Devotional Day 24
Do not speak against one another, brothers and sisters. The one who speaks against a brother or sister, or judges his brother or sister, 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. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy, but who are you, judging your neighbor?James 4:11-12
“speaks against the law and judges the law”
Why is speaking against a fellow believer equated with speaking against the law? One can see more clearly how condemning someone is putting ourselves in the position of “judge,” a role that is not ours to bear. From our own position as sinners (and James has already called us out on sinful issues that need to be addressed), who are we to point out the sins of others? But how are others equivalent to the law itself?
If we return to “the law” of the new covenant being the law of freedom and love (James 1:25) we are offering neither of those when speaking against a brother or judging a sister. Condemning them for sin is a sin of itself when it is damaging relationships, wounding hearts, and reinforcing the lies of failure and worthlessness.
Accountability vs. Judgmentalism
This does not mean we shouldn’t hold one another accountable, nor does it suggest all behavior is acceptable. Reading James’ words against quarrels in the church suggests this negative speech is on a public, societal level, putting others down to elevate ourselves in the eyes of others. Accountability belongs in secure, healthy, loving relationships, balanced by encouragement and affirmation. It needs to be a safe place in order to recognize areas of weaknesses without fear of rejection. Within a healthy relationship, speaking to one another against sin, not against the person, is a two-way street: if we are going to point out someone’s blind spots, we also must be ready to receive feedback and share our own struggles and temptations. We can only be vulnerable with each other when we feel safe and loved.
But speaking against the individual in a public setting only causes division, not only damaging the person, but pushing the larger group into positions of defense or opposition. There may be situations where someone is already causing division in the church, being a friend of the world who is drawing people in the wrong direction. It is here that confrontation might be necessary, but public declaration is the last resort, and even then every word must be said out of love, as a community. It should not be one person attacking another, and certainly not by spreading rumors behind someone’s back. We live in an era where it is far too easy to “share” statements, rumors, posts, and tweets semi-anonymously, without even verifying the legitimacy of words said or videos broadcast. We must think twice before passing on whatever might cause division and cause others to cast judgments.
The Community of Pilgrims
El Camino is a community of strangers. There is an unwritten rule of mutual acceptance, with the awareness of a broad range of cultures, norms, beliefs, and practices. This expectation that it is not a place to judge or be judged is combined with the reality that it is a fluid set of relationships. Even if there are strong differences of opinion, there is no danger that what you say could be used against you in the broader community, because there is no existing infrastructure or hierarchy, no formation of cliques or divisions by status. Everyone is on the same playing field.
Without any threat of judgment or denunciation, it seems that pilgrims are much more open about their beliefs, their questions, and their struggles, even with strangers. We’re all on the Way together, and that commonality contributes to a sense of support and community, even though it is fluid. We’re ready to help one another because we’ve got a common goal, a common destination, without competition about who will arrive first or reach some higher level of achievement.
So we hear of the practical struggles—the blisters, the harsh wind, the steep climb–and we empathize. We also hear of emotional and spiritual struggles, and share our own, while also sharing the hope discovered. Along the way, we heard stories of abuse, of being emotionally trapped, of loss, of spiritual confusion, of disillusionment. We mostly listened, acknowledging and accepting what was said, and appreciating the vulnerability. Where appropriate, we shared our own stories. “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry.”
Community in the Church
What if the church was the same environment? A place to share openly, rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn? What if we remembered that we are all on the same road, hopefully going the same direction, toward Jesus? What if the emphasis was on helping one another draw nearer to Him, ready to share everything from Band-Aids and laundry soap to tears and smiles? There is no need to be competitive or judgmental, no benefit of societal hierarchy, just humble love to promote individual and community progress and maturation.
Thank You, Lord, for being a Judge of both justice and mercy, fully responsible for all judgment. Forgive us for the times when make ourselves judges of condemnation, instead of givers of grace. Help us to build a community centered on You, growing through mutual accountability in a context of vulnerability and love.
- Consider the local Christian community around you. If there have been past conflicts or dissensions, how were they managed and who was affected?
- What are healthy ways to hold one another accountable? Who is holding you accountable?
- Spend some time with Jesus, asking if there are any ways He wants you to perceive and treat the people around you differently. Ask Him to show you how He views the ones you tend to condemn.
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