James 4:11-12


Bible Study Notes
Do Not Judge
James 4:11-12


The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff for use as a Bible Study aid.

Intro. - The subject of judging others is one that bothers and confuses many people. We are sure it is wrong to judge, but we are not sure what that means. Even people who know very little about the Bible are quick to quote, "Judge not, lest ye be judged" (see Matt. 7:1).

And yet, we are all aware that it is necessary to judge other people. We find ourselves doing it all the time, sometimes without even realizing it.

It is important to understand what the Bible means when it says we are not to judge others. Are there occasions when it is necessary and right to pass judgment on another person for what he says or does? What must we understand to be biblical in this crucial area?

James now addresses the matter by forbidding believers to speak against other believers. This is still within the framework of worldliness that he has been talking about since 3:13.

In 4:7-10 James gave ten sharp commands demanding change on the part of his readers. His basic command called for a humbling of themselves before God.

James now forbids the judging of others because it involves usurping the authority that God has reserved for Himself. Again at issue is a selfish arrogance that sets itself above others.

4:11 -
The command here is given in the present tense, which may indicate that this was a habitual practice among them.

Do not speak against (katalaleite) is the literal translation of this word. It carries the idea "to speak evil of," "to criticize," "to slander." The assumption is that the person being slandered is not personally present.

The speaker's intention is to pass judgment on a person by attacking his character. We pick up this thought from the author's mention of the devil in 4:7. The name devil is the translation of the Greek word diabolos which means "slanderer."

In attacking the character of other believers, these "brethren" were really manifesting the attitude of the devil. He is the one who carries out slander against believers.

This word is used of the attacks that unbelievers make against believers (cf. 1 Pet. 2:12; 3:16). This fits the pattern of Satan who accuses (kategoreo) believers in the presence of God (cf. Rev. 12:10).

The command not to slander or speak against others was clearly spelled out in the Old Testament (cf. Lev. 19:16; Ps. 50:20; 101:5, [note here its association with pride and arrogance]).

In the New Testament, in addition to being used to characterize the attacks the unbelievers make on believers, this word is found in the lists of sins that are to have no place in the believer's life (cf. Rom. 1:30; 2 Cor. 12:20; 1 Pet. 2:1).

James now explains what happens when a person speaks against someone else. They really are judging that person. James says that speaking against a brother is judging that brother, and that is the same as speaking against and judging the law.

The law that James is speaking about here is not the Mosaic Law, but the royal law of love that he has already talked about (2:8). If we are submitting ourselves to the Scriptures, then we will love our neighbor as ourself (cf. Lev. 19:18; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-15).

When we attack other believers, we are not demonstrating love towards them. Thus we are attacking the law and saying it is not acceptable. We have overruled it.

4:12 -
James reminds these brethren that there is but one Lawgiver and Judge. The stress is on One which appears first in the sentence: One is Lawgiver and Judge.

Not only have they set themselves above another believer, they have set themselves above the law. In so doing they have tried to set themselves in the place of God Himself.

the One who is able - This phrase stresses the solitary uniqueness of God. He alone has power "to save and to destroy." The one who would be lawgiver and judge must also be the one who has power over life and death, heaven and hell (cf. Matt. 10:28; Rev. 1:18).

Paul recognized this fact and acknowledged that even his own judgment of himself did not count. Ultimate judgment rests with God (cf. 1 Cor. 4:3-5).

James turns back to the brethren with a rebuking question: "Who are you who judge your neighbor?" It is indeed the height of arrogance and pride to try to take upon ourselves the role that God has reserved exclusively for Himself.

The use of the word neighbor in place of brother seems intended to tie this clearly to "the royal law" of 2:8.

Having established the single authority of God as Lawgiver and Judge, we should note that James has rendered some stern observations about his readers in this letter (4:1-10).

There are commands not to judge found elsewhere in the New Testament also (Matt. 7:1-5 [cf. v. 6]; Luke 6:37-42; Rom. 2:1-6; 14:4).

These commands do not negate the instructions to believers to exercise biblical judgment (1 Cor. 2:14-16):

  1. We are to judge sin among believers (cf. Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:3,12,13; 2 Thess. 3:14).
  2. We are to exercise judgment regarding false doctrine and unbelievers (cf. Matt. 7:15-20; Gal. 1:8,9; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 1:10).

The ultimate judgment of the motives of men's hearts will be carried out by God alone (cf. Rom. 2:16; 14:10-12; 1 Cor. 4:5).

Conclusion -
We must be careful not to speak against other believers. Any attacks on their character and motives is contrary to the love that Cod demands we demonstrate toward one another.

The tendency of our sinful flesh is to attack and destroy others. We exalt self and destroy others in the process.

We must remember that we will all someday stand before the One who has the power to save and to destroy (Matt. 10:28). Our preparation for that day requires - first and foremost - faith in the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16,36; 5:19-29).

Then we must live submissively toward Him as He has revealed His will in His Word.

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.

Tony Capoccia
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