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There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12)
James is here trying to show the magnitude of the wrong involved in this wrongful condemnation of one’s brother. The one doing this is, in essence, judging God’s law, which means that he is making himself equal or greater than the actual One who is the source of that law, the lawgiver. In his wrongful judgment of his brother, this person is, in effect, taking it upon himself to create his own law, setting his own personal standards. But James clarifies that there is but one true lawgiver and judge. We are not talking about some human, but rather, the Father, Jehovah God. He is spoken of in Isaiah 33:22, “For Jehovah is our judge; Jehovah is our lawgiver; Jehovah is our king; he will save us.” He is the Creator of all things. It is his rulership, his sovereignty that all creation looks to for their existence, be it spirit creatures, humans, or even animals. This means that it is his moral standards and values that we are to obey. It is him alone that determines who receives salvation.
We are told by the Son, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Matt. 10:28) The Psalmist writes, “He that is our God is the God of salvation, and to Jehovah, the Lord, provides escape from death.” And he writes., “but God is the Judge, he puts down one and lifts up another.” (Psalm 68:20; 75:7.) The one who has transgressed and stepped over the line by speaking against and judging another Christian unjustly has put himself in a dangerous position by trying to usurp the law giving rights of the one true God.
“The law of Jehovah is perfect.” (Ps 19:7) What does this mean? It means that the law is complete, purified, not lacking in any way, not defective or insufficient as to fulfilling the Father’s will and purposes. (Matt. 7:21-23; 2 John 2:15-17) God told the Israelites, “Every word that I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” (Deut. 12:32; cf. Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18.) “Your law is truth,” says Psalm 119:142.
Deuteronomy 12:32 (UASV)
“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.
Proverbs 30:5-6 (UASV)
5 Every word of God proves true;
Revelation 22:18 (UASV)
18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book;
The Word of God has stood the test of time for over 3,500 years in giving God’s people what is needed to get through Satan’s wicked world of fallen humanity. The Father serves as the sole Law Giver and Judge. God alone enacts laws that enable him to carry out his purposes, and it is he alone who decides if they ever need to be set aside because they served his purpose. This is what he did with the Mosaic Law covenant. (Heb. 8:10-13; cf. Galatians 1:8-9, 11-12.) We can disrespect God and overstep our human authority by twisting the Word of God so that it seems to support something that he condemns (homosexuality), or make his Word seem to condemn something that he allows. (Isa. 5:20; Prov. 17:15) The Jewish religious leaders of the first century were guilty of twisting the Word of God in this way. James did not want his brothers making this same error of going beyond what the Scriptures said. More on this below.
The Authority of the Son
John 5:19-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
So Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever things that One does, these things the Son does likewise. 20For the Father loves the Son and shows him all the things he himself does. And greater works than these will he show him so that you may marvel. 21For just as the Father raises the dead and makes them alive, so also the Son makes alive whom he wants to. 22 For the Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, 23in order that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
The ones that James refers to, those who are slandering and judging their brother, most likely are not fully aware of the seriousness of placing themselves on the judgment seat, trying to assume the authority given to the Son by the Father! Why would we ever want to live by our human imperfection when we have the perfect lawgiver and judge? Again, no created person has the authority to determine for themselves that something is acceptable when God’s Word condemns it. It is just as egregious for any created being to suggest that God’s law prohibits something when it is acceptable. Wise King Solomon said, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to Jehovah.” (Pro. 17:15) Jesus condemned the Jewish religious leaders, as their overzealousness of the Law moved them to add hundreds of rules that the common people had to carry out, which were not an obligation, and hundreds of rules that prohibited things, when in it was, in fact, acceptable under the Law.
But who are you to judge your neighbor?
What James is asking is highly destructive or damaging, so powerful. We can only ponder as to what foolish person would be so bold to think he had the right to attempt to commandeer God’s authority by judging his brother or any fellow human for that matter when God has yet to do so. The Son of God has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth.” (Matt. 28:18) And yet, Jesus states, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” He also said, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.” And he said, “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” (John 5:30, 45; 7:16-24; 8:15, 16, 26, 28; 12:28-50) On another occasion, Jesus tells us imperfect humans, who are mentally bent toward sin, with a treacherous heart, are sinful, are not to condemnatorily judge others if we do not want to be judged similarly. (Matt. 7:1-5; Luke 6:37; compare Romans 2:1-3) This is a good place to point out that the judging being spoken of is judging whether one is worthy of eternal life or not. This falls into the preview of the Father alone. James, Jesus, and others are not talking about evaluating the character and attributes of others to determine if they are a good association or not. This is perfectly acceptable and recommended.
We find a similarity in the words of the apostle Paul at Romans 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” It is God’s place to make the laws for his people, as the Creator of all things. If anyone is trying to usurp this authority, we are told: “It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1-5 cf. Proverbs 30:10) The apostle Paul goes on to say,
Romans 14:10-13 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So, then, each of us will render an account for himself to God.
13 Therefore, let us no longer pass judgment on one another, but rather decide this: not to place a cause for stumbling or a temptation before a brother.