Read James 4:11-17
11Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you — who are you to judge your neighbor?
13Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. (NIV)
The word James uses for “slander” is the Greek word, “Hatalalein” which means to speak bad or evil of another person when that person is not present. Today, we would probably more call it gossip. There are times when it seems so easy to get caught up in talking bad about someone. It is so much harder to defend that person who is being talked about. But people do notice when you become a defender and not a gossiper.
James moves from this point to making a point that we are not to be judges of people. We have only one Lawgiver and Judge – Jesus Christ. If people are struggling, we are to help them, not judge them. This is one of those times where our words really do matter. It is in situations when people are being talked about that we can make a difference by what we say.
James then moves to a item that seems like he is saying we should not plan ahead. But this is not his point. We all should plan. But when we begin to boast about our plans, then we have to look at the motive behind them. The Greek word here to boast is “alazoneia.” A good definition is the traveling salesmen you would see in moving selling all kinds of cures for their elixirs and potions. They would make all sorts of claims they could not back up.
The point that James wants to remind us is that the future is uncertain. Jesus told the parable of the man who had the great crop and said he was going to build bigger barns and just sit back and relax the rest of his life. In the parable, the man died the next day. We don’t know what the future brings. We should plan for that, but our planning should always be to include God in our plans. It is ok to even dream big dreams. God gives us dreams. But when we take dreams and turn them into boasts simply to make us look good to others, then we have the wrong motive.
James ends this section with a simple statement. If you know what is good to do and don’t do it, you have separated yourself from God – you have sinned. The point here is you have knowledge. We all have times we didn’t do something that we would have if we had known about the circumstance. But James is talking about the things we know need to be done, but we just let life get in the way or some other reason. To live rightly, we should begin each day with a focus on God and his will for our lives. As we grow, then all these things James talks about will not be issues because we are living a life focused on God and not our desires. I think it take us a good part of our lives to truly get to this point. Some do it quicker than others. But hopefully you can see yourselves moving in that direction.
Blessings and Peace