This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on January 13, 2013. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – James 4B.
We Have a Desire to Judge.
Why Do We Judge People? Before we look at James 4, this morning, we want to begin by looking at Genesis 3. Genesis has a lot to say about who we are as spiritual people – and Genesis 3:1-4 says something very interesting and profound about why we judge people…
1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Notice the last words of the serpent in this story – “you will be like God knowing good and evil.” This story exposes for us something that is at the core of human hearts – the lie that we can be like God through the ability to judge good and evil. This belief makes us feel powerful – godlike. Judging another person – deciding who they really are – is like having final authority over them – the last word – the final say.
This is what James was dealing with in these early church. These believers who had fled Jerusalem and who were starting up new Christian communities were fighting over leadership and speaking against one another – judging one another.
What Happens When We Speak Against our Brother/ Neighbor?
We Presume to Have God-like Understanding of Our Neighbor: “11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother… judges his brother“
What is happening as we speak against a brother or a neighbor goes all the way back to this core belief we have and this sense of power that we desire. We presume to know and understand our brother – our neighbor – as though we had seen and understood their entire history – the motivations of their heart. We make massive assumptions about those we speak against and accept those assumptions as truth. We turn against others and speak against them as though our words were the final say and the final truth. We speak like children who, having understood some basic fact, presume to understand all the complexities of a situation – all the mystery of a person. We are drawn to this way of thinking by the desire to be like gods, fully comprehending good and evil in another person.
We Reject Love in Favor of Feeling Powerful and judging: ”He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.”
The Law that James is referring to is the one he mentions back in chapter 2:8 – “the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself” What does James mean when he says that, “He who speaks against a brother… speaks against [and] judges the law”?
The one who speaks against a brother or a neighbor and judges them, is rejecting the Royal Law to love their neighbor as they love themself. And this, again, goes back to the story of Genesis and this core belief we have been talking about. For, says James, the one who rejects the Royal Law to love his or her neighbor, is challenging God – speaking against God’s Law. In essence, when we judge our neighbor we are saying, “I have the right to judge”. We reject God’s call to love our neighbor in favor of being like gods who can judge for ourselves whether a person is good or evil. We make a clear choice between self-giving love and feeling like gods as we take up the right to judge.
God Alone is Sufficient to Judge.
Only God Can Judge Who We Are: “12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy;”
What does that mean? I don’t think James means to say, God is the repressive policeman who wants to make sure we all do what we are supposed to. In fact, God does not control anyone, but speaks the truth to us and allows us freedom to make our choices. So what does it means to say that God is the Lawgiver and Judge?
It means that God, who knows us individually, and completely – who knows what we are spiritually – who we are personally – who is familiar with our history – reads the motivations of our hearts better than we do ourselves. God is the one who knows us – who knows people.
We can act like we know and understand people. We want to believe that we have enough wisdom to make a judgment about people – as though we could see their motives, their whole lives and circumstances. The truth is, we do not even know our own motivations and our own hearts – which is one reason we go to counselors – to talk about why we make the decisions and get into the situations we do – say the things we do. We need help evaluating what is happening in our own hearts – and yet we judge ourselves competent to judge the motives and thoughts of other people. Our hearts are like shifting shadows, that first go one way and then another under the influence of the belief that we can judge like gods. But only God can judge! Only God sees the truth! God knows us far better than we know ourselves. God can speak who we are. If God appeared in this room right now and started to talk about you or me, we would think to ourselves, “I never realized that, but that is exactly right”.
God Is the Lawgiver: And that is entirely appropriate! The one who made us and loves us and knows who we are – is also the one who has told us how to live – to love God with all our hearts – and to love our neighbor – our brother – others – as we love ourselves.
And as the Lawgiver, God is the only one in a position to judge us. This is the point James has been making all along – we have taken the place of God – we have made our own law – we have judged our brother – and our actions have led only to contention, bitterness, anger, hatred, alienation and sorrow. We have judged – we all do this all the time. We are good at condemning those we dislike. We have not loved God very much or at all.
But rather than condemning us, God has passed judgement on us – on the cross. God put our failings to love him – our judgmental words and actions and thoughts – on his own Son as he died on the cross – bearing the punishment of our sins in his own body – so that we could be forgiven our sin and set free to love God in our imperfect ways, with the assurance that he loves because we have trusted in Jesus and his death and resurrection. God who is able to save or destroy, has chosen to save through His Son Jesus.
So Then, Who Are We to Judge? “but who are you who judge your neighbor?”
We have been judged – have been found wanting – and rather than facing God’s displeasure and the destruction we have so richly earned we have been given grace and favor through Jesus.
Who, then, are we to set ourselves us as judges? Are we gods, who take up the right to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong – what is punished and what is praised? James leaves that question hanging in the air, not because the answer is uncertain – but because he means us to question ourselves and to confront the arrogance of our own hearts.
Turn from Arrogant Judgment and Speak Lovingly: So, here is some pastoral advice.
- We need to recognize our impulse to judge and where it comes from.
- We need to recognize our limited understanding of the mystery of our neighbor and their journey.
- Recognize that the call to love, “… is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered… keeps no record of wrongs… does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth… always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”