Summary: James describes the difference between unrighteous condemnation and righteous discernment.
This week AP sportswriter Jon Krawczynski wrote an article about the NBA playoffs that began with these words:
Talk is cheap in these NBA playoffs, and it seems as if everyone wants in on the act.
As the stakes grew in the first round, the venom being spewed became ever more toxic. Superstars are jawing at bench players. Reserves are picking fights with superstars. Coaches are accusing opponents of being dirty. Even Carmelo Anthony's wife hasn't been afraid to talk some serious trash.
''Try again,'' La La Vazquez tweeted after Celtics reserve guard Jordan Crawford was caught on video hurling curse words toward Anthony at the end of Game 5 against the Knicks. ''You on the bench for a reason.''
Unfortunately this kind of trash talk has now made it all the way down to the high school level and to even younger players. As a high school referee I don’t see it often, but it certainly does exist. And that’s troubling.
But what is even more troubling is the trash talk that occurs within the body of Christ. Someone once said that Christians are the only army in the world that shoot their own wounded. And when we do that, the weapon of choice is usually our words.
This morning, as we continue our study of James we’re going to look at just two verses. But as we discovered in our Monday morning Bible study, those two verses have much to teach us. Since the passage is so short, let’s read it out loud together this morning:
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
(James 4:11-12 ESV)
You’ll notice that James is once again addressing his fellow Christ followers. Unlike in the first ten verses of this chapter where he refrains from using the term, he now calls his readers “brothers” three times in these two verses. So this is another one of the tests that he is setting forth in this letter to be used by those in the body to evaluate the genuineness of their faith and to determine if they are mature disciples of Jesus.
Let’s begin this morning by defining two key words that James uses frequently in these two verses.
The first word is a single word in Greek that the ESV translates “speak evil against” or just “speak against”. James uses that particular verb three times in verse 11.
“speak evil against” = “katalaleo” =
“kata” (against) + laleo (to speak) =
defame, slander, “backbiting”
In the culture of James’s day this word was often used to describe the act of slandering someone when he was not there to defend himself – thus the idea of backbiting.
The other word is the word “judge” which is used a total of six times in these two verses – four times as a verb and twice as a noun. We’ll look at the definition of the verb, which should be adequate to understand the noun as well.
“to judge” = “krino” =
"to separate, distinguish, discriminate" -
in the context of this passage = “to condemn”
The verb itself merely means to evaluate and then separate, distinguish or discriminate. It has neither a positive nor negative connotation in and of itself. So the context determines how the verb is used. In this case, by combining it with the idea of speaking evil against, it obviously is used in a negative way and it would be accurate to translate it “to condemn”.
The idea of judging is not always negative in the Bible and as we’ll see more clearly this morning, the Bible certainly does not prohibit all forms of judging. In fact, as followers of Christ we are actually commanded to make judgments frequently in the Scriptures. But that kind of judgment is for the purpose of righteous discernment. So in order to clearly distinguish between those two kinds of judgment, I’m going to use these two terms this morning:
• Unrighteous condemnation is the kind of Christian “trash talking” that James describes here in which judgment takes the form of condemnation.
• Righteous discernment is the kind of evaluation that Jesus, Paul and the other New Testament writers command for the purpose of helping us keep ourselves and others from becoming the friends of the world that James described earlier in this passage.
We need to make one last observation before we’re ready to move on. When James uses these two verbs in these two verses they are in the present tense, which indicates that the people in the body weren’t just occasionally engaging in this kind of unrighteous condemnation – they were engaging in it on a regular basis.