James 4:11-12 LITERAL VERSION Do not speak against one another, brothers. He that speaks against a brother, and is judging a brother, he speaks against Law, and judges Law. But if you judge Law, you are not a doer of Law, but a judge. (12) One is the Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you who judges another?
Here is the pinnacle of presumption. By judging a brother or sister, you imply that the law is not adequate to judge another. What’s more, you judge Christ, as he is our law.
We often confuse judging with discerning, but the distinction is easy; judging points outward, but discerning points inward. We judge others to change their behavior, or more often, condemn them for it. When we practice discernment, we silently observe their behavior, taking inferences based on it, and gauge our own behavior based on it. We may learn from someone’s damaging behavior, or simply choose to not associate with them. To not discern others’ behavior, or ignore our discernment, is almost as wrong as judging them, in that we refuse to apply our God-given wisdom, placing ourselves in danger of following their example.
Discernment is not sharing our observations with others! If there is the slightest possibility that extenuating circumstances exist, gossiping about someone’s alleged infractions could amount to slander. Even in this corrupt world, slander is a crime, so is there any wonder that it is forbidden in God’s kingdom?
The Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, treat gossip, slander, and presumptuous judging as no light infraction. Why, then, are those crimes so common in God’s church?
The answer is simple: God’s church doesn’t do them. Only false believers sin in that way. But praise God for his infinite grace and mercy. If those false believers confess their sins, beg God’s forgiveness, and repent of them, he is “faithful and just to forgive their sins and cleanse them from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) I know that’s my only hope, and yours too.