Summary: This is the 9th of 11 Studies on the Book of James, where James tells us why we should not slander one another, and why we should not boast about tomorrow.
11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?
In continuation of his addressing the issue of conflict, which he said, stemmed from a desire for worldly pleasures, James goes on to address a very connected issue - speaking ill of one another – a problem that existed in the church back then, as it does even today. He begins by telling his readers to not speak ill of one another, and he uses the word ‘brethren,’ as if to remind them that they all belong to one family of God.
He then goes on to give reasons why we should not speak ill of one another, and adds another aspect that is connected with it, which is concerning judging one another. The first reason he gives why we should not speak ill of one another and judge one another is because if we do so, we are indirectly speaking ill of, and judging the law as well. How is that so? Just like he said earlier that when we show partiality, we are breaking the royal law, which says that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves, he makes the same connection here too. If we speak ill of, or judge one another, we are in effect saying that we disagree with the law that tells us to love one another and we are setting ourselves up against the law itself.
Let’s keep in mind, when he talks about the law, he’s talking about the law of liberty/freedom, that he referred to earlier, which refers to the law of love which now enables us to live the way God wants us to live. It does not mean that we are permitted to live as we wish but rather how God desires we live. So if we choose to disobey that law and slander one another and pass judgments on one another, then instead of us abiding by this law, of love and freedom, we are actually breaking this law and taking the place of judges and judging, not only one another but also the law of God, that was meant to teach us to live in harmony, and not in conflict.
He goes on to remind them and us, that there is One Lawgiver, referring to God, and adds that it is He alone who is able to save us or destroy us. We do not, and will never have the authority over anyone’s life. He then concludes this thought with the question, “Who are you to judge another?” We are all called to be subject to God’s authority to judge, and not make anyone else subject to our authority and judge them, and if we do so, it begs the question, “Who do we think we are?” or in other words, “Who gave us this authority to speak ill of others, or to judge them?”
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; 14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” 16 But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
James then goes on to address another issue, which pertains to the uncertainty of this earthly life and how we need to always bear this in mind. He begins by referring to those who boastfully talk about their plans to go places, settle down for a while and make money, and reminds them that they cannot really be sure that their plans will succeed - not on account of the nature of their plans, but rather on account of the uncertainty of this earthly life. He reminds his readers (and us) that we do not know what will actually happen the next day.
He goes on to describe the nature of this earthly life – no matter how long it might seem, at the end of the day, it’s like a vapor that appears for a little while and then disappears. This analogy of vapor was as powerful and relevant to them in their day as it is for us today. Vapor appears and then disappears in a few seconds, and that’s how this earthly life is too.