Today’s passage deals with two seemingly separate topics: judging other believers and boasting about your plans. Although at first they appear rather disparate, they’re joined by a common theme which we’ll get to momentarily.
The first subject is slandering/judging other believers. Once again, MacArthur says it so much better than I ever could (of course, there might be a reason why people pay money for his books, and thousands of people listen to his sermons every week, while I’m just posting on a free blog): “This [refers] to slander or defame. James does not forbid confronting those in sin, which is elsewhere commanded in Scripture (Mt 18:15-17; Ac 20:31; 1Co 4:14; Col 1:28; Tit 1:13; 2:15; 3:10). Rather, he condemns careless, derogatory, critical, slanderous accusations against others.” But what’s the difference between legitimate confrontation and judgmental slandering? Well, besides what MacArthur just said about careless accusations vs. being careful to get the entire story, there’s one major difference, which we’ll get to in a moment.
The other subject is boasting about your plans. James envisions a businessman telling his partners about what they’ll do soon over the next year. Now, is it wrong to make business plans? Of course not. I see a parallel here between these planners and the builders of the Tower of Babel. Is building a tower wrong in and of itself? Again, of course not. But if you look at the Genesis passage I just cited, you might find a clue to the problem. Listen to what the Babel builders planned: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.” What was the emphasis?
The clue to the problem, like Sherlock Holmes’s infamous dog that didn’t bark, is not what’s there, but what’s missing. What’s wrong in all these cases is a prideful failure to take God into consideration.
Take the first case, that of the judgmental slanderer. What’s he missing? Well, he’s missing some of the facts. And since we’re not God, we’re always missing some of the facts. We might’ve misinterpreted something we saw or heard. And we don’t know anyone’s heart except our own, and even that’s “iffy.” But even if we were correct about the relevant facts, when I’m carelessly gossiping about what I think someone is doing, I’m setting myself up as their Accuser and Judge. I’m even setting myself up above the Law itself, which tells me to love my neighbor, to be kind and compassionate towards him, and to avoid judging him. I love the sheer bluntness of verse 12: “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge,” and guess what? That’s not me.
Same thing with the business planners of vss. 13-17. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with making plans. Proverbs (a book which heavily influenced this one) extols making plans, even plans for the express purpose of making a profit, especially in consultation with others. But Proverbs also tells us—in its most famous verses—that we need to trust the Lord with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding, that we need to acknowledge him in everything we do, so that he’ll make our paths straight.
That’s the problem with the planners. They’re planning without taking God into account at all. Please don’t misunderstand this. “God willing. . .” isn’t some magical formula that we need to say in front of all our plans, some rote phrase like the Christian equivalent of Insha'Allah, which Muslims say all the time whether they mean it or not. The exact verbiage might or might not be there, but the thought behind it should be in the forefront of our minds at all times. We need to consciously submit any important plans to him, and we should ask him throughout our day to guide us in the way he wants us to go.
Because, really, what am I? I know from the eternal perspective I’m going to live forever, but as far this world’s plans are concerned, I’m a morning mist that’s here one moment and gone the next. 70, 80, maybe 90 years, or even a hundred? What’s that?
What’s exactly the point of verse 17? Of course, it’s a great general statement of how our perspective on sin needs to change. We tend to think of sins as actions that we take, such as murder or theft or adultery or lying. They are. But there are sins of omission as well as commission. The planners cited here didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. They were just making business plans! People do that every day. But we need to remember that when we don’t acknowledge the Almighty in our plans (either verbally or non-verbally), when we don’t consciously submit to him, when we don’t commit to doing things his way, that’s sin.
When I’m talking about a brother in Christ, or when I’m making plans either big or small, I need to keep my Lord in consideration. Otherwise, I’m setting myself up for a world of hurt. I don’t want that, do you?
Lord Jesus, please change my perspective. I’m not anyone’s Lawgiver or Judge. That’s you. All of my plans, all of my hopes, dreams, fears, and desires I lay at your feet, my King, to do with as you will. You’re certainly going to do better with them than I ever could.
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