Having addressed hearts that had been polluted by their love for the world, James now gets back to the tongue and how polluted hearts can affect it.
James talked earlier about how they were always fighting and quarreling among themselves and how that caused them to hate each other. Literally he says, “kill,” but I highly doubt they were actually killing each other. Rather, I think they were killing each other in their hearts.
Why do people murder? Because they despise others in their hearts. They treat them as something less than someone created in the image of God. That’s why Jesus said,
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, “Raca” is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Here you see Jesus equating harboring anger in your hearts toward others, and as a result despising them, with murder.
I think James was doing the same. The people were so in love with the world, they started to envy and despise those who had more than they did. And that led them to say things they shouldn’t. To slander others and call them fools or worse.
So James says,
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. (11)
So often when we talk about not judging others, we think of not judging their sins. But here, I’m not so sure James is talking about judging people’s sins. I think he’s talking about judging them in terms of calling people “fools,” or “no-good,” or the like.
We saw another case of this in chapter two, when people in the church were sitting in judgment on the poor, despising them and giving more honor to others simply because they were rich.
So what James is saying is, “Don’t you dare judge people and see then as anything less than people created in God’s image. God’s law says you are to love them as yourself. God law says that you are not to despise or slander them in any way. And when you have the gall to judge them and see them as anything less than people created in his image, you speak against the law and judge it. You’re not keeping the law; you’re judging God’s law as not worth keeping.”
James then warns,
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? (12)
In short, there is only one lawgiver and judge, and that’s not you. So get off your high horse, and as James said in verse 10, humble yourself before the Lord. Stop acting and speaking as if you’re so much better than others. You’re not.
How about you? How does your faith express itself when it comes to dealing with people? Do you sit on judgment on others, calling them no good? Calling them stupid? Wishing they were dead?
Or does it express itself with the love, mercy, and grace that God gave you?