We live in times when tolerance, unity, and “love” (which usually means, being nice) are dominant themes. If you dare to confront or expose sin, or if you label someone’s teaching as unbiblical, or the person as a false teacher, you get accused of being judgmental and unloving. However, in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we are told, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.“ But it’s important that we are correcting our neighbors out of love, and not pride.
“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?” (James 4:11-12 NIV)
I tend to be a very direct person, so I would now like to share this scripture from The Message (MSG): “Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others?” That lays it out pretty clearly, doesn’t it?
- What Are Your Motives? You judge someone wrongly when you criticize them out of jealousy, bitterness, selfish ambition, or another sin, rather than seeking to build them in Christ. Your motive is crucial! When James says (4:11), “Do not speak against one another,” some versions translate it, “Do not slander one another.” Slander, which means maligning someone or damaging his reputation by sharing false or deliberately misleading information, is always sin.
- What Standard Are You Using? You judge someone wrongly when you set up human standards, rather than holding to God’s Word as the standard. That was a major sin of the Pharisees. They had added dozens of manmade rules to God’s law, and then judged everyone that did not keep these rules. They were focused on outward appearances, but their hearts were far from God. They neglected God’s commandments and held instead to the traditions of men (Mark 7:6-9).
- Have You Judged Your Sin First? You judge someone wrongly when you do not first judge your own sin before trying to help them with their sin. That is Jesus’ point in Matthew 7:1-5. He does not say that it is wrong to help your brother get the speck out of his eye, but rather, before you try to do so, deal with the log in your own eye. Removing our own logs has a way of humbling us!
So James says that to resolve conflicts, we need to stop judging others. But he also reveals the reason we should not judge others: when we do so, we make ourselves judges of God’s law, rather than doers of it. We usurp God’s place as Lawgiver and Judge.
- To resolve conflicts, submit to God’s authoritative Word James calls God’s Word “the law” to show its authoritative nature. God doesn’t give suggestions for happy living. He commands us with His sovereign authority!
- Love Others With Your Words: Love does not tear down others; it builds them in Christ. If you speak against others and criticize them to make yourself look good, you are loving yourself, not others. You are not obeying God’s law; you are setting yourself above it.
- Submit to God: As Jesus said (Matt. 10:28), “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” If another person has wronged you, it’s not your place to judge that person, there is only one Lawgiver and Judge, and it’s God, not you!
James ends these two convicting verses with a pointed question: “But who are you who judge your neighbor?” He is implying, “Do you think you are God? If not, why do you set yourself up in God’s role?” Setting yourself up as judge leads to conflict and broken relationships. Humbly submitting to God and His Word and obediently seeking to love and build up others leads to harmony and restored relationships. When you find yourself thinking judgmentally about others, judge your pride and humble yourself before God.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph 4:29-32)