12 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?
13 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.”
14 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.
15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Remember that James is addressing a variety of issues that the Jewish converts in Jerusalem were experiencing. Lately, his instructions have been tying back to the issue of arrogance, and he will continue that today in two primary forms: (1) judging others, and (2) planning things outside of God’s will.
What is Judging, and What’s the Big Deal?
Verses 11 and 12 refer to judging your neighbor. You are likely highly familiar with the scene in John 8:1-11 when a crowd is about to stone an adulteress, and Jesus famously proclaims, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Judging someone, however, commences far before you try to bring legal punishment upon them – it starts in your heart.
James emphasizes here, “Do not speak against one another, brethren…” Jesus echoes this in Matthew 5:22 “But I say to you that everyone who is [unrighteously] angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ [Aramaic for “empty-head” or “good for nothing”] shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilt enough to go into the firey hell.”
The issue is, when we judge others, we are essentially putting ourselves in God’s position, viewing ourselves as holier than our brother or sister and in a position to condemn them. What blatant arrogance to make ourselves out to be God! We forget that all that is good and holy within us is His Holy Spirit, and we ourselves are revolting sinners.
Additionally, by judging a fellow believer, we are judging the law (verse 11). We are essentially saying that the payment for that sin on Calvary doesn’t cut it. Ouch!
(Side note: some misapply such verses to mean we should not gently correct others in the faith – but such is a wholly anti-Biblical teaching! See post on Galatians 6:1, under the tab "Correction" on the list to the lower right.)
Planning Without Seeking His Will
Verses 13 through 16 address another facet of arrogance: making plans without first consulting God.
I came up with a few reasons why we might do this:· We’re afraid He’ll say no
· We don’t really believe He cares about that stuff
· It’s a hassle to stop and pray about every little thing
As to the first, the arrogance is fairly obvious: even though we know in our hearts that God knows best, our minds still want to rebel because we think that we know best. The best cure I’ve found for this mindset is to simply spend more time with Him in His Word and in prayer. “You will know them by their fruits,” right (Matthew 7:16)? Doesn’t it make sense that the more we get to know God, the more we’ll get it through our heads how wise and utterly trustworthy He is?
As to the second, I used to operate under this mindset, and then I came across the work of author John Eldredge. It sparked what later grew into a roaring forest fire in me – the realization that God created us for an explicit purpose. He had some grand adventure planned out for each of us when He first created us, using all our talents and passions – seriously, really exciting stuff. But so many of us miss out on what He has planned for us because we simply don’t ask.
So now, in addition to asking Him about “big stuff” like college and career, I continually strive to seek His input on what many perceive as smaller things – which book to read first, whether to do x or y today, how to handle a given situation. It’s difficult to do, but it’s critical…and it brings us to hindrance number three.
As to the third, all I can say is – that’s the point! Stopping to ask His will is an act of humbling ourselves before Him. It’s saying, “My time is not nearly as important as You” and “I submit my will to yours – no matter if it’s trivial or oh-so-important to me, and regardless of whether or not I understand Your command, I will obey.” It also pulls us out of our little world where money and success are the foci of our attention and reminds us that there is something much grander to direct our attention to.
Again, it is definitely a fight to do this continuously, and I do struggle with it, but in my experience, things go so much better when I stick with it. It’s almost as if He knows better than I do. ;-)
(Side note: Two book recommendations on this topic – Walking with God by John Eldredge and Soul Revolution by John Burke.)
I think verse 17 sums up the entire passage perfectly: “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Why do we not do it? Because we are arrogant – we are putting our will above God’s. So, what is the right thing to do? To seek His will in all, and then follow it.
· How can we beat down our arrogance and better submit to God’s will?· What strategies can we employ to better stay connected with God throughout the day, keeping the lines of communication open, and to remember to seek His will even on the “little” issues?