December 6, 2009
James and His Book
We’ve spent the last 13 weeks in the book of James, a letter to the church written by the half-brother of Jesus. It is a practical letter, too practical to be misunderstood and too piercing to let us stay comfortable. James does not speak using a lot of Old Testament references or big theological terms; rather, the weight of the letter comes with the simplicity and frankness with which he speaks. BEFORE Jesus rose from the dead, James joined his brothers and sisters in dismissing big brother Jesus and his claims, most likely amusing their children with talk about that “Uncle Jesus” that we all have. But after the horrible murder of his brother, something happened. A resurrected Jesus appeared to him and everything changed. He no longer apologized for his foolish brother, or refused to identify himself with that “Galilean” murdered by the Jews and Romans—he was His Lord, His Master to whom he was a bondservant. The entire letter is really about James’ own personal transformation from a non-believer to a believer.
Missing the Point
And he writes this letter to declare in no uncertain terms how genuine faith like he received is lived out. It seems that whenever we get practical about faith—when we begin to say “Christians do this…” or “Christians do not do this…” we can’t help but measure ourselves, our works, and the works of others. And instead of leading us to the cross we walk out believing, “I just have to be a better Christian…I just have to do more works.” That is not the gospel. The good news of Jesus tells us that HE HAS DONE ALL THE WORK to make us good. The glorious message of the death and resurrection of Jesus, IS NOT THAT as long as you are GOOD it doesn’t matter what you believe, IT IS THAT it doesn’t matter if you’ve been GOOD as long as you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior. And when you believe this, change does occur…but that doesn’t mean we stop sinning in every way and pursue God in every way we can. We fail with our tongues, thinking we’re wise, not loving people, and being too friendly with sin.
But even as we pursue a faith like Jesus, we know that our faithfulness (or lack thereof) is not what makes us right with God. We are made righteous by the perfect obedience of Christ and his death for us. Our lives are not about “working more” but confessing that we “don’t work” and asking him to work through us. Our lives are not about making ourselves “more faithful”, but crying out to God that he might grant us repentance and, by his Spirit empower us with the faith of Jesus—to endure in trials, to fight temptation, to depend on God’s Wisdom, and to love others.
But we suffer from a nasty tendency to judge ourselves AND to judge others. James knows that, as he charges people to, “STOP BEING FRIENDS WITH THE WORLD”, that people are going to start judging one another’s “friendlessness”. It seems that whenever God’s Word is preached, it seems we often work very hard to ignore God speaking to us…there is always someone else. We judge, the sermon, the speaker, the listener, even the Scripture itself. Don’t do that today. LET’S READ THIS TOGETHER. James 4.11-12 11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against 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 only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
How are Christians to Judge
James shifts his tone a bit, using the word BROTHER three times here to address what he predicts will happen or is already happening—Christians speaking evil against Christians. Some translations will have, “Do not speak slander” against one another. The Greek literally means, “speak against”, which can be either truly or falsely. Gossip makes use of truths (or half truths) and speaks them into places they should not go. Slander typically describes spreading lies or falsehood to cause harm. Slander is a sin fit for someone ambitious and self-promoting, hurting others to get ahead of them. And James quickly focuses on the heart of this kind of speech between brothers calling it the SIN OF JUDGEMENT.
The question is, are Christians supposed to judge one another? Clearly, it is wrong to make a false judgment about someone, to lie about them. But Is it wrong to make a judgment about the actual sins of a brother? On the surface of this book, it seems as if James is saying NO. AND, if there is one verse memorized apart from John 3.16 for the entire world, it would have be to DO NOT JUDGE. It is a favorite to be brought up anytime you declare something sinful, wrong, or otherwise exercise intolerance. Perhaps you’ve never had this spoken to you, I have. If you have ever been courageous, or stupid, enough to tell someone they need to confess or repent-often times you’ll be met with “Don’t Judge” or “Who are you to judge?”
And mind you, there are times when you need to ask that. There are times when someone is just being a plain jerk and speaking something evil as James condemns here. BUT, I believe that there is a difference between being “judgemental” and making a judgment. James is talking about being judgmental because a judgmental person is not loving, BUT making a judgment (or judging) might in fact be THE MOST loving thing you can do for someone.
Hold on there pastor, what about gentle Jesus meek and mild? Though he doesn’t mention Jesus name but a few times, James echoes often what Jesus said in his ministry, especially the Sermon on the mount, Matthew 7.1“Judge not, that you be not judged. There are many who love this verse and declare it to be the blanket statement against all judging—Jesus said not to judge, so stop saying I’m sinning, stop declaring that people are going to hell, and stop making judgments on who I am as a person YOU ARE SPEAKING EVIL—you need to affirm who I am, accept who I am, be open to who I am. I might agree with you if Matthew 7.1 was the only verse we had in the Bible OR the only verse where Jesus spoke about judging. But gentle Jesus also told us to judge a great many things, only to do so rightly.
Judging wrongly is what James speaks to here. He speaks directly to people whose attitudes are not driven by the great ROYAL LAW of love thy neighbor. Sadly, you have probably met a person like this—they possess the spiritual gift of fault-finding where they are HYPERCRITICAL of everything. No one wants to be parented by, married to, in relationship with, or even around a hyper-critical person. They criticize words, people, friends, enemies, ideas, appearances, and basically anything they decide they don’t like or agree with. They are worse than a down-in-the-dumps depressed person. The depressed might drag you down because they need so much, but the hypercritical will drive you away because they need nothing. They always assume the WORST and, as result, pick apart every person or program who doesn’t meet their standards. NO ONE CAN DO IT RIGHT.
James calls this person a LAWBREAKER—it’s not just inconsiderate or a personality quirk—he calls it sin. Now, it is not UNLAWFUL (sinful) to criticize, but it is sinful to have a hypercritical spirit. In other words, it is sinful to criticize someone when it is not spoken in a spirit of love. And I don’t mean spoken “lovingly”. I mean spoken with a hope and an intention to affect that person in a loving way—words are works. If your judgments are not led by the LAW of LOVE, you do more than just speak evil, you are trying steal God’s task as THE JUDGE, and your not only judging behavior but judging hearts. James simply asks, who are you to judge your neighbor?
Can I judge if I’m not hyper-critical—sure, as long as you are not HYPO-CRITICAL. The fact is, Jesus did not forbid judging; He condemned and warned against the wrong kind of judging. Again, from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus continues: Matthew 7.1-5 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. We also speak evil and are unloving in our judgments IF we speak like a hypocrite. It is rare that we probably need to criticize at all, but if we feel we must, then Jesus wants everyone to make sure that they have FIRST attended to themselves. Why? Jesus says you can’t see clearly to judge at all with a 2 X 4 in your eye to remove the little sliver in your brother’s eye. That doesn’t mean that you need to be perfect before you make any judgment, but certainly not GUILTY of the same thing you’re criticizing. A hypocritically judgmental person is so CONCERNED with everyone’s else’s little irritants, they don’t even notice the LOG that everyone else sees but have been kind enough to not say anything. Those who have NOT first judged themselves CANNOT even see clear enough to make a right criticism.
The HEART of judging
Jesus warned us about how such evil judgments occur—John 7.24 24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Jesus says there is a right way to judge and a wrong way, and he says the wrong way is by appearances—and that this is sinful. Why do we judge by appearances? As strange as this sounds, I think this actually has to do with community.
Hyper-critical: Don’t want to get to know them. We judge them before we are even judgemental about them as worthy or unworthy of our love. It is EASY to be critical about people you don’t know or care about.
Hypo-critical: Don’t allow someone to get to know us. If we did, we would probably not be so judgmental because they know who we are.
Community is where you allow others to see you heart and you desire to see others. A community that is driven by a desire to know that other person, to love that other person, to build up that other person, to assume the best about and desire the best for that other person—even if I don’t “feel” they deserve it. That is a gospel community.
When is Judging right?
Any judgment that is not GUIDED by the LAW of LOVE is sinful. Is judging ever right? James does not say that there is NO JUDGE but that there is ONE JUDGE who has SPOKEN. And God has given his WORD on a great many things and it is GOOD and RIGHT to declare those judgments in a way that is loving. God has given many laws and encouraged if not commanded us to speak HIS WORDS in HIS AUTHORITY and it is just as sinful to remain SILENT or ANTI-JUDGEMENTAL as it is to be hypercritical, hypocritical, or hasty. Clearly, Jesus tells us there are times and places when we must judge.
How should we judge? With love—with a vision to bring that person, place, or thing into a place where they are more glorifying to God.
When should we judge? After we have judged ourselves, after we have sought to understand, once we see things rightly, we are called to judge many things
Judging False teachers according to God’s Word: Matthew 7.15-20 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Judging Definitions according to God’s Word: Language has power in our culture. And with each new generation, definitions get transformed. Think of the words family, man, woman, marriage, even God. The fact is that we must judge the definitions of culture by the Word of God. And while many things God in culture God has (Praise Jesus) ordained to change, He has given us many definitions and designs that do not change. While God is loving, that does not mean that he is absolutely tolerant—and either should we be. And yes, God is loving, of himself, his glory, his church, his Word, his ways. We do not endorse what God does not. Affirming everyone and everything is NOT always loving, in fact, affirming, endorsing, and proclaiming God’s way is always loving. Proverbs 14.12 12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Judging Decisions according to God’s Word: We must discriminate each day as we judge what decisions to make. We can judge decisions right or wrong based on God’s Word. Some of those decisions are quite explicit…should I lie, cheat, or steal here. No. We judge those wrong not because of their potential benefits or costs, but because God’s Word declares it. We judge. Some of the decisions are not so explicit and so we have the great junk drawer of 1Corinthians 10.31 telling us whatever we do, we are to do to the glory of God. Why? Because all of this, our birth, our life, our death, whatever we do, is about God, not about us.
Judging the Sins of a brother according to God’s Word: It is not EVIL to judge a brother in Jesus—it is in fact love. What do we do when a brother who says he is a Christian but refuses to live like a Christian? Without being hypercritical, without being hypocritical or hasty, IF WE LOVE THEM, we tell them they are sinning. Luke 17.1-3 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” James himself says it later in James 5.20 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Judging the Sins of the World
The goal of judging sinful behavior, though it feels “judgmental” is never to punish a brother or sister. The goal is always the glory of God and the firm belief that sin, not only CANNOT bring him honor, but will bring chaos and death. Even with the best intentions, we ARE NOT LOVING when speak judge people, EVEN IF IT IS TRUTHFUL, if we are not governed by “loving they neighbor”. We have a responsibility and, dare I say, you are not a DOER of the law if you affirm sin or ignore the sin of your brother. We fear making ANY judgments because we have convinced ourselves that is NOT loving OR that it is MORE important to be in “right” relationship with them than it is to be in ‘right’ relationship with God. It is loving when it is spoken in love.
And for those who are NOT belivers…we don’t judge them. James writes to the church, brothers and sisters in Christ. Matthew 7.6 6 “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. So, Jesus was saying, you should not attempt to remove specks from the eyes of unbelievers. You will only unnecessarily aggravate them AND THEY WILL JUST BITE YOU—they don’t care if the meet the meat they are eating came from the altar or the garbage. They will not appreciate it. It is not your task to try to reform unbelievers, but to love them and tell them that Jesus died for sin and to save sinners like us.. He offers freedom from sin, he offers a better way, he offers joy freely by his grace.