James 4:12 …Who are you to judge another? (NKJV)
Every time I do a lesson that mentions “judging” I have to open with a little lesson first. One of the most overused phrases by both Christians and unbelievers is “the Bible says don’t judge“. Many Christians shrink in peer-pressure-induced fear in the face of this silly argument. They should not. I try to never miss a chance to arm Christians with a refutation of this popular proclamation.
The Bible Says Judge!
The Bible doesn’t say “don’t judge” in the sense of it being a universal declaration regardless of context. In essence, the Bible says “don’t judge in a way that will bring judgment on yourself”. It has a couple of implications: don’t be a hypocrite (applying a Godly judgment to others you don’t live by), and don’t judge too harshly (a lack of compassion or being unreasonable).
I’m not going to expound that whole lesson here so let me give you the nutshell: we all make judgments every day. We judge rape to be wrong. Stealing is wrong. You would probably judge me hitting you in the face as wrong. Even pronouncing someone as “judgmental” is making a judgment (a blatant fact overlooked by everyone tossing that accusation around). As Christians we make judgments about what is right, what is wrong, what is edifying, what is pleasing to God NOT based on our own preferences, but based on God’s Word. We “judge” everything by God’s standard found Scripture. Christian or not, everyone makes judgments constantly.
Verses like Luke 6:37 (“judge not lest you be judged”) are telling us not to be hypocrites, not to judge without compassion or understanding, and not to judge based on our own standards rather than using God’s.
Again, the human experience is full of judging every day. Liberal, politically correct people (relentlessly guilty of saying “the Bible says don’t judge!”) make judgments by the minute about conservative ideas, environmental beliefs, political ideology and without question, JUDGE Christianity harshly. They JUDGE all the time. They just don’t like being judged. That is not a trait exclusive to Liberals… the whole human race struggles with that hypocrisy.
Every person JUDGES every day, all day long about everything from the mundane (“that guy shouldn’t run red lights”), to the social (“the death penalty is wrong”) to the eternal (“I don’t believe in God”). You are not CAPABLE of NOT judging. No one is.
So quit quivering when someone says “God says don’t judge, nah-nah-na-na-nah…” and be ready to explain to them what the Bible really does say. And remind them they are being judgmental for accusing you of being judgmental! Now, on to our lesson about judging:
The Bible Says Do NOT Judge
Ha, ha… couldn’t resist. Actually, the Bible DOES say that but you have to take it in context. Let’s see what James says about judging in chapter 4 of the book of James:
James 4:11–12 ~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? (NKJV; emphasis mine)
James engages in practical teaching about living the Christian life. He leads up to the statement in verse 11 having taught us about wisdom, not to play favorites, faith without action is a dead faith, keep your tongue under control, rid yourself of pride and be humble. He continues with a direct command about not speaking evil of a fellow Christian. Let’s break it down phrase by phrase:
- Do not speak evil…
Evil here is the idea of badmouthing, unfairly criticizing, being derogatory or slanderous.
- … of one another…
It works both ways friends.
James is giving specific instructions to Christians. Yes, we shouldn’t go around speaking evil about ANYONE but James is emphasizing the brotherhood and family aspects of being part of God’s household.
- He who speaks evil and judges his brother…
When you speak evil in this manner, you are putting yourself in God’s place, setting yourself up as the Judge of your Brother or Sister. Remember, we aren’t talking about confronting someone over sin or rebuking obvious wrong (as determined by Scripture). We are talking about ______ (go look at the list in the first bullet). That kind of evil speak is truly JUDGMENTAL, the kind of judging condemned repeatedly in Scripture.
- … speaks evil of the law and judges the law.
When you speak evil of another Christian, you set yourself up as The Law thereby insulting and diminishing God’s Law. You are judging God’s Law to be inferior to your own personal law which apparently approves of your evil speaking… even though God’s law forbids it.
- But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.
Again, if you set yourself up as judge by speaking evil of your brethren, you aren’t not obeying God’s law; you are elevating yourself over God and Brother as judge.
- There is one Lawgiver…
And it ain’t YOU.
- …who is able to save and to destroy.
God is both Judge and Forgiver. He alone can forgive and show mercy to those who have broken His Law. Or punish those who do not repent. You have no right to be judge, lawgiver, or forgiver in the sense of taking God’s place. When you speak evil of another Christian, you are setting yourself up as the judge of them, applying your law to them, and executing your justice on them.
- Who are you to judge another?
This is not rhetorical. Answer the question… who are YOU to judge, condemn and execute (their reputation, feelings, etc) another Christian based on your own version of justice and law?
We are commanded to confront, rebuke, correct and lovingly redirect those who violate God’s law (Matt 18:15-17; Acts 20:31; 1Cor. 4:14; Col 1:28; Titus). Even Godly rebukes should never smack of badmouthing or slandering but be done with language and motives meant to restore the sinful.
There is no place in God’s family for evil speaking. Remember what you are really doing next time you are tempted to badmouth someone: you are elevating yourself over God.