Be Careful what you say … again
James warned about the use of the tongue (James 3). Because of the difficulties in controlling the tongue, he warned against many becoming teachers; they will incur a stricter judgment because what they say will have a great impact on many. He followed this up with the contrast between worldly wisdom and godly wisdom. Worldly wisdom is manifested in quarrels and fights. Godly wisdom is shown through humility and in drawing near to God.
James then returns to the topic of what people say and how they say it. Here he warns against two particular problems: speaking against other people and speaking against God.
“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 of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?” (4:11-12)
In this section James deals with speaking against others. This mentality coincides with that wisdom of the world wherein there are quarrels and fights (4:1). When we fail to humble ourselves before God, then we put ourselves in a position of making judgments of others based upon our own selfish standards. This also means that we are not submitting ourselves to God’s law; instead we are trying to be a judge, instead of a doer, of God’s law.
Anytime we set up our own standards, we are in direct conflict with submission to God’s standards. Yet we are neither the lawgivers nor the judges. There is only One of these, and we are not Him. Instead, all judgment should be made through the word of God as the filter through which we consider anything. This enjoins humility upon us once again. Further, by speaking against others and thus against the law, in reality we are speaking against God. By putting ourselves over God's law and using our own standards of judgment, we are essentially telling God to get behind us. We think we know better than He.
This attitude is further demonstrated in the following verses: “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. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (4:13-17)
This passages should be familiar to us. We often use it to show how quickly life really does pass us by. So we better be careful how we use it. That, of course, is true.
Still, we are in the context of speaking in ways we should not. James illustrates through this another manner in which we might actually be speaking against God. By failing to consider His will, we are thereby failing to draw near to Him, humbling ourselves in His presence, and submitting to His standards. The issue is our will versus God’s will. As we have seen, James has really been discussing this issue throughout. Whose judgments will be our standard? Whose will shall we bow to? Whose desires shall we follow? Who will we be listening to?
Perhaps it seems a trite thing for some to say, “If the Lord wills…” But one cannot honestly say it and not be humbled by what it implies. Our lives are not our own in the final analysis. We belong to God, and all of our efforts to make our way through this life should reflect the fact that He is our Lord and our wills are always subject to His will. When we start making plans without thinking about God’s will, then we are setting ourselves over Him, and this we must never do.
Our lives really are short. But we are here during this vapor-like time in order to glorify God. Let us not be boastful and arrogant, thinking that somehow God’s will doesn't really apply to us, or at that it doesn’t apply to a particular part of our lives and plans. His will is all-encompassing for us.
Doing what is right is based upon knowing God’s will and God’s standards. It is grounded in drawing near to Him, listening to His word and being a doer rather than only hearing. If we know the right thing and don’t do it, then shame on us. If we don't know the right thing, then shame on us. God help us to know and do both.