11 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. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (James 4:11–12, NKJV).
God’s prophet gives us a plain warning not to speak evil of one another. “Speak evil” translates the Greek word katalaleo, “to be a traducer, i.e. to slander:–speak against (evil of)” (Strong’s Greek #2635). Words that belittle, defame, and libel other Christians (or anyone, for that matter) are sins against brethren, against God, and His law. James does not negate the accurate, appropriate judging of sin. For example, the apostle Paul said we judge unrepentant Christians (“those who are inside”) by applying corrective discipline and putting away the evil person from ourselves (1 Cor. 5:12-13). James is condemning unrighteous judgments that are void of divine truth. He addresses and exposes the sinful “wars and fights” that arise among Christians in this context (James 4:1). Divisive, factious words and actions are worldly and prideful (James 4:1-6). We “become judges with evil thoughts” when we quickly think the worst, grumble and complain against one another, and show partiality in our treatment of one another (James 2:4, 12-13; 5:9). We become the law or standard by which we judge others. James cautions us to remember God is the Lawgiver to whom we are all answerable. He saves and destroys; therefore, we give place to His judgments. Let us not become judges of one another to our destruction.
47 And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. (John 12:47–48, NKJV)
Sin condemns souls to eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Jesus came to save a world already condemned by sin. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17, 18). Jesus affirms in today’s text that He came to save guilty souls lost in sin (v. 47). Jesus did not say He will never judge our sins. He said if we reject Him (refuse to believe He is the Son of God) and do not receive (accept, follow) His words, His words will judge us in the last day (v. 48). God has appointed a day of judgment, with Jesus as the Judge (Acts 17:31; Heb. 9:27; 2 Cor. 5:10). God’s love compelled Him to send His Son to save the world (Jno. 3:16). Under commandment from the Father, Jesus spoke God’s words that lead to eternal life (Jno. 12:49-50). God’s justice demands a righteous judgment if we continue to sin instead of believing and following His Son and Savior, Jesus Christ (Rom. 2:2-5, 16). God’s gospel saves sinners who believe and follow Jesus (Lk. 6:46; Rom. 1:16-17).
16 “Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. 17 You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s. The case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.’” (Deuteronomy 1:16–17, NKJV)
We are reminded of the importance of impartial, unbiased judges as we watch this week’s confirmation hearing of the most recent judge nominated to sit on the U. S. Supreme Court. Judges who bring an agenda to interpreting and applying the law to cases are biased, unjust, and undermine the rule of law. “Equal justice under law” (engraved above the entrance to the United States Supreme Court) is a principle we strive for as a nation, but it is not a new concept. Moses commanded it of Israel under the governance of the Sinaitic Law. Gospel salvation under the new covenant of Christ is equally available to all “without respect of persons” (Acts 10:34-35). God is impartial, applying His word of truth without bias to rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, Jew and Gentile (Rom. 2:1-11). God commands all of us to repent because He has appointed a righteous, impartial Judge before whom we will stand and be judged (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Cor. 5:10). Let us discard our agendas for the only one that matters; the word of Christ. He saves and He judges without prejudice and partiality (Jno. 12:48-50).
1 Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, give to the Lord glory and strength. 2 Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts. 9 Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth. (Psalm 96:7–9, NKJV)
Psalm 96 is a call to worship the Lord God because “He is coming to judge the earth” (Psa. 96:13). He is sovereign over every kingdom of earth and over every family of people who inhabit it. People of every nation are called on to attribute to the one true God the glory and strength by which He reigns, provides, and judges us all. Worship is about honoring God, not ourselves (v. 8). We must bring our offerings into His presence with holiness and reverence. Jesus teaches us to worship God “in spirit and truth” (Jno. 4:24). His gospel reveals the offerings of praise that God accepts (Acts 2:42). These offerings consist of the Lord’s Supper, praying, singing, giving, and teaching God’s word (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 14:15, 26; 16:1-2; Eph. 5:19). The Old Testament repeatedly teaches us God will not accept whatever we decide to give Him as worship, but that which He instructs us to give Him in worship. From Cain and Abel to Nadab and Abihu, from King Saul to King Uzziah and more, we learn God only accepts worship from hearts that reverently give His commanded worship. Let us give God the homage He is due. May we ever come before God with praise and adoration from hearts that fear Him and with lives devoted to holiness.
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; 12 Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord. 13 For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth. (Psalm 96:11–13, NKJV)
Throughout history, the Lord God has come in judgment against sin. The most notable being the flood in the days of Noah, which is a type of the fiery day of the Lord yet to come (2 Pet. 3:5-10). The Bible records God coming in judgment against cities and nations (Jude 5, 7). He stirred up nation against nation to render His punishments against their sins (Isa. 13:1, 17-22; Isa. 14-24). God’s creation in heaven and on earth rejoice when God applies His justice against evil. Righteousness and truth are His standards of judgment (Rom. 2:1-5). We dare not minimize and forget that God reigns and blesses good while calling evil to account. Jesus promised a day of judgment for all who reject Him and His word (John 12:48). If you cannot rejoice in God’s righteous judgments of truth, then it is time to repent and honor God (Rom. 2:4-5). James’ exhortation still rings true, “You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (Jas. 5:8-9).
1 Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity. I have also trusted in the Lord; I shall not slip. 2 Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; Try my mind and my heart. 3 For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth. (Psalm 26:1–3, NKJV)
David asks Jehovah to judge him and pronounce sentence over his life. David cites his integrity, faith, and a life lived in God’s truth as guideposts for God’s examination. The psalm continues to describe some specific ways David conducted his life within these parameters. Note that David was not exalting himself; he knew his sins, for God’s mercy and steadfast love (“lovingkindness”), was always before him. The temptation arises to judge and approve ourselves in matters of faith and truth. But, self-judgment does not justify us before the Lord, even when we know nothing against ourselves. “For I know of nothing against myself, yet He who judges me is the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:4). The Lord will judge us on the last day (2 Cor. 5:10). Will it be a day of glory or tears? With David, let us faithfully live in the hope of God’s redemption. “But as for me, I will walk in my integrity; Redeem me and be merciful to me” (Psa. 26:11).
32 The wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay him. 33 The Lord will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged. (Psalm 37:32–33, NKJV)
Someone is watching you – someone who does not have your best interests at heart. So it is that the wicked scrutinize the righteous, looking for any chink in the armor, anything they can twist to slay (actually or figuratively) the upright in heart. It was so with Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees relentlessly assailed Him, cross-examining Him, “lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him” (Lk. 11:54). When the wicked condemn the righteous, the Lord assures His abiding presence and approval despite the judgment of the wicked. What are the righteous to do when judged and condemned by the wicked? Do not give reviling for reviling, but speak wisdom and justice (Psa. 37:30). Keep God’s law in your heart, so you do not slip from following God’s path (Psa. 37:31). Patiently endure the evil and keep trusting the Lord. He will bless you and bring His judgment against the wicked (Psa. 37:34). Although transgressors may prosper temporarily, they will come to ruin, so, do not envy them (Psa. 37:1-2). It is the blameless who receive peace from the Lord (Psa. 37:35-40).
56 Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time? 57 Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right? (Luke 12:56–57, NKJV)
Jesus scolded the people for being unwilling to judge the time of the Messiah’s presence among them. They read the signs of the sky and the earth and drew correct conclusions about the weather (Lk. 12:54-55). Yet, when they saw the signs that identified Jesus as the Messiah, they resisted and refused to judge what was right (Lk. 11:29-32). Even what is apparent is obscured when hearts are hard against the truth. God has made His power and presence known through His creation, yet many refuse to believe in Him. They do not judge what is right. God has revealed Jesus to be the Son of God by raising Him from the dead. Still, multitudes refuse to believe in Him. They do not judge what is right (Rom. 1:4). The gospel plan of salvation is preached to the whole world, yet few enter the narrow gate and walk the way that leads to life (Mk. 16:15-16; Matt. 7:14). They do not judge what is right. You see, Jesus expects us to make judgments, but they must be righteous (Jno. 7:24). Like judging changes in the weather, we are to assess the evidence given in God’s word and judge what is right and be without offense until the day of Christ (Phil. 1:9-10).
“The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:9, NKJV)
God’s judgments are “true and righteous,” reliable and trustworthy, unbiased by error and untainted by the stain of prejudice. We must resist the temptation to pronounce judgment upon those who would speak God’s judgments to us. When someone speaks to us the truth of the gospel we must refrain from the defensive, futile deflection that says, “You’re just judging me!” It is ironic (not to mention, hypocritical) that those who charge others with “judging” them are doing the very thing they condemn in others. Yes, let us speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Yes, let us correct sinners with humility as we call them to repentance and salvation (2 Tim. 2:24-26). But let there be no mistake, we are not “judging” the sinner when we identify their sin and error from the Scriptures. We are teaching God’s word to help the sinner turn from sin and be saved. By doing so we are sharing God’s judgments, not rendering our own. “With my lips I have declared all the judgments of Your mouth” (Psa. 119:13). God’s true and righteous judgments are revealed in His word. By hearing His judgments (His word) we can turn from sin, turn to God, and conform ourselves to His judgments (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:20-24). May we never condemn someone for telling us the truth (Gal. 4:16). Instead, may it be said of us, “I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me” (Psa. 119:30).
1 Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Matthew 7:1–2, NKJV)
This is not an unqualified indictment and prohibition of all judgment. Jesus would later expose those who judged Him by appearance by urging them to use “righteous judgment” instead (John 7:24). On another occasion Jesus rebuked as hypocrites those who judged weather signs but would not discern that the Messiah was among them. He said, “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, you do not judge what is right?” (Lk. 12:56-57). Today’s passage warns us not to be hypocritical in our judgments of others. Too easily we succumb to the temptation to condemn others while failing (refusing) to see similar (and other) sins in ourselves (Rom. 2:1-2, 21-24). “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3). By first removing our “plank” (sin) we are able to empathetically and more precisely help our brother remove the speck (sin) from his life. By this we become better adept at avoiding harsh, hurtful, and harmful judgments of one who struggles with or have been overtaken by sin. Truth, wisdom, impartiality, mercy, and gentleness are among the qualities that enable us to judge righteously (Jas. 3:17-18; Gal. 6:1). And, surely these are the qualities by which we want to be judged (aren’t they)?