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 was a pastor.
We know this from the book of Acts, and from Christian tradition, which tells us that he was one of the shepherds of the church in Jerusalem. But even if we had none of this information, his experience in a pastoral role would be glaringly evident…to me, at least.
How so? Easy. He is acutely aware of the destructive power of the tongue. He has dealt with this subject at length earlier in the text, and now he takes it up again. And I know of no other place where uncontrolled speech can wreak such havoc as the local church. Loose lips sink worship, and a pastor gets a front-row seat to the wreckage.
So now Pastor James, as he’s talking about pride and humility, says “oh, and that reminds me of one more thing about the tongue…”
This is classic James. He is riffing about a particular subject, and that leads him into a different, but somewhat related, subject. His “stream of consciousness” writing can give one whiplash. In this case we are talking about humble repentance, then all of a sudden it’s about the tongue again.
But wait…there’s a connection, and a pretty solid one at that. Notice what James identifies as the root sin of one who speaks evil of his brother:
“He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother…”
Someone who sets himself up as a judge of his fellow man implies that he is better than the other. This is pride. Suddenly the connection becomes clear. James is identifying a specific point of pride that no doubt afflicted many in the Jerusalem church, and certainly continues to afflict us today – a judgmental attitude towards our brethren.
Now we could wrap up this post right here and say, with James, “everybody is equal before God, so don’t speak evil of your brother in Christ” and it would be a profitable post for most of us. But James does NOT stop there. Look at what he says next:
“… 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.”
So…when I speak evil of my brother, it’s not just that I think I’m better than him, I also put myself above the law! How so? Simple: by making the law apply to my brother, but not to me. That’s what the “not a doer…but a judge” line means. I want judgment for my brother’s perceived offenses, but mercy for my own. In so doing, I completely pervert the law, setting my own standard of justice above it.
To review, the person who speaks evil of his brother thinks he’s better than said brother and thinks he’s above the law. Is there more, James? Need you ask? Check out the last line:
“There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?”
Obviously, if I put myself above the law, I put myself above the One who gave the law. And THAT is the definition of hubris. Thinking we’re somehow above other human beings? That’s bad. Thinking we’re above the law? That’s really bad. Thinking we’re above God? That’s blasphemy.
We have a tendency to treat gossip as one of those relatively harmless pecadillos that God doesn’t like, but that He’s not really all that concerned about. James disabuses us of that notion. It’s not just an offense against our fellow-man, not just an act of scoff-law…it’s High Treason against God.
And THAT should make us think twice before we send that juicy text or share that gossipy “prayer request” in the church WhatsApp group.
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