James 4:11-12 – Judging Others

white lettering on black: don't judge someone just because they sin differently than you

Read James 4:11-12

Short and powerful is how I’d describe this reading. With each new passage, we start to see the troubles James’ audience was facing. The people in his day were probably going around trying to condemn each other or try to outdo each other because of some perceived superiority. It’s quite possible you have already encountered a judgmental person in your life.

James didn’t spend a lot of time on the subject of judging others, but he did not sweep it under the rug either. When we look around our communities today, it seems like one group or another is feeling marginalized or “judged” for some reason. Clearly, they haven’t read these verses in a while.

Just as these words can expose our own failings and put us in our place, they can also help reduce the fallout for the victim of such judgment. When we’re on the receiving end of criticism, it can be difficult to get over it. We can’t help but take it personally when someone says something evil about us. How do you deal with feeling judged? Do you lash out? Do you internalize? Do you ignore? It can help knowing that God doesn’t want people to behave in that hurtful manner.

Just as likely, we catch ourselves thinking poorly of another person. I know I’m guilty of finding fault with things not being handled the way I would handle them. Does that make me judgmental? What if I just keep it to myself?       We could talk for days about the whole idea of judgment.

This reading begins with a command! “Don’t speak evil against each other.” Speaking evil against someone has another name, slander. Even Paul in Ephesians 4:31 cautions us. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.” Nobody likes to be around people who speak evil against other people.

While it is generally not considered the same thing, I think gossiping about another person is just as harmful. The Bible is clear on how it feels about people who gossip and share things about people they have no business sharing. Proverbs 16:28 is an example. “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.” Titus 3:10 says, “If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them.” To me, gossip is evil, so that makes is a concrete example of what James was helping his people avoid.

James suggests a solution in the form of an action. “But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you.” James is only focusing on judgment pertaining to ways we disobey the law. To his Jewish audience, the law would be much more significant than it is to us non-Jews. For us, Jesus has come to interpret and fulfill the law for us. If obeying the law, we recognize the only one who judges is God.

James says about God, “He alone has the power to save or to destroy.” God has all the power. We don’t have any business condemning anyone for anything. While it might be tempting to pass judgment on another, we have to leave that to God. We don’t understand how it works, and that’s okay. We don’t have to.

We are called to be discerning for our own actions. We will have to answer to God for the choices we’ve made. Out of awe and respect, shouldn’t we be doing everything in our power to act in ways that are pleasing God? He is the one sure thing we can put our trust in.

colorful animation of prayer hands and hearts and flowers

Let’s pray. Father, you are so mighty yet full of mercy. You alone are the judge of my actions. Help me to mindful of my behavior and to avoid situations that cause me to stumble and be judgmental. Give me eyes to see and love as you love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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