These are my notes from a sermon series I did through the book of James. It has not been proofed for spelling or grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
We are in a series lessons called Satisfied. We have been unpacking James 4 verse-by-verse. James 4:1 begins with this question, What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? (NLT). Why are you arguing so much with others? Why do you seem to always be discontent? Irritated? Annoyed? Or angry? It is because of the “evil desires” within you. Those “evil desires” are those selfish desires that cause you to want to always be right or in control. If it’s not done your way, you get mad and let them know it. These “evil desires” are the reason why you are so easily offended and you feel like you have to say something or correct someone all the time.
Through verses 1-6 we are told why we argue and fight with others so much. Then in verses 7-11 we are told how to combat this urge to argue and fight. James says, “Humble yourself before God.” We unpacked that in detail last week.
When you get to verse 11 we encounter another reason why we argue with others so much and its because we have a judgmental attitude toward others. We are overly critical and condemning of others. Let’s take a look at James 4:11 and then unpack it. James 4:11 says, Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. 12 God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? (NLT). One of the reasons why you are so dissatisfied in life is you feel like you have to correct everything and everyone. You are overly critical and judgmental and because of this you find it difficult to be content in life.
What judging others does NOT mean:
To help resolve conflicts, stop judging others. This command is easy to state, but it’s a bit more complex to understand. So we need to carefully think through this. The Bible does not say to NEVER judge others. There are times you are going to need to judge and evaluate others. Let me give you some examples.
You will need to judge (assess) someone’s character or teaching.
First, there are going to be time you will need to judge (assess) someone’s character or teaching. When God’s Word tells you to not judge others, it is not telling you to not make judgments about people. There is a difference between making a judgment and being judgmental. There is a difference between constructive judgment and condemning judgment. Let me give you an example of this. In Matthew 7:1 we are told, “Do not judge others.” That is talking about being judgmental and condemning in your decision about them. But then in verse 6 we are told, “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you” (NLT). There are some people that if you were to try to share with them God’s Word, give them godly advice and try to admonish them in love they will see your words as useless and get angry and trample on what you say like pigs walking on pearls. In some cases these people will be so offended by what you say they will “turn and attack you.” What Jesus is saying that you will need to make a decision, a judgment call on whether these people are ready to hear what you have to say. That is making a constructive judgment, not a condemning judgment.
Then a few verses later in verse 15 we are told, “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act” (NLT). Throughout time, there have been people who claim to be prophets from God, but they are false prophets. There will be times that you will need to make a decision and a judgment on whether not a person is speaking from God or not. That is not a condemning judgement, but a constructive judgment.
You will need to judge (address) someone’s sin
Number two, there will be times you will need to judge (address) someone’s sin. I’ve heard people say, “I could never confront anyone about their sin, because we are not supposed to judge others. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!” But this is dodging a difficult, but loving, responsibility. Take a look at James 5:19, “My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins” (vs. 19-20, NLT). Part of bringing someone back is to recognize that they are caught up in some sin that is harmful to them and others. Then in Galatians 6:1 we are told, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path” (NLT). There are numerous instructions in the Bible about confronting another person when it comes to some sin in their life. To do this, you will need to make a judgment about the sin and the person in order to help them.
You will need to judge (evaluate) someone’s spiritual maturity
Number three, from time to time you will need to judge (evaluate) someone’s spiritual maturity. To make wise ministry decisions and to shepherd the flock, church leaders must make judgments about a person’s spiritual maturity and doctrinal views. For example, 1 Timothy 3:1 says, “This is a trustworthy saying: ‘If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.’ So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?” (vs. 1-4, NLT). Right after this, 1 Timothy describes the qualifications for a deacon in the church. My point is this, a potential church leader will need to be examined and evaluated. A judgment will have to be made whether or not this person is ready or not. Their spiritual maturity will be judged, but this is not being judgmental.
With all that said, let’s take a look at the command. You are told in verse 11, “Don’t speak evil against each other….” Then James goes on to give an indication of what he means when he says, “If you criticize and judge each other….” For me to “speak evil against” you is for me to “criticize and judge” you in some way. Now what does that mean?
- To “speak evil against” (katalaleo) refers to the mindless, thoughtless, carelessness, critical, derogatory, untrue statements directed against others. It has a malicious intent to it. This is where you say things to be hateful, spiteful, mean, cruel, or hurtful in some way. The idea is to tear someone down behind their back. This is sometimes translated slander. Remember, the word “evil” means to be selfish. You are speaking selfishly against this person.
- To “criticize and judge” (krino) others is to condemn them. James is not referring to constructive criticism, but destructive criticism. This is badmouthing someone before you really know them. You are cutting them down to others, but you have heard something bad about them. You are criticizing them, slamming them, cutting them down, and saying things about them that you don’t know if its actually true or not. But you are passing this negative information about them to others without talking to them or finding out if its true or not.
What are the reasons for us to not be judgmental and overly critical of others? James gives us four, so let’s take a look at them.
Because of God’s family: this is what we think of others
Number one, we don’t criticize and judge others because of God’s family. James 4:11 refers to us as “brothers and sisters.” He is reminding us that we are a part of a divine family. As believers we are “brothers and sisters.” In healthy families, they don’t slander each other, belittle each other, and they don’t publicly humiliate or shame each other. In a loving a family, they will have a lot of dirt on each other but they don’t use it against each other. They don’t try to destroy each other, they try to build each other up. Galatians 5:15 says, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (CSB). Instead of slandering another believer, find a way to support them. Instead of tearing them down, let’s build them up. Be a part of the solution, not the problem.
Because of God’s Word: this is what we think of God’s Word
Number two, we don’t criticize and judge others because of God’s Word. James 4:11, If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. He says that if you are going to criticize and judge others, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. What is this referring too?
James has already mentioned God’s law before. Look back at James 2:8 which says, “Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 9 But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law” (NLT). When you criticize and judge others unfairly you are intentionally ignoring God’s Word. What James is saying is that the person who reads God’s law of love and then deliberately disobeys it is virtually saying that God’s law is not worth obeying. You are judging it as not worthy of your obedience.
Then James says, But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. Your job and my job is not to condemn others, but be doers of God’s Word. Your job and my job is “not to judge whether it applies” to us, because all of God’s Word applies to us. When you start choosing and picking what part of God’s Word applies to you, then that’s where you get in trouble. You place yourself above God and His Word and you place yourself as the final judge of what is true and right. That’s a dangerous place to be.
Because of God’s character: this is what we think of God
Number three, don’t criticize and judge others because of God’s character. This deals with what we think about God. James 4:12 says, God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy.
When you criticize and judge others, you are not just breaking God’s law, but you are attempting to take over God’s rightful place as Judge. “God alone is the Judge.” Not God and you are the Judges. So, when you begin to be critical and judgmental of others you are encroaching on territory reserved only for God. You are trying to play God and be God over that person.
James says, He alone has the power to save or to destroy. The point is that in the final judgement of all things God is the one who will judge. He has the true power and ability to judge accurately. And who are we to strut around picking and choosing what part of God’s Word we obey or don’t obey and then passing our arrogant judgements onto others? Ultimately, the final judgement is God’s. He is sovereign. He can “save” or “destroy” the person that was spoken against and he can “save” or “destroy” the person that was critical and judgmental.
The idea here would seem to be, that he is able to save those whom you condemn, and destroy those who you approve. In general, it may mean that God can be entrusted with all power and is abundantly able to administer His judgment perfectly; to restrain where it is necessary to restrain; to save where it is proper to save; to punish where it is just to punish. The whole matter pertaining to judgment, therefore, may be safely left in his hands; and, as he is abundantly qualified for it, we should not usurp his prerogatives.
We need to remind ourselves that we can’t consign anyone to hell, at the same time, we need to remind ourselves and others and neither can we give anyone an automatic ticket to heaven.
Because of who I am
Number four, don’t criticize and judge others because of who I am. This deals with what you think of yourself. James 4:12 says, So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
Those who slander, criticize, and judge others have an exaggerated view of their own knowledge and importance. Today, James may say it like this, “Who do you think you are sitting in condemnation of someone else?”
This reminds me of Romans 12:3 where Paul says, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves…” (NLT).
When we are being judgmental and critical of others we think we can take God’s place. In addition to that, we think we have the “right” to judge those around us. The reason you think you have the right to cut down and criticize and cast judgment on someone is because you think you are better than they are. So there is a pride issue here.
There is at least one reason why you shouldn’t feel like you have a “right” to judge others. You don’t have all the facts and truth. Ignorance mars our best judgments. We can judge external sins to be sins, but only imperfectly. We certainly do not know what is in the heart of another. However, God knows every little detail about a person and that’s why 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “Don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time – before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due” (NLT). You don’t really know what is going on inside that person, so let God do the judging and let God love that person through you.
One of the reasons why you argue and fight with others is because you believe it is your role and responsibility to judge others and be critical of them either to their face or behind their back. One way to avoid unnecessary arguments is to stop judging others.
As a Christian, someone who is born again and a follower of Jesus, you have the life of Christ in you. And when you draw deeply on Him, the same submissive love that caused him to become sin for you causes you to sacrifice for others. So when you are insulted, you do not retaliate or make threats but entrust yourself “to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Like him, we do not run down others but rather are channels of divine love. It is possible to lead lives that heal instead bite, that forgive instead of criticize, and that show mercy instead of harsh judgment.