The Lived Life! — The James 4:11-17
By Pastor Lee Hemen
August 3, 2014
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor? Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. (James 4:11-17 NIV)
God sees no distinctions and as we live our lives in him, neither should we. We are to live our lives for the glory of the Lord and not to commit character assassination. James writes, “Do not slander one another.”
How quickly sometimes the intent of our heart is laid bare by the words of our mouth. We say something about another and immediately wish we could take it back; or perhaps, sometimes, we feel self-justified in being honest with another when in fact it might destroy them. We forget that the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts are to be worthy of the Lord God. It is for a good reason the children’s rhyme reminds us to “be careful little mouths what you say”. Jesus taught, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22 NIV)” Words mean things. James writes, “Brothers, do not slander one another.” Brothers, meaning all believers, are not to speak evilly of one another. We are not to speak words of death, because we forget our words can kill or murder another with the vitriol we use. Raca was a term used to convey the idea that the person was beneath another’s contempt. That they are worthless or not worth a person’s consideration! James knew that the envy of what others have in life is a strong motivation for folks to have repressed anger towards what they might see as unjust gains. And those who had made it in life might get conceited in the view of themselves and the station in life they had attained. As believers we are to live our lives in such a way as to overlook such class distinctions. God does not see us in such terms and neither should we view one another in the same way. Paul would remind us that “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28 NIV)” God sees no distinctions and as we live our lives in him, neither should we.
James continued by relating, “Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?” We are to live our lives with godly care!
We are to live our lives in Godly circumspection; a fancy term meaning, “with great care or caution.” James had probably heard his brother relate that the whole law was summed up in two very important commands when he was asked which law was the most important. “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV)” In our rush to gain all we can in this life for ourselves we can be mislead and forget we are commanded to love others as ourselves. This is such a significant truth, Paul would remind the Galatians Christians, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:14-16 NIV)” We forget that when we speak ill of a fellow believer, we are speaking against the body of Christ! When we speak against Christ, we are speaking against the entire summation of the law as expressed in him! James therefore knew that “Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it!” And who are we to judge the law of God in Christ? “When [we] judge the law, [we] are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it!” Shame on us! We are to help one another as believers to mature in Jesus and our faith. We are commanded to do so. We are to carry one another’s burdens, we are to remind the wayward believer of their sinful ways and steer them back to the Lord, and we are to encourage one another until the Lord’s return! However, we are not to set ourselves up as God’s judge and jury. James bluntly reminds us that “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?” Now least you get confused, James is not relating that a fellow believer cannot point out the error in a fellow believer’s life, or that we can’t mentor someone in Christ to be the best disciple possible. What James is referring to is the ungodly jealousy that creeps into the believer’s life. When we justify our ungodly actions of pettiness as a godly opinion on why them and not me! Paul would relate, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:20-21 NIV)” And the answer is, “He certainly does!” We are to live our lives with godly care!
James wanted to get their attention and writes, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ (James 4:13-15 NIV)” We are to live our lives each day as if we were planning for eternity!
James wasn’t being a pessimist, he was being a realist; he knew we are to live our lives preparing for eternity, but we also live right now. Maybe we need to be reminded of what Irene Cara of Fame sang in that we are “gonna live forever!” Some with God and some separated from him for eternity. Interestingly, the song does have a strong Christian theme in that it speaks of raising your children right, not letting the darkness take them, and leading them to the light. Even though we are bound for eternity, we cannot predict what tomorrow may bring. We cannot even say for certain what will happen to us when we leave this place right now! James knew that a life lived for the Lord understood this. There were those who were so confident in their own way of doing things and so prideful of their own accomplishments, that they arrogantly would boast, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money!” They had forgotten that they were like a mist, a vapor that was here one moment and gone the next. While we are young we think we’re going to live forever. We often do not give a thought about tomorrow and the consequences of our actions, our misused words, or our ill-conceived lives. But tomorrow has a nasty habit of catching up to us. Tomorrow does come no matter how hard we try not to let it, and we cannot predict with certainty what it will bring. This is why James related, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Instead of living for the moment James writes that we ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” The life lived for God maintains a proper perspective. Rather than making everything in life about us, we should include God’s plan first and foremost in our lives. As Dr. Backaby writes, “We should look to see where God is working and join him there.” When all we do is put ourselves first, it is a prideful attitude. Self-centered bragging must be replaced by God-honoring trust. The cure for boasting is belief that God’s will is best for our lives. We often do not consider God’s will because we fear giving up our control or we feel that God will not do what we like with our lives. God related to Jeremiah a wonderful truth, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)” When all we do is think only of ourselves it is boasting and bragging, and “All such boasting is evil.” We are to live our lives each day as if we were planning for eternity!
A life lived for God is one that places God’s will first! James knew the lived life is one where God’s way is placed first and foremost. This is why he finished by relating, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”
When we know what should do as a believer in any given situation but either refuse or deliberately decide not to do what we know to be God’s will, it is sin. Literally James writes that we know what we should do but we cast God’s will aside and do our own thing instead! Folks always suffer the consequences of casting aside God’s will. The writer of Hebrews taught, “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29 NIV)” We often forget that because we have been given the grace of God we are to live by a higher standard. We cannot presume that because Jesus loves us we can do whatever we want whenever we want without the consequences of our actions catching up to us! This is why Paul wrote, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8 NIV)” When we push aside God’s will to do our own thing, no matter the reason, it is prideful and it is sin. A life lived for God is one that places God’s will first. Now, let me ask you, “How do you live your life?” Is it one in trust of God’s will or is it one of selfish pride, thinking you know better than God?
This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.