James Bible Study
1 John Bible Study
Sermon on the Mount Hebrews Bible Study
Online Teachings
Just Published
Cathy's New Book
James Study Guide

The Letter of James Bible Study Guide by Cathy Deddo

Available for Purchase James Study Guide

These studies look at the overwhelming goodness of the Triune God. Depicted by Andrei Rublev's icon of The Holy Trinity.
 

James 4:11-17

"11 Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you that you judge your neighbor? 13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain"; 14 whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is you life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that." 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin."

In the section previous to this one, James tells his readers that the best way to deal with the lives they live in this fallen world is humbly before God. When we humble ourselves, we are not seeking a way to think poorly of ourselves. Rather humility is turning our eyes away from ourselves and on to God. True humility is a self-forgetfulness. After all, we can only know ourselves truly as we know ourselves in Christ. We can receive God's presence, peace, and love only as we focus on Him and turn our lives daily over to Him. When we no longer are busy trying to exalt ourselves or getting others to exalt us but humble ourselves before God, James says in v. 10, God "will exalt you."

When we forget who we really are before God, we are tempted to be jealous and envious of others. We stop meditating on, receiving from God and focus on those around us. We compare our lives with theirs and burn with frustration that we don't have all that they do. But in that process, we have turned from God. We are not living by counting on Him to be the gracious "Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change"(1:17).

Now in this section James speaks of our arrogance when we presume to judge others or to believe that we are in control of our own futures. Again, when we do these things, it is clear that we are not reflecting the truth about our wonderful heavenly Father or about ourselves as His beloved children.

First, James deals with speaking evil against one another and judging one another. James does not intend for us to see these two things--speaking evil and judging--as two totally separate practices. To speak evil against another is to judge them. The kind of judging James has in mind here is when we speak a "final" word about another's character, behavior, or value. We may be dismissing them as a "hopeless case." When we make statements like "he'll never..." or "she always..." then we are in danger of pronouncing judgement. It seems to me that often our jealousy of others can lead us to this place of speaking evil against them. We want to put them down, to get back at them somehow because they seem so much happier or better off than we think we are and we are angry and upset. It makes us feel superior to someone else when we speak as if we know who he or she is and their "real" problem.

James points out how highly presumptuous this attitude is in his next sentence. "He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law." When we set ourselves up as "the expert" in speaking against another, James says we are actually claiming to be an expert on the very law of God and judging it. Rather than putting ourselves under God’s law along with everyone else, we put ourselves above the law and use it as we see fit to judge others. And once we do this, we are no longer in right relationship with the law or God. Our relationship to God's law is to be people who obey it out of love, trust, and hope in the One who created us and teaches us how we are to live. But we are not trusting in God our Father when we set ourselves up to "know" exactly what is going on with another and so dismiss them with our word of judgment. The only One who truly sees all and knows all and can see into the heart of others is the Lawgiver, "he who is able to save and destroy." Since we do not have ultimate power over life and death, we should be very careful when our words convey "the final word" about another. "But who are you that you judge your neighbor?" James asks his readers.

James points out how highly presumptuous this attitude is in his next sentence. "He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law." When we set ourselves up as "the expert" in speaking against another, James says we are actually claiming to be an expert on the very law of God and judging it. Rather than putting ourselves under God's law along with everyone else, we put ourselves above the law and use it as we see fit to judge others. And once we do this, we are no longer in right relationship with the law or God. Our relationship to God's law is to be people who obey it out of love, trust, and hope in the One who created us and teaches us how we are to live. But we are not trusting in God our Father when we set ourselves up to "know" exactly what is going on with another and so dismiss them with our word of judgment. The only One who truly sees all and knows all and can see into the heart of others is the Lawgiver, "he who is able to save and destroy." Since we do not have ultimate power over life and death, we should be very careful when our words convey "the final word" about another. "But who are you that you judge your neighbor?" James asks his readers.

I appreciate this word very much. It is funny to me when I stop and think about it--how ridiculous it is that I think I know all of what is going on in someone else's life and that I can analyze them and explain away their behavior. The truth is that I don't even know all of who I am and what makes me behave as I do. I can't even be the judge of myself and I am placing myself in God's shoes when I berate myself as a hopeless case. How great that God alone knows us and can discern the truth about us. And if He still has hope about me or someone else, who am I to be hopeless? If God has not yet pronounced the final word, who am I to do so? We truly see so little of what the real story is in anyone's life, including our own. When we are tempted to speak evil against others or ourselves, we can hand those thoughts over to God, realizing that He alone knows "the whole truth" and can be confident that He will handle all things according to His good and gracious character. The first and last word is indeed the Word of God in Jesus Christ.

We are so tempted at times to think we are like God. Not only are we tempted to play judge in relationships with others, but we can be presumptuous when we consider the future of our lives as well. This is what James turns to now. "Come now, you who say 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain'". How quick we are to make our plans! I guess it gives us a sense of having more control over our lives if we can declare what we are going to do next. Remember, James is writing to people who are experiencing a variety of trials in their lives, trials that tempt them to stop counting on God to be present, good, and active in their lives. So here he is warning against putting our trust in our future plans. Have you ever found yourself thinking, "When I get this job", or "make it to that weekend," or "get my children in/out of school..." then everything will be okay? It is very easy to begin to count on a future event to take care of the tensions of the present. I think this is because sometimes we want our trials to end more than we want to know the power and comfort of God's presence in the midst of our trials.

As with judging our neighbor, James reminds his readers of who they really are before God. First he brings up the obvious point that they do not know their own futures. We cannot see even one day ahead and so our confidence and trust in our own plans are rather foolish. Then James broadens out his argument, reminding his readers of what their lives look like in the vastness of time and eternity. "What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." It is easy to take ourselves too seriously, isn't it? We are so tempted to believe that so much is riding on us and that our permanence here on this earth is crucial. James is helping his readers to turn their focus away from themselves and back on their heavenly Father, who alone can make them "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."(1:4)

When we remember God, and live out of our trust in Him, we can release others from our judgments and condemnations. There is a great freedom we can know when we see ourselves and others through God's eyes. Thank goodness it is He who has the last word on me and others and not me! Because He is the one who "gives to all men generously and without reproaching."(1:5) Of course, as we grow in the security of knowing ourselves as His truly beloved children, the need to put others down to feel better diminishes.

When we remember and count on God to be our future, as well as our past and present, then we can make our plans, but not in any absolute sense. "Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.'" We live in God's hands, in His great and wonderful grip. I do not have to look to my future to make my life "okay." God gives me His presence fully now and will always do so. It doesn't mean that I have to learn to put up with or enjoy the trials and not hope for a better day. Ultimately there is a time in our future when we will be "perfect and complete", able fully to live in and receive God's overflowing grace and love moment by moment. Our trials are opportunities to cling more closely to the God who is able and willing to make us more and more the joyous children He made us to be, and to look forward to that future in Him.

We can still, and should make plans for our lives here, but we know that we don't have to count on certain circumstances or opportunities to give us our lives and identities. God will not be thrawted in His great good purposes for us if our plans do not go the way we think they should. We can plan out of trust and look to Him to lead us to the next step.

When we plan without God we are arrogant. That is because we are refusing to acknowledge the truth that we are not God--we do not know everything and we are not in charge. We do not know all that's going on in others' lives, even in our own, and we cannot guarantee that we will even live another day. This is why "all such boasting is evil"--because it is not true. When we know what to do, to live out of trust in a good and loving heavenly Father, and fail to do this because we seek to find our security, purpose, identity, or life somewhere else, this is sin.

There is a wonderful freedom in the truth James is teaching his readers. We can lay down the burden of having to know everything, having to control everything and everyone. We don't have to have the final say nor fear others or that a particular circumstance will have the last word. God alone has the first and last word in all things. And the name of that Word is Jesus Christ.

<< Back  Next James Bible Study >>

Home|Bible Studies|Topical|Reflections|Resources|About|Contact|Site Map
Copyrightę 2011, Trinity Study Center. All Rights Reserved.