In the earlier chapters, James taught the Jerusalem Christians about putting into action their faith. He said, “Faith without works is dead” in chapter two. To James, a true conversion of a person into a follower/disciple of Jesus Christ, created a new heart led by the Holy Spirit to show love to God and other people. This love brought forth spiritual fruit, as James mentioned in chapter 3. James taught Christians 1) Not to show favoritism, 2) Help the poor, 3) Tame the tongue, 4) Seek God’s wisdom and understanding instead of being jealousy and pursuing selfish ambition, 5) Guard the tongue so as not to judge or slander another, and 6) Rely upon God in plans for the future.
The last two teaching points from the list above are what this Bible study will consider. James taught in James 4:11-12 about slandering people and judging them. In verses thirteen through sixteen, he spoke about planning for one’s business in the coming year and replying upon God. James brought together everything he instructed the Jerusalem believers into one succinct and profound statement in verse seventeen. With this one statement, he issued a challenge for righteous living.
Slandering and Judging
In verses 11-12, James continued to speak to Christians as he has throughout this epistle. He said in verse eleven, “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother speaks against the law and judges the law, but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge.” In this verse, James spoke explicitly about slandering another Christian. The verb “speak against” comes from the Greek word katalaleo. It means to implicate someone in a crime, to slander a person, to speak badly of or tell lies about a person to damage that person’s reputation[i]. We understand James spoke to other believers because he used the word “brothers.” From this, we realize James spoke against slandering other brothers and sisters in the faith. He taught in chapter three Christians must tame their tongues and to do that, they must rely upon the power and strength the Holy Spirit gives them. James said God gives to any believer who asks the wisdom and understanding to recognize what is right and how to stand firm in godliness. When the Holy Spirit lives in a person’s heart and a believer relies on its strength to live, the believer’s heart is changing to be more Christlike. By taming the tongue through God’s power and strength, a person grows toward perfection in Christ Jesus, which is the ultimate aim and end for every believer. In chapter four, therefore, James advances the thought of taming the tongue to include not slandering other Christians.
We must remember that during the time James taught and led the church of Jerusalem, a famine occurred. The Christians of the city were mostly poor. Aid sent into the city from the outlying parts of Israel and the diaspora (the Israelite people dispersed throughout the Roman Empire), went to care for poor Jews. With so little help available for poor Christians, the likelihood of the human heart toward bitterness was greater. Slander tends to rear its head during desperate times. At these types of times, believers most need to rely upon God realizing He will provide. They must claim the strength and power available to them from Him to live righteously in and through their minds, hearts, mouths, and actions.
James’ earlier instruction in this epistle explained being a “doer of the law” meant following Jesus Christ in obedience to God because of love for God. Taming one’s mouth is one way to be a “doer of the law.” Jesus taught what comes from the mouth originates in the heart of a person (Matthew 15:11, 15-20). To tame the mouth, a change must occur in the heart of a person. That change is effected by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit within a believer leads that person to recognize God as almighty and righteous and to understand His laws are good and perfect. A person who speaks against a brother, James said, speaks against the law and judges it. The person who speaks against another Christian does not allow the Spirit within to change his or her heart or to guide his or her actions and words. That person’s foolishness makes him or her not accept God’s laws and judgments are righteous and perfect, and by association, does not recognize God is greater, most righteous, and perfect. That believer’s heart shows by his or her words lack of recognition of God’s greatness and his or her insignificance. James carried this one step further when he declared in verse sixteen, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy, but who are you to judge your neighbor?” James avowed God is the only Lawgiver and Judge. He is the only One who has power to save and destroy. Believers cannot save or destroy; they are not God. On what basis, then, can believers judge other people.
James said, the believer who judged the law is not a doer of the law. Besides this, he said when the person judged the law, he or she judged the Lawgiver – God. Can it be that we truly understand the ramifications of our words against another person? When we slander another person, we speak against the law and judge the law. When we judge the law, we judge God. Are any of us so simple-minded to misunderstand what James said here? When you slander another person, you judge God. We must be careful now since we understand this. Our thoughts and words originate from our hearts. If slander comes from our hearts, we are not perfect, do not follow Christ well, do not rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit, and do not ask God for wisdom and understanding. God can change our hearts if we allow His Holy Spirit to do so. We must decide to give our whole selves to Him as Lord. He is greatest, mightiest, and wisest.
Arrogance in Boasting
In verses 13-16, James spoke to the Jerusalem Christians about boasting and arrogance over their plans and future prosperity. A wise business man or woman makes plans for his or her business. James did not fault them on planning. He corrected them about planning without consulting God.
James said in verses thirteen and fourteen, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” Hear the boastfulness of the business person telling another person of his or her travels and the destinations to which he or she will go. Listen to the pride of earning a profit. Notice the person’s lack of giving the glory to God for the profit by him or herself making the profit. Recognize the arrogance of the person in his or her plans, destinations, duration of being abroad, and providing for his or her family. Detect the person’s non-reliance on God in making the plans and in living them. The person gave no glory to God for past profit, plans, and safety and looks not to have consulted God in his or her current business plans.
James caught the listeners’ attention. He brought it to an abrupt stop with verse fourteen. James said, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.” How can a person plan for the day or week, much less the next year when he or she does not know what will happen in his or her life. God knows what will happen and that Christian business person did not consult Him first when planning for the year. James said, that business person – all humans, too – are just a vapor that is hear and then gone, but God has always been and will always be. He knows about tomorrow just like He knew about yesterday. We Christians cannot plan for the next year realistically without consulting God and getting His guidance.
James said in verse 15, “Instead you out to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” This shows reliance upon God for each day to live in His plan. He knows the length of each life. Reliance upon God allows each person to live the best life because God knows and provides everything and loves profoundly. He wants the best for each person.
James continued in verse sixteen, “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.” Boasting and planning for your future without consulting the One who loves each person profoundly and who knows each day until the end of time is turning away from God; it is sin, and that is why James said it was evil. When people boast in their skill and the works of our hands, they sin. We cannot provide for ourselves if the Lord did not allow/provide it. We cannot live another day to gather more profit had God not given us breath for another day. Boasting in what we did or plan to do takes the glory away from God, idolizes ourselves, and is sin – evil. This boasting comes from a prideful heart, a heart that remains in our own control and not given over to the Holy Spirit to change in the image of Christ. Surely that is not what Christians truly want. It was not what they set out to do. James called the Jerusalem business people back to examine their motives and hearts to determine if they gave their whole hearts to the Lord to re-make.
Doing What’s Right
With the final sentence of chapter four, James compiled his teachings to the Jerusalem Christians into one singular lesson. He said in verse seventeen, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” The word “knows” comes from the Greek word oikeios. It means belonging to a house or family, belonging to the family of God because of having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ[ii]. This knowing comes from being related to God through the blood of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. Through Jesus and the Spirit, people can comprehend the heart of God. No believer can say he or she did not know the right thing to do because the Holy Spirit teaches of righteousness and convicts of sin. James said if a person recognized he or she was supposed to do something, but did not do it, omitting or choosing not to do what he or she recognized was right made him or her a sinner. Whoa! Intentionally not doing something right is a sin. Intentionally choosing to do something wrong is evil and a sin., too.
Christians cannot say they did not understand because the Holy Spirit will tell each believer what is right and wrong to do, say, and think. Luke spoke about this in Luke 12:47 when he said, “That slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes.” The person who chooses not to do what God says is right, God will judge. John recorded Jesus telling the Pharisees, since they understand what is right, when they do not do right things, they sin. John 9:41 says, “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin, but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.’” Peter took this idea further in 2 Peter 2:20-21. He said,
For if, after they have escaped defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. [NASB]
Now as we understand what James meant in verse seventeen, how then is it a compilation of his earlier teachings? Consider his teachings.
- · Do not show favoritism to the rich hoping to gain influence and help from them in the future. God provides for each person what he or she needs when she needs it. Consider, too, you have a rich inheritance in the kingdom of God. Love all your neighbors as your self. Show your love of God in your obedience to His laws – love each person equally, care for their needs. Do what is right. (Chapter 2)
- · Show God’s love to even the poorest among you by giving food, clothes, shelter, and daily needs. By doing this, you show your faith by your works. You fulfill the second greatest commandment. Remember faith without works is useless (2:20). Do what is right. (Chapter 2)
- · Guard your tongues; watch what you say. Blessings and curses cannot come from the same mouth. Ask for God’s wisdom and allow the Holy Spirit to help you bridle your mouth. By bridling your mouth, you bridle your whole body and show the new creation your relationship with God through Jesus Christ effected. Teachers have a greater accountability and stricter judgment from God for this since they can lead many astray with their influence and teaching. Do the right thing. (Chapter 3)
- · Ask for God’s wisdom to guide you so jealousy and selfish ambition do not lead you astray to arrogance and lying against the Truth. Instead, seek wisdom and produce the fruits from above – purity, peacefulness, gentleness, reasonableness, mercy, good fruits, and stability and steadfastness. Do the right thing. (Chapter 3)
- · Do not envy another person what he or she has. That leads to quarrels and fights. It makes a person an adulterer, someone who is hostile toward God. Remember God gives the greater grace – the better blessing(s) – salvation and eternal life. James gave six things for each believer to do to turn back to God. He said:
ü Submit to God
ü Resist the devil
ü Draw near to God
ü Cleanse your hands
ü Purify your hearts, be miserable, mourn, and weep
ü Humble yourselves before God.
When a believer does these things to come back to the Lord, James said God will draw near to the person and exalt him or her. Do the right thing. (Chapter 4)
- · Do not slander and judge another person because by doing so you judge God. You are not greater than God, so you are not great enough to judge another person. Do the right thing. (Chapter 4)
- · Consult God when planning for your future – in business and everyday life. You do not know what tomorrow holds and cannot plan without God’s guidance, recognizing He holds the future and provides the profit you earn and everything you need. Do the right thing. (Chapter 4)
Each of the lessons James taught to the Jerusalem Christians in this epistle dealt with the whole person – heart, head, mouth, and body. He taught about how to speak and act as Christians in this world, not as the natural person he or she was before profession of faith and salvation through Jesus Christ. James taught Christians to be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” That meant embodying the love of God in their daily lives. Since the Christians understood what they were supposed to do because of the indwelling Holy Spirit and because of James’ and other preachers of the Word, they sinned if they did not do what is right and just. Christians cannot just say they do not want to get involved. As Christians who understand the right thing to do, they must do the right thing in the situations they encounter in their daily lives. Be “doers” of the word, not omit-ers.
Today’s lesson from James 4:11-17 included slander, judging, planning, and arrogance. He taught speaking against another person, in particular another believer, came from a judgmental attitude. James said slandering meant a person acted against the law and in essence declared the law in valid. By declaring the law invalid, the person judges the law and no longer is a “doer of the law.” When the believer judges the law, he or she judges the Lawgiver and Judge. James stated no one is great enough to judge the Lawgiver and Judge –God – because God is greater than any person. God is able to save and destroy people, so who is able to judge God or his or her neighbor. James’ logic is sound and should shed light for people. When they choose not to follow God’s laws, they are doing more than that. Christians who break God’s law judge and question God, His righteousness, and His right to give laws and judge people based on them.
Besides this, James taught that planning for the future of our businesses and providing for our families must include consulting with God. Christians must seek Him to determine His will - what He knows and what His plans are. Because people are finite, they cannot know what the next day or even the next year will bring. They have no control over tomorrow. James said people are like vapors that are here for a short time then vanish, but God is everlasting and knows all things. Instead of planning your days and your businesses on your own and boasting about your plans and the profits you will make, recognize God is in control of what happens and He is the One who provides you with your profits. Submit your plans to Him and seek His will, then you will have the best outcome and realize you cannot be arrogant about your future or profits. Both of these God holds in His hands.
The final and culminating point of James’ teaching is verse seventeen. He said if a person knew the right thing to do and did not do it that person would be sinning. When a Christian omits to do the right thing, he or she is just as deliberate in that non-action as intentionally stealing, slandering, fighting, and quarreling. Christians must realize this and give over their wills to the power of God through the Holy Spirit. God gives the power and strength to do right and just actions and speak righteous words.
Relevance and Conclusion
In today’s section of James, we learned about sins from words. Sinful words come from sinful thoughts, thoughts not focused on God. These thoughts lead to arrogance and a judgmental attitude. Besides this, the thoughts lead to turning away from God and living as way the world lives.
We each must stop to consider if we have an untamed tongue that abuses other people – slanders other people. When we do this, we malign God and judge Him. We must realize we are doing this and have no right since we are lower than Him. People cannot control salvation or eternal destruction. God can. When we recognize our slandering or talking bad about a person comes from a judgmental attitude, a posture of superiority, which we do not rightly have, we realize we are putting ourselves above God and counting His laws as beneath us. We then make ourselves our gods. Our desires and tongues become our idols. Surely we did not intend to downgrade God in our lives. Surely we just misunderstood how our speaking against another person reflected on our relationship with God.
Consider, too, our plans. Often we drive ourselves to make sure we have enough money for our families. We plan to do things to earn an income forgetting we do not realize what will happen tomorrow or even in the next year. When we stop to consider this, we realize the futility of our actions and return to God who knows all things and what will happen tomorrow and the next day. We recognize our insignificance is like vanishing vapor when compared to God’s infinite-ness. As we come to this realization, we must turn back to God, consult with Him as to His plans for us, and step out in faith on what He says to do. He has always provided for His children. God never fails; He never forsakes us. Our understanding that makes it easier to trust in God’s plan and walk in faith with Him.
As we consider this week’s lessons, we must consider principally our hearts. If anyone has not given part of his or her heart and life to God that person will stumble and sin. He or she will battle sin in his or her own strength never finding enough power to overcome every temptation and have joy in the journey. By allowing the Holy Spirit to have complete control in one’s life, each person allows Him to re-mold him or her from the inside so that his or her outward actions and words reflect Jesus Christ more each day. Your life will show love for God and your neighbors more. As you grow towards completion/perfection in Christ, intentional sins against other people and sins of omission (not doing what is right) become less frequent.
We each choose to follow Jesus each day and allow His Spirit to change us to grow in our relationship with God. Whether you have been a Christian for 30 years or just a day, each person has to choose for him or herself to let God be Lord of his or her life that day.
Some people may say, “This is more important for new believers. I have been a Christian for a while and I am fully grown.” We are never fully grown, mature, complete Christians until we are in God’s kingdom.
Other people may say, “I work for and with God every day. He is already Lord of my life.” Have you spent time with Him today? How about every day this month? Has there been a day when you woke, dressed hurriedly, and ran to do the work of God forgetting to pray first asking for God’s guidance that day? If you said yes to any of these, you still have growing to do to get to maturity in Christ.
Another person may say, “My life is pretty good. I buy everything I need. Why do I need God?” Let me tell you what Jesus said. Matthew recorded Jesus speaking on this in Matthew 6:19-21. Jesus said,
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; or where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. [NASB]
What we can give ourselves on earth will not last. Just as our bodies die, so other things of earth rust, corrode, and rot. They do not last. God provided a way for us to have eternal life with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. Our bodies die here, but our souls stay alive. Whether we choose Jesus Christ or not determines where our souls will go for eternity – in heaven or hell. Hell is eternal separation from God an eternal punishment. You get to decide for yourself if you want God’s love and gift. Do you want a relationship with God? Accept Jesus Christ is God’s Son. Believe He died on the cross for your sin, taking your sin judgment upon Himself. Confess your sins to God. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 [NASB])
We each must make a choice each day.
Will you choose God first?
[i] Thayer and Smith, The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, 1999. (https://www.google.co.za/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=traduce%20meaning).