Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
In vv. 11-12 James picks up on several topics that he has previously covered by commanding his readers not to speak against one another. Speaking against one another is a demonstration of the pride that God opposes (v. 6). It is also the cause of quarrels and conflicts (v. 1). More often than not speaking against another person is linked to our own feelings of jealousy (3:14). Additionally, the themes of law and judgment, found in these verses, parallel the theme of 2:8-13. It was there that James referred to the Royal Law of loving your neighbor. Here in our passage James returns to this theme. Notice how at the end of v. 12 James uses the word neighbor instead of the word brother which he had been using. The big idea of these two verses is that we must not break the Royal Law of loving our neighbor by speaking against them. The implication that we are left with is that we must fulfill the Royal Law by loving our neighbor as ourselves. When we do this we will not have to worry about quarrels and conflicts. There will not be jealousy and contention. And most importantly, it will be an indication that true repentance has occurred in our lives.
I. Do not speak against one another.
James gives one command in this passage and it is clear. “Do not speak against one another.” If there is one thing that is evident from the book of James it is that this command was completely necessary. Throughout the book we can look at James’ teaching and see that these people got themselves in trouble with their tongue consistently. James addressed the issue of the tongue in 3:2-12. In 1:26 James teaches that the person who is not able to tame his tongue is deceiving his own heart. The implication being that he is not a true believer. This is the same situation we have here in 4:11-12. Notice who James addresses this command to; it is to brothers. It is difficult to understand why James uses the term brothers; especially since in v. 4 he said these people were adulteresses, and enemies of God. But I think that we can explain why James chose the words that he did. In this section James is writing to individuals who made the claim to be Christians, but with their actions were committing adultery against God (4:4). This is why James calls them adulteresses in v. 4 and brothers in v. 11. They identified themselves as Christians, but it was quite clear that the jury was still out on many of them. These people needed to take a serious look at their own lives, and determine whether or not they were even believers. James forces them to do this very thing in vv. 1-6 of this chapter. The idea here in v. 11 is that these people claimed to be Christian, and as we saw in 1:26, it was necessary that they stopped speaking against one another in order to prove their repentance.
Quite frankly struggling with this issue of speaking against another person is not isolated to the recipients of this letter. This is something that we all struggle with. There are all kinds of ways to speak against someone. Speaking against someone can be done in the form of complaining (Numbers 21:5), it can be done in secret (Psalm 101:5), it can be a public slander (1 Peter 2:12), and it is a form of pride (Psalm 101:5).
We are all guilty of speaking against one another. We have all complained about our parents, our boss, our youth leader, or even our pastor. We have all gossiped about people behind their backs, and we have all made fun of people embarrassing them in front of everyone. All of these actions on our part are a form of pride. In the second part of this verse James equates speaking against a brother with judging a brother. When we speak against someone we are proudly judging them based on our own wisdom. When you complain about your parents rules and tell your friends how weird your parents are you are in effect saying that you are smarter than your parents and that is how you know their rules are dumb. These are actions and attitudes that the truly repentant person is going to avoid. A person who is prideful in this way cannot receive the grace of God (4:6).