strike zone and listened as the umpire called him out. “No” Castro said, “that was a ball.” He proceeded to walk to first base. No one argued. President Chavez said nothing. The opposing team said nothing. The umpire said nothing. Later Castro joked about President Chavez saying, “Today just wasn’t his day.”
APP: The law of baseball says that when a pitch goes over the middle of plate in the strike zone on a 3-2 count the batter is out. Castro placed himself above the laws of baseball and made up his own rules.
That is exactly what we do when we judge a brother. God’s law tells us not to do it. But we set ourselves above the laws of God and make up our own rules. We judge the law.
TS – James has given us two good reasons not set ourselves up as judges. Our judgments easily become slanderous. When we judge others, we judge the law of God. Now, James enters one final and weighty argument against judging others.
III. We assume a position reserved for God alone (v. 12).
A. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge.
1. God alone is the Lawgiver and Judge.
2. God alone has the ability to save or destroy.
a. He alone has the information necessary.
b. He alone has the authority necessary.
B. Who are we to judge our neighbor?
1. If God alone has the right to make such judgments,
we have no right to do it.
2. Paul made a similar point in Romans 14:10-12. It is
to God we stand or fall, not each other.
3. The context of James makes it clear that this judging
was coming from attitudes of pride and jealousy. The
humility so important to James was totally lacking as
evidenced by the censorious and judgmental pride of
many in the congregation.
ILL: How often do we make judgments as though we were God when we have little or no understanding of people’s motives or circumstances. A grocery store clerk once wrote to Ann Landers to complain about the people buying luxury food items with food stamps. She said these people were lazy and wasteful.
In a later column, Landers printed the response of a woman who wrote in answer to the judgmental grocery clerk.
I’m the woman who bought the $17 cake and paid for it with food stamps. I thought the check-out woman in the store would burn a hole through me with her eyes. What she didn’t know is the cake was for my little girl’s birthday. It will be her last. She has bone cancer and will probably be gone within six to eight months.
APP: Beloved, we need to be careful about developing a harsh and judgmental spirit. We have no right to appoint ourselves as judges over others. We cannot see the hearts of others.
How many problems are created in churches by pridefully judging others in areas of opinion or preference? How often is the harmony of a fellowship disturbed and even destroyed by slanderous accusations and gossip? When we do such things, we show contempt for God’s court. Here are some examples where we see the potential for such problems in todays church.
• When we pass judgment regarding educational choices.
• When we pass judgment regarding musical preferences.
• When we pass judgment regarding food and drink.
• When we pass judgment regarding child raising choices.
• When we pass judgment regarding financial choices.
Scripture gives us some general guidelines in these areas. Yet,
within those biblical parameters, there are many paths a person might take. We have no right to be the Holy Spirit and usurp the place of God in a person’s life on these issues. Though we might not agree with their choice because we have different convictions, we dare not pass judgment on them and find ourselves sitting in the place of God.
I need to be reminded often of the words of the Tshirt I once saw which said, “There is a God – You are not Him.” Our responsibility is to love our neighbor. God’s responsibility is to judge him.