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