Summary: One of the characteristics of a worldly minded Christian is a judgmental spirit. This sermon draws a distinction between speaking the truth about sin, and lifting ourselves up as the judge over other people's behavior.
If you have ever seen a court proceeding in England, you will have noticed that British judges and lawyers still wear Victorian era wigs at certain times in the proceedings. Most important, a judge will put on a long white wig prior to announcing the verdict to a defendant. There is a reason for this ritual that goes beyond mere tradition. The white wig is a symbol of the law. When a judge pronounces a verdict, it is the law that condemns the guilty, not the judge. The white wig covers the head of the judge so that everyone knows that it is the law that condemns, not the man.
James 4:11-12 presents another development in the theme from James 3 regarding worldly wisdom. Some of the recipients of James’ letter had departed from following God’s wisdom and were pursuing worldly wisdom. As a result, they were fighting among themselves, and they were discontent (James 4:1-2). As we come to James 4:11, we discover another characteristic of Christians who pursue worldly wisdom. James confronts them about their judgmental attitudes.
James message to these Christians is “Let God be the Judge.”
We must Let God be Judge because we are Not Qualified to Judge.
James is echoing Christ’s teaching. Matt 7:1-2 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1–2, ESV)
James expresses the same command that Jesus did in the sermon on the mount, except James uses the expression “Do not speak evil against one another.” He employs this word three times in James 4:11.
“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.” (James 4:11, ESV)
The word “Speak Evil” is translated from the Greek word katalaleo (ka-ta-la-leh-o). The word is a combination of 2 words, kata (against) and laleo (to speak). It means “To speak against.” This word has the idea of slander or deception. It is used only 2 other times in the NT. Both uses relate to unbelievers speaking evil against Christians. James is saying that Christians in the church were speaking evil against one another in the same way that unbelievers bring accusation against us! Notice the usage of the same word. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12, ESV)
“having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:16, ESV)
So, we are told by James that we are not to judge because that is what unbelievers do to us!
We are also told that we are not to judge one another because there is Only One 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 4:12, ESV)
In these verses, James is writing about the kind of judgement that elevates ourselves as the standard by which we judge others. He is not implying that Christians ought to never evaluate the actions of those within the church, or excuse the evil of those who do not know the Lord. This is an important point to discuss because many today misquote James and Jesus because they do not want anyone to criticize their sinful lifestyle. Tolerance is held as the highest virtue in today’s culture - much higher than integrity, truth or holiness. It’s sad that we live in a day when more anger is demonstrated against those who expose evil than those who practice it. As Christians, we cannot judge others by setting ourselves as the standard. But we must speak clearly about evil based on the standards that God gives us in his Word.
Here are some of the ways in which we are to exercise correct judgment or discernment.
1. Judge when to withhold truth from scoffers. ““Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (Matthew 7:6, ESV)
2. Judge false prophets.““Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15, ESV)
3. Judge when someone has sinned against you. ““If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15, ESV)