“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.[a] 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. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he 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 into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
According to Douglass Moo, James is probably speaking to the Christians in these passages with a special focus on those that are teachers. There is some debate among scholars about whether he also is referring to non-Christians in the merchant class.
Review of Outline for verses 1-17 in two sections
Teachers and the Tongue
4:1-6 teachings about divisiveness
4:7-10 summons to repent
4:11-12 themes of judgmental words
The Messianic Community and the Wealthy, Instructions
4:13 The sin of presumption
4:14 Brevity of life
4:15 Alternative to presumption
4:16 Fundamental problems with presumption and boasting
4:17 Final warning
- Teachers and the Tongue
- Judgmental Words (vs. 11-12)
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.[a] 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. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
Verses 11-12 are parallel to 3:1-2 and seem to be James final word on watching one’s tongue or speech and seems to be aimed here at teachers within the Messianic community as he adds an exhortation regarding one acting and speaking as a lawgiver.
Reminder: James 3:1-2
“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers; for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”
James is keenly focused on those teachers who are held to a higher standard than others.
He also qualifies that in saying to all in the church that everyone stumbles, but those who control their tongue are also able to control all of their body from sinning. (That group includes no one.)
11-12 are organized as follows:
- Prohibition 4:11a “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters:
- Explanation of prohibition
- Statement 4:11b “Whoever speaks against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges and judges the law.”
- What does it mean to speak evil against the law? (Torah in Messianic Church)
- How does one judge the law?
- James then clarifies this 4:11b “but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”
- Foundational statement in 4:12 “There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy”
- Statement 4:11b “Whoever speaks against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges and judges the law.”
- Concluding question 4:12 “So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor”
James prohibits such behavior on three grounds:
- To speak against a brother is to speak against the law, to judge a brother is to judge the law. The law of loving neighbor (the royal law of Lev 19 in James 2-3) implicitly rules out such a judgmental attitude and such judgmental and slanderous speech.
- To sit in judgement of the law is to not keep or obey it. One must submit to the whole law in order to keep it.
- There is but one lawgiver, God, not two, thus to judge one’s brother and the law is to usurp Gods place. God alone is able to carry out the law, giving blessings or curses, saving or destroying. The messianic church would have recognized that in this sense judging your neighbor is usurping God’s law or the Torah and his role as Lawgiver and Judge.
“‘See now that I, even I, am he,
and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
I wound and I heal;
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”
James now transitions from an exhortation regarding controlling the tongue and judging one’s neighbor to questioning the church’s reverence and fear of God.
- The Messianic Community and the Wealthy
- Sin of Presumption-
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—
- James is fond of using phrases that grab the attention of the reader. James language probably had the same effect on the church that it had on later readers like Luther. Many theorize that his intent was to shock them out of their apathy to reconsider the impact of their actions.
- The phrase “come now” is a literary device used also in 5:1 and is used to denote a new topic. It had very common usage in Greek literature all the way back to Homer. It is meant to get the attention of the reader to whom this exhortation applies.
- The Pax Romana or Roman Peace (27 BC to 180 AD), a 200 year period of relative peace and stability, was largely in place during the time of James letter. Merchants traveled widely and could sell their wares over a broad area in the Roman Empire. As we discussed earlier, many Christians were driven from Rome and Jerusalem but many were merchants who traveled and made their fortunes among the displaced church in Syria and N Palestine.
- One example is described on a shrine- like tombstone near the gate of Hierapolis. On the inscription there is a boast that says the man Flavius Zeugsus made 40 journeys to Rome and back.
- James is citing people like Flavius who go about their with their business and travel plans with no recognition of God’s sovereignty
- In considering the Merchants presumptive claims we see they are in four parts:
- We will go (time is presumed to be under their control)
- We will “spend a year” (duration of trip is in their control)
- We will be “doing business”(labor and business dealings are in their control)
- We will be “making money”(their perceived profits are in their control)
James is not against traveling, doing business or making money. He questions the presumption that any of these things are in the sole control of the merchants. He encourages them and us to submit all plans to the Lord whether it is for business or any other endeavor. All our undertakings are to be done in prayerful humility and reverence for God’s sovereignty.
“The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps.”
Compare with the description of Abraham’s journey of faith cited in Hebrews;
“ By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”
“Thus it may be that while on one level James is warning merchants about forgetting God in their business, on a deeper level he is reflecting on ideas such as those in Luke 12:13-21 and viewing the whole motive of gathering wealth rather than doing good with it as a failure to follow known Christian standards of guidance i.e. the tradition ofsharing with others”
James is critical of those in the church who are heedless of their vulnerability and status before God.
This is illustrated in what Jesus had in mind in telling the parable of the Rich Fool.
The Parable of the Rich Fool
13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
- Brevity of Life
“yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. “ Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
1Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.
Metaphor of the brevity of life as a mist or vapor is a common one in scripture.
“Therefore they shall be like the morning mist
or like the dew that goes early away,
like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor
or like smoke from a window.”
- Alternative to Presumption
“Instead you ought to say “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
- A desire for conformity to the will of the gods was prevalent among Greek and Roman culture and religion as well. The phrase “if the gods will or are propitious” was a common phrase
- Seneca, a famous Roman stoic philosopher and advisor to Nero tells the tale of Cornelius Senecio, a wealthy merchant and Roman Knight (of the equestrian class) He says that in the height of this man’s great success he was snatched from the world.
- Seneca writes ”How foolish it is to set out one’s life, when one is not even the owner of the morrow.” “We plan distant voyages and long postponed homecomings after roaming over foreign shores… and all the while death stands by our side.”
If the Lord will was very well known to Jews and Christians as well but, as James states, was not exhibited in the actions of those believers that he is addressing.
- James is not merely asking that the reader think about his own mortality but to consider that God is ultimately in control and we must acknowledge that we are in God’s hands. The similar phrase ‘but your will be done” is present in the Lord ’s Prayer and many other books of the NT.
- James in asking them to say “if the Lord wills” may refer to Christ and may be an intentional reference to his deity and lordship; rather than just using the name for God. James sometimes uses the name for God interchangeably with Lord.
- So we see the impact of the Hellenization of Israel and the Promised Land. God’s people had succumbed to the temptations inherent in the culture of the times and to the desire for wealth and comfort independent of God’s law or will.
Regarding prayer and seeking God’s will and favor, Pascal states “God has given us the dignity of causality.”
- The fundamental problems – Presumption and Boasting
“ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
Many in James time would recognize the Greek term for boasting or braggert as one identified with Greek theater.
Alazṓn (Ancient Greek: ἀλαζών) is one of three stock characters in comedy of the theatre of ancient Greece. He is the opponent of the eirôn. The alazṓn is an impostor that sees himself as greater than he actually is. The senex iratus (the angry father) and the miles gloriosus (the glorious soldier) are two types of alazṓn.
2 Cor 10:17-18
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”
- Boasting is not in itself sinful, but the object of our boasts is what makes it right or wrong.
- Boasting by believers while leaving out any consideration of seeking God’s will and plan is not merely obnoxious but evil; it exalts the creature over the creator.
- Final Warning
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
James reminds us that sins of omission are still sins.
In chapter 2 we read the example of the rich man
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[b] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
God has endowed man with an innate knowledge of his law and the knowledge of right and wrong. For Christians a higher standard prevails through Scripture and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We have no excuses for our sin; we must be obedient in response to the gift of grace bestowed upon us.
The World – Closed System
God’s World – Open System
Luke Timothy Johnson
“James critique cuts deeper than that for he challenges the very view of reality assumed by such friends of the world. Their speech betrays a perception of the world as a closed system of limited resources, available to their control and manipulation, yielding to their market and sales campaign. When James recommends that they say “If the Lord wills it” “we will do this or that thing” he is not recommending an empty piety but a profoundly different understanding of reality. He challenges their construal with the perception given by faith and friendship with God: that the world is an open system, created by God at every moment, and infinitely rich in the resources that provided by God for humans to exist and prosper in cooperation, rather than in competition. And within this understanding, their pretension and boasting is not the symptom simply of foolish heedlessness. It is the symptom of something evil”