Did you know that one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible is so misunderstood that people rarely quote the entire verse! It is Luke 6:37 and many times only the first three words are quoted: “Do not judge…” Non-Christians will use this verse as a weapon to seek to silence Christians from sharing God’s commands. Are they right? What did Jesus mean when He told His followers not to judge? In James 4:11-17, we shall discuss this further while making a distinction between improper and proper judging. Consider:
- Improper Judging: I Am the Judge. When Jesus said we must not judge, He meant that you are not the Judge. There is only one Judge: the Lord. When we think we are the judge, we make conclusions on the basis of our opinions. Therefore, it is improper for us to set ourselves up as a judge and make conclusions on the basis of our opinions. When our opinions become our standard, we set ourselves up as judges and sin against God. Also, when we are a judge, we become a judge of the law instead of “a doer of the law” (11). We stop following God’s law and follow our own. James mentions two key areas where our judgments are sinful and misguided:
- Judging Your Brother (11-12). James writes, “Do not speak evil of your brother.” Speaking evil includes any of the following: slander, gossip, and a repetition of faults. We must resist the temptation to criticize and find fault in our fellow Christians. They have a Judge and it is not you. No Christian has the authority to impose any rules or regulations upon any one that is not found in Scripture. As the Baptist Faith and Message states, “God alone is the Lord of the conscience.” James says that the one who “judges a brother…judges the law.” The law spoken of here is the “royal law” (2:8) which is based on love. When Christians speak evil of one another and judge one another, they sin by saying—explicitly or implicitly—that the “royal law” is deficient. In essence they are judging God’s law for Christians.
- Judging Your Future (13-17). Not only is it wrong to judge our brothers, it is wrong to judge our own future. When people say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”; they “boast in their arrogance.” Why is it arrogant? Notice who is missing in verse 13. Nowhere in the verse is God mentioned. If your plans fail to include God your plans will fail. The person who says such a thing intends to live their life their own way, in their own strength, and on their own terms. This is arrogant because it is foolish. James responds by saying, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Our lives are far more fragile than we often realize. How many of us—while making plans for tomorrow—can actually guarantee we will be alive tomorrow? When we do not know what tomorrow will bring, we had better be humbler about it. It is also arrogant for the person to assume they will “make a profit.” This is boasting in one’s own intellect and ingenuity. James says, “All such boasting is evil.”
- Proper Judging: The Lord is the Judge. There is only one Judge and He does not need our help. When we acknowledge and embrace that the Lord is the true Judge, we will be less critical and more discerning. What is the difference between being critical and being discerning? The difference is in motivation. A critic delights in finding faults, but a discerner delights in truth. A critic believes he is the judge. A discerner knows that the Lord is the Judge. We must not be our brother’s critic and instead be our brother’s keeper. Using discernment means that we will think, speak, and act as messengers of the one and only Judge. Discernment means we have sound judgment that is rooted in God’s commands. We must not dare to judge on the basis of our own opinions, but correctly understand and relay God’s judgment on a situation. It is not judgmental to tell someone what God has revealed in the Bible. How does discernment factor into the two key areas we mentioned earlier:
- Loving Your Brother (11-12). Instead of judging your brother, love him. How do you love your fellow Christian? Love as Christ loves you and help him to obey all that Christ has commanded (Matt 28:20). You are not your brother’s judge; you are his friend. Your brother does not have to meet your standards or answer to you, but he must “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “encourage one another and build one another up.” Christians do not live in competition with one another. Your success does not make God love me any less. Your failure does not make God love me any more. We are not enemies, we are brothers. Let us love one another and refuse to judge one another.
- Discerning Your Future (13-17). Rather than acting as if you have control over your future, you must acknowledge that God controls the future. James instructs, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (15). The person who says this demonstrates humility and discernment. He acknowledges that the Lord “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). When your mantra is “If the Lord wills…” you are less likely to lay up for yourselves treasures on earth and more likely to lay up treasures in heaven (Matt 6:19-21). Psalm 37:23-24 says, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.”
In Proverbs 3:5-6, we are told to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” Let us refuse to speak evil of one another and judge one another. Let us instead love one another. Let us consider how we may “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24).