In the event we may have forgotten the primary proposition James has presented in his letter, allow me to share it again. The purpose of his letter is to challenge/guide his reader to understand how to develop a perfect/complete faith. The only way that can occur is for us to approach the trials and tribulations of life with wisdom, a heavenly wisdom that comes from God.
By demonstrating God’s heavenly wisdom, James’ readers will be able to survive in the pagan environments where they now lived. It would also serve as a guide in their relationships with each other within the body of Christ. James encouraged them to realize that success would occur when they became before God humble and were obedient to Him as recipients of His unending grace and James shared that truth: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
It is possible the challenge for most people is failing to demonstrate Godly humility. In an effort to help his reader understand how God wants His children to live their lives, James immediately provides several real-life examples. The first is found in verses 11-12 of chapter four.
“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgement on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?”
Verses 11-12 forbid defaming a fellow-Christian. Such an act is in defiance to the Law. When we defame another brother or sister, we are becoming a judge. James already addressed this issue in chapter two with his discourse on being impartial. When we discriminate against others, we are becoming judges with “evil thoughts.” James is taking his reader to an even deeper level of understanding about how improper it is to become judgmental because it is ultimately an indication of our attitude about the only one who is qualified to judge – THE Lawgiver!
These must have been issues Christians were struggling with in their new environments. Maybe the pagan societies they were living in had begun influencing some of them. Maybe it was due to a lack of discipleship in their new environments, which could have led to a decline of righteousness in their daily lives. Obviously, there was an issue of pride because James has addressed pride multiple times in his short letter.
His premise: when we become judgmental of other Christians, we are elevating ourselves about them. In addition, when we judge other brothers and sisters in Christ, we are also becoming a judge of the law and ultimately the Lawgiver! Since the law is God’s law, He is the only one who has the right to sit in judgement of the law and those He has given the law to.
The phrase: “do not slander” is a closely accurate interpretation of the original text. It can also be interpreted “do not defame” or “do not denigrate.” That is not limited to telling a lie about someone else or spreading rumor. Just because something is true doesn’t mean we have the freedom to tell it to others. Doing so in an attempt to place ourselves above the other person is an example of acting out of pride, not humility! James is suggesting that whenever we judge someone else, we are concluding that we are better than them. James also connects this action of judging others to that of judging the law.
James has already shared the royal law with his readers: “To love our neighbor as ourselves.” It comes from God’s greatest commandment: “One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?’ Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first ad greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:35-40)
So, James is saying that when we speak against a brother or sister, we are speaking against the law. At that point we no longer become a doer of the law, but a judge. As Christians, we should belong together in love, which is demonstrated in our mutual care and concern for each other.
Most of us remember the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he is attacked by robbers. This was clearly a Jewish man. They strip him of his clothes, beat him, and leave him half-dead. A priest comes along (surely a brother to this man!) and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. A Levite also came along, and he too passed by on the other side. Then a Samaritan came to where the man was. He took pity on him, went to him, bandaged his wounds, put the man on his donkey, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. Which do you think was the real neighbor? That story from Luke 10:25-34, 36 clearly indicates that we should be convinced that everyone qualifies as our neighbor.
Why is this action becoming a judge of the law? It is a statement of how much we regard God. When we disobey the law, we are not only showing our lack of respect for the law, we are also showing our lack of respect for the Lawgiver. It is in essence disputing God’s authority.
The law is an expression of who God is, His characteristics and His nature. When we disobey Him, we are contradicting His authority as THE Lawgiver. We are made in the image of God. God said specifically “Let us make man in our image.” When we defame or slander God’s creation, we are also slandering the creator. Doing so removes Him from His throne as judge because we have assumed that role!
Think about the exhortation to be humble. Replacing God as judge, taking the position of judging another brother or sister is NEVER an act of humility, but one of pride and arrogance.
Here is a question we should ask ourselves: If we are people with a perfect/complete faith, demonstrating a heavenly wisdom, would we conduct ourselves in a manner that would result in anyone receiving glory except God?
James’ intentions are clear – who are we to judge our neighbor. Hopefully, the answer is obvious!