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 judgment 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?
The last sentence makes this paragraph come to life for at first it might seem like James is headed in a different direction. He isn’t speaking so much of slander and arguing here, he is speaking about judging others. Interesting isn’t it, that this comes where it does as the end of the whole passage, a passage that began talking about how we fight with one another.
Yes, that’s right, we started with fighting and quarrels and finish with an admonition not to judge…
In our day, many people like to complain about being “judged.” “Don’t you judge me!” they yell, while judging the other person a bigot of some sort. Very frequently, this is teamed up with another word: “tolerant” or more to the point, “intolerant.” So we hear over and over that we must not judge therefore we must be tolerant of everything. Is James going politically correct on us?
Not a chance!
The contemporary politically correct view on ‘judging’ and ‘tolerance’ is entirely an earthly view, and what has James told us about such things just a few short verses back? James is not writing this letter to the non-Christian world, he has directed it to Christians who are supposed to know better. When he tells us not to judge others, he doesn’t imply that any one of us who is doing wrong can turn the tables to justify wrong doing. Instead, he is telling us that we need to respect God’s authority to judge.
For me to judge one of my brothers or sisters in Christ means that I have taken upon myself the authority to pass condemnation upon the other person, and that is a direct affront to God, who reserves all such decisions for Himself. Thus, when we heap condemnation on one another, we are the ones in the wrong.
Suppose I see a brother who is engaged in sin, do I help him by calling him names or saying bad things behind his back? How can that possibly restore him in his relationship with God or with others? If, on the other hand, I have invested time and effort into having a relationship of mutual trust and respect between us, I may be able to help him see his error and gently guide him back to where he should be… and perhaps in the future he will help me out when I am adrift: This is love in action. If I don’t have that kind of relationship with him, I can probably find out who does… See the difference?
Take just a moment to consider the implications of this; go back and read the text from 4:1 and ask yourself why James put this last, where the “bottom line” is usually found. Who am I to judge my neighbor? All of those quarrels, being a friend of this world, not having prayer answered, grief and mourning… and they end up with who am I to judge others…
What is God telling you in these verses?