Summary: A judgemental attitude can only be described as arrogant. It is an affront to Holy God. James warns against such attitudes, calling us to holiness.
JAMES 4:11, 12
JUDGING THE SAINTS
“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 neighbour?”
Canadian Christianity is in crisis. The reaction to this statement among most professing Christians in Canada likely would be immediate and decidedly hostile. Nevertheless, an honest appraisal of the state of the pulpit and the condition of the membership compels such a negative assessment. The pulpit is, for the most part, uninspiring and lacking in courage. Pastors are unwilling or incapable of adhering to biblical truth, fearing a board or committee more than they do God. Those occupying the pews are uncomfortable when confronted by bold prophetic preaching or with authenticity from the pulpit.
Modern Christians, priding themselves on their tolerance, are often the most judgemental people within contemporary society. Few events are more detrimental to the cause of Christ or more destructive to the work He has assigned His people than the slander and evil speech of Christians against their brothers. We haven’t changed much in the past two millennia. The Christians to whom James wrote were apparently resorting to destroying one another with their tongues. James turned from excoriating those to whom he wrote to appealing to their reason in this portion of his letter. Join me in a sobering study of James’ admonition in order to discover what pleases the Master and to equip ourselves for His good work.
THE DIVINE COMMAND — “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.” James had excoriated the believers to whom he wrote. Earlier, he had said they were adulterous [verse 4], implied they were proud [verse 6] and had called them “sinners” and “double-minded” [verse 8]. Now, his language is somewhat more conciliatory, addressing them as “brothers.” He is shifting from calls for repentance to exhortations to perform specific actions that are pleasing to God.
The first action, avoiding slanderous speech, is the focus of the message this day. Other exhortations will follow in James’ letter, and we will consider each admonition in its turn. The ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION translates the Greek term James uses by the English concept of speaking evil. The CHRISTIAN STANDARD VERSION translates the concept by our English term “criticise.” The translators for the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION rendered the Greek word as “slander.” Kenneth Wuest felt the word was best conveyed by the concept of defamation. No doubt, each of these thoughts is communicated by James’ choice of words.
Today, slander is a legal term that implies a falsehood that damages the reputation of another individual. The term James uses is broader than that, including gossip that injures another as well as demeaning someone or talking down to them! One can speak the truth about another and still put them down. Scripture requires our words to reflect love as well as truth.
David spoke of the wicked, describing them as those
“who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows
shooting from ambush at the blameless,
shooting at him suddenly and without fear.”
[PSALM 64:3, 4]
In another place, David prays,
“My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts—
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.”
And Asaph, speaking of the wicked, describes them thusly:
“They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.”
[PSALM 73:8, 9]
God’s Word frequently characterises the wicked as marked by caustic and calumnious speech. This should not be surprising since the Master has taught those who are His disciples, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” [MATTHEW 15:18-20].
Immediately following his proscription, James used the same Greek term that is now translated “speaks against.” This gives us a clue as to James’ concern. The Greek word used implies any speaking that is prejudicial to another. Consider some biblical proscriptions against such speech. The speech James had in mind is that which questioned legitimate authority, as when the people of Israel “spoke against God and against Moses” [NUMBERS 21:5]. Again, it describes slandering another secretly [e.g. PSALM 101:5] or levelling false accusations against one who is innocent [e.g. 1 PETER 2:12; 3:16]. Such verbal destruction of others is among the grave sins Paul listed when describing those who are utterly debased and degenerate [ROMANS 1:30].