Thursday, 22 August 2019
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. James 4:11
In James 2, he spoke of showing partiality, dishonoring others through a judgmental attitude, fulfilling the royal law, and etc. This same type of thought is seen again here. There is a standard which is given in the law (whatever law applies). However, by our judgments of others in regards to that law, we become judges of the law. In this case, there is the law of God. This will be made explicit in the next verse.
Within the Bible, there have been various laws given by God. He gave a law to Adam. He gave a law to Noah. He gave a law through Moses, and etc. In Christ, a New Covenant is established. It is what comes through Christ which James is referring to. As there is a law, there is a Giver of that law. One precept in particular, that is understood within the law, is to love one another. This is what is on James’ mind. Jesus summed up the Law of Moses by saying –
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-39
Within the New Covenant, love continues to be a predominant theme. To ensure that this precept is held fast, and to ensure that we do not step over the boundaries of authority of the law, he now says, “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.”
To speak evil of one another is not a means of demonstrating love. As he is addressing the brethren, this is a problem which is found within the body of believers, and it is something James determines to correct. It is a precept also found in Paul’s writings (Ephesians 4:31, for example), and by the hand of Peter as well (see 1 Peter 2:1). There should not be evil-speaking about one another because, as James says, “He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law.”
James has given the royal law in James 2:8, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” It is a precept which extends beyond the Law of Moses, and it is one which carries through to all times. But by speaking evil of a brother, one is not loving that person. Rather, he both speaks evil of him to his harm, and he speaks evil of the law. This is because the law has said to love the neighbor. By not doing so, that person is speaking evil of the law itself. Therefore, he “judges the law.” He is sitting as an arbiter of the very law that the Lawgiver has given. That is a most unhappy position to be in!
To sum up the thought, and to finish his words, he then says, “But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.” The Lord has given the law. We are under the law. But if we judge (a verb) the law, then we are not one who is doing the law. Rather, we have become a judge (a noun). As the Lord gave the law, and we are not doing the law, then we stand under the law’s judgment. At some point, we will face the Lord who gave the law, and we will be held accountable for having failed to do the law. In the Christian context, this does not mean a loss of salvation, but a judgment of reward and loss. And there can be no reward for actions which are outside of the law which has been given.
Life application: Context is important when reading verses like this one from James, and also the one in Matthew 7:1, 2 –
Quite often we may hear or see this verse quoted by people who are attempting to defend the inappropriate lifestyle they live – in other words, “Who are you to judge me, didn’t Jesus tell you not to do that?” However, just a few verses down in that same passage we are told to make judgments and right moral decisions. Inappropriate judgment comes in the form of continuously pointing the finger at others and finding fault when there is no sound basis for it. It is also found in failing to be loving in our attitude and actions towards others. Allowing someone to continue in sin is not loving.
The law is written (whatever law that may be). When someone breaks the law, we know what the violation is and can make a sound decision concerning the offense. But when we sit as a judge of the law – speaking against one another without the weight of the law – then we sit in judgment of the law. For the New Covenant, it is the Lord who gave the law. Therefore, we have no right to sit in judgment on it. We can only apply it to ourselves and to others when a violation of it occurs.
Be careful not to quote such verses out of context because by doing so, we actually violate the very verses we are quoting. To accuse someone who is properly handling the law of mishandling it, it is the same as sitting as a judge over that person’s correct application of it. Always check the context of a verse or you might wind up using it incorrectly.
Lord Jesus, help us to rightly divide Your word, taking everything in its proper context. It is certain that when we misapply what You have given us, we ourselves then violate the very precepts we say that we are upholding. So Lord, give us wisdom when we live by and quote Your precious word. Amen.