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.
“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).
Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ’s, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ’s, even so we are Christ’s. (2 Corinthians 10:7, NKJV)
Things are not always as they appear. Certainly, we must be careful of our appearance and the influence we leave on others (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 4:12). But, that is not the subject of this passage. This verse warns us not to make judgments based merely on outward appearances. When we do, we are liable to be mistaken, and even deceived (John 7:24). By doing so we have forgotten a fundamental trait of God that ought to inform our discernment: God looks at the heart instead of outward appearances (1 Samuel 16:7). Here, some Christians were trying to undermine the apostolic authority of Paul. Using carnal tactics, they complained about the strength of his epistles versus his bodily presence (2 Corinthians 10:9-10). They suggested Paul was not fully an apostle (2 Corinthians 11:5-6; 12:11-12). They compared themselves with themselves and boasted in their faithfulness (2 Corinthians 10:12, 7). On the other hand, Paul would only boast in the Lord and the work he was given to accomplish (2 Corinthians 10:13-17). Let us be careful not to use outward appearances to compare ourselves to others. Remember, “not he who commends himself is approved; but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).
1 And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. 2 Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. (Mark 2:1–2, NKJV)
As the crowds gathered around Jesus, “He preached the word to them.” It is no secret that preaching is not in high demand, nor held in high regard today. The general population disdains Bible preaching, for it exposes sin to the light of God’s truth. Frequently, the worldly conclude that when one preaches a moral and doctrinal message, he is “judging” them – and he is evil to do so! Yet, Jesus was not bashful to proclaim heaven’s word to the very ones who needed heaven’s mercy and salvation. He did not shy away from expecting sinners to have active faith in Him to be saved by Him (Mark 2:3-5). When Jesus preached, He demanded that sinners repent, or perish (Luke 13:1-5). May we not preach God’s word today, knowing it possesses the same authority today that it had when Jesus preached it? Indeed; We can, and we must (2 Timothy 4:1-2; Titus 2:15). When we preach the word, we proclaim God’s truth and love, extended to a lost and dying world. We proclaim the reality of sin, death, and salvation (Romans 6:23; Matthew 7:21-23). Like Jesus and His apostles, we urge repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21; 26:19-20). We must never stop preaching the word.
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (Romans 14:13, NKJV)
Understanding the context of a passage of Scripture is crucial to making proper application of it. Without respecting context, Scripture is twisted and perverted (2 Pet. 3:16). For example, some believe one should never render a judgment concerning another person. One appeal made to support this conclusion is today’s verse . Yet, Jesus said we are to “judge righteous judgment,” and, “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?” (Jno. 7:24; Lk. 12:57). His inspired apostle said the local church must judge “those who are inside” it (1 Cor. 5:12-13). So, there are judgments we can and must make. The context of today’s verse concerns how to treat each other when differences arise over matters that make no difference to God (Rom. 14:1-5). It addresses matters that are not sin and error, since whether one practices it or abstains from it, God equally accepts both (Rom. 14:3, 6). This text concerns things over which God allows us to exercise personal liberty, since no sin occurs in such things (like eating meat or not, 1 Cor. 8:8). In context, Romans 14:13 forbids the critical condemnation of one another’s personal liberties. We must not demand that others conform to our own conscience when that matter makes no difference to God. To do so puts a stumbling block before another. It is binding where the Lord has not bound.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1–5, NKJV)
We will all be judged by Jesus in the last day (2 Cor. 5:10). Therefore, this verse is not teaching us to avoid judgment by never rendering a judgment. Still, many attempt to use verse one to avoid the force of divine truth that calls their conduct into account. The context makes it abundantly clear Jesus is warning against hypocritical judging, not making a blanket condemnation of all forms of judgment. After all, Jesus would later command to “judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Did Jesus command us to sin? No, Jesus did not contradict Himself. The word of God is the revelation of God’s judgments. We let God be the judge by letting His word reprove and rebuke sin (2 Timothy 4:2). His judgments are true and altogether righteous (Psalm 19:9). The question is, will we accept God’s judgment when His word exposes our sin? Or, will we try to deflect personal accountability by saying, “You can’t judge me!” when someone teaches us the truth?