Little Tuesday morning controversy, anyone?
This has to be one of the most divisive, proof-texted, misunderstood texts in the Bible. These two verses have been at the heart of disagreements, both with believers/believers and believers/non-believers. But… what is James really saying here? And what is he not saying? Are we to never judge? Well, that can’t be true. We’d be the worst spouse, friend, co-worker, parent, child, brother, etc. if that were the case. So we must agree that he is talking about something deeper than just never showing disapproval. Could it be, friends, that he is continuing the discussion he started earlier in this letter on the use of our tongues? I heartily think so.
Here’s how one commentary that I find profoundly helpful (ESVSB) puts it:
“James restates the basic problem behind the issues discussed in 3:1–4:10: the misuse of the tongue to speak evil or to slander others. Speaking ill of others is the result of all the arrogant boasting (3:5), jealousy (vv. 14, 16), self-centered desires (4:1, 3), and pride (v. 6) that James is warning against. Such slanderous conduct is decried in both the OT (Lev. 19:16; Ps. 50:20; Jer. 6:28) and NT (Rom. 1:30; 2 Cor. 12:20; 1 Pet. 2:1). judges the law. The “law” likely refers to these OT laws against slander, particularly Lev. 19:16, which leads to 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” which James calls “the royal law” (James 2:8). Yet it also includes in a broader sense Jesus’ kingdom laws regarding love for neighbor (Matt. 22:39) and for one another (John 13:34–35; 15:12, 17). Those who inappropriately judge others (Matt. 7:1–5; Rom. 2:1; 1 Cor. 4:5) break God’s law and show contempt for God. When a person begins to “judge the law,” he is usurping the place of the one lawgiver and judge. God alone gave the law, and he alone is judge of all (Ps. 9:19; Isa. 2:4; Joel 3:12). to save and to destroy. Possibly an implicit message to the divisive boasters, warning them of future judgment.”
So we are not to be foolish, inappropriate, self-gratfying judges. Sounds like what Jesus said in Matthew 7, right?
“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. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)
Let’s think through this one together today. How do we apply what James is saying here, while also being bold about our faith and caring for friends and loved ones who are making bad choices? What is your understanding of this text (James 4:11-12) in light of Matthew 7:1-5, Proverbs 27:17, Jude 17-23, and Galatians 6:1-2? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
By: Todd Thomas — Worship & College Pastor