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Living According to God's Will (James 4:11-17)

James 4:11–17 - 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. What does today’s passage say? In today's passage, James confronts those who speak critically against and judge fellow believers, warning that in doing so they are playing God and usurping His authority as the only true Lawgiver and Judge (vv. 11-12). He then rebukes those who make arrogant plans without seeking God's will, reminding them that life is fleeting and temporary (vv. 13-14). James advises them to instead submit their plans to the Lord, recognizing their dependence on Him (vv. 15-16). Finally, he issues a sobering statement that knowing the right thing yet failing to act on it is ultimately sin (v. 17). How can I apply James 4:11-17 to my life? Followers of Jesus face constant temptation to tear others down through judgmental speech. We act as if wearing the label “Christian” makes us qualified to condemn fellow believers over various issues. But nothing could stray further from the truth. In fact, this passage contains stern warnings against self-righteous criticism that divides Christ’s body. The Lord alone has the faultless wisdom and authority to judge others’ motives and deeds. Our limited minds cannot begin to discern rightly in such matters. Yet in unbelievable mercy, God sent His Son to die in our place instead of condemning us for our own glaring spiritual issues. How then can we who have received such grace turn around and relentlessly judge our fellow forgiven sinners? We cannot. James reminds us that love and humility must mark all our relationships—building up, not tearing down. Additionally, as we make personal plans, we desperately need God’s guidance. Our lives vanish like mist, but Jesus reigns eternal. Let us therefore submit our wills fully to Him. Here are some basic principles from this passage that we should apply to our lives:

  1. Do Not Slander or Falsely Judge Fellow Believers, Usurping God's Authority (vv. 11-12): James says that we should not speak negatively about fellow believers behind their backs. Instead of slandering others, we must show grace, not cast judgment, or play God by condemning them over perceived issues. Scripture sternly warns against such critical speech and calls us to unity, gentleness, and humility when relating to one another. If we have a legitimate concern with a brother or sister, we should lovingly yet directly engage them rather than gossiping behind their back. We must also prioritize examining our own hearts before considering the faults of others. Judging others often reveals arrogance, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy rather than genuine love or righteousness. It destroys fellowship and godly relationships. As these verses make clear, the Lord alone has the perfect understanding and authority to judge motives and actions. Our role is simply to love, serve, gently restore, and biblically confront issues when necessary, exhibiting patience, mercy and grace along the way (1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 7:1-5; Galatians 6:1-2).

Food for Thought: What areas of judgmentalism might I need to confess and repent of? How can I exhibit more grace, gentleness, and humility in my dealings with others?

  1. Make Plans with Humble Dependence on God's Will (vv. 13-16): James sternly confronts those who arrogantly make future plans without seeking God’s direction, reminding them that life is fleeting, and our only boast should be in the Lord’s sovereign will. Though we may map out details for our days ahead, as followers of Christ we must hold those plans loosely and with an open hand. Our lives belong not to ourselves but to God alone. Rather than charging ahead self-sufficiently, we need to frequently pray for His guidance and surrender our will to His perfect plan and purpose. A heart that leaves God out of its decision-making indicates pride and lack of spiritual wisdom. The Lord alone can direct our paths rightly. Therefore, as James advises, we ought to pray about all our intentions, submitting them to God's complete control. As we learn to rely on Him rather than ourselves, He will establish and bless the work of our hands according to His glorious will (Proverbs 16:3, 9; Jeremiah 10:23; Acts 18:21).

Food for Thought: What personal plans do I need to lay before God in prayer rather than moving ahead independently? How can I cultivate deeper dependency on the Lord’s leading rather than self-directed choices?

  1. Know That Not Doing the Good We Know Is Sin (v. 17): James issues a convicting warning that knowing the right thing to do yet failing to act accordingly is sin in God's eyes. It is not enough to simply absorb biblical truth intellectually without applying it to transform our conduct. When the Word enlightens us regarding a righteous course of action or rebukes a sinful pattern, yet we proceed unchanged, it demonstrates hardness of heart. To clearly understand the Lord's commands yet live in defiance of them reflects a dangerous rebellion against our King. Sin is not only doing what God prohibits but also failing to do what He expects. Claiming Jesus as Savior while remaining indifferent towards obeying Him as Lord is sheer hypocrisy. Those who have experienced God's redeeming grace cannot help but have it shape increasingly righteous living in their lives. Our spiritual maturity can be gauged by the speed and eagerness of our obedience in response to illumination from Scripture (Ezekiel 33:31; Matthew 7:21-27; Romans 2:13).

Food for Thought: What "good" do I know the Lord wants me to do that I've avoided acting upon? Why? How can I become not only a hearer but a doer in that area going forward? Our words carry immense power, yet we far underestimate their influence. With one arrogant criticism, we can ruin fellowship or even devastate someone’s desire to follow Jesus. Slander and condemnation aimed at others often reveal frighteningly blind hypocrisy in our own hearts. We assume faultlessness while attacking others’ perceived faults. We play God while forgetting we ourselves stay afloat only by God’s grace each second. And none of us will escape our coming appointment with the flawless Lawgiver and righteous Judge who sees all hidden motives and actions. May this reality lead us to our knees, pleading for both wisdom and mercy! Additionally, as we plan and dream about the days ahead, James reminds us bluntly that we do not know what tomorrow holds. Our lives vanish like fog before the blazing summer Sun. The only reasonable response involves humbly submitting our brief futures completely to the hands of the eternal God who allows our next heartbeat. Leaning fully on Him rather than our limited understanding provides the only firm foundation for all decisions we make. By God’s strength, may we indeed become hearers and doers of His Word, living out the glorious gospel of grace we claim to embrace. Prayer Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that You would search my heart and reveal any areas of harmful judgmentalism towards fellow believers. Expose moments when I play God in attempting to discern others' motives without wisdom or grace. Produce in me deep humility regarding my own spiritual state, being far more flawed than I care to admit. I pray that You would shape me to build others up through compassionate love rather than tearing them down through criticism. Teach me to submit all my personal plans to You in prayer, acknowledging that my life is but a mist compared to Your eternal glory. Help me lean wholly on Your will rather than charging ahead self-sufficiently. I pray that Your Spirit would make me a doer and not merely a hearer, eagerly obeying Your commands. May I exalt Christ alone as I find my identity in Him. I pray these things in the most precious name of Jesus, Amen.

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?”With His Blessings, Pastor Corby

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