James 4:11,12 Do not speak evil against one another… Who are you to judge your neighbor?
This is the third (and not final) time that James warns me not to speak evil of those around me. Is God trying to tell me something that I am missing? I have not spoken evil about anyone since we covered this a few days ago, right? God, you don’t mean that vicious text I sent about that jerk that angered me? You do not mean those critical comments I made about that one ding-dong?
When I was in treatment, we all watched as two guys got hauled out by police for using drugs (while they were in treatment). Thirty of us, in treatment ourselves, suddenly became very critical of those two. How stupid do you have to be? What idiots! Can you believe how dumb they are?
I had two thoughts simultaneously. First, if a group of addicts thinks you are an idiot, you have sunk to new lows. Second, how did any of us think that we had any right to be critical of someone who was making bad choices regarding drugs? Had we suddenly forgot where we were and why we were there? I realized how silly it was to be judgmental of those two and I decided that the guys doing the judging were the idiots. I thus, fell right back into critical thinking, again making myself the judge.
James says that when I am critical of others, I set myself up as The Judge and make myself out to be God. Thus, I judge myself as guilty. My consuming, destructive words actually devour me. I cannot speak harshly of others without assuming the role of God. In doing so, I condemn myself. I make a miserable god.
This presents a predicament for Christians as we see ourselves as standard-bearers of the truth. How do we stand for truth without casting judgment? I am to love my neighbor, but when I love them, they think that I approve of all that they do. If I let it be known that I believe God disapproves of their lifestyle, I am then seen as hateful, as a judge.
It is, I think, one of the hardest things to do, to love someone and to be truthful with him or her. It is so easy to break one way or the other. I either err in showing all love and abandoning truth, or I whack them over the head with the truth and forget about love. Love without truth is anarchy and chaos. Truth without love is cold, harsh legalism.
The challenge for me is to maintain my commitment to what I believe is right without playing God. I do, after all, still struggle with following self. I still fail. I find it is much more difficult to judge others when I am on my knees in humility before God. When I keep my eyes off self and on God, it is impossible for me to play God.