James 4:11-12 (The Message) “Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others?”
“Judge Judy” is a long-running reality court show presided over by retired Manhattan family court Judge Judith Sheindlin. The show features Judge Judy, adjudicating real-life small claim disputes within a simulated courtroom set. She is famous for her sayings and humor in judging. For example: “I love the truth. If you don't tell me the truth, you're gonna be eating your shoes.” “I eat morons like you for breakfast. You're gonna be crying before this is over.” “Have you ever heard of the K.I.S.S. principle? ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid.’
God is very clear about judging others and no clever sayings or humorous quips make it permissible to judge others. “There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation” (Matthew 12:37 MSG). (Complete text below)
The great preacher, Dr. A. B. Simpson, founder of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, speaking on the theme of slander, and especially the slander of Christian men, once said, “I would rather play with the forked lightning, or take in my hands living wires with their fiery currents, than speak a reckless word against any servant of Christ, or idly repeat the slanderous darts which thousands of Christians are hurling on others to the hurt of their own souls and bodies.” Then he goes on to say that the reason why Christians sometimes are not filled with joy, are not blessed and prosperous in their life, may be that “some dart which you have flung with angry voice, or in an idle hour of thoughtless gossip is pursuing you on its way as it describes a circle which always brings back to the source from which it came every shaft of bitterness and every evil and idle word.”
Leviticus 19:16 AMP, “You shall not go around as a gossip among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor (with slander or false testimony); I am the Lord.”
Matthew 12:36-37 MSG, “You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”
James 3:2 NLT, “Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.”
2 Corinthians 12:20 NLT, “For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior.”
Titus 3:1-2 NLT, “Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.”
1 Peter 2:1-10, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”
James' connection with the previous passage is that of pride; and pride is at the root of this sin. Think for a moment why we deliberately set out to speak evil of other people, and you'll see that such an action is always rooted in prideful desire to elevate or advance our self in some way.
James 4:11a: “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.”
Do not “speak evil,” the same word used here is translated, “back-bite,” in Romans 1:30, and 2Corinthians 12:20. Speaking evil, the sin of the tongue is once more mentioned by James. There are seven verses in which exhortations to guard the tongue and speech are given: James 1:19, 26; 2:12; 3:9,16; and here in again 4:11. Evil speaking has its origin in resentment and envy. Those whom we do not like, or who are our successful rivals, we are apt to trash with evil speech.
People love to talk about other people, especially if they can say something bad. We talk at work, over the backyard fence, over the telephone, or on line. Many newspaper columns, magazines, television and radio talk shows are devoted to the latest gossip about movie stars, politicians, and other public figures. People delight in digging up dirt.
If we were honest, most of us would admit that there are times we have a problem with talking too much, and saying the wrong things. Can you honestly say you have never said something about someone else and then later realized they should not have said it? If we understood the Bible better, we might regret even more of our speech. We should never say anything about a person in their absence, we would not say if they were present to hear it.
The Greek word used here for “speaking evil” is, katalalia, meaning, “defamation, backbiting, detraction, slander, railing, and defaming talk.” Speaking evil or slander is a deliberate, malicious statement about another person, spoken behind their back, an accusation maliciously uttered, with the purpose or effect or damaging the reputation of another.
“Usually this verb means to speak evil of someone else in that person’s absence, to criticize, to insult, to slander someone when he is not there to defend himself…We are all especially prone to make excuses for those whom we appreciate and love; to excuse, justify and forgive them for their weaknesses; and to criticize, condemn and flay those whom we dislike.” –Barclay
The following definitions are from The American Heritage Dictionary:
“Gossip” –Rumor or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature. “And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to
“Rumor” –Unverified information of uncertain origin usually spread by word of mouth; hearsay.
“Slander” –The utterance of defamatory statements injurious to the reputation or well-being of a person. A malicious statement or report.
“Backbite” –To speak spitefully or slanderously about (a person).
“Talebearer” –A person who spreads malicious stories or gossip.
“Rail” –To condemn or attack in bitter, harsh, or abusive language...
“Revile” –To denounce with abusive language.
Once a slanderous characterization has been made it is very difficult to undo. For most of us, gossip is remembered longer than praise. Malicious statements and humiliating pictures, posted on the internet, have been a factor in the rise of teen suicide. “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Indeed, slander is a two edged sword. It cuts the one who is being slandered and it twists the heart of the slanderer. Malicious speech is a deliberate challenge to the royal law, “love your neighbor as yourself.” So, James calls the slanderer to account.
“Evil, of course, must always be judged, whether it is unsound doctrine or an evil conduct; this belongs to the responsibility of a believer. But God alone, the Righteous judge, knows the heart and its motives. Speaking against a brother and judging him, that is, pronouncing a sentence of condemnation upon him, is the same as speaking against the law and judging the law. But if one judges the law, the same is not a doer of the law, but a judge; doing this we take the place of Him who is both, the lawgiver and the judge, that is the Lord. –Gaebelein
Verse 4:11b: “He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”
Judging here is used, as it is often in Scripture, in the sense of condemning. Compare with this the prohibition of our Lord in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Jesus declares that the person judging will be judged because judging assumes a divine prerogative; final judgment belongs to God alone, and those who seek to judge others now will answer then for usurping God's position.
Matthew 7:1 is probably quoted more by people who don't know Christ or the Bible than any other passage in all of Scripture. The verse often is taken to mean nobody has the right to judge anybody for anything at any time. There is no greater focal point for division that this one statement of Jesus, “Judge not, that you be not judged” mainly because the enemies of Evangelical Christianity try to use it as an excuse for rejecting the Gospel message, that Jesus is the only way to heaven (John 14:6). When we tell non-believers they are sinners, the often say, “You’re judging me, didn’t Jesus say, do not judge?” But Jesus is not saying do not discern truth from error! And He does not oppose giving correction, but He does tell us “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus Himself condemned the Scribes and Pharisees, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” “Woe to you, blind guides (Matthew 23:13,14, 15,16,23,25.27.29 27 In verse 27 He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”
So it is not judging to discern truth from error. Jesus does not oppose offering correction, but only offering correction in the wrong spirit. This wrong spirit leads to the frequent comment, “There are too may hypocrites in the church.” Much of the time they are referring to those who judge others about things of which they themselves are guilty.
“James does not here use ‘the law’ as a reference to the Mosaic Law, because he is writing to Christians, not to Jews. ‘The law’ spoken of here is the law of Jesus Christ, the law of the gospel, the law of the New Testament, the Christian law, ‘the royal law’ of Christ. Alford said it was: "The law of Christian life: the old moral Law, glorified and amplified by Christ, the ‘royal law’ of James 2:8.” Luther made it: “The law of Christian life, which, according to its contents, is none other than the law of love.”
A person who speaks evil against his brother is not showing the kind of love demanded by the “Royal law” and is therefore making himself a judge of that law. If you try to judge the law, you are in effect trying to do something that only God can do, for he is the only Lawgiver and Judge and you are taking for yourself a prerogative that rightly belongs to Him. When we judge our brother, we put ourselves in the same place as the law, in effect judging the law. This is something that we have no authority to do, because there is one Lawgiver.
And that brings us to…
Verse 12a: “There is one Lawgiver…”
Isaiah 33:22, “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; He will save us.”
The ultimate source of law is God; and all judgment is delegated by Him. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1,2).
Man does not have authority to make laws, man only has authority to make ‘ordinances’ which enforce Laws already in existence, which are the Laws of God.
Verse 12b: “…who is able to save and to destroy.”
Our Lawgiver God is the absolute Sovereign of the universe. The word “sovereign” means, “superior, greatest, absolute, exclusive, supreme in power and authority, ruler, and independent of all others.” It is simply saying, “God is in control.”
“Sovereignty is God's control over His creation, dealing with His governance over it: Sovereignty is God's rule over all reality.” –Dr. Norman Geisler
There is absolutely nothing that happens in the universe that is outside of God’s influence and authority. As King of kings and Lord of lords, God has no limitations.
For the unbeliever, the fear of God is the fear of the judgment of God and eternal death, which is eternal separation from God “But I’ll tell you whom to fear—fear God who has the power to kill and then cast into hell” (Luke 12:5). “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
For the believer, the fear of God is something much different. The believer's fear is reverence of God. “Let us please God by serving him with thankful hearts and with holy fear and awe. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). This reverence and awe is exactly what the fear of God means for Christians. This is the motivating factor for us to surrender to the Creator of the Universe.
Verse 12c: “(who) are you to judge another?”
“But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10).
“He is implying, ‘Do you think you are God? If not, why do you set yourself up in God’s role?’ Clearly, judging others stems from incredible arrogance! When you find yourself thinking judgmentally about others, judge your pride! God rightly could have judged you, but He didn’t. He will righteously judge the one that you are condemning, but it is not your place to do so. Humble yourself before God!” –Steven Cole
“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge; that is, Christ; who is himself invested with all sufficient power, and who has not delegated that power to any weak, passionate, or fallible man. His laws are in the New Testament; and whoever adds to them, or takes from them, does so far detract from the only Lawgiver in the Christian church. Dr. Heylin renders this verse, ‘There is but one Legislator who hath power to absolve or condemn. Who are you, that usurp his office by judging your neighbor?’” –Thomas Coke
The Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean there should be no mechanism for dealing with sin. The Bible has a whole book entitled Judges. The judges in the Old Testament were raised up by God Himself (Judges 2:18). The modern judicial system, including its judges, is a necessary part of society. In saying, “Do not judge,” Jesus was not saying, “Anything goes.”
“Jesus gives a direct command to judge: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24). Here we have a clue as to the right type of judgment versus the wrong type. Taking this verse and some others, we can put together a description of the sinful type of judgment: This does not mean we should not judge at all; a broader view of this subject shows we should be cautious and not condemn.
Superficial judgment is wrong. Passing judgment on someone based solely on appearances is sinful (John 7:24). It is foolish to jump to conclusions before investigating the facts (Proverbs 18:13). Simon the Pharisee passed judgment on a woman based on her appearance and reputation, but he could not see that the woman had been forgiven; Simon thus drew Jesus’ rebuke for his unrighteous judgment (Luke 7:36–50).
Hypocritical judgment is wrong. Jesus’ command not to judge others in Matthew 7:1 is preceded by comparisons to hypocrites (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16) and followed by a warning against hypocrisy (Matthew 7:3–5). When we point out the sin of others while we ourselves commit the same sin, we condemn ourselves (Romans 2:1).
Harsh, unforgiving judgment is wrong. We are ‘always to be gentle toward everyone’ (Titus 3:2). It is the merciful who will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7), and, as Jesus warned, ‘In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you’ (Matthew 7:2).
Self-righteous judgment is wrong. We are called to humility, and “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was confident in his own righteousness and from that proud position judged the publican; however, God sees the heart and refused to forgive the Pharisee’s sin (Luke 18:9–14).
Untrue judgment is wrong. The Bible clearly forbids bearing false witness (Proverbs 19:5). ‘Slander no one’ (Titus 3:2).” –gotquestions.org
Alan Redpath, Once formed a mutual encouragement fellowship among pastors. The members subscribed to a simple formula applied before speaking of any person or subject that was perhaps controversial. They used the acronym T. H. I. N. K.
T: Is it true?
H: Is it helpful?
I: Is it inspiring?
N: Is it necessary?
K: Is it kind?
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).