Summary: This passage deals with how pride tends to cause us to play God and the problems that go along with that.
"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. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? 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”; 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. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin." (James 4:11-17)
A sailor once took a group of young people boating for the day. One young man bragged the whole way about all he knew about the sea. Every time the sailor began to give instructions this young man would interrupt with his supposed knowledge. After some time a squall blew up. The sailor began to hand out lifejackets. “Where’s mine?” cried the know-it-all. “Don’t worry son,” replied the old sailor. “You don’t need a life jacket. With a head as full of hot air as yours you will float forever!” This passage deals with how pride tends to cause us to play God and the problems that go along with that.
I. Playing God With the Lives of Others (vv.11-12)
A. Pride Is Presumes We Are Something We Are Not
Pride presumes that we are something we are not. Pride presumes we are qualified to speak evil of one another when we are not. This phrase is often translated backbiter in the New Testament. Slander is critical speech intended to inflame others against the person being criticized (1 Peter 2:1-2). Such slanderous speech must have been common because James uses the Present Tense; “Do not keep on speaking evil of one another.”
Evil speaking is “non-redemptive criticism”. It wishes to be heard but does nothing to restore. It sets one’s self up as the authority rather than God. This kind of speech makes us one who judges the law (v.11). It seems this verse is speaking of the Royal Law of James 2:8, “love your neighbor as yourself.” When we point non-redemptive criticism at a brother we are breaking the very law we claim we are offended that we say he has broken.
Such talk puts us in the place of the only true Lawgiver (v.12). Why is this playing God? Because we would have to know every external circumstance. Because we would have to know every inner thought and motive. When we judge people this way we are jumping ahead of God (see 1 Corinthians 4:5; Romans 14:10-13). We are jumping the gun on God when we pretend to judge in others what He has yet to pass judgment on Himself.
B. Pride Prevents The Right Kinds of Judgment
What is redemptive judgment like?
It is reflective - it looks first at self and asks God what is there on my own life that needs to be made right.
It is respectful – it seeks to keep matters as private as possible.
It is restorative – it wants to help another person be back in right relation with God.
II. Playing God With Our Own Lives (vv.13-17)
A. Pride Presumes We Know What Tomorrow Holds
Pride causes us to play God with our own lives because it presumes to know what tomorrow holds. This passage does not forbid planning or profit making. In fact, work is honorable and commanded by God. A man once saw an old Indian sitting in front of store. He scolded the Indian and said, “Why don’t you get a job?” “Why,” answered the Indian. “Well, so you can save a lot of money,” replied the man. “Why,” asked the Indian again. “Well, so you can put it in the bank and retire one day,” retorted the frustrated speaker. “Why,“asked the Indian one more time. “Well, so you can do whatever you want to and never have to work again, “answered the man one last time. “Don’t’ work now and do what I want to now,” answered the Indian. Some people just don’t get work but it is commanded by God (see 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).
This is a reminder that we do not know what tomorrow holds. As Proverbs says, ““Many are the plans in the mind of man; but it is the purposes of the Lord that are established.” This passage describes people who were probably ardent believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. They were not atheists. But they were practical atheists. A practical atheist just lives his every day life as though God doesn’t exist. God often is just not in the equation in the details of life. Our attitude is, “God you take care of the eternal things and I’ll take care of the daily things.”