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Do Not Judge A Brother

James 4:11-17

Perry B. Cotham

James 4:11-17 “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.  There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?  Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:  Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.  For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.  But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.  Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

The portion of Scripture in the practical Epistle of James for this study is chapter 4, verses 11-17. Herein we find a number of good lessons.

To begin with we address “Do not judge a brother”.  James, in verses 11 and 12, commands Christians not to speak evil one of another. In so doing they would more or less set themselves up to be judges, and in a sense become judges of the law as well as of their brethren. This admonition is always needed in every congregation. Paul wrote to the  Ephesians: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NKJV). 

However, differences of opinions often arise among brethren. Paul and Barnabas took John Mark with them on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5), but Mark soon left them and returned home (Acts 13: 13). Later, when Paul and Barnabas began talking about making a second journey, there arose a sharp disagreement between them with reference to taking Mark with them on this trip.  This finally resulted in Paul taking Silas and going in one direction and Barnabas taking his relative Mark and going in another direction (Acts 15 :36-41).  Each considered the reason for his own preference a good one we are sure, but neither was willing to yield. At times the best of men may differ about matters of expediency. There is a proper judgment and an improper judgment; there is wrong judging and there is right judging. For one to judge hypocritically is sinful (Matthew 7:1-5, ct. v. 15-20).

However, in John 7:24, Christ said: "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgments. " So, judging is commanded.  We are sure that both Paul and Barnabas did much good for the spread of the gospel on both of their journeys. However, Luke, in the Book of Acts, does not tell of the work of Barnabas. His name is not mentioned again by Luke.  In later years Paul felt very differently, however, toward Mark, for during his first imprisonment at Rome, he mentions him to Philemon as a fellow labourer there present with him (Philemon 24), and to the Colossians as one who had been a comfort to him (Colossians 4:10-11). During Paul's second imprisonment he wrote to Timothy: "Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry" (2 Timothy 4-11).  Surely over the years Mark has grown spiritually and could now be of a great help in the Lord's work. This has often happened in the lives of young Christians. Besides, Mark has given to us one of the biographies of the Life of Christ. Also Paul, a few years after the incidents at Antioch, spoke in friendly terms of Barnabas in 1 Corinthians 9: 16.  So James in his Epistle was warning Christians to always be careful about talking evil against others, and judging their motives or conduct. In so doing we judge the Law of Christ which forbids such conduct. We are to obey the law. We are not to make laws or say what the law should say.

Hence, James is here saying: "Stop speaking against each other. Don't be critical of others. Love the brethren." So, we should avoid the sin of evil speaking and rash judgments of others, remembering that man is never more like Christ than when he forgives a wrong said or done to him and then forgets it; and to also refrain from tale bearing.

If you are tempted to reveal
A tale some one to you has told
About another, make it pass,
Before you speak three gates of gold ­
Three narrow gates: first. "Is  it true?"
Then "ls it needful?"
In your mind
Give truthful answer.
And the next
Is last and narrowest: "ls it kind?"
And if, to reach your lips at last,
It passes through these gateways three,
Then you may tell the tale, nor fear
What the result of speech may be.
        - Anon

Churches are often split in pieces by gossip, and neighbours are made enemies by it for life. There are tale-bearers and tale-hearers. "There would not be so many open mouths if there were not so many open ears" (Bishop Hall).  But there is no weapon that strikes so fiercely as an evil tongue. Slander is a most serious evil. Solomon said: "Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no tale-bearer, the strife ceaseth" (Proverbs 26:20; ct. v. 22).  The Bible teaches that it is impossible for us to have a right relationship with God, our heavenly Father, without having a proper relation with our brethren.  The beloved apostle John wrote:  “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar:  for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also”. (1 John 4:20-21; ct. I Corinthians 13:4-8).

Do not endorse error.  People always appreciate being loved and appreciated by others. Yet, however, we are not to endorse those who teach and practice religious error (Romans 16:17-18). We are to judge the tree by its fruits (Matthew 7:20). No rule of faith and practice, save the inspired teaching of the Word of God, may be bound on the children of God. This can be done in at least three ways: (1) enact laws which are in conflict with the law of God; (2) attempt to nullify some of the laws of God; and (3) presume to act for God in making laws, rules, and edicts for the people of God. Religious men may, in their synods and councils, make religious laws, but this is wrong. Creed books are not needed. We have the full and complete Word of God in our Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Jude 3). There is only one lawgiver and one judge. Christ has "all authority," "in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28: 18 ASV). No religious laws are binding on people today but those, which Christ, through the inspired writers of the New Testament, have made (John 16:13; Ephesians 3:3-5). Our purpose then is to learn what the Lord's will is and to obey it (Revelation 22:14). The preacher’s purpose is to always faithfully "preach the word" (2 Timothy 4: 1-4), and to always speak the truth "in love" (Ephesians 4: 15), and tell people: "This is what the Bible says." Too, the Lord is the one who is able to save and to destroy. Jesus said: "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). 

We are told; do not depend upon the future.  The concluding section in this chapter (verses 13-17) contains a warning against a presumptuous attitude toward the future of our lives without a proper sense of the brevity and uncertainty of life here upon earth. All plans that are framed with this confidence are wrong.  Many form their plans as if they knew the future. But we do not know the future. It is amazing how many act in regard to this. We do not know what will occur in a single day or a single hour. The future is to us all unknown. We should, therefore, avoid vain boasting.  Life on earth is a frail and uncertain thing, James says life is as a vapour, now here, then gone. He said that instead of us saying we will do so and so, we ought to say, "!f the Lord will" We must always recognize our dependence upon the Lord, and form all of our plans accordingly.  Too, if a person knows what he should do, he is guilty of sin if he does not do it. Many say, "I know I should make a change in my life and do better, and I am going to do this someday." "I am planning on coming back to the church and being faithful someday." "I plan to be baptized sometime soon." But with many that future time never comes. "Tomorrow" is always one day ahead. How does the individual know he is going to live until "tomorrow," or "some day"?  We do not know what shall be on the morrow. We may know what we intend to do and to be, but many things can happen to prevent these plans.  Untold millions are going to be lost eternally because of such a failure to do now what is right. ". . . behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2. emp. added).  Solomon warned: "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Proverbs 27:1). The Lord's parable of the Rich Fool, in Luke 12:16-21, teaches very clearly this lesson that all men are mortal and know not what the future holds. He thought that he would live to enjoy his material blessings for "many years," but he did not. In that sense he was a foolish person. 

"Tomorrow" is one of the most dangerous words a lost soul can utter: "for ye know not what shall be on the morrow." When Paul was a prisoner in Caesarea he was invited to speak to the governor, Felix, and to his wife, Drusilla.  Felix was living with his lovely Drusilla in sin and shame. However, it was a memorable sermon that Paul preached. He preached as all ministers of the gospel ought to preach - as if he never would preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.  “He reasoned with them of righteousness, temperance self-control, ASV] and judgment to come” (Acts 24:24-25). As he did so, they must have thought of their sinful past, and the need for repentance. This powerful sermon had a great effect, especially on Felix. "Felix trembled." But instead of acting upon his conviction, Felix told Paul that at a future time, a "convenient season," he would hear him again. "Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient season I will send for thee" (v. 25). He boasted of "tomorrow." It was not convenient then for him to obey the Lord. So he and Drusilla never repented and never were baptized; they passed into eternity without obeying the gospel.  After about two years Felix left the province because accusations had been brought against him. He was banished to what was then called Gaul (now France), and there he died. Drusilla, with a son by Felix, while visiting Italy, perished in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that night, in A. D. 79, which engulfed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneus, near Naples. There she, too, lost her life; she was buried beneath the volcanic ashes. The "convenient season" likewise never came to her. They both heard the great apostle Paul preach and yet they died out of Christ, without obeying the Saviour.

In conclusion, no one should boast of tomorrow. To count on "tomorrow" so as to neglect the duty of today is in many respects one of the greatest practical errors among men. So many today are doing the same thing as did Felix, and they will be eternally lost in hell. But many people use this as an excuse for failing to obey the gospel or to return to faithfulness as an erring child of God NOW. If you are not a Christian, "tomorrow"…may the next moment of your life…you may be beyond hope!  Oh, the peril of procrastination!!  The following poem is meaningful:

He was going to be all that a man should be Tomorrow
No one would be better than he Tomorrow
Each morning he stacked up the letters he'd write Tomorrow
It was too bad indeed he was too busy to see Bill,
but he promised to do it Tomorrow
The greatest of workers this man would have been Tomorrow
But the fact is he died and faded from view,
and all that was left when living was through
was a mountain of things he intended to do - Tomorrow.
   - Anon


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