James 4:11, 12
Speak not evil one of another, brothers. He that speaks evil of his brother, and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law…
Here James still continues his warning against the spirit of selfishness and worldliness. In these two verses he issues a solemn interdict against the habit of calumny and unjust censure of brethren. For evil-speaking is one of the most familiar manifestations of that spirit of strife which he has already rebuked.
I. THE PROHIBITION. (Ver. 11.)
1. Fundamentally it is directed against evil-judging. The apostle's words are to be interpreted according to their spirit. He does not condemn all judging. God has implanted within us the critical faculty, the judgment; and we cannot avoid using it. Indeed, it is a Christian duty to pronounce upon conduct and character. We require to do so within our own breasts for our own moral guidance; while to judge publicly is a function of the civil magistrate and of Church rulers. What James condemns here is evil-judging - all judging that is censorious or calumnious. We are not to judge rashly, harshly, uncharitably. Even good Christians are tempted to transgress in this matter in many ways: e.g. from listening to mere rumor, from trusting to our own first impressions, from narrow-mindedness, from self-conceit, from mistaken views of the sufferings of others, from forgetting that we cannot look into our neighbors' hearts. In forming our judgments of conduct and character we should have regard to such principles as these:
(1) We have no right to come to an unfavorable conclusion unless we possess full knowledge of all the facts.
(2) We ought to guard against undue severity of judgment.
(3) We must not allow bad motives to warp our decisions.
(4) When acts are capable either of a favorable or an unfavorable construction, we are bound in charity to take the favorable view.
2. But the prohibition refers also to the expression of our judgments. It forbids evil, speaking. The vilest form of this sin consists in the willful creation of false reports against brethren. To originate such is literally diabolical. True Christians may seldom fall into this lowest and guiltiest form of calumny; but how readily do some of us yield ourselves to the circulation of slanders which have been poured into our ears! How frequently do we "take up a reproach against our neighbor" (Psalm 15:3)! We find it lying in our way, and we pick it up and pass it on, whereas we ought to allow it to remain where it is. Alas! even in Christian circles a small and slight rumor will sometimes expand speedily into a huge inflated calumny, which will scatter mischief and misery along its path. And even mere idle speaking degenerates into evil-speaking. Gossip soon becomes backbiting; scandal grows out of tittle-tattle. It is so much easier to talk of persons than of principles, that our dinner and tea parties, instead of being occupied with profitable subjects of conversation, are sometimes largely given over to the retail of scandal. We should ever bear in mind such principles as the following for our guidance in the expression of our judgments concerning others:
(1) The end of speech is to bless and serve God, while evil-speaking is work done for Satan.
(2) We should direct attention to the excellences rather than to the defects of our neighbor's character.
(3) When we require in private life to use the language of condemnation, we ought to condemn principles rather than persons.
(4) We should tell his fault to the erring brother himself rather than to others.
II. THE GROUNDS OF THE PROHIBITION. One strong argument is introduced incidentally, in the use of the words "brethren" and "brother." Depreciatory and calumnious language towards one another is subversive of the whole idea of brotherhood. It is inconsistent with the recognition of the common brotherhood of the race, and tenfold more so in relation to the special spiritual brotherhood of believers. The apostle, however, submits expressly two grounds for his condemnation. To judge and speak evil is:
1. To condemn the Divine Law. (Ver. 11.) "The law" refers to the moral code which was given by Moses, and fulfilled and made honorable by Jesus Christ. It is the same which James has spoken of in James 1. as "the law of liberty." Of this law the second great commandment is, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" - a precept which embraces within it the "judge not" of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 7:1). But the man who speaks evil of his brother virtually condemns the New Testament ethics as unsound, and pronounces the moral law to be unworthy of obedience.
2. To usurp the functions of the Divine Judge. (Vers. 11, 12.) Our proper place and work as Christians is that of humble submission to the authority of the law. If, however, we speak evil regarding our fellows, we in so doing withdraw altogether from the attitude of subjection. In "judging our brother" we climb up to the judicial bench; we usurp the seat of him who administers the law, and who is not himself under it. But how frightful the impiety that is involved in such usurpation! "One only is the Lawgiver and Judge;" he alone pronounces infallible judgments, and possesses power to execute them. His sentences are spoken for doom; yet he loves to "save," and it gives him" no pleasure" to "destroy."
1. The presumptuousness of evil-judging. "Who art thou that judgest thy neighbor?" Man lacks the requisite knowledge and wisdom and purity.
2. The duty of cultivating love of the brethren.
3. The importance of copying in our lives the perfect character of the godly man, as mirrored in Psalm 15:4. The reasonableness of fearing God, as the one true and final Judge. - C.J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
WEB: Don't speak against one another, brothers. He who speaks against a brother and 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.