STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“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. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (James 4:11-12)
Have you ever gathered in a small group with people you call friends and whispered about the actions of someone else, claiming shock at what others have done and making a statement not just condemning their actions but pronouncing that you would never do the same? Have you ever been speaking with someone and in a burst of rage put him in his place with shouts, and once you have finished, you walked away muttering that you would never want to be like him? Have you ever shot down someone coming to you asking for forgiveness, letting the person know that your forgiveness will have to be earned? These are examples of speaking evil of one another. These are the things that James condemns in our text.
It ought to be unthinkable that we would deal with our brother or neighbor with such an attitude of proud judgment, and yet we have to admit that these sins come all too easily to us. And James says that when we are doing this, we are judging our neighbor not according the God’s Law, but according to our own.
Now, not all judging is wrong. That would be an oversimplification and distortion of what this text is saying. James certainly does not rule out judging. In fact, he says at the end of this epistle, “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (5:19-20) There is a time to get involved and say something. But when we happily point out everything we think our neighbor is doing wrong, all the while patting ourselves on the back for not making the same mistakes, we are actually judging the Law—setting ourselves up as the ones who decide what is good or bad, right or wrong, rather than submitting to God’s authority to determine such things. We actually make ourselves out to be more important than God and place ourselves in danger of judgment, not from our brothers or neighbors, but from God Himself.
No, this is not a proper response to God’s love and forgiveness. Instead of proud judgment, we ought to lend a hand to our neighbor in love. That love is love that seeks to help a brother or sister, not tear that person down. To be sure, part of that love is to speak the truth and point out actual sin when it is necessary, but it is always done as a fellow sinner who is concerned about the eternal well-being of a brother or sister.
This is always done lifting up our brother or sister to see that “there is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.” That Lawgiver chose to send His Son to the cross to receive the judgment we deserve so that we might be saved. When we consider God’s amazing grace, we are able to work with our brothers and neighbors to lead one another to the Savior’s cross, and then to His empty tomb to see our sins forgiven and find peace with God. What a wonderful privilege we have to be tools in the Lord’s hands as He uses us to share His grace with our families, friends, neighbors, and anyone who will hear!
Robert Sauers is pastor of Luther Memorial Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and a member of the CLC Board of Missions