Biblical Meaning of Evil Speaking (James 4:11-12) (Part 2)

1.3 Usurping God’s Right & Authority

James 4:12 “There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy, who art thou that judges another? The argument enforcing the prohibition against backbiting and judging is stated in James 4:12, “there is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who art thou that judgest another?” When we judged others and speak against them, we are, trying to push God off His Judgement Seat in order to place ourselves on it. This is an action of gross presumption because God’s Position is absolutely unique: 

First, God is the sole Lawgiver (James 4:12). His Law alone is of permanent significance. God may delegate various functions and responsibilities to human Representatives, but He permits no man to cancel or modify His Law. God has the exclusive right to judge because He alone is Lawgiver.

Second, God is the Supreme Judge of mankind (James 4:12). His judgements upon us are of eternal validity. He has the unique ability to both save and destroy. God says in Deuteronomy 32:39, “There is no gods besides Me. I put to death, and I bring to life, I have wounded, and I will heal, and no one can deliver from My hand.” God alone is competent to judge justly (1Corinthians 4:4-5). By being critical and judgemental of our brothers we are usurping a prerogative which belongs only to God. God does not permit any man to share His Judgement Seat as He alone is “able to save and to destroy.”  The latter word means that God is LORD of life and death. He has absolute power to do with men whatever He pleases. There may be in the words a special reference to God’s Judgement of men at the end of the Age. 

James concluded his command with “a devastating shaft of withering frankness” (Mitton). The contrast: God “is able to save and to destroy;” but “who are thou?” Mrs Montgomery expresses well the stress of the Greek: “But you, who are you, to be condemning your brother?” The manner of statement emphasises the profound scorn of James for a person who judges his brother/sister and thus set himself against and above God’s Law. For us to judge others, therefore, is to take upon ourselves a right which is God’s; it is an infringement of God’s prerogative. We do well to ask ourselves, “Who am I to judge my brother?” or as Paul says, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his master own master, he stands or falls” (Romans 14:4). If we appreciate the presumptuousness of our judging others, we will tremble at the thought of engaging in it. We will all find ourselves tempted to be impatience with, and criticism of, other people’s behaviour at times; but it is a temptation we must overcome. However, James 4:11-12 do not teach that we should let my brothers and sisters go on in sin without speaking to them about it. We must not criticise the person in front of other people but should speak to him alone about his sin. If he repents, nothing more needs to be done.

If not, then we should visit him again with one or two other believers as taught in Matthew 18:15-17 and Galatians 6:1; he should be judged in a public way only after he does not accept the advice of all the Believers who speak to him privately and he still refused to repent.

1.4 Application

Charles Simeon, whose ministry in Cambridge was so influential, wrote a letter to a friend in July 1817 on how to cope with evil-speaking. The advice he gave was excellent and is as good a guide now as when it was first written; “the longer I live, the more I feel the importance of adhering to the rules which I have laid down for myself in relation to such matters:”

  • “1st, it hears as little as possible what is to the prejudice of others;”
  • “2nd, to believe nothing of the kind till I am absolutely forced to it;”
  • “3rd, never to drink into the spirit of one who circulates an ill report;”
  • “4th, always to moderate, as far as I can, the unkindness which is expressed towards others;”
  • “5th, always to believe, that if the other side were heard, a very different account would be given of the matter.”

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