“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
Usually when we talk about speaking evil of someone else we’re referring to saying bad things about another person. Perhaps accusing them of some wrong action or gossiping about some mistake they’ve made. But James makes it clear that when he talks about speaking evil of another person what he’s really referring to is being judgmental about them.
James isn’t the only Bible writer to have strong things to say about our tendency to judge one another. In the sermon of the mount, Jesus commanded us to not judge one another and warned us that in the same measure as we judge we will be judged. Paul, early in the book of Romans, wrote than when we judge one another we demonstrate that we know the law and that we are guilty, without excuse, because we too are guilty of the same sins we judge others for.
Now, in our focus text, James points out that when we speak evil of another and judge them we set our selves up as judges. Like a judge we’re interpreting the law of God and then applying that interpretation to the lives and actions of others. When we do this we set ourselves apart from our brothers and sisters. No longer are we a fellow travelers on the road of life as we strive to learn what it means to be a child of God and a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. Now we’re judges and law givers fit and able to judge and condemn those that fall short of the standards as we see them.
What does James have to say about this? There is one lawgiver and judge and he is able to both save and destroy.
Friends, my experience is that out judging never works to save another person. Our judging hurts, divides, and drives people away from us and sometimes away from Jesus. But Christ, when he reveals his law to us, and applies it in our hearts brings conviction in a way that heals us, strengthens us, and restores us. Christ’s conviction eases the burdens and lightens life’s load at the same time it reveals sin and guilt. It’s also true that, when resisted, that same saving power also has the power to destroy us, but the submitted person is transformed and enlivened by the convicting power of Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Friends be very careful. God’s love is gentle, peaceful, and kind even when he sets out to correct. Far too often we, in our self righteous superiority, hurt much more than we help, and those we hurt were often already suffering hurts we can’t even understand. Regardless how justified we may feel, what right do we have to add to the burden and pain of a fellow traveler on the road of life.