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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on September 10, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Sunday, September 10, 2017 from James 4:11-12

Theme: We must not set ourselves over God by becoming the ‘evil-speaking’ judge of our brother.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

I’ll admit it. I love social media.

Personally, I think it is one of the greatest inventions of modern time. Never before, in all of human history, has it been possible for just about anyone—living just about anywhere in the world—to express their opinion about anything or anyone, or to pass on information about any subject at any time; and to have that opinion or thought or piece of information—in a matter of seconds—become accessible to any number of people, in any place in the world, at any time they want to read it. I truly believe that that’s a technological leap in our lifetime that future generations will look upon as comparable to the invention of the printing press (if not, in fact, greater than the printing press). Gutenberg would definitely have been impressed!

And by the way, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; from the standpoint of getting the word of God out to people, it is a staggeringly fantastic tool! Can you just imagine what someone like George Whitefield or John Wesley or D.L. Moody or Charles Spurgeon might have done with social media? Or more—what might the apostle Paul have done with it? What a great tool God has allowed us to have for the advancement of the kingdom of Jesus Christ in our time!

But social media also scares me a little. Like so many other great ‘tools’ God has allowed us to have—because of our sinful tendencies—there are also some great dangers. In fact, there is a sinful habit in particular that we often fall into that, because of the capabilities made possible by the Internet, may make us more accountable to God than any other generation that has come before us. It’s a sinful habit that has always plagued God’s people throughout the centuries; but because of the capabilities we now possess, its danger of expanding to the damage of many souls—including our own—has never been as great as it is today.

The Bible speaks of this particular habit a few times. And when it does so, it speaks of it as something characteristic of unbelieving people—people who, in fact, are hostile to the gospel of Jesus. The apostle Peter spoke of it this way in 1 Peter 2:

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12; emphasis added).

Do you see the sinful habit Peter spoke of? It’s the matter of ‘speaking against’ someone—or speaking ‘evil’ of someone. And as I say, Peter treats it as something characteristic of a hostile unbeliever. He mentions it again in chapter 3;

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed (1 Peter 3:15-16; emphasis added).

There’s the same word again in the original language. It’s a word that is formed by putting two Greek words together. The first is the word for “against” and the other is the word for “talking” or “speaking”. To “speak against” or to “talk against” someone is sometimes translated “to speak evil” of someone. It’s a thing that, quite frankly, we shouldn’t be surprised to find in the unbelieving world. But it is an utterly inappropriate thing for the followers of Jesus to do toward other people—and particularly toward one another.

Sadly, however, it is found in the lives and habits of people who profess to be followers of Jesus. And it’s something that has been compounded in the lives of professing Christians even more because of the accesses that social media has given us.

For that reason, I am asking that we turn to a passage in James 4. Pastor James—the half-brother of our Lord, who was also the pastor of the first church to have formed in Jerusalem—wrote this letter to counsel followers of Jesus in how to live faithfully for Him in a fallen and hostile world. And among the many things he says in this letter, we find this in James 4:11-12—where James uses that very same word for “speaking against” one another. He writes;

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? (James 4:11-12).

* * * * * * * * * * *

I believe that the words of instruction in our passage this morning are particularly applicable to us—as followers of Jesus—who live in the ‘social media’ age. Notice first how James tells us …


He says, “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren” (v. 11). And there are a few things to consider with regard to what he says. First, you’ll notice that he speaks these words in the context of the family of God; even calling his readers “brethren”. The word “brethren” or “brother” shows up three times in this passage. James’ command, then, is in the context of family life in the household of faith. It is, I believe, never appropriate for us as followers of Jesus to speak evil of other people in any respect—whether they are in the household of faith or not. But it is particularly wicked for us to do so toward others who are our brothers or sisters in Christ. When we speak evil of a fellow believer, we are speaking evil of someone that Jesus Christ loves and shed His precious blood for—someone who is destined to be glorified and share fellowship with Him forever—someone with whom we will, together, share the eternal privilege of being the Bride of Christ! What a terrible thing for us to do!

A second thing to notice is that this command is given in a particular way. In the original language, it is a command in a grammatical form that speaks of the cessation of something that is going on right then—something that is assumed to be happening and that needs to come to a stop. A valid way to translate these words would be: “No longer speak evil of one another, brethren.” James speaks to us of something that’s happening habitually, but that needs to come to a stop. He knows us pretty well, doesn’t he? (Or better to say that the Holy Spirit—who led James to write these words—knows us pretty well!)

And a third thing that we need to know is just what exactly it is that we are to cease doing toward one another. James writes that we are to no longer ‘speak against’ one another as followers of Jesus. And I believe a helpful way to understand what it is that we are to stop doing is by seeing how he connects it to another type of practice—and that is of ‘judging’ one another. In fact, in the original language, James talking of “speaking against” a brother or (not “and” but “or”) judging” a brother. We don’t rightly understand “speaking against” unless we see it in its connection to “judging”.

Now, it’s important that we understand that rightly; because along with this command, we’re also commanded in Scripture to lovingly confront sin in the lives of one another when necessary. When we see a fellow believer doing something that God’s word clearly says not to do—or refusing to do something that God’s word clearly says to do—we need to confront it and call it for what it is: sin. We need to urge that fellow believer to repent. But there’s no contradiction involved; because that is not the same thing as “speaking against” them or “judging” them in the way that James means. That would simply be a matter of telling them what God has clearly said in His word, and then reminding them that they are obligated to obey—just as we ourselves are also obligated to do.

I think the difference is in what we understand by ‘judging’. If I have set up my own standards of judgment—that is, a different standard from what God’s holy word has declared; and then speak evil against someone or criticize them on the basis of my own self-created standards of right and wrong, then I’m doing what James said not to do. I believe we can see this clearly in the teaching of our Lord Jesus in the Sermon on The Mount. In Matthew 7, He said;

“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).

To point out to a brother or sister in Christ that they are sinning is not ‘speaking against’ them in the sense that James is talking about. We’re not setting up our own standard of judgment in that case, and are not speaking against them on the basis of a standard for right or wrong that we have created for ourselves. Rather, we’re pointing to the standard of holiness that God has already established for all of us in His revealed word. But whenever we set up our own standards from out of our own thoughts—that is, our own religious standards, or ceremonial expectations, or prohibitions and requirements for others, that are not commanded in God’s word—and then speak against others and judge them on the basis of those self-created standards, Jesus warns that we will be judged by the same measure; and our harsh condemnation of others will be measured back to us.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It is truly a terrible thing to ‘speak against’ someone in this way—setting up our own standards of judgment and striking blows of condemnation upon others because of those self-created standards. James assumes that it is something that is happening—and I suspect that if we each search our hearts in an honest way before God, we’d find that he would be right in his assumption.

We might do it for a number of reasons. We might do this because we want to elevate ourselves over others. It might be that we do it because we envy them or are jealous of them. It may be that we do it because we are malicious toward them and hate them. It could even be (and I suspect this happens a lot on social media) that we are doing it just in order to be impressive to others; to make it look like we have insight that we don’t really possess, or to look witty and clever in the way we put others down. Sometimes, people simply repeat hurtful things and post hurtful comments without even thinking of what they’re doing.

There may be lots of reasons why we speak against and judge others; but none of them are good reasons. And it’s a particularly horrible thing for us—who are professing believers—to do to a fellow believer.

And next, notice …


James goes on to say, “He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law” (v. 11). Now; what does this mean? How do we ‘speak evil of the law’ and ‘judge the law’ when we do this?

Well; first, I think we need to understand what James means by ‘the law’. I think we get a hint of it in James 2:8; where he says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well (James 2:8). He calls it ‘the royal law’ because it comes from the lips of Jesus Himself. It was the way that He summed up the whole point of the Old Testament law as God’s standard of holiness for His people. It was the summation of all of God’s moral laws—a summation spoken by the King Himself.

A man once walked up to Jesus and asked Him which was the greatest of the commandments. And Jesus answered by not only giving him the first greatest, but also the second greatest:

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

That’s what James calls ‘the royal law’. It’s the whole intent of God’s law. It is not set aside for the believer; but rather is to be kept by the believer through the principle of love. We keep God’s holy standards—under His grace—by first loving Him with all that we are, and then loving our neighbor as ourselves.

James also calls this ‘the law of liberty’. In 2:12, he writes, “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” What an interesting name! I believe we can understand this as ‘the law of liberty’ in that, when we walk obediently before God according to His holy standard of love—as we are enabled in that love by His indwelling Holy Spirit—all of life goes better. We are ‘free’ in the same way that a train is free. A train is never free if it seeks to operate off the tracks. That’s called ‘a train-wreck’. But when it faithfully runs on the tracks that have been laid out for it, it is as free as it can be. Likewise, f we walk before God in this world in a way that is in keeping with the principle of love—remembering that true love means keeping God’s holy standards toward others—then we walk in liberty. As Paul puts it in Romans 13;

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10).

This might surprise you; but I believe it’s also called ‘the law of liberty’ because we so often fail to keep it. Let me explain. We stand guilty before a holy God as sinners—each one of us. None of us have kept His law as we should, because none of us have loved God and loved others as we should. And as sinners, we all desperately need to come to Jesus to be washed clean of the guilt of our sins by His blood, and to be enabled to live as He wants us to live. And when we do, He sets us free. God’s holy standards drive us to Jesus our Savior; and when we come to Him in repentance and trust, He makes us ‘free indeed’! It is, in that sense, truly a law of liberty!

But when I speak against my brother or sister in Christ, and when I judge my brother or sister, I’m not paying attention to that law any more. I’m not walking in love. And I’m not just speaking against them and judging them; but I’m speaking against and judging God’s law—His royal law—His law of liberty! I’m daring to say that His holy standards are not holy enough for me; and that the way that He accepts others and welcomes them into His household is not sufficient for my tastes. We’re essentially saying that, while He may accept that professing brother or sister according to His standards; we don’t accept them according to ours.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now; that’s quite a thing to say! And when we speak against and judge God’s law in Christ in that way, James goes on to show us …


He writes, “But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (v. 11). We’re no longer listening to God’s word, and examining ourselves to see if we are walking as He says we should. Instead, we’re arrogantly looking at others and focusing on the specks they have in their eyes on the basis of our own standards and judgment calls—and ignoring the great enormity of our own need for God’s grace because of what He actually said in His word.

James had something to say about this earlier in his letter. In Chapter 1, he writes;

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25).

Once we’re no longer looking into the word with a humble and teachable spirit—elevating ourselves to the position of judging and criticizing others instead—we’re forgetting what God’s word says about us. And then, when we open our mouths and criticize others and condemn others, we compound our own guilt before God even more. The Lord Jesus said something about this in Matthew 12; and it greatly disturbs me every time I read what He said. He told a bunch of self-righteous religious critics of others:

“But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

Dear brothers and sisters; when I set myself up as a judge of others—and speak against them from the basis of my own standards without regard to God’s ‘royal law of liberty’ (which would include things we say on social media)—every word of it is remembered in the heavenly record; and I will give an accounting of it on the day when our Lord returns.

I thank God for His grace through Jesus Christ. But I don’t want to give account for more wrongful words than I have already spoken or written; do you? This alone ought to motivate us to completely stop trying to be the judges of one another and to cease speaking evil of one another.

* * * * * * * * * * *

So; we must not make ourselves out to be the judges of others—especially the judges of those who God has already accepted and established by God as our brothers and sisters in Christ. But there’s more James has to say to those of us who dare to become ‘unappointed judges’. He closes off by telling us …


He says in verse 12, “There is one Lawgiver …” I love that, don’t you? There is no other. Just one … and we aren’t Him. He is the only one “who is able to save and to destroy.” Think of that! He is able to do both. We are able to do neither. And it is therefore right that He—and He alone—should have the job of being Judge. We aren’t qualified. We don’t understand all the details; but He knows them all. We don’t understand the motives behind what people do or say or feel; but He does. We don’t know the outcome; but He sees it perfectly. We don’t know when mercy should prevail over judgment; but He always knows this. We can’t help but misunderstand or misinterpret things with respect to other people; but He never will.

And so James asks at the end; “Who are you to judge another?” Who indeed!

The apostle Paul asked a similar question in Romans 14. He was dealing with the way believers were making judgment calls on one another on the basis of what we might call ‘gray areas’. Some believed that it was alright to eat meat that had been offered to idols; others didn’t feel that this was right—and told them so. Or some believed that it didn’t make any difference which day you worshiped God; while others felt bound to the Jewish calendar of holy days—and to insist that others do so. These weren’t matters of holiness on the basis of clear instruction from the commandments of God; but rather, they were matters in which sincere followers of Jesus might disagree with each other in their efforts to live a life of obedience to their Master. Paul wrote;

Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:

As I live, says the Lord,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us shall give account of himself to God (Romans 14:4-12).

That’s amazing; isn’t it? Paul is calling us to just relax in these ‘gray’ areas of our walk with Jesus; and just trust that God is able to lead our brother or sister in a way that truly pleases Him. Our Father has a vested interest in doing so. And along with that, James is calling us to stop speaking against one another or judging one another.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Let me close with a suggestion. How is it that you and I can keep from this terrible practice of speaking evil of one another and judging one another? I believe you could sum it up by simply putting forth the conscious effort to draw closer to Jesus Christ as our own Savior and Redeemer and Friend and—yes—even as our own Judge.

People sometimes give off the impression that the reason they are ‘qualified’ to criticize and speak against others is because they are walking closer with Jesus than anyone else. But that is hardly ever the case. In fact, the opposite is usually the truth of the matter. The more critical and judgmental a professing Christian is of others, the further they most likely are from a genuinely intimate fellowship with Jesus. We don’t fall into the habit of criticizing others because we’re walking close to Jesus (because He Himself doesn’t behave that way; but rather, we end up speaking evil of others and judging because we’re not walking with the Savior, Redeemer, Friend and true Judge closely enough!

Just look at what James says just a page or so over—in James 5:9;

Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:9).

The more aware I am of the close proximity of the Lord Jesus—the true Judge of all—the less I will be inclined to judge and condemn others. I’ll have my eyes on His holiness; and will be more aware of my own sinfulness and my own need for Him. And I’ll also have my eyes on His rich mercy and love—shown in His sacrifice on the cross for me personally; and will seek to imitate His mercy and love toward others.

So; next time you are tempted to send up a new, fresh criticism about someone—whether in word, or in letter, or even on a Facebook post or tweet—stop and invite the Lord Jesus to review the matter with you.

That will be a true ‘social media’ revolution!

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