Leave Judging to God

“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12).

Against is a key idea in this paragraph. To speak against someone is to run him down, to unduly criticize, to disparage and discredit. That might be done by inventing faults in a man, by exaggerating those he does have, or by constantly calling attention to them. In such cases it is most unlikely that the critic will say much about his good qualities!

Pointing out to a man corrections he needs to make is not under consideration here. James has been doing that throughout the chapter, indeed, throughout the book! Correction offered “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1) is for a man, not against him. The New Testament commends that when done rightly, yet even that calls for great care. “Constructive criticism” easily deteriorates into destructive carping. James gives two related reasons we need to avoid speaking against a brother.

First, it is speaking against and judging the law. The heart of God’s law—regardless of the covenant under consideration—is to love God with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40). The faultfinder is surely not acting from love. He is not treating his brother as he himself would want to be treated. He is saying, in effect, that this requirement is not worth keeping and/or is not applicable to me. The truth is, that occurs every time we habitually set aside one of God’s laws. And as James points out, our role is to be doers of the law, not judges of it.

Second, there is only one Lawgiver and Judge. Since the Judge is the Lawgiver, he knows exactly what the law requires and how it should be applied. He also has the power to enforce the law, including eternal outcomes. We have no such credentials. We must, therefore, be content to be doers and not judges.

There are other practical reasons to abandon fault-finding. It not only harms others, it harms the critic as well: it ruins his influence with right-thinking people, it gives him a false sense of his own worth, and it keeps him negative and embittered.

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

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