I can’t believe this idiocy! My word program on my computer is telling me right now that the title word of this devotional – judgmentalism – is not correct. It is underlined in read … ugh … just did it again in this sentence! Don’t tell me this is not a legitimate word, I know that it is! It can be found in multiple dictionaries. I’ll bet it was some computer geek idiot who is living in his parents’ basement, who as a technology sub-contractor, failed to get this correct in the program. Stupid! Here I am, just a simple pastor of an average church in Western Maryland, and I know more than this ignorant computer knows!
OK, let’s try to forget this and go to our passage for today …
James 4:11 – Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
Oh dear. Maybe I was a bit harsh up above. But I did feel good for a moment by setting myself up to be smarter than the computer.
It is easy to criticize others and allow the imperfections of others to annoy us, while at the same time somehow overlooking our own flaws. And apparently James’ readers excelled in this regard. As with the warning in chapter 2 about them not favoring the wealthy over the poor, this statement is likewise worded in the original Greek language in such a way as to indicate that it was an ongoing problem. It is not just a warning about something they should avoid developing in their midst.
The person who is quick to find fault in others is often a person who thereby feeds within themselves a better comparative feeling about themselves.
Where I have seen this over the years in a church context is something like this: There is a person who is genuinely very serious about their faith and living it out appropriately. They are working very hard at it. They spend a lot of time thinking about rules and obligations, laboring diligently to be holy and disciplined. Certain benefits of righteous living do accrue in their lives. And they can see that they are indeed working harder than most other folks. After a while, they grow a sense that many others are not laboring as intensely and are a bit too flippant about spiritual disciplines and sanctified living. And this sense leads to a feeling that they have a higher ground of vision and understanding about others around them, eventually leading to critical and condescending statements.
But aren’t we supposed to be faithful to confront sin or failure in the lives of fellow believers? Doesn’t the Bible say that we should speak the truth in love? And is there not a godly service done when one confronts and brings a brother back into line? Yes, that is true; and the passage that most affirms this is in the next chapter – “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
But if you just go and run over another person with a judgmental condescension, you violate the law again – that “royal law” reference earlier of loving others as you love yourself. Beyond that, you put yourself in God’s shoes as the judge.
The Apostle Paul wrote of an appropriate balance: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1).
We all have feet of clay. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12)