James 4:11-12 | “Sanctified speech proves salvation.”
Speaking evil of fellow Christians is wrong not only because it involves ‘judging the law’; it is wrong also because it involves ‘judging the neighbour’. And this critical, condemnatory judgment involves both disobedience of the demand that we love the neighbour and an arrogant presumption on the rights of God himself. For he is the one lawgiver and judge who alone has the ability to determine the eternal fate of his creatures (cf. also Matt. 10:28). Yet when we criticize and condemn others, we are in fact pronouncing our own verdict over their spirituality and destiny. This charge shows that James is not prohibiting the proper, and necessary, discrimination that every Christian should exercise. Nor is he forbidding the right of the community to exclude from its fellowship those it deems to be in flagrant disobedience to the standards of the faith, or to determine right and wrong among its members (1 Cor. 5 and 6). James’ concern is with jealous, censorious speech by which we condemn others as being wrong in the sight of God. It is this sort of judging that Paul condemned among the Roman Christians, who were apparently questioning the reality of one another’s faith because of differing views on the applicability of some ritual laws (Rom. 14:1–13; cf. especially vv. 3–4 and 10–13). It is entirely possible that some situation like this was responsible for the problems James addresses. A bitter, selfish spirit (3:13–18) had given rise to quarrels and disputes about certain matters in the church (4:1–2). These disputes were apparently conducted, as they usually are, with a notable absence of restraint in the use of the tongue (3:1–12), including perhaps cursings (3:10) and denunciations (4:11–12) of one another. Such behaviour is nothing more than a manifestation of a worldly spirit (3:15; 4:1, 4). It must be replaced by ‘the wisdom from above’, with its meekness, reasonableness and peaceableness (3:17). This flirtation with the world must be seen to be incompatible with God’s jealous desire to have his people’s wholehearted allegiance (4:4–5). Yet God is willing to turn and bestow his favour if sinful pride can give way to deep-felt repentance and sincere abasement before him (4:6–10).
Moo, D. J.