Do Not Speak Evil Against A Brother or Sister
Having spoken of humility, James now turns to pride as the second subject of verse 6. Pride can lead say evil things about or against each other. This may also tie back to James discussion of conflict in the church. I think there is a since of slander here, saying things that are not true. The Greek word literally means “speak against”. If we believe we are better than others, we may say things to put them down. James says when we speak evil against a brother, we speak evil against the law and judge the law. That means that we are not doing (obeying) the law, but acting as a judge. You hear an echo here of 1:22 (be doers of the word and not hearers only).
When we judge, we put ourselves in the place of God, who is the only lawgiver and judge. That is a sin of pride. We have the ability often to ascertain or discern sin. We can compare actions to the word of God and know the action is sin. But if we assume bad motivations for good, or even neutral actions, we sin in judging. God is the ultimate judge. He alone has the power to save and destroy. Jesus said God alone is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28) That is judgment.
For example, suppose a church member who has never been generous gives a large gift in response to the pastor’s statement that the church needs money. Someone might say he is doing it to show off or to look good or to get attention. In reality, he may have been convicted by the Holy Spirit to give and was obedient. We would slander him if we accused him of bad motives. We would certainly break the royal law of loving our neighbor. And James uses the word “neighbor” in verse 12. You do not slander someone you love. Additionally you would break the commandment not to bear false witness. (Exodus 20:16) Exodus 23:1 says “you shall not spread a false report”.
Psalm 15:3 tells us the one who may come into the Lord’s presence is one who does not slander. Paul told the Corinthians he did not want to find them guilty of slander when he came to see them. (2 Corinthians 12:20) He told the Ephesians to put away all slander. (Ephesians 4:31) Peter said the same thing. (1 Peter 2:1) Slander has no place among God’s people. If it is not true, or if you do not personally know it to be true, do not say it. And, no, saying “bless his heart” does not make it ok.
James takes the concept of judging further, though. He said when we slander, we judge the law itself. (11) When we do not keep the law, we deny the authority of the law. When we do not obey any part of God’s word, we deny the authority of his word. If we do not love our neighbor, we deny the authority of God’s word that tells us to love our neighbor. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:36-40)
This very issue is in play in America right now. The Bible defines marriage for us. But some churches are giving in to societal pressure and changing that definition. By doing so, they deny the authority of God’s word.
Do Not Boast About The Future
The second area of pride is boasting about the future. It is a type of pride. Both this section and the next are rebukes to rich people who believe they can think and act without reference to God. These people were boasting about traveling to another place, staying a year, and making money. James says we should say “if the Lord wills”. He is warning us about assuming the future. No one knows how long they will live and what they will do. Proverbs 27:1 says “Do not boast about tomorrow for you do not know what a day may bring.” Jesus, in Luke 12:13-21, told the story of a man who neglected spiritual matters to make a fortune, then decided to take it easy and enjoy his wealth. But God “required his soul” of him that very night, and he was not prepared for death.
It is alright to plan, but not to presume. The Puritans took this seriously. In their writings, you will see the initials “D.V.” after their plans and schedules. It stands for “Deo Violente”, which is Latin for “if the Lord wills”. When I was a kid, I often heard adults say “Lord willing” when they talked about their plans. We should acknowledge that God is in control of our lives, present and future. David wrote “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them”. (Psalm 139:16) David was saying God knew exactly how long David would live before David was born. I would add that God knew it because God decreed it.
Another thing involved in pride here has to do with a characteristic of God. Only God is eternal. We are temporal in this body. Compared to God’s eternal existence, our life is short. The Bible calls it a mist or vapor. We need to keep that perspective, and not elevate ourselves in our minds to be equal to God in existence.