Summary: James encourages his readers to understand their frailty while acknowledging God’s sovereignty.
LIVING THE REAL LIFE:
CULTIVATING A FAITH THAT WORKS
YOU ARE NOT THE MASTER
James chapter 4 is where we turn to today. We will be looking at the last part of chapter 4. Now, remember the first 10 verses of chapter 4 are a call to abandon the selfish, sinful lifestyle that so many of James’ readers were caught up in. We saw last time the ten commands James gave in order to bring his readers out of that way of living. They were to submit to God, resist the devil, draw near to God, cleanse their hands, purify their hearts, be wretched, mourn, weep, turn their laughter to mourning (which is to say they were to repent), and humble themselves before the Lord. Coming right after these commands is more rebuke of attitudes and actions that were contrary to the kind of living James was calling for. In light of his command for the readers to humble themselves before the Lord, he addresses the issues in the church that were a result of prideful living. He has already stated that God opposes the proud. So now he addresses specific issues. Of course, the selfish ambitions and longings of the latter part of chapter 3 and the first part of chapter 4 go hand in hand with the prideful thinking and living in our passage today, but there is a nuance of emphasis here. That nuance is the teaching that they were not the masters of the things they thought they were the masters of. And by way of application, we are not the masters of the things we often think we are the masters of. Let’s read our text then, and see what they thought they were the masters of, but weren’t. And accordingly what we are not the masters of; though we may think we are. Beginning at James 4:11 James writes:
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. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
We can divide this passage into two separate thoughts. The first thought comes in vv.11-12 and the second in vv.13-17. Both concern the readers thinking they were masters over something that they weren’t. Firstly, let’s consider in vv.11-12, that James tells his readers: you are not the master of your neighbors’ lives.
YOU ARE NOT THE MASTER OF YOUR NEIGHBORS’ LIVES (VV.11-12)
Let’s take a look at what these believers were doing and what James reprimands them for. The first thing he writes under this heading is: you are not the master of your neighbors’ lives: so don’t speak evil against them.
YOU ARE NOT THE MASTER OF YOUR NEIGHBORS’ LIVES:
SO DON’T SPEAK EVIL AGAINST THEM (V.11)
He writes in the first part of v.11:
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.
The word that is translated as the phrase “speak evil” is an interesting word. It literally means “to speak against”. Some translations render it “slander” as in “do not slander one another.” But really the meaning is broader than that. Slander is to say things that are not true about someone who is not around in order to defame their reputation. For instance, if a women is jealous of all the attention a colleague is getting at work and she goes around the lunch room telling all of her girlfriends that Jane Doe has been sleeping with the boss in order to get ahead on the job and there is no truth to such a story – that is slander. But this concept of speaking against is more than that. This would also include saying things that are absolutely true but saying them with the wrong attitude or motive. For example, that same jealous woman might notice that Jane Doe is flirting with the boss a little but rather than express genuine concern privately she begins making comments to others about Jane’s behavior in order, not to help Jane, but hurt her. We all know that even things that are true can be said at the wrong time and in the wrong ways. That’s what this word means. Don’t speak about your brothers and sisters in Christ with impure, malicious, defamatory motives – whether what you’re saying is technically true or not.