James; Not judging the brethren

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posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 06:31 PM
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At the end of the third chapter of his New Testament letter, James was explaining the difference between the Wisdom which comes from God, “the Wisdom from above”, and the more earthly, merely human wisdom.
In the next part of the letter, he sets out some of the practical implications of choosing between them.

In a previous thread, I was looking at his warnings at the beginning of the fourth chapter, about the “passions”, and the danger of choosing enmity with God, and the need for repentance.
At the end of the chapter, he’s addressing people obsessed with the pursuit and possession of wealth (obviously still making the wrong choice).
In the interval between those two themes (vv11-12), he gives a different warning to the brethren themselves;
“Do not speak evil against one another…”

It seems to me that this exhortation comes in two versions- the basic version and an expanded version.

The basic version, which we find at the beginning and end of the passage, and implied in the rest, is simply about the way we treat the brethren.
The argument runs-
Anyone who speaks evil against a brother is acting as judge over him.
This echoes the complaint in ch2 v4, that those who show partiality among the brethren have become “judges with evil thoughts”.
But this is wrong, because there is only one true judge.
This judge can save, but he can also destroy- and the implication is that he may destroy, rather than save, anyone who tries to take over his function.
(“Judge not, that you be not judged”- Matthew ch7 v1)
So “who are you that you should judge your neighbour?”
Perhaps this line of argument would have been the main theme of James’ pastoral teaching on the subject.

I suspect that modern pastoral use of these verses tends to focus on the same theme- rightly so, because the problem of “speaking evil against the brethren” has a devastating effect on community life and the sense of unity.

The expanded version of this passage brings in “the law”.
However, the impression I get from other chapters in this letter is that James doesn’t mean the full “written code” of Moses when he’s using this term.
His interest seems to lie in the more basic moral principles of the kind found in the Sermon on the Mount.
The expanded argument, found in the full text of the passage, now runs like this;
Anyone who speaks evil against a brother is speaking evil against the law.
And similarly anyone who judges a brother is judging the law, and therefore setting himself up as a law-defining judge.
But this is wrong, because there is only one true lawmaker and judge.
Then the end of v12 abruptly drops the reference to the law and returns to the more basic theme.
(That’s one of my reasons for supposing that the first version of the exhortation came without that part of the argument)

The logic of the expanded version looks a little odd when it’s examined closely.
How can speaking evil against a brother be the equivalent of speaking evil against the law?
How is that supposed to work?

Maybe the starting-point is the charge that speaking evil against the brethren is disobedience to the law.
James has already told us that those who dishonour their brethren are transgressing “the royal law”, or possibly “the kingdom’s law”, namely the commandment “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (ch2 vv8-9)
Now anyone who defies the commands of a court is said to be “in contempt of court”.
In the same way, perhaps, we could say that transgressing the law amounts to disregarding the law and showing a lack of respect for the law.
But can this really be stretched into “speaking evil against the law and judging it”?
The connection seems a little thin.

I’d like to offer an alternative explanation.
If your brother is defending the law, and you are speaking evil against him because he’s defending the law- if you are saying, in effect, that defending the law is an evil thing to do- then the logic of the expanded version makes perfect sense.
In those circumstances, the act of “judging” your brother would amount to the same thing as judging the law that he was defending.
In effect, you are claiming the right to set aside the law, which makes you a lawgiver, and accounts for the observation that there is “only one lawgiver”.
The natural setting for such a dispute between critics and defenders of the law would be the controversy about “Faith and works”, which has already played a part in this letter.
In the first of this series of threads, I was suggesting the same background for the third chapter’s lecture on the use of the tongue.

This brings us to another puzzle, viz. the place of this passage in the overall structure of the letter.
We find it currently sandwiched between “Don’t choose enmity with God” and a diatribe against the wealthy, without clearly belonging to either section.
In a sense, though, it does follow on from the beginning of the chapter, where James was complaining about the “fighting among you” and blaming it on “the passions”.
We can see these verses as another aspect of the same problem, on the grounds that the passions, including the theological passions, are the reason why we feel driven to speak evil against the brethren.
This behaviour is a symptom that the passions have not yet been overcome.
Then we can take the argument further back, and see the problem as one of the products of following the wrong kind of wisdom, the wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish” (ch3 v15).
(At one stage, indeed, I thought of attaching this discussion to the end of the “Friends and enemies” thread, but the combination would have been too long)

However, this complaint in vv11-12 also echoes the complaint in ch3 about using the tongue to curse our fellow men.
In fact if these two verses had been found as the immediate sequel to ch3 v12, nobody would have thought them out of place.
That might have something to say to us about the way this letter was put together.
We can find some continuity between these verses and ch3 vv1-12, as a discussion on the use of the tongue.
It’s also possible to find a continuity when James is discussing the theory of Christian behaviour;
In the second chapter, from v14 to the end of the chapter, James is dismissing the theory that “works” can safely be neglected.
That argument gets continued in a second section, from ch3 v13 to the end of that chapter or even to ch4 v10, where he’s presenting what he’s got to offer in preference to that theory.
It almost looks as though the two discussions have become interlocked, which is understandable enough if they both involve criticism of the “Faith alone” dogmatists.

Perhaps the exhortation in these two verses was “extended” from the basic version as part of the process which brought it into the final structure of this letter.




posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 06:59 PM
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reply to post by DISRAELI
 


Dear DISRAELI,

However, we are to correct our brothers and sisters in Christ in private. We are to concern ourselves with all the members of the church and teach them good doctrine and refute heresy. If there are those within out churches that violate the sacred trusts then we are to remove them. It is better to have an atheist attend your services then a "brother" who teaches poison to the members. Peace.



posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 07:04 PM
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reply to post by AQuestion
 

Yes, indeed, that's what Jesus recommends in Matthew.
Not all judging or criticism is the kind of "judging" which Jesus opposes (he criticises people himself).
I've written a subsidiary post on the distinction which I haven't posted yet- I'll look around for it in a moment.



posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 07:10 PM
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I want to offer some observations on the scope of the injunction “Do not judge”.
Is this meant to be a complete embargo on any kind of criticism?
That’s how some people would like to understand it (if they’re coming under any criticism themselves).
But if we follow that line of thought to its logical conclusion, it leads to a paradox.
The reason is that the claim “It’s wrong to criticise others” must be reckoned among the acts of criticism.
Anyone who makes that claim is criticising others and therefore condemning himself out of his own mouth.
The only way to escape the paradox is to limit the meaning of “judging”, in the negative sense, to make it less absolute.

For that matter, the example of Jesus himself suggests that “judging” and “criticising” are not the same thing.
He told us not to “judge”, but he was also offering some very trenchant criticisms of his own compatriots.
He told the Pharisees they were hypocrites. He told the Sadducees that they did not know the scriptures, nor the power of God.
He cannot have thought that he was contradicting himself.

Now it might be argued that he was privileged.
One of the objections to “judging” is that it implies an inflated sense of superiority over the other party.
As James says, “Who are you that you should judge your neighbour?”
But if Jesus was what Christians believe him to be, his knowledge and his authority would give him a unique right to make judgemental assessments.
The rest of us cannot make these absolute judgements.

Nevertheless, we’re not only allowed but obliged to make relative judgements.
We can’t attempt to follow the right path without assessing the difference between right and wrong, between what God wants and what he rejects.
We might use the term “discernment” to describe this kind of necessary judgement.
We’re also encouraged to help our brethren follow the right path, which might involve sharing our understanding of the difference between right and wrong.
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness”- Galatians ch6 v1
This is necessary not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of those in the community who might be tempted to follow their example.
In other words, Jesus did not mean to prevent us from saying “That’s wrong”.

How can we prevent this from tipping over into “judging”, in the negative sense?
We need to be conscious that our judgements cannot be absolute. We can only make relative and provisional assessments.
We must avoid any sense of superiority (“…the mote that is in your brother’s eye…).
So it’s a question of attitude.
I associate “judging”, in the negative sense, with positively wanting to find fault in others, actively seeking it out, and finding it unjustly or untruthfully.
The discernment of good and evil needs to be cautious, objective and without malice, and then it can be more easily defended against the charge of “judging others”.



posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 07:24 PM
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reply to post by DISRAELI
 


Dear DISRAELI,

Peace out brother.



posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 07:28 PM
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reply to post by DISRAELI
 


Great thread. There are many here who make judging and condemning fellow believers their top priority.



posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 07:32 PM
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reply to post by DISRAELI
 



I want to offer some observations on the scope of the injunction “Do not judge”. Is this meant to be a complete embargo on any kind of criticism?


It all depends on intent. Is it to exhort and edify in love or is it to condemn, ridicule, and judge in the spirit of self-righteous condemnation. The first is loving and edifying, the second comes from the devil who is behind all accusations of the brethren.



posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 07:32 PM
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reply to post by NOTurTypical
 

Thank you for that encouragement.



posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 07:36 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI
reply to post by NOTurTypical
 

Thank you for that encouragement.



Amen. S & F. I like the Book of James undertaking you've done this year. God bless you son of the Most High.



posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 08:42 PM
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Only lack of space, in the first instance, prevented this passage from being included in the attached thread (q.v.), to which this thread is a sequel;
James; Friends and enemies

What James says in ch4 follows on from his discussion of the two kinds of wisdom, which is covered in the attached thread;
James; The Wisdom from above

However, I suggested that these two verses were also, in a sense, the continuation of his discussion on the use of the tongue, which is covered in the attached thread;
James; Use of the tongue
edit on 29-10-2012 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)



posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 09:32 PM
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reply to post by NOTurTypical
 


The sound of words coming from the Spirit of Love and Truth are music to mine lowly ears,

Amen brother,

and S&F DISRAELI

Blessings unto all,

Grace and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

-Your brother in the Holy Spirit



posted on Oct, 29 2012 @ 11:46 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI
I want to offer some observations on the scope of the injunction “Do not judge”.
Is this meant to be a complete embargo on any kind of criticism?
That’s how some people would like to understand it (if they’re coming under any criticism themselves).
But if we follow that line of thought to its logical conclusion, it leads to a paradox.
The reason is that the claim “It’s wrong to criticise others” must be reckoned among the acts of criticism.
Anyone who makes that claim is criticising others and therefore condemning himself out of his own mouth.
The only way to escape the paradox is to limit the meaning of “judging”, in the negative sense, to make it less absolute.

For that matter, the example of Jesus himself suggests that “judging” and “criticising” are not the same thing.
He told us not to “judge”, but he was also offering some very trenchant criticisms of his own compatriots.
He told the Pharisees they were hypocrites. He told the Sadducees that they did not know the scriptures, nor the power of God.
He cannot have thought that he was contradicting himself.

Now it might be argued that he was privileged.
One of the objections to “judging” is that it implies an inflated sense of superiority over the other party.
As James says, “Who are you that you should judge your neighbour?”
But if Jesus was what Christians believe him to be, his knowledge and his authority would give him a unique right to make judgemental assessments.
The rest of us cannot make these absolute judgements.

Nevertheless, we’re not only allowed but obliged to make relative judgements.
We can’t attempt to follow the right path without assessing the difference between right and wrong, between what God wants and what he rejects.
We might use the term “discernment” to describe this kind of necessary judgement.
We’re also encouraged to help our brethren follow the right path, which might involve sharing our understanding of the difference between right and wrong.
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness”- Galatians ch6 v1
This is necessary not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of those in the community who might be tempted to follow their example.
In other words, Jesus did not mean to prevent us from saying “That’s wrong”.

How can we prevent this from tipping over into “judging”, in the negative sense?
We need to be conscious that our judgements cannot be absolute. We can only make relative and provisional assessments.
We must avoid any sense of superiority (“…the mote that is in your brother’s eye…).
So it’s a question of attitude.
I associate “judging”, in the negative sense, with positively wanting to find fault in others, actively seeking it out, and finding it unjustly or untruthfully.
The discernment of good and evil needs to be cautious, objective and without malice, and then it can be more easily defended against the charge of “judging others”.


People have used the do not judge along with touch not God's anointed as permission for spiritual abuse.



posted on Oct, 30 2012 @ 06:40 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI
However, the impression I get from other chapters in this letter is that James doesn’t mean the full “written code” of Moses when he’s using this term.
His interest seems to lie in the more basic moral principles of the kind found in the Sermon on the Mount.

This claim is based on two main lines of argument.

For one thing, this letter contains a number of oblique allusions to the Sermon on the Mount, suggesting that it was a very important influence on James’ thinking.
They include “Blessed are the poor” (ch2 v5), “Blessed are the merciful” (ch2 v13), “Do not judge” (ch4 v12), “Do not keep your treasure on earth” (ch5 v2), “Do not swear” (ch5 v12).
Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus gives the two most important commandments of the law as “Love the Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself”. James explicitly quotes the second (ch2 v8), and mentions on two occasions that the supreme promise of God is intended for those who love him (ch1 v12, ch2 v5).

At the same time, when James does refer to the importance of keeping the law (ch2 vv8-11), he does not mention any of the law’s commandments except murder, adultery, and the aforementioned “love your neighbour as yourself”.
Nothing is said about the ritual side of the law. In fact the nearest approach to “ritual” we can find in James is the anointing of the sick, which is not Mosaic.

Taking these two points together, it almost looks as though James is transferring the term “law” to the injunctions contained in the teaching of Jesus.



posted on Oct, 31 2012 @ 06:48 PM
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Originally posted by DISRAELI
Is this meant to be a complete embargo on any kind of criticism?
That’s how some people would like to understand it (if they’re coming under any criticism themselves).
But if we follow that line of thought to its logical conclusion, it leads to a paradox.
The reason is that the claim “It’s wrong to criticise others” must be reckoned among the acts of criticism.
Anyone who makes that claim is criticising others and therefore condemning himself out of his own mouth.
The only way to escape the paradox is to limit the meaning of “judging”, in the negative sense, to make it less absolute..

This paradox is very similar to the famous “Cretan liar” paradox, and comes about for much the same reason.
The “Cretan liar” paradox was developed from Paul’s observation about the Cretans, that "one of themselves” had written that “all Cretans are liars”- Titus ch1 v12.
The paradox comes about when the word “liar” is defined in an absolute way, to mean “someone who never makes a true statement”.
Then it seems to follow that if the claim is true (viz. that all Cretans are liars), then the claim cannot be true, because it is a statement made by a Cretan.
The only way to escape the paradox is to remember that this definition of “liar” is an artificial one, invented by philosophers for their own purposes.
In normal usage, a “liar” is merely someone who departs from the truth more often than other people, or even on one specific occasion.
So it’s perfectly possible for the merely habitual liar to make the occasional truthful statement, and the paradox disappears.
So the two paradoxes arise in the same way- there is a term which is given an absolute meaning, with the result that it starts to act upon itself.
The term is “liar” in one case and “judging” in the other.
And they are to be overcome in the same way, by giving the term a much more limited and realistic meaning.



posted on Oct, 31 2012 @ 08:01 PM
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I made a distinction between “judging”, in the negative sense, and a necessary discernment between good and bad.
One reason why the injunction against “judging” gets misapplied is that people don’t pay attention to the distinction.

For example, there’s the common suggestion that Christians are being “judgemental” towards other religions.
Yet the first commandment that the Biblical God gives to his people, arguably the central principle of the Bible, is “You shall have no other gods but me”.
Therefore anyone following the Biblical God is under an obligation to distinguish between the Biblical God and other gods.
That is not “judging”, but discernment.

Again, I once saw a graffito (in a university town, of course), objecting to the existence of law-courts, on the grounds that “no man is good enough to judge another”.
This was just confusion of words.
The kind of “judging” that goes on in law-courts ought to be discernment, the necessary task of distinguishing between the kind of actions which society can accept, and those which need to be stopped for the common good.

One final example from personal experience;
I once had reason to complain that a manager at work was “judging” badly in a particular situation; she was blaming me for something which was not under my control. Part of her riposte was to comment that my complaint was also being judgemental towards herself. In other words, she was exploiting the logical paradox that I mentioned in another note.



posted on Nov, 1 2012 @ 06:09 PM
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For information;
The next thread in this series will cover James' comments on the wealthy.



posted on Dec, 18 2012 @ 03:05 PM
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Now that the series on James is complete, an Index of the various threads can be found at this location;

James; Teacher of Faith and Wisdom






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