************ Sermon on James 4:11-12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 18, 2007
"One Lawgiver and Judge"
I was thinking of misinterpretations of God's Word this past week. Over the years I keep coming across the same errors. Lots of people fail to understand God's providence. Lots of people misunderstand the unforgivable sin. Lots of people don't know the connection between the Old and New Testaments. But the most common misunderstanding is the statement "You are not supposed to judge."
I You Are Not Supposed to Judge
A "You are not supposed to judge." People honestly believe that is what the Bible teaches. They look at what James writes in our Bible reading for tonight:
(James 4:11) Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.And, they look at what Jesus says:
(Mat 7:1-2) "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (2) For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
"You are not supposed to judge." If we really believe this, then policeman cannot enforce any laws because enforcement requires a judgment on their part. If we really believe this, then parents cannot correct their children and teens because that requires a judgment about behavior. If we really believe this, then elders cannot exercise discipline in order to maintain the purity of God's people. If we really believe this, then employers cannot fire or dismiss employees because this requires a judgment to be made about work ethics, quality of work, work attitude, behavior at work, and so on.
"You are not supposed to judge." I read an interesting article last month – an excerpt of the book "Be Intolerant" written by Ryan Dobson which speaks to this issue of not making judgments. Ryan writes:
A while back, I sat next to an interesting guy on an airplane. Let's call him Josh. When the flight attendants served the meals, they brought Josh a special vegetarian plate.
"Are you a vegetarian?" I asked.
"Yes, I am."
"Animals are my friends," Josh said, in all seriousness, "and I don't want to eat my friends."
I tried hard not to laugh [at the idea of eating friends]. I was going to be on the plane with this guy a long time, and I didn't want to get off to a bad start.
Josh and I started talking about this and that. You know, shallow airplane talk. I don't remember what topic we were on, but at one point I said that something was "wrong."
"Oh?" Josh said. "I don't actually believe in right and wrong."
"Really?" I said. "That's very interesting."
Later on, Josh started telling me about the houseboat he lived on. Turns out he'd been subletting a bedroom to a friend. "But I'm going to have to kick him out," Josh said.
"Why are you kicking him out?" I asked.
"Because he's not paying the rent."
"Oh," I said, nodding. "Not paying the rent — that's wrong isn't it? But wait a sec. I thought you said you didn't believe in right and wrong. Dude, your friend believes that not paying the rent is right for him. Who are you to say that what is right for him is actually wrong?" I paused. "Josh, there's no way you can kick him out. You should be tolerant of his beliefs because he's discovered that not paying rent is right for him."
Long silent pause. I looked over at Josh. He wasn't moving, but I could tell his mind was churning. He was like a car stuck in the sand — spinning his wheels, trying to dig his way out, but not getting anywhere. I did him a favor and broke the silence.
"Josh, you know what? I'm just kidding you. I really think you should kick that guy out. Know why? Because what he's doing is wrong. He signed a contract promising to pay you rent every month. He stopped doing that. He has broken a contract. Not only is he wrong, but kicking him out is the right thing for you to do. It sounds harsh, but it isn't. It's actually showing him mercy, because you're teaching him something important about life: He can't go along not paying rent. If he learns that from you, you've given him the tools to have a better life."
"You are not supposed to judge." Actually, when you think about it, that is one of the silliest statements anyone can possibly make.
B "You are not supposed to judge." Do you know who says this? The world says this. Satan says this. People who are moral relativists says this. Moral relativism is one of the great heresies of our age – maybe even the greatest heresy.
Moral relativism says there are no absolute standards of right and wrong, good and evil. You decide what is right and good for you, and I will decide what is right and good for me. Ethics and morals are a matter of individual choice.
Let me give you an example of moral relativism. All of us have heard of politicians who say they personally are opposed to abortion. But then they go on to say that is just their view. They do not believe they have the right to impose their belief on anyone else. Every woman has the right to her own views. Therefore, abortion needs to be just one legal option among other choices that women can make.
If a woman chooses to have the baby, that is right for her. If a woman chooses to have an abortion, that is right for her. But there are no moral absolutes that apply to everyone.
We can go further. Moral relativism logically means there is no truth that is valid for everyone. We choose our own truths. And, we choose our own religions according to what we want. And regardless of our own morals, ethics, system of truth, and religion we need to be tolerant of all other morals, ethics, systems of truth, and religions.
What does this have to do with judging? Moral relativism means I cannot judge you and you, in turn, cannot judge me because we operate by different standards and march to different drummers. Moral relativism means you have no right and no business casting judgments on me and my standards. We are not to judge one another; instead, we are to be tolerant.
"You are not supposed to judge." It has reached the point that people aren't even being allowed to disagree with each other anymore either.
At a recent gathering of seminary professors, one teacher reported that at his school the most damaging charge one student can lodge against another is that the person is being "judgmental." He found this pattern very upsetting. "You can't get a good argument going in class anymore," he said. "As soon as somebody takes a stand on any important issue, someone else says that the person is being judgmental. And that's it. End of discussion. Everyone is intimidated!" Many of the other professors nodded knowingly. There seemed to be a consensus that the fear of being judgmental has taken on epidemic proportions.So, we are to tolerate any and every viewpoint – no matter how silly or unsound it may be.
What nonsense! And, how like Israel in the days of the judges. Do you remember what Scripture says about those days? We are told, "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit" (Judges 21:25). There were no absolutes. No absolute standards. No absolute rules. No absolute authority. No absolute morality and ethics. Each person decided for him or herself what was right.
C "You are not supposed to judge." This means God is not supposed to judge either. If each person can decide for him or herself what is right, this means God doesn't have the right to set the standards for me. But what does James says?
(James 4:12) There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you--who are you to judge your neighbor?
There is "only one Lawgiver and Judge." And it isn't me. And it isn't you. It is God. God is not one Lawgiver and Judge among many. God is the "one" Lawgiver and Judge. It is God Who sets the standards for good and evil, right and wrong. It is God Who sets the standards for morals and ethics. It is God Who can say "Yes" or "No" to any activity under the sun. It is God Who can make judgments on behavior, attitude, actions, ethics, and morals. Which means our laws must reflect God's laws. Our behavior must live up to God's standards.
Do you know what James is teaching? James is teaching moral absolutism. Moral absolutism claims that ethics and morality relies on universal principles and standards of right and wrong. These universal principles and standards come from God and are as unchanging as He.
D "You don't have the right to judge." Our response when we hear this? NOT! "The Ten Commandments may fit you but they don't fit me." NOT! "I believe in a woman's right to choose." NOT! "Our teens have the right to premarital sex." NOT! "Every religion and every belief is equally valid." NOT! "I don't have to keep my tongue under control." NOT! "It doesn't matter how I live my life just so long as I come to church." NOT!
We say NOT because we don't believe in moral relativity. We say NOT because we are moral absolutists Who believe there is one Lawgiver and Judge.
II The Right Kind of Judging
A "You are not supposed to judge." We know James would not agree with this statement at all. James is not a moral relativist. So he does not hesitate to make judgments throughout his letter. We have looked at many of his judgments the last couple of months.
James has not hesitated to condemn those who are double-minded – you can't serve God and the world; you can't look for wisdom from God and the world (1:5-8; 4:7-10). The brother in humble circumstances needs to rejoice he is a child of the king whereas the one who is rich needs to humble himself (1:9-11). We all are to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (1:19). If you do not keep control of your tongue or pen or keyboard, your religion is worthless (1:26). In the church it is wrong to play favorites with the rich and to cater to them and it is wrong for the rich to expect favoritism (2:1-7). You need to have faith and works (2:14-25). Teachers will be judged more strictly (3:1). Keep your tongue under control (3:1-12). You are not to harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition (3:14). You are to seek what is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (3:17). You are to have the right things in your heart or you will have fights and quarrels (4:1-3). You are not to make friends with the world (4:4-6).
Does any of this sound like moral relativism? Does it sound like James wants every Christian to do what is right in their own eyes? Does it sound like James is not passing judgment on behavior and action and belief? Of course not! So James is not telling us NOT to judge.
What is James saying then?
B James is speaking of judging others based on bitterness and jealousy and not on Christian love.
(James 4:11) Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.
James is talking to church members. He is talking to fellow servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1-2). Within the church there are those who judge their fellow Christians without knowing all the facts. Within the church there are those who judge the consistory based upon slander. Within the church there are those who judge based upon sensational reports, gossip, and rumors that no person should ever believe. Within the church and within families there are those who judge and condemn simply because they are jealous and bitter.
That is the kind of judging we are not supposed to do. That is the kind of judging that James condemns. That is the kind of judging that is not to be found among true Christians. I am not sure who said this, but I came across this quote this past week: "Most of us are umpires at heart; we like to call balls and strikes on somebody else."
A lady in an airport bought a book to read and a package of cookies to eat while she waited for her plane. After she had taken her seat in the terminal and gotten engrossed in her book, she noticed that the man one seat away from her was fumbling to open the package of cookies on the seat between them. She was so shocked that a stranger would eat her cookies that she didn't really know what to do, so she just reached over and took one of the cookies and ate it. The man didn't say anything but soon reach over and took another. Well, the woman wasn't going to let him eat them all, so she took another, too. When they were down to one cookie, the man reached over, broke the cookie in half, and got up and left. The lady couldn't believe the man's nerve, but soon the announcement came to board the plane.
Once the woman was aboard, still angry at the man's audacity and puzzling over the incident, she reached into her purse for a tissue. There in her purse lay her unopened package of cookies.
C God sets the standards, remember? We believe in moral absolutism, remember? God is the Lawgiver and Judge, remember? Well, God has a number of things to say. God says we are to preserve the good name of our fellow believers (Ex 20:16). God says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev 19:18). God says we are not to give false testimony against our neighbors (Ex 20:16). God says we are love the truth and speak the truth in love.
When we do the judging that James is talking about, we are breaking God's royal law. We are putting ourselves in God's place. We are becoming moral relativists because we are deciding what part of God's law we should keep and what part we can ignore.
It was F.B. Meyer, I believe, who once said that when we see a brother or sister in sin, 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 do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her. We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances. This tells me we always need to be careful in our judging even when the facts seem to be so clear.
God is the one Lawgiver and Judge. He has set absolute standards for our morals, ethics, behavior, and speech. He tells us how to live and how to talk as servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. His standard only includes what is good and loving. His standard does not include what hurts another person. His standard does not include lies and slander.
My hope and prayer is that we all strive to live by the moral absolutes set down by God.
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