Book of James Lesson Ten
by Dr. Michael Cochran
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BOOK OF JAMES BIBLE STUDY
LESSON #10 - (James 4: 11-17, NIV)
TITLE: ONE LAWGIVER AND JUDGE
DR. MICHAEL COCHRAN
APPLICATION: If I desire my neighbor' good, I will not slander them and thus break Christ's command.
JAMES 4: 11-12
11 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you--who are you to judge your neighbor?
Whatever we've been taught about the Law and its relevance or lack of relevance to our lives today, it is holy. It is an expression of the holy purity of God and is a profound revelation of His character. Because God cares for people, He has mercifully given them His Law so that they will know what is right and good. He did not set up a list of arbitrary standards to frustrate people and make them unhappy, but has revealed to humankind what sin truly is: the breaking of God's eternal standard of righteousness. This is bad news only to those who are determined not to know God and His will. For James, the Law still had relevance in pointing to God's holy character, a character that was being defamed by those who were unlovingly judging one another.
Though the injunction “do not slander one another” may seem to be an abrupt change in direction from what James has previously been discussing—true humility---this is an appropriate context for discussing one of the most preferred ways for appearing to be humble---by making others look bad.
The key thing to keep in mind here is that a mere talebearer is making no effort to find out the truth, or if something wrong really has happened, has made no effort to correct the brother or sister personally in accordance with proper church discipline. The truly spiritual person, rather than tearing someone down, will be trying to effect loving restoration to fellowship (see James 5:198, 20). Repentance should always be the aim and goal of those who are truly seeking to keep the church pure, not expulsion from the church for every deed of wrongdoing. Otherwise, talk about the sinful things that others have done (or might have done) is only destructive because it spreads information that causes no enlightenment. There is nothing “from above” in it.
Instead, what happens when we hear about the latest church scandal is that a sense of spiritual smugness begins to settle in. We are titillated by the news and encouraged by our own self-deception to think that such things could never happen to us. After the commotion has died down, we are left feeling spiritually superior to sinners in general and are thus set up for our own fall. It is a game of spiritual one-upmanship that no one wins.
So, how may I recognize slander? Check the motive of the talebearer first before you check anything else. You will find in almost every case where slander is involved that nothing redemptive has been done because the person bearing the tale has been trying to build his or her spiritual reputation by making others look bad.
This brings James to the startling conclusion that one who speaks “against his brother or judges him” really speaks against the Lawgiver and Judge Himself and defames the moral integrity of the Law He has given. Since it is the Law's duty to point people to Christ (see Galatians 3:24), we can see what a presumptuous interference with the purpose of the Law this is! Yet we should not think that everyone who has been found guilty of slander has been deliberately seeking to interfere in the purposes and plan of God. There are cases of sincere misguidedness.
The people to whom James has been writing often seem to be poorly informed about the basics of their faith. We have the same problem today. It is not our utter ignorance that gets us into trouble; it is our spiritual immaturity and selective application of the truth that does. James is the book for us!
The spiritually immature person might think it an important spiritual service to let others know “what is going on” with So-and-so. There might be the thought that “Somebody ought to do something about this, so I'll pass on the awful information until somebody does.” But James emphasizes that the only way to deal with such “helpful” but spiritually deceived people is forthrightly. They need to be informed that the very Law they think they are keeping is pointing the finger at them. They have become lawbreakers, too!
James also seems to be saying that perhaps they are weakest in applying the teachings of Scripture to themselves first. To paraphrase the Gospels, they need to take care of the log in their own eye before trying to get the speck out of their brother's eye (see Matthew 7:3, 4). To forget this is to end up playing God.
JAMES 4: 13-15
13 Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
This section is not a diatribe against planning, nor is it strictly a caution against materialism. There are dangers in over planning, it is true, but virtually nothing is accomplished without planning; and materialism is sin, but we all use and need material things. Rather, this section is about living as though your tomorrows are guaranteed to you. According to James, they most definitely are not.
This truth is very hard for some of us to accept because it leads us right into the deep waters of God's sovereign will. The waters of God's sovereign will are deep because we only know that will as God unfolds it. This rankles us, even as Christians who have God's revealed will in the Scriptures, because we think we need to know what is going to happen so that we can better serve God and His revealed will.
The truth is we don't like the unexpected at all. Even though we know God owns the future and will be with us in it, there is an element of uncertainty that we would just as soon do without. We'd rather that our faith become sight on this side of the grave, not so much because it would better help us serve God as that it would take some of the scary adventure out of faithful living. If this our thinking, James's words don't come as good news. For if James is right, the faithful Christian can have but one conclusion—God knows what is best. It is our business to fit into His plans—which are often revealed to us as we go along.
When he says “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow,” James is only emphasizing that someone who does not know what will happen tomorrow certainly won't be able to presume on something a year from then. And this is especially true if someone's life is but “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
“If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that” is not to be taken as a lucky charm. We are not to use it as though we were knocking on wood in order to protect us from a “sneaky” God who might be about to pull a surprise on us in case we aren't humble. Rather, the expression should represent our genuine conviction that God is sovereign in everything. If He permits us to move to another city and engage in successful business for a year, that is all to His glory. He has permitted it; we are His servants; He gets the praise.
JAMES 4: 16-17
16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.
By contrast, any other attitude is boastful and arrogant. The people to whom James was writing were quite content to live as though God would automatically put His rubber stamp of approval on their activities without their having to acknowledge His authority over all that comes to pass. That God's will has been of little or no concern is evidenced by their amazing certainty about the future. Since our future has not been revealed to us by God, to presume on it is sin, according to James.
The statement of verse 17 summarizes, then, what James has been saying: Knowing good and doing good are always practical matters of both obeying God and avoiding evil. You can't have one without the other. Mere avoidance of evil doesn't fulfill the highest aspects of God's calling for us to be His people. Jesus called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” and capable of making people “twice as much sons of hell” because they were more intent on avoiding uncleanness than in helping the sinners in their midst.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER:
1. Is there a difference between openly rebuking someone for a sin and judging that person? Explain.
2. How can you know the difference between planning and presumption?
3. In what way is it prideful to assume you can count on tomorrow?
4. What are the practical implications of knowing that the future is unknown but in God's hands?
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