Monday, June 13, 2011

Insights from James - Part 4

Last week our men's Bible study group took a look at the fourth chapter of James. There were some very important cautions in there - pride and arguments, submitting to God and resisting the evil one, and being careful not to boast or be presumptive about tomorrow.

But the section that causes me a lot of confusion was verses 11-12:
"Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them 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?" (NIV)

I certainly get the point not to slander or speak evil of one another, and how that is judgmental, but how exactly does that mean we're judging the law itself??!

To get some help I took a look in the IVP New Testament Commentary notes on these verses, available under the 'Resource' tab when reading these James 4:11-12 at BibleGateway. It sheds some light on the meaning here...

- A central theme of James is living out a life of faith - which comes by grace yet calls us to action - especially guarding the tongue and watching how we view and speak with others.

- To speak against a brother is essentially to judge him. It's not just distinguishing good from bad, it's judging.

- Because faith brings forth mercy from God, this has implications for our lives.

- When we judge, we're effectively saying "God's law of life and mercy for sin is a something I wish to claim for my life, but not apply to others. For them, I know better, and don't want mercy, I want to judge."

- The commentary notes: "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 setting ourselves up as judges over the law. This contradicts our proper stance as recipients of grace—we are to be doers under the law... In judging people, what we really want is to take God's place."

It goes on to summarize the passage as follows:
"What James has been prescribing is a life of faith that has two facets: confidence in God's grace and passion for God's righteousness. The confidence and the passion are complementary responses to God's judgment and mercy. God's mercy triumphs over judgment on our behalf; therefore we may be confident in relying on grace. However, we who have genuinely grasped grace will become all the more eager to grasp righteousness, realizing that our lack of righteousness so nearly brought us to disaster in the fearful judgment of God. Once one has humbly sought grace for escape from judgment (4:10), it becomes unthinkable to set oneself up as judge over a neighbor (4:11). It is part of a single stance before God to submit to him for his grace (4:7) and to submit to him for his law; one cannot be both a judge over the law and a doer under the law (4:11). James is showing us a well-integrated faith in Christ as both merciful Savior to be trusted and righteous Lord to be obeyed."
I'm really liking the new interface and resources over at BibleGateway. Check them out!

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