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)
James is quoting Isaiah 33:22. “For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us.” (Isaiah 33:22, 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)
4. Judge those who cause divisions. “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16:17, ESV)
5. Judge those who commit sexual immorality. “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.” (1 Corinthians 5:1)
6. Judge the message others preach. “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:9, ESV)
7. Judge everything in your life. “but test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, ESV)
8. Judge those who have left the faith. “some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:18–20)
9. Judge the church. “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17, ESV)
10. Judge the spirits (teaching). “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1, ESV)
11. Judge false preachers. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” (2 John 10–11, ESV)
12. Judge false teachers. “certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3–4, ESV)
Commentator Cal Thomas illustrates the kind of compassion and clarity that we need to have when faced with someone’s sinful actions. When Congressman Anthony Weiner was exposed for lewd behavior, many on the political right were quick to condemn him. Cal Thomas offered more Christ-like words.
“Those who are busy condemning Weiner should remember that we are all sinners. You remember sin, don’t you? It was our diagnosis before we all became ‘dysfunctional’ and turned to Oprah instead of God. ...
“I hope Congressman Weiner gets help and support from people who seek his redemption and not his annihilation,” said Thomas. “I hope his wife sticks with him and supports him should he choose this road.” He told the story of the woman caught in adultery to explain his point. Jesus said, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone...”
Thomas did not excuse Weiner’s behavior, but he made it clear that the judgment must come from the Lord. Thomas did this with compassion and clarity.
Here are some additional reasons why we should not judge in the wrong way.
1. Judging is the complete opposite of humility (James 4:10-11)
2. When we judge, we speak against the law.
3. When we judge, we condemn someone who is a “brother”
James switches from “adulterers” to “brothers.” James reminds us that We are all on the same level. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;” (Romans 14:10, ESV)
Mark McMinn writes the following: "Each of us is like a light bulb. One shines with 50 watts of holiness, another has only 25 watts. Maybe the most stellar Christians are 200 watts. But these comparisons become trite in the presence of the sun." Mark McMinn, “Why Sin Matters.”
Since we know that Judging others by comparing them to ourselves is wrong, let’s examine what James meant when he exhorted these believers not to speak evil against one another.
What does it mean to “speak evil” against someone?
a. To say or write anything that is harmful
i. “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:16, ESV)
ii. “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” (Psalm 34:13, ESV)
iii. “Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.” (Psalm 101:5, ESV)
iv. “With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.” (Proverbs 11:9, ESV)
v. “Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips.” (Proverbs 24:28, ESV)
b. To say or write anything that is dishonest or misleading. We must be especially concerned about our activity on social media. It is very easy to develop a false sense of anonymity when typing a message on Facebook or in a text. When we lose the face to face connection with a person, our sense of accountability of our words decreases dramatically. This is a false security! We are just as accountable for what we write as for what we say.
c. To think that you know someone’s motives.
i. God will judge all hearts. “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:5, ESV)
ii. “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.” (Ecclesiastes 3:17, ESV)
d. To listen to someone else slandering another person.
e. To listen to to someone who refuses to go to their brother, but instead wants to go to you.
i. “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.” (1 Timothy 5:22, ESV)
ii. “for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” (2 John 11, ESV)
iii. Venting is a psychological term, not a biblical one. Listening to someone vent is not helping them. We should instruct them that they need to go to the person that offended them. We allow them to release their frustration and feel momentarily better. But God wants the relationship restored.
f. To think that our way of Loving God is the only way.
g. What did Paul say? “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,” (Philippians 1:15–18, ESV)
The LOST need compassion and love. They need to know that GOD condemns their sin, not us.
CHRISTIAN BROTHERS need compassion and love.
∙ The way we treat fallen Christians.
∙ The way we respond to Christians with differing doctrine
∙ The way we respond to differences in our own church