“Do not speak against one another, brethren. 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. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12).
Read a Facebook post. Click a response icon: Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, Angry. Then, leave a comment. You do it all the time, right? Guess what you just did, though – you passed judgment. You judged whether the post was right, good, funny, or meaningful. Then, you posted your judgment for all the world to see.
Is that what James meant? Maybe. Some of the judgments that appear on Facebook take far too seriously the memes, quips, and quotes that people post, largely in fun.
James spoke of sitting in judgment over someone, especially to condemn them, but the sense here is to pass judgment without the proper jurisdiction. A judge is authorized to make judgments in specific cases according to the law. The average citizen may be entitled to express an opinion, but lacks the authority to pass judgment, that is, to execute a sentence according to personal preferences. We may protest some perceived injustice, but we don’t have the authority, before God, to destroy property or injure people at random.
Typically, Christians aren’t the ones terrorizing neighborhoods with mob violence because we’re upset; but we do engage in internet rage with disturbing regularity. It’s so easy to say something hateful because, “Who’s going to stop us?” The internet us invites us daily to join in the fray and entices us with offers of anonymity.
Just remember, the next time you want to send a barbed text, “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). Especially as Christians, we should be aware that we live “Coram Deo” – before the face of God. We don’t choose to live before God’s face; we recognize the fact that we do, the fact that God watches over us. We’d be less likely to open fire on one another if we’d realize that God really does see us and that He seriously works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
Does it really matter if we speak the truth without love, as long as what we say is the truth? Yes, absolutely. How we speak is as important as what we say. God weighs, not only our actions, but the attitudes of our hearts as well: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
Now, James’ question above, “who are you who judge your neighbor?” (Jas. 4:12), is often taken out of context and used to keep Christians from discerning the truth. James wasn’t saying that Christians should hold no opinion and voice no perspective. Instead, he warned against wielding criticisms that injure people needlessly.
It’s true that reprobates and hypocrites will continue to wage war but we aren’t called to win every argument. Rather, God calls His people to walk in fellowship with Him and with one another, and to embody the character of Christ, not to be pushovers, but to manifest Christ’s Person in our very words.