In James 4:11-12, we learn the three relationships that we need to get right on earth.

Three Relationships to Get Right on Earth (4:11-12)

  1. 11 Do not speak evil (slander) against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges (condemns) 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. In verses 11 and 12, James addresses three interconnected relationships that make up our lives: (1) our relationship to others, (2) our relationship to the law, and (3) our relationship to God. Do not speak against one another, brothers—The first relationship mentioned by James is with each other. He uses such terms as “one another,” “brothers,” and “neighbor.” James returns to the subject of “speech” to continue warning the church of the consequences and duplicity of slander (1:19-20, 26; 3:1-12; 5:9). To slander, means to attack a person’s character or defame their reputation. When Christians slander others, they are, essentially, advancing the work of the Devil—whose name in Greek means “Slanderer.” Judges his brother—In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus taught his disciples to refrain from judging others when you are in greater sin. That’s precisely what James is conveying here as well. Christians are not to speak falsely or judge others hypocritically. However, there are many passages in the Bible that exhort Christians to judge appropriately and righteously (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 4:14; 6:2-5; Tit. 1:13; 2:15; 3:10). Paul speaks to Christians taking fellow believers to court in 1 Cor. 6:2-5, “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers…” But if you judge the law—The second relationship is to the law. James calls out leaders who placed themselves above others, and yet, were neglecting to follow the royal law (see Mk. 12:28-34).
  2. 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? The third relationship is to God. God, not man, is the Ultimate Lawgiver (Isa. 33:22), and he alone will judge the world with equity (Ps. 75). The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, “James insists that we are to be doers under the law, which is contradicted when we try to be judges over the law. The “law” (nomos) could refer to the Old Testament command in Leviticus 19:16, which prohibits slander, and to Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which James quoted in 2:8. Given James’s reverence for the teachings of Jesus as the royal law of the kingdom, it is likely that he also has in mind Jesus’ specific command against judging in Matthew 7:1 and Jesus’ own quoting of Leviticus 19:18. James’s point is that if we accept God’s mercy through Christ, we place ourselves under Christ’s law, which commands mercy. If we then judge others instead of being merciful toward their faults, we are rejecting that law and so set ourselves up as judges over the law. This contradicts our proper stance as recipients of grace—we are to be doers under the law.”
  3. In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds fellow believers that we are answerable to God and will stand before him one day and give an account of how we served him on earth: “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 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 give an account of himself to God” (14:9-12).