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Lesson 9: One Lawgiver and Judge *

Introduction: Two weeks ago, we learned from James what terrible damage our tongue can create. Have you ever said something that is judgmental? I know I have. We had an older member of the church who would bring new people to church and at the same time insult current church members. It seemed like she was bringing some in and driving others out. When I discussed the insults with her (I think she was insulting me at the time), she told me that was just the way she was. Is that the way we all are? Perhaps this reflects a deeper problem of thinking that we are superior and everyone should conform to our views. This week James writes about being judgmental and bragging about the future. Let's dive into our study of the Bible and learn more!

  1. Judging

    1. Read James 4:11. James says that judging a fellow Christian is like judging the law. Elsewhere ( James 1:25) James refers to the "perfect law." Are fellow Christians perfect? If not, then what is James talking about?

      1. How is making a judgment about a fellow Christian like judging the law?

    2. Read 1 Corinthians 6:2-4. Paul tells us that we will judge angels. Does this mean that James and Paul disagree?

    3. Let's look again at James 4:11 and add James 4:12. Who does James say is the Judge? (Jesus.)

      1. If Jesus is the Judge, what does that suggest is the problem with us judging? (We are usurping the authority of God.)

      2. Notice that James says this Judge is also the "Lawgiver." What does the fact that God gives us the law have to do with our judging fellow Christians? ( James 4:11 uses the term "slander," suggesting that we are unfairly judging. When James says there is only one Lawgiver, I think he means that when we create our own standard for judgment, we usurp God's role as lawgiver.)

    4. We have two points from James: 1)When we judge fellow Christians we usurp God's role as Judge; and, 2)When we create our own standards for judgment, we usurp God's role as lawgiver. How do explain Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 6:2-4, where he tells us to be judges? (Read 1 Corinthians 6:1. This gives us the context. Paul says that when it comes to disputes among believers, we can (and should) have the church appoint judges who will resolve the dispute.)

    5. Read 1 Corinthians 5:1-3. What is Paul's view about judging fellow believers here? (That we have an absolute obligation to do it. Paul says that he already passed judgment on this situation, and he criticizes the believers for not having already judged this man and put him out of the church.)

      1. Is this like the prior situation in which a church member resolves (judges) disputes between church members? (No. This seems much closer to the kind of situation that James has been writing about.)

    6. Are Paul and James hopelessly in conflict over the point of judging?

      1. If not, what important differences do you find in these Bible texts? (First, James begins describing the judgment as "slander." This suggests an improper judgment. Second, Paul seems to refer to official church-appointed judges. The church has an obligation to judge. James is targeting the unofficial judges who use their own false standards and are thereby taking the place of God both in their judgment and in their creation of their own standard.)

    7. How does your church handle official judging? For example, when I was an Elder and Lay Pastor in my local church, I recall getting roped by higher authority into visiting a member who was involved in adultery (no other sin seemed to require a visit). I was told by the person I was visiting that "it was none of my business, who was I to judge?" I hated these kinds of visits. Our message to the straying member was reform, resign, or get voted out of the church. What do you think James would say about this kind of visit? What would Paul say?

      1. More recently, the church had a couple of fairly high profile cases of adultery, and to my knowledge (I was no longer the Lay Pastor) nothing official was done. Certainly, no one asked me to visit. Do you think that approach is better than the visit and threaten approach? (Frankly, the only difference in the outcome that I could discern was that a visit made the spurned spouse feel justified. In the most recent cases, the spurned spouses promptly divorced and remarried. That seemed as powerful an object lesson as imposing church discipline.)

      2. Look again at 1 Corinthians 5:1-2. What is the most important problem here? (The church sets a bad example to the world. Church members are "proud" of the sin.)

      3. What does this add to our thinking about official church discipline? (Considering James and Paul, I think official church discipline, in the abstract, is appropriate. At the same time, it seems to be required only when some in the church encourage the sin and the sin sets a bad example, or embarrasses the church in front of the world.)

  2. Bragging

    1. Read James 4:13-14. Do you have a plan for tomorrow? How about for the next year? (I have appointment dates and deadlines that span at least a year in advance.)

      1. Is James saying that is wrong?

      2. Does James win the most disorganized person award?

    2. Read Luke 13:31-33 and Luke 14:28-30. What do these texts suggest about organization and plans for tomorrow? (They support the idea.)

    3. Read Matthew 6:34. What does this say about tomorrow?

    4. Let's re-read James 4:13-14 and add James 4:15. We have read several statements about tomorrow and being organized. What common thread of truth can you find in these texts that supports James? (Planning is fine. But, we need to trust God. We need to put away worry, and we need to put away self-trust. Our lives are in God's hands. I think James' point is to avoid being arrogant about what you will be doing tomorrow.)

    5. Read James 4:16. What problem does James point out that goes beyond self-trust? (People are bragging about things they have not yet done. They boast of accomplishments for the future. How can we boast about a future that is entirely in the hands of God? We can boast about our God, but not about ourselves.)

    6. One of advantages of studying a book of the Bible is that the material is presented the way God wants it presented. James first wrote about slander, and now he is writing about boasting about the future. What is James collectively teaching us about the "big picture?" (We use our tongues to cut others down and to boast about our future. Both usurp the authority of God. Slandering others usurps the authority of God as Judge and Lawgiver. Bragging about the future usurps the authority of God over our future.)

  3. Status Quo Sins?

    1. Read James 4:17. What kind of sin is this? (It sounds like the sin of omission - failing to do something you know you should do.)

      1. What connection does it have with our prior discussion about judging and bragging about tomorrow? Don't those seem like affirmative sins, not sins of omission?

      2. Read James 1:22-24. What is James teaching us here? (I think James 4:17 repeats the instruction in James 1:22-24. James just gave us the "mirror" in which we recognized our judgmental attitude about others and our arrogant attitude about the future. Now he tells us, do something about these attitudes. Don't just forget what you saw.)

    2. Friend, do you recognize your sins in these warnings? If you tend to be judgmental, or brag about the future without recognizing your dependance upon God, why not face those attitudes right now by confessing them? Ask the Holy Spirit to keep your eye in the "mirror" so you will continue to walk the road towards greater righteousness.

  4. Next week: Weep and Howl!
* Copr. 2014, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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