If you have read Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you might remember his subway story. One Sunday morning a normal and quite subway ride into the city was disturbed when a man and his children entered the car. The children were loud and rambunctious and brought chaos into the previously calm subway car. The man sat down next to Mr. Covey, eyes closed and was oblivious to his children yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people's papers.
Covey writes that he was irritated that this man would allow his children run wild and do nothing about it. So after a bit Covey confronted the man and said, Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn't control them a little more? The man looked up and said softly, Oh, you're right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don't know what to think, and I guess they don't know how to handle it either. Covey writes: Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn't have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man's pain. Everything changed in an instant.
John Burke wrote, Judging others is not only fun, it’s my favorite activity because it makes me feel good about me. Mr. Burke might be correct, it might be fun, but James would say that it is a sin. In our text this morning, James goes back to the struggle of being Judgmental with one of the most concise and stern warnings against judging found in the Bible. James doesn’t mince words because he knows the human condition gravitates towards gossip or slander. In our text this morning James reminds us that our desire to judge others, is rooted in the same sin that caused Adam and Eve to fall in the garden, the desire to play God. Judging other people comes from a self-righteous attitude of putting other people down or just outright being critical. And while it is one of the ugliest parts of the broken human condition, we all struggle with a self righteous attitude from time to time. Let’s get into the text this morning and see why judging is so deadly and how we can mature to be more like Christ.
In verse 11, James says It's unchristian
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks 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. (11) In the ESV, James says Brother three times. While there have been times in this letter that James, had to deal with how we display our faith to the outside world; this morning he is addressing how we treat one another.
In these two powerful verses, James has to remind us that we are a part of the same family, because there are times when we tend to forget. James calls us back to this foundational point; we’re all part of the same family and we have a responsibility to one another. James seems to be saying that our struggle is not really a problem with our mouth; it's not a problem of vocabulary; it’s not a problem of communication technique; it's a problem of the heart. Even though we are saved by the amazing grace of God, we are scandalized by our inability to share that same grace with others. We have all fallen victim to judging other members of our christian family. It’s not a quick jump; we don’t wake up one morning and think, I can’t wait to tell everyone how superior I ma, and how awful they are. Instead we go through a progression of small steps.
The first step in the progression is when my heart is critical, it shows itself in the way I talk about you, to myself. You understand this more deeply that you are probably comfortable admitting, but when our heart is critical, it is first seen in the way we talk to ourselves about others. I'll silently watch you; I'll critique you; I'll pick up on your weaknesses and your failures. I'll notice the gaps in your righteousness and your theology, and I'll talk about you to me. In my mind I say you think you are holy, how could anyone be fooled into thinking that you are a good person, good husband, good parent, good Christian. I know why you did that, I know why you said that, I know why went there. I become a judge of not only your actions, but I become the judge of your intentions.
Paul asks, Who can see into a man’s heart and know his thoughts? Only the spirit that dwells within the man. (1 Corinthians 2:11) It is the height of foolishness to think that we think we can discern someone’s motives or their heart. But that’s always where this spirit of judgementalism starts, we watch someone else and have this self talk about about their actions and intentions.
But it never stays there, it always evolves into the second place, how I choose to talk to you. Instead of words of compassion and grace, I am overly critical and unloving about you to you. Our conversations are void of love, and appreciation, and grace, because they have been replaced with bitterness, and criticism, and judgment. While I might not be ugly about you, in this stage, there is a bitterness in my heart that causes me to be ugly to you. Our conversations become short and terse, they are filled with sighs and eye rolling, and eventually we just stop talking all together. The second step to being judgmental can be seen in my tone.
Finally it evolves into the third stage, when we actually speak words of judgment and condemnation to other people about you. We talk about your weaknesses and failures and sin, either in whispers to those we want to be on our side or out loud in groups in an effort to belittle and disrespect one another. No one is immune from this attitude, because we find some kind of seductive delight in sharing others peoples failures. The teacher writes in Proverbs 18:8 The words of a gossip are like tasty bits of food. When we disparage and gossip about someone else, it tastes so sweet as it comes out of our mouths.
Having a judgmental spirit is our biggest struggle, because we have so much material to work with. It might be the people I see every morning on the News or the people on reality TV at night. You know those shows are full of people who are ignorant, stupid, arrogant, or childish. It’s easy to judge the host of inept drivers who should have flunked their driving test, I mean I might as well judge the Department of Public Safety while I’m here. At the store, I complain to myself about the lack of organization that makes it impossible to find what I'm looking for, all the while being tortured with that awful Muzak, I mean who picks that music anyway? I only have a few items so I go to the lane that say 10 Items or fewer and low and behold, does that woman have 11 items in her basket??? Can she not count? where did she go to school. And don’t even get me started in the teenage checker. Does any of that sound familiar? James is describing me, and you in our text this morning.
In my entire life, I have never associated with perfect people. But I have dealt with lots of folks who had plenty of weakness, and plenty of failure, and plenty of sin. There's so much to judge in the lives of others. That’s why it’s so easy to sit in a worship service and hear a sermon, and then think I am so glad that somebody else is here, because this sermon has their name written all over it and never apply the word of God to my life. It's easier to stand at a distance and point a finger at someone, then it is for me to walk along side of them, to love them, to forgive them, to get to know their soul and their struggle.
When James cautions us, Don’t speak evil against each other. He is reminding us that the problem is not our tongues; the problem is our hearts. We come back to the truth that our words reveal the level of our faith, and the depth of love in our hearts.
Next we see that James says we shouldn’t judge because It's unloving
James continues in verse 11 If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law, James is talking about the royal law he referred to back in chapter 2. God calls us to love, If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. (2:8) James is echoing Jesus, who in His summary of the law, reduced the law down to these two powerful life shaping commands: Love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself. The Kingdom of God, at its very core, is a Kingdom of love. We have been called to live a life of love that is seen in our ability to be patient, faithful, gentle, giving, and self sacrificing.
Do you remember what John writes in 1 John 4:20? Anyone who does not love a brother or sister, whom he has seen, cannot possibly love God, whom he has never seen. Perhaps Paul addresses this even more radically when he says these words, For the entire law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Listen to this You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Galatians 5:14) A life that is committed to Christ, is a life that is consumed with giving, serving, sacrifice, or what Paul would call love.
Let me take a moment to make a clarification here; James is not saying that it's wrong to hold the mirror of the Word of God before someones life. He is saying that when you hold that mirror, there had better be love dripping from your hands. Did you spend time in prayer for this person, for this conversation? Are you approaching your brother or sister in a spirit of love and compassion? Or do you think that by the logic of your argument, the tone of voice, and the force of your personality will make you able to force something that love and grace cannot?
Every time you're critical, condemning, legalistic, or judgmental, you are saying, I have a better way to handle this than God. When we condemn someone, we choose to do the easy thing. We judge too quickly, we make snap decisions based on appearance. And when we do that we have thrown love out the window.
Its too easy to try to justify ourselves and say, It's just words and people will forget them. But you know the truth, words hurt and people don't forget words. I remember every hurtful word that someone has said about Trista, or the boys. And while the sting is very real when someone in the world slanders you, the pain is intensified when it comes from someone saved by the same blood that you are, who is supposed to love and look out for you. You always remember words that cut and hurt. That’s why James says that judging is slander is unchristian and unloving.
Finally James says Judging is unjustified
in verse 12 James says, God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. Only God has the right to judge, not us, EVER! Because God can see the whole picture, while we tend to generalize people by just one mistake. If they make one mistake we write off their whole personality. If a guy gets caught in a lie we brand him as a liar. If someone gives into temptation and steals they are always known as a thief. But that’s not necessarily true. Maybe he just made a foolish mistake in one particular area.
F.B. Meyer once said when we see a brother or sister in sin, before we pass a judgment we must acknowledge that there are two things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin. And second, we don’t know what we would have done in the same circumstances.
Remember the woman caught in the very act of adultery? She was dragged naked into a crowd and flung at the feet of Jesus. The men who caught her said, The law says we should stone her, should kill her. For centuries we have called this woman; the adulterous woman because she was caught in the act of one sin, but what we don’t know is who is she? What were her circumstances, was this the first time she committed adultery? Was it a pattern in her life? Was she a willing participant or was she coerced in some way? We are never told. All we know for sure is that is these men have thrown her at the feet of Jesus. She is naked, ashamed, and the people are calling out, The law says she dies!
With tears and dirt and shame all over her, Jesus says, Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone. The Bible tells us from oldest to youngest dropped their stones and left. Then Jesus picked up a rock and stoned her. No! That's not what happened! The Bible says Jesus walks over to her and picks up her face. Don't miss this. The Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the only one who has the right to judge her, picks up this guilty woman's face. Her guilt is never in question. It is visible for all the world to see. In the most shameful, despicable moment of her life, He looks her in the face and says, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? … Then neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin.
In this beautiful story Jesus is reminding us that we are more than our worst mistakes. Jesus is reminding us that only God has the right to judge, because we are all guilty. Jesus knows that we tend to judge in other people things we dislike in ourselves. When you see someone who reacts violently to a particular sin it usually means they have a hang up with it. It doesn't mean they're involved in it. It might just mean they have a fear that they will be involved in it. Maybe that’s what Jesus was writing in the dirt. We don’t know, but we do know that we always tend to react to our weaknesses in others. What we see is usually just a mirror of self.
We are called to be merciful because God has poured out His mercy in our lives. The reason why we have to be patient with one another is because God is patient with us. That's the way it goes. None of us get what we deserve. If we did we wouldn't be here. It's all by God's grace. It unjust to withhold from one another what God has freely given to us. The golden rule is not to treat other people the way they treat you, but rather for us to treat them the way we want to be treated even if they ridicule, embarrass, or hurt us. Since God has been gracious with us, we are under obligation to be gracious with others. The most forgiving person is the most forgiven person.
James ends our text this morning, God alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor? James is pointing us back to our real problem. It’s been a human problem ever since Genesis 3, it’s the desire to put ourselves in the position that God alone should have. Please hear James words this morning as a call to remember that there is only one judge, and you are not the judge. His judgment is worthy of your trust; because unlike our judgements, His are always, in every situation, utterly righteous.
In this time of invitation this morning let me point you to Jesus. He was willing to face cruel and consistent criticism. He was willing to face rejection and injustice. He was willing to face mistreatment. So we, in our pride, judgmental, and critical spirits could go to Him unafraid and say, Lord, please forgive me. I am not the child you created me to be, and we are not the community of love that You have called us to be. There are times when we forget who we are, and we take Your position. Lord of love and mercy please forgive us, rescue us, and deliver us. We want to be a community that is known by our love.