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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Who Are You to Judge?


A sermon based on James 4:11-17

By Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

October 24th, 2021, Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Book of James, 9/12


Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, 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 who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

 13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money."

 14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

 15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that."

 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

 17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

 (Jas. 4:11-5:1 NRS)


     When I was in college news came to several of us of the conversion of the very well-known and popular singer, BJ Thomas.   Thomas was one of those rare talents who could sing most anything, Pop, Country, R and B.  The first time I ever heard him on the radio, the song was ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.’  It seems like I heard everyday for at least a year. 

      But BJ’s talent and fame led him to drug use, and he almost died.  But thanks to his loving wife, Gloria, who had just found the Lord,  BJ also became a Christian and through a life change and serious therapy, he  got off drugs and stayed off. Then, soon after,  BJ started singing Hymns and making  Christian records, with one of my favorite, his song of thankfulness to Jesus,  which goes, What a difference you made in my life.’  It’s a beautiful tribute of thanksgiving

     During those years,  after being saved from drug addiction, BJ began to travel the US, singing in churches.  He loved to sing gospel, hymns, and he still loved some of his old songs, and he would often attempt to sing a couple in churches.  But Thomas testifies today, still singing at age 76, that he stopped singing gospel music in churches because he was being booed by so-called Christians when he might occasionally sing one of his hit songs.  Now, he says, he only sings in the church of one of his pastor friends.  They don’t judge him like other Christians.

      It’s sad isn’t, that hear you have a man who is an incredible testimony to the power of grace and love, but he no longer sings in churches because they are too narrow-minded and judgmental.

      In today’s text from James, we return to one of James’ favorite topics, the dangers of the tongue.  This time the danger points specifically back  toward Christians who might think they now have been given the right or the responsibility to judge another human being.  To any Christian who would attempt to be judgmental, James asks point blank, ‘who are you to judge?’



       Let’s jump right into the middle of James’ question.  It’s probably one of the most quoted phrases in the Bible.   And when you stop to think about it, what James goes on to talk about is some pretty heavy stuff.   Here, James is particularly addressing  Christians.  He is saying that Christians should know better than to judge each other.  Only God is the lawgiver and only God is the judge.  .Only God makes the decision about salvation or destruction.  Who are you to judge, James implies, for one day you will stand before the judge too.   How could you ever think you could dare stand in God’s place?

     What James says, makes good, logical sense, doesn’t it?  We are not judges.  We are never fully informed.  We aren’t capable of judging fully or daily.  We are the ones who will be judged.  How can we ever pretend to be some else’s judge? 

      When I was a young pastor in Statesville,  I went to a meeting and the people there asked me to lead the new ‘Right To Life’ movement that was growing in the country. It was growing in response to the legalization of abortion.  Since abortions ended a life, I believed there were better choices.  That’s why I went to the meeting and decided to get involved.  I felt that Christians should promote life and stand up for the defenseless, as well as, help young women find help and make life-saving choices. 

          But I didn’t remain a leader in that movement very long, and do you know why?  Too many Christians wanted to stand back and judge rather than be compassionate workers for life, love and grace.  Instead of helping these young woman and providing ministries to assist them, most of those coming to the meetings wanted only to protest, condemn and change laws.

      People, even Christians too, at times,  jump too quickly on political bandwagons, criticizing and condemning, rather than doing what is caring and right.  On the same issue, a Sunday School class I was visiting quickly made verbal judgments against any who would dare go through with having an abortion.  Then suddenly when a young lady began crying, admitting she had an abortion before she became a Christian, they all staring consoling her.   I wondered why they couldn’t have been more compassionate to begin with.  Why can’t we speak up for what is right without being judgmental?  Why can’t we speak to what we are for rather than who we are against? 

         In another situation, I was having trying to teach my daughter a hard life-lesson, when a member of the church started scolding me.  I couldn’t believe that  this person didn’t  ask any questions, but made all kinds of assumptions.  She  didn’t really know me, nor did she know my daughter, but she already had all the answers.

          What James says about being judgmental reflects what Jesus also warned against, when he said near the end of his great sermon, ‘Judge not, lest you will be judged!   For the way you judge others, you will also be judged, measure for measure.  (Mat. 7:1-3). These are words we very much need to hear and heed in these days of political divisiveness and name calling.   These words of warning echo straight back to Jesus, are all over theBible, and go all the way back to the Old Testament law in Leviticus 19, verse 16, where the law warns,  You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

       The point here, as James interprets it too, is that when we judge we slander someone and in doing so we go against the law by presuming to be above the law and we become a judge and no longer a doer of the law. That’s very interesting point, isn’t it?  When we slander someone, claiming they are in the wrong, in doing this, we go wrong also.  We go wrong not because what we are saying isn’t right, but we are wrong because our focus should be on doing the law ourselves and loving our neighbor, rather than becoming a judge over them.





This most illogical practice of being judgmental is underscored in everything James says.  In fact, James implies that when we speak against another person, we are the ones participating in evil, even more than they are.  Did you catch that?  While someone may be doing something wrong, by becoming their judge we end up doing evil.  Why would James say something like that?

Well, James gives us two reasons:   By judging others we are not submitting to the most important law, which is to love our neighbor.   Secondly, to become judge over another is wrong because only God, the one who gave the law, can rightfully be the proper judge.  This brings us to something very important.  We still need the law, and we still need good, fair and just judgment too.  But what we don’t need to do ourselves, is to play God or presume we are better than others, even when someone is in the wrong.  We are still sinners too, remember?

       The English author, C. S. Lewis, in one of his books, points out that when people become Christians, if they are not careful, their sinning often shifts from the outward, visible sins of lying, cheating, stealing, cursing and swearing, to the more inward, hidden, non-apparent invisible ones ... and among them he lists "a critical spirit" ... a spirit of judgmentalism.  In fact, Lewis  points out that this is the sin more commonly committed by church people.  So prevalent is it in churchly circles, that it is sometimes labeled "Christian cruelty.".  It’s as if we think we can fix the world by judging it. 

      It is best Lewis says, to ‘abstain from thinking about other people's faults, unless your duties as a teacher or parent make it necessary to think about them. Whenever the thoughts come unnecessarily into one's mind, why not simply shove them away? And think of one's own faults instead?  For there, with God's help, one can do something. Of all the awkward people in your house or your job there is only one whom you can improve very much... The job has to be tackled some day: and every day we put it off will make it harder to begin.’ (From God in the Dock, pp. 154).

In churches and communities today, especially in these where judgmentalism has become a kind of public self-righteousness in our current climate of political correctness, as Christians we need to renew our commitment to love, compassion and positive acts of mercy and place our emphasis upon being the hands and feet of Jesus.  After all, Scripture teaches us that ‘they will know we are Christians by our love’ not by our good judgment (John 13:35).

          I realize I’ve told this story to you before, but because it happened to me, I have to keep telling it.  Years ago, I attended a wedding in south Statesville and the minister did the most peculiar thing.  He had memorized the ceremony.  I immediately took it as being arrogance and showing off, and when he stumbled on a couple of lines, I smiled in my self, saying ‘serves him right for trying to display how smart he thinks he is.   But then, near the end of the ceremony, as he turned a certain way, I realized he was blind.  Then, I felt horrible because in judging him I ended up bringing judgment upon myself. 

Later, as I reflected what I did, I came to realize that this is just how short-sighted most human judgment toward others is and why we shouldn’t try to be a judge.  We never know what other people are going through and we never know enough to be a fair judge of any one, including ourselves.  That’s why James says we shouldn’t speak, nor even think evil of another.  It is our responsibility to do what is right ourselves and not to take it upon ourselves to become anyone’s judge.      



      So, what are we to say and do when we clearly see another in the wrong?   Well, James doesn’t move to specifically address that.  Instead, he remind us just how limited we humans are when it comes to having any kind of full knowledge of almost anything.  Since we can’t really guarantee knowing anything —- what will or will not happen tomorrow—-who are we to be any kind of fair or just judge.  Our lives are only like a vapor in the wind.  We most surely aren’t God, but we rely completely upon God.

       Based upon our real limitations, both physical and spiritual, we shouldn’t boast about anything; not what we will do tomorrow or what we did today or yesterday either, for that matter.  Recall the very well-known musical about the little red-haired orphan Annie, where she sings about Tomorrow:

The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow there will be sun

And then the  refrain goes:

Tomorrow, tomorrow.  It''s almost tomorrow.   It''s only a day away.

These very optimistic words and our hearts are really attracted to them and lifted up by these words.  This expresses the very popular and comforting idea that there is always going to be more time, a second chance and that somehow the door of life will always remain open and that things are always going to work out just right. Tomorrow is going to be there, if we can just wait until tomorrow.

But as beautiful as this is, and as much as we want to believe it, it's really a lie.  It''s all wrong, because tomorrow may not come.  If you test these words up against someone dying in a hospice home, you can understand.   This is why Proverbs 21:8 gives us true wisdom, "Do not boast about tomorrow for you do not know what a day may bring forth."  James echoes this wisdom, reminding us how are most certainly not assured of tomorrow. We're also not assured of the circumstances we will face.  While we can always be assured of God''s goodness and grace, we're not assured of tomorrow or what it will bring. Life can be very brief.  Life can be unpredictable.  We''d better not presume on time or on God, on the offer of God''s salvation, on the mercy of God, or on the leniency of God.  They are there, now, but do not make assumptions.  There is no promise about tomorrow, or the next second for that matter.

So, what James implies here is whether we  judging or boasting about what we think we know, we should just do the right thing we kn  to do now.   That’s the perspective a right-seeing and right-thinking Christian ought to have.  For if we we know anything at all about what is right and we still don’t do it, James says, that’s the kind of sin we should be correcting within us, rather than speaking against what is wrong in another.  

Again, how James concludes is quite arresting: Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin. This goes straight back to Jesus when he said For why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but you can’t see the log in your own eye…’,  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Matt. 7:4-5).   In the strongest terms too, James says that the sin of omitting what we know we should do but don’t do, is far worse than the sin of having by done something wrong. 

Yes, this is very serious talk, but remember,  James isn’t standing in judgment over us either.  James is not condemning, but he is commending us to God who is the holy, all-knowing, and righteous judge.  Make no mistake, God will get it right.  In fact, God already has got it right when judged the world at the cross of Jesus the Christ.  At the cross, we discover fully that we are sinners, but that God offers us or forgiveness and a future through the perfect redemptive judgement of his son.  Jesus is the one who reveals our sins, but also and convinces us of the truth that can set us free for life and for hope.  This great truth is not only based upon John 3:16, but it also includes John 3:17, which says:  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.    Today is the day to find, know and share salvation, not to judgment.   Today is the day.   Love is the way.  Jesus is God’s love, made flesh.  Amen.

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