As we continue our study of the book of James, we once again note that this letter was written to describe how true faith responds to the trials of life. At several points thus far, we have seen that heavenly wisdom is necessary if we are to respond in faith to all of the difficulties we face in this world (1:5; 3:13–18).
Because the original audience was living according to the wisdom of the world, it was necessary for James to call them to humble themselves in repentance so that God would once again come near to offer His wisdom (4:1–10). Having issued this call, James today describes how those possessing the wisdom of God must use their tongues. In 4:11, he exhorts us not to speak evil against our brothers.
We have already seen that to curse and slander our brothers is, in reality, to slander and curse God (3:9). James elaborates on this theme today, saying that if we speak evil against our brothers and sisters, we make ourselves judges of our brothers and of the Law instead of being doers of the Law (4:11; 1:22).
James is not saying that all judging of other Christians is inappropriate. After all, the New Testament does command church elders to exercise discipline in order to maintain the purity of God’s people (see 1 Cor. 5). In 4:11, James is speaking of judging others based on bitterness and jealousy and not on Christian love (see 3:13–16 and 4:1–3). Most commentators say that this jealousy was causing many in James’ audience to deny the salvation of another person based on matters not essential to the Gospel. False judgments based on false criteria produced rampant slander in the community.
In slandering other Christians, we violate the command to preserve the good name of our fellow believers (Ex. 20:16). In violating this “royal law” (James 2:8), we actually claim that we know better how we must live than God does and thus judge His law as being false (4:11). When we disobey this royal law, we are attempting to deny that our rightful place is in submission to the Law. However, this is not as things should be because there is but one perfect Judge of all, and we must submit to the standards that He has given us (v. 12)
There is most certainly a place for evaluating the spiritual health of the members of our churches. However, this is to be done predominantly by the elders of the church in love and according to the standards of the Law. Unfortunately, far too many of us forget this and slander fellow believers with our gossip while denying that we are motivated by bitterness and jealousy. Repent today if you are guilty of gossip and do what you can to preserve your neighbor’s good name.