Faith Work Out: "Knowing My Place" – James 4:11-17

One of the things that my father wanted to make sure I understood was my place in the working world. One of the jobs I had in my early years was in the labor pool at Mobil Oil’s refinery, then in Paulsboro, New Jersey. The job was exactly what it sounded like…labor. I have to admit that I was very tired by the end of the day, but it was GOOD TIRED. The second summer I worked there I was assigned to my father’s section. Though he was an electrician, he was upgraded to a “boss” and I was one of a few dozen men assigned to do his bidding. Working for dad was not as challenging as I thought it would be, because I understood what he wanted. Some of the bosses I had were not communicators. They knew how to do the work, they just didn’t explain the job very well. My father made sure that I learned early who to address with questions, and who to stand silent before when receiving the work for the day. It was important for me to remember the vast responsibilities of some of the men, and not pick away at small issues when they were facing real problems that needed their leadership energy. I needed to know my place. My issues weren’t the most important ones the man in charge was dealing with, and that was important for me to consider.

In recent generations American education has focused on building up the self-image of students. They have been encouraged to think for themselves, and to see themselves as capable. Some in scholastic circles pressed the case that a healthy self-image was essential to a healthy citizenry. In most ways, the theory has proven to be somewhat helpful – as students can dream bigger and engage hard tasks more adeptly if they don’t defeat themselves before they try. At the same time, it has fed something within the national ego that has reminded us of the battle of deep pride in self within fallen men. It has made the American student consistently rank highest in self-image while sinking in other scores. It has covered over a pride that manifests itself in arrogance of speech and the clear certainty of the uncertain. For many of us, we have come to expect things to be as we plan them, as if we can control wind, sea, weather and outcome. We have become quite excellent judges of one another. All of it shows a heart problem within. All of it echoes a heart filled with its own song of praise.

In the early church, such arrogance already showed itself. Believers are not exempt from the arrogance. In fact, because they have tasted the goodness of God, they may be tempted to think His goodness had something to do with the object of His affection. They may have actually begun to believe that God saved them because of something about them – and they would, of course, have been dead wrong. As they grew in their faith, some would have learned the truth and believed it – while others would have politely kept their judgmental spirit under wraps. Under pressure, sometimes we say the thing we would not say had the day been a bit lighter.

Key Principle: Our mouths sometimes betray the carefully covered arrogance within. We speak of people and plans in ways that demonstrate we do not truly know our place.

In effect, James argued that the early believers were being UPPITY. They didn’t seem to “know their place” in God or in the world. I suspect James would say similar things about modern believers if he were writing today. Some of truly think we are able to mock others because we are better than they are, and many of us speak of our plans ahead as though we are in control of the days ahead – and neither are true and both reflect an arrogant heart. James is on target with another precision strike against the tongue. Take a look at the end of James 4:

James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

An overview of James 4 uncovers the notion that people were walking in pride and self-willed pursuits of business, fighting in the flesh with one another! God longed for them to come to Him humbly and tearfully! The chapter can easily be divided into three parts:

• Understanding the source of our striving – pride and self-centered will; These impulses lead us to heartache! (1-6)
• Calling out believers to come close to God in humility; He will bring victory! (7-10)
• Using the mouth as a demonstration of God’s truth in both relationships of the spiritual family and plans for the future; knowing my place before God and others! (11-17)

It is the last one that we will look at today. James demonstrated in two ways that believers quickly forget their place…

The first way our mouths show we have placed ourselves too highly is the way we speak of PEOPLE.

I am going to be very deliberate in taking apart of each of the verses in this text, because they are being used almost daily in our day in a way that misrepresents the author’s intent. In fact, whenever we are in a debate of right and wrong in America today, someone naively whips out these verses, or some popular paraphrase of them to suggest that Christianity only speaks in tolerance terminology, and real Christians make no value judgments about right and wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth, and that ISN’T what the passage truly teaches. James wrote to early believers in Jesus – so the language is intended to be by believers and to believers. The term “brothers” or “brethren” here refers to brothers in Christ, not primarily to physical family members.

When we mock our brother, we show the arrogant thinking of self-importance.

The instruction is as follows:

James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. (katalaléō from katá, “down, according to,” intensifying laléō, “to prattle on” – properly, speak down to in a hostile, deriding way; to mock (revile), detracting from someone’s reputation by “malice of speech directed against one’s neightbor” in order to defame or slander.

The issue is NOT one that blocks people from having honest disagreements – The issue is intended to remind us that mocking and malicious words are out of bounds. Disagreements about ideas close to us may bruise our ego, but that is not the same as mocking. Polite but firm disagreement may be necessary, and that is NOT UNCHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR.

The issue is NOT about the world – Again we recognize the issue is between believers. We may critique actions and words, but we must keep the discussion both civil and kind. How we say what we say is terribly important.

The text continues. James 4:11b: “He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother…

What does that truly mean, to “speak against” a brother? Properly “he who mocks or derides his brother” or “he who separates out his brother for condemnation before others”…The term judgment or “krino” is used in two ways:

• J. Thayer comments that “the proper meaning of krínō is to pick out (choose) by separating” and refers to making a determination of innocence or guilt, especially on an official (legal) standard.

• The term is used in contemporary literature for “bringing to trial” (the trying of fact) in a court of law. (The problem is that it implies a superior position of authority of the person bringing the defendant).

James was concerned that believers were disagreeing in unbiblical ways. Unfortunately the quote gets lifted out of context to suggest that we cannot be both CRITICAL and CHRISTIAN.

Here is the problem- Our culture has accepted two huge lies… The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle or choices, you must be living in fear of them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do – or that what they do makes no difference to you. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate. Real caring feels pain from another’s bad choices. The uncaring don’t care what you do, because they don’t really care about you.

Sometimes we are accused of arrogance when the issue is Biblical, not personal judgment – and that isn’t a fair analysis. There are two totally different standards in God’s Word on judgment – one for the believer about the believer, and one for the believer about the unbeliever.

These get blended and confused, but must be kept distinct when studying God’s Word. When a believer is thinking about the actions and ideas of another believer, there is considerable tolerance that must be employed, and there must always be politeness and civility in our tone – especially when we disagree. There is no other choice. We can disagree wholeheartedly, but speak tenderly. We can stand powerfully opposed, but speak thoughtfully.

Let us say it clearly: A brother can disagree with another brother – but they are in no place to condemn them – only the ideas they espouse or deeds they do.

A brother can determine the path of another to be unbiblical as judged by the Scriptures, but they cannot stand as the ultimate judge over another’s heart or destiny – for they do not see the whole picture. God looks at the heart; He alone knows the motives and recognizes the reasoning within. Let’s say I have a friend who is pro-choice. They are a believer, but they are wrong about this issue. I am not unsure about God’s view on caring for the unborn, but they don’t agree. I am to be respectful, not strident and uncaring. Loving words will do more than rebukes. If I am not their Pastor, I need to even MORE careful about my approach, because I have no spiritual charge over them before the Lord.

The case of the believer’s treatment of the unbeliever is somewhat different according to the Word and here is where young believers, in particular, get into confusion. A Christian is STILL (and always) to be kind and respectful in our deportment (speaking the truth in love), but we need not be so uncertain about the position we take on ultimate issues before an unbelieving world. If an unbeliever challenges our right to “judge them” just because they have chosen to publicly hate Jesus and the Gospel, we have recourse – turn them back to the Word. We do not judge, God does. At the same time, when God has been clear, we should not be unclear. We are NOT being judgmental when we declare the LOST as being LOST – we are called to do that!

The point is that you can be both Christian and critical of actions and ideas. You cannot truly be Christian and sit as mocker or judge over another’s eternal destiny unless the Bible itself already CLEARLY does that for you.

I don’t need to hem and haw about the eternal destiny of some people in an effort not to be a judge of an unbeliever. The Bible is clear: if you die rejecting Jesus Christ as Savior, there will be no other chance in the future to turn things around in the afterlife… “It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment” the Scripture teaches. The conditions of the gift of God for eternal life are carefully marked out in Scripture.

The matter gets even worse when we encounter in Scripture that some lifestyle choices are choices of NON-BELIEVERS – no matter if the person SAYS they know Jesus or not – so says the Scripture.

• 1 Corinthians 6:9 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

• Galatians 5:19 “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

How does this work exactly? We know the Bible believer does not take those verses to suggest that stealing keeps a person from Heaven, or that coveting another somehow “slams the door shut” on future eternal bliss. Some of those listed works of the flesh are part of the ongoing battle with the flesh that we face as believers – so how can they block one from Heaven? That’s a fair question! The issue of both these passages is this: real believers DON’T find living in A LIFESTYLE of opposition to God’s Word comfortable – and if someone IS comfortable in these practices – living as though they make no difference to God – they ARE NOT to be considered a real believer, no matter what decision they think they made at some emotional moment in the past. Real believers know that God is unhappy with things that violate Scripture, and they are actively seeking the Spirit’s work in them to be freed from these practices. I don’t have any magic glasses to know who is IN or who is OUT, but I do have the command to consider people comfortably rooted in those activities as unsaved. It is God’s job to decide who is in and who is not – it is my job to place boundaries around my participation with them as a brother or sister.

The Bible clearly says that people who live comfortably in violation of the Scriptures and argue for the right to do so are probably not believers at all – no matter whether they were raised in church and know all the “God words” or not. We are not being judgmental when we deem them outside the Kingdom, we are being Biblical. We can’t know if they are or aren’t one of the Lord’s people – because they are acting badly.

• Parents aren’t wrong for limiting access of some other young people in your life, teenager, if they deem them harmful to your moral growth. That isn’t intolerant – it is responsible parenting.

• Churches aren’t being mean when people who want to continue in a pattern of sinful practices feel uncomfortable in the pew – unless they are treating people with disrespect in the way they are sharing truth. It isn’t our job to raise your self-image at the expense of your obedience. We can be nice about making the standard clear, but we don’t get to make the standards – that is God’s job. Ours is to pronounce them with a broken heart to those who forsake God.

Here is our problem today: People will drift out of a Christian family or Bible teaching church (or both) because they are in conflict with Biblical morality. Maybe they want to live with someone outside of wedlock, or abuse a substance that causes the family or church to get involved and attempt to redirect their behavior, and they resent that as an intrusion. They don’t want the constraints and they walk away. Soon after, they go shopping for affirmation and acceptance. They may find a church without Biblical standards, or perhaps find themselves surrounded by some of the most “forgiving and accepting” people in the world – others who are continuing to make life choices contrary to God’s Word. Because their new friends don’t want to be judged, they don’t judge others. They don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable so our wanderer then begins to feel as though THAT is real righteous behavior – and their parents or their church were just JUDGMENTAL people.

Our prodigal finds others who have equally misshapen values and begin to rail against God’s standards as MEAN and unnecessarily restrictive. They see Biblical Christians as judges and godless pagans as good people. They have made the whole transformation into the darkened logic of the fallen world, and they feel empowered and licensed to do so. Wrong is now right and right is now wrong. They become incensed when those harsh and judgmental Christians try to uphold truth and see them as somehow more hypocritical than all others – even when those followers of Christ espouse truth that has been a part of their faith since the first century. Any attempt to say any behavior is wrong, brings out deep anger and stirred hateful speech in their mouths. The difference now is they think they are actually right for being verbally hateful and defending tolerance by their intolerance toward Christian thinking. They will bully believers and call it forbearance – when it is nothing of the kind.

Remember: Our passage is not about unbelievers, only how we handle one another in the kingdom of God. In that regard, let’s be careful. We need to be careful about thinking it is our job to pronounce judgment on people and NEVER mock them. There are times that leaders were called on to “mark out” an individual to the community – Paul did it and it was the right thing to do. Yet, our propensity to judge can also be a sign of our arrogance inside – and that is the tragedy of it. We may not see all there is to see in regard to the person in question.

Remember that in human laws, there is little or no separation between the person and their actions. In our faith, because we are all guilty of holy infraction – there is. We can be utterly against one’s idea (because we believe it to be morally wrong or Biblically flawed) but absolutely for them (because they are another person for whom our Savior died). Ours is a people centered faith. It was PEOPLE Jesus came to save – not just a vague morality or judicial right. He loves people, and He is the judge – how can I not love people and make myself out to be a judge?

When we mock our brother, we display that we don’t know our true place in God’s Kingdom.

We are acting like we are better than our brother, or have more authority over him… James continues with a complicated sentence structure. James 4:11b “He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother… speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.

The complication of the end of this sentence sounds like legal jargon! When we draw a brother into the sights of our condemnation, we are playing a role we were not given. The police officer is not the judge and the messenger is not the Master. If we place ourselves in the position of ultimate judge over a brother, we are taking a place above the law as a final arbiter of it – and not a fellow citizen bound by it. There is POWER in the place of judgment that we do not possess, because we have not been granted it. We do NOT decide the value of one Scriptural rule over another – that is above our station as a spiritual citizen of the Kingdom. That is the work of the Judge above all of us. We must know our place and live within it in our relationships with our brothers.

When we mock our brother, we show that we think our faith is about US, and not about our Master.

James goes on (James 4:12) “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

God gave the Law and God judges man – because He is in the position to do so – we are not. He can create and He can destroy and I have neither power. I am not above my brother, I am one of the flock created by and for God –and judged by God. I must demote myself in my heart before I speak about a brother – careful to critique only action while ever being gracious to his person.

Our mouths can so easily betray a heart that is not right. We can so quickly take on a role in the lives of others that neither God nor they have offered to us. Because we are Facebook friends, does that mean I have earned the right to speak about everything they post? Probably not.

The second way we place ourselves too highly is seen in the way we speak about our PLANS.

James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Again there is sufficient reason to be careful with this simple teaching, since we can take what James is saying in a completely WRONG WAY. It is not wrong to PLAN for the FUTURE. There are dozens of Proverbs that urge planning ahead. Here are just a few:

• “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.” (Proverbs 4:26).
• “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22).
• “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5).

James 4:15 clarifies the issue before us. The issue is PRESUMPTION not PLANNING. The objective of the passage is not just to get us to say “Lord willing” in our mouths, but to believe it in our hearts.

James was concerned about their presumptive living, and I believe he would be SHOCKED at ours. We don’t even HIDE our presumption involved in much of our lives. We have come to believe, not only that things WILL work, but that things SHOULD work out well for us. We seem DERAILED by sickness and setbacks – as though God was somehow not doing His job, because life was supposed to go well for me!

In Catholicism there is a “sin of presumption” that is sometimes explained as deciding to sin because one can always go to confession and receive a remedy. In Protestant circles, our way of living presumptuously is probably easier explained as the mistaken sense that we were made for peace and prosperity – and all that hinders this is somehow wrong. That isn’t really true when you take into account that we live in a fallen world, surrounded by a groaning creation that longs for ultimate redemption.

James 2:16 calls living with such presumption “BOASTING” – because we do not demonstrate in our thinking that we are ever subject to God’s plan. The Proverb writer says: “The mind of the man plans his way, but the Lord directs His steps.” At the center of surrender is the notion that “He is in control, and I am not!” Living as a believer that is in control of his own life and destiny is not living as a believer at all. It is a hard lesson to learn and learn and learn – but He is God and any attempt I make to seize the throne of my life is met with failures that grow from my arrogant heart. Maybe an illustration will help…

Two hunters got a pilot to fly them into the far north for deer hunting. They were quite successful in their venture and bagged six big bucks. The pilot came back, as arranged, to pick them up. They started loading their gear into the plane, including the six deer. But the pilot objected and he said, “The plane can only take four of your deer; you will have to leave two behind.” They argued with him; the year before they had shot six and the pilot had allowed them to put all aboard. The plane was the same model and capacity. Reluctantly, the pilot finally permitted them to put all six aboard. But when the attempted to take off and leave the valley, the little plane could not make it and they crashed into the wilderness. Climbing out of the wreckage, one hunter said to the other, “Do you know where we are?” “I think so,” replied the other hunter. “This is just about the same place where we crashed last year.” As a man I recognize that there are times in my life where I have had a hard time learning from my mistakes. Too often as men we are rely on our own strength and our self dependence gets us in trouble. (sermon central illustrations).

Our mouths betray the carefully covered arrogance within. We speak of people and plans in ways that show we do not truly know our place.