Two award-winning television shows with similar formats have been running for decades. Civil litigants can bring their cases to The People’s Court or Judge Judy to be settled. The judges ask penetrating questions, demand evidence, and render verdicts that cannot be appealed.
These television shows are popular because we tend to enjoy judging others. Sometimes this is motivated by a love of justice or fairness, but often the truth is that we judge others because of our pride and self-righteousness.
That’s why James commands believers not to be judgmental, which is equated here with slander (v. 11). Doing so is a violation of the ninth commandment against bearing false witness (Ex. 20:16), as well as the “royal law” of loving our neighbor (2:8). Slander is one way the tongue gets out of control and does damage (3:3–12) and is doubtless part of what causes fights and quarrels (4:1).
The primary reason to avoid being judgmental is that “there is only one Lawgiver and Judge”—God (v. 12)! Only He judges with perfect accuracy and justice. We must not put ourselves in His place, which is the definition of pride.
This verse is often quoted out of context. We bristle with defensiveness and say, “Who are you to judge?” using this verse as a way to dismiss fellow believers’ rebukes or exhortations even when they are true, constructive, and loving. Many New Testament passages encourage us to exhort one another in the church (1 Cor. 5:12; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:13). Our rule and practice in this regard must be the rule and practice of Christ, who taught that with the measure we use it will be measured out to us (Matt. 7:1–5).
To learn more about some of the themes we’ve studied so far in James, including the power of the tongue, read Redeeming How We Talk: Discover How Communication Fuels Our Growth, Shapes Our Relationships, and Changes Our Lives by Ken Wytsma and A. J. Swoboda, available from Moody Publishers.