Jas 4:11-12 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?
It is easy to think of James as a collection of proverbs and wise advice, each section or couple of verses being separate from the whole but James is very contextual. He just has a lot to say and so it takes a few verses to get to every point he wants to make. Remember, the Bible was not written in chapters and verses, these were actual letters written to an audience and we, we are reading someone else’s mail even though it can and should be applied to our own lives.
The thoughts James expresses here combine several thoughts he has already discussed: The law was discussed in chapter 1 as a person looks into it and views it and sees what he needs to correct. Judgements were discussed in chapter 2 as he dealt with the way distinctions were made, on the basis of status and wealth, but not, (as would be acceptable) on sinful living as in I cor 5. In chapter 3, he talks about talking. How we use our speech. Some misuse it by praising God and, with the same sanctified, holy mouth(?) belittling a brother. Chapter 4 starts off with quarrels and fighting. Whew! One might get the impression that James’ theme is the speech of a Christian. It is one of the themes.
Do NOT speak evil of a brother can be broadened so much. Do not criticize a brother. Do not gossip about a brother. Do not ridicule a brother. do not slander a brother. Do not rebuke a brother? No. Rebuke is a different matter, however, I do not think that James’ audience would recognize the difference between rebuke and criticism.
If we look at some of the differences in James audience two are apparent. Status differences and teacher vs. non teacher differences. Those who want to be rich and those who want to be teachers are the problems in this group. Those who are content to go about doing what they see in the perfect law of liberty and mind their own business are not the problem. Those who are not content, who give into their passions and desires (for fame, riches, prestige needs to be included) create all sorts of problems.
Who are you to criticize a rich brother? Or for that matter a brother who does not have so much (e.g. lazy, no good for nothing bum)? The teacher who studies and tries diligently to bring out the meaning in God’s word but who does it with poor speech, an accent, or in writings with poor punctuation.
Any of these people might have the problem we attribute to them. The rich brother might be stingy, the poor brother might be lazy, the teacher might stutter or, perhaps, really shouldn’t be teacher (as not all have that gift) but to be speaking against a brother is not the correct answer. To stir up others against him, is not conducive to peace. You might not even be in a position to be able to help him since you don’t him but certainly if your are envious and jealous of what he has, you certainly cannot help.
What should you do? Show mercy. Be kind. Pray for him. Befriend him (and as the friendship grows you can help direct him by both your example and, in studies with him). If there really is a problem, show him the problem but be humble about it.
If you put yourself in the position of having judged him (and I think the context means that you not only do not know all the facts, but that there is no interest in this brothers best interest) you put yourself in the position of the law. The law, as we know, simply says “You lived up to my standard” or “you did not live up to my standard.” When you make yourself the standard, you are in effect making yourself God because God is the standard of the law. So you say to your brother “you did not live up to my standard, so you are to be condemned”.
Wow! Would you want to be judged by that same standard? Even if you got to pick the standard? I hope you would say NO, because we all realize that we do not even live up to our own standard. So guess what, our standard, our law, the one we used to condemn a brother with, we, the god of our life, must also stand condemned and without remedy because we do not have an only begotten Son to die for the sins of others, much less for ourselves, which they (and we) commit against our precious law.
But the One lawgiver? He can destroy AND he can save. Don’t put yourself in His place, just try to be more like Him. Also remember, Mercy triumphs over judgement. Let God be God. He will judge righteously.
None of what James says can be applied to those who are living in sinful activities. Adultery, drunkenness, and a whole list of things from I cor 5 or Gal 5 are not things to be tolerated in the Lord’s church. They do need to be removed for the sake of the congregation. However, I don’t think that in this letter James is talking about that kind of person. Yet even in those cases, the withdrawal from a brother has one other purpose, the salvation of the soul, so putting him down and not trying to exhort him as a brother would also be wrong.
What other ways might we be able to apply this passage in our lives? Share if you want to.
The book of James opens up in a very interesting way. It starts with the words “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…” What I find so interesting about this particular opening is its humility. Many people believe, as I do, that the James who wrote this book is the brother of Jesus himself. This makes his opening all the more remarkable.
What I find interesting is the way he introduces himself. Rather than name dropping and playing up on the fact that Jesus is his brother and using that to elevate himself over those Christians to whom he writes, he simply says that he is a bondservant of God and of Jesus. He does not put himself in a position of superiority nor does it put himself in a place where he demands by his own virtue or relation to Jesus that his audience listens to him. It is true that James, as an inspired author of this New Testament book, is revealing to his audience words from God and things which they need to know. However, he is not saying that the authority rests within himself; he properly identifies himself as a servant of God acknowledging that his authority belongs to God.
Humility in authority is one of the key concepts which Jesus taught his apostles and one of the things which James will touch on later on in his book starting in chapter 3. Jesus was asked about authority and who would be the greatest in His kingdom in several passages. One of those passages is found in Matthew’s Gospel. The mother of two of his disciples (James-who died in Acts 12 and John) came to Jesus seeking a high position for her sons in His kingdom. When the other disciples heard about it, they were not too happy, each of them possibly wanting such positions for himself.
In Matthew 20:25, we see Jesus responds to this by saying: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The world’s standard tells us that the Boss is one in charge. Why? Because he is the boss! Parents sometimes even resort to the dreaded “Because I said so!” when pestered (exasperated?) by a child’s insistence over this or that.
Jesus’ standard in exercising authority is one of service. While passages show Jesus’ authority (e.g. Matt 28:18-20; Eph 1:20-23), others show his service both while on earth (John 13:1-10) and in Heaven (Hebrews 7:25). He exemplified his ultimate act of service by “giving his life a ransom for many.” So when James opens his letter to his Christian audience and identifies himself as a bondservant I see a humility that would be good to see among all people in authority.
It is true that certain roles by definition are vested with authority but ultimately all authority comes from God. As such, all who are under God should recognize, as James does here, their servitude to God and His authority. Governments, parents, teachers and elders in the church are all given authority by God in the role that they play. As servants of God all of us are to listen to those authorities in as much as they rule within God’s laws. (Acts 4:19-20) But those in such authority are to recognize that they, too, are servants and need to exercise such authority following the example of Jesus–that of service.