Session 11 | James 4:11-17
James 4:11-17 | Kingdom Standards
Verse 11 --
The Greek word for speak, used three times in this verse, is καταλαλέω [katalaleo], a rarely used word that meant to speak evil. In its etymology it is to use every word, implying the voicing of things that should not be said, either because they are untrue or they are simply unnecessary.
Because James says that the the one that does this ultimately speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law, it requires that his audience are law-keepers. How would a Christian today judge the law just by judging another Christian? Furthermore, why would a Christian be accused of not [being] a doer of the law when we are free from the law? In short, this verse only makes any sense if the two parties are Torah observant.
Commentaries that do not come from a rightly dividing perspective (almost 100% of commentaries) inevitably either skip this verse altogether or put Christians under the Law. For example, The Holman New Testament Commentary (a Southern Baptist resource) says,
ur opposition to the law of love and imply that we are exempt from observing it."
How much simpler it would be to simply read this verse as instruction to Torah observant Jews living in a time prior to the revelation of the Pauline mystery.
Verse 12 --
Isaiah 33:22 declares is our lawgiver, and this is certainly the one lawgiver in mind here. As Jews, the recipients of the epistle were servants of God alone, and thus interpersonal judgment was prohibited under the Law.
Verse 13 --
The English in the KJV is purposefully awkward, Go to now“go, now“Come now" (as in NKJV) fails to faithfully translate the Greek ἄγω“bring" and not “come." In modern English, perhaps, “Bring [yourself] now" would be best. While there is nothing major doctrinally in this issue, this awkward Go to phrase does remind the reader that awkward phrases are good learning opportunities“everyday slang" being used in a way that would not be common otherwise. This is yet another reminder that serious students of the Word should study with a King James Bible and use the oddities for learning. The older English phrases to day rather than the modern today is also an opportunity to learn that the word became a compound after the work of the King James translators. The same is true with to morrow. Such oddities remind the student that language changes and thus the student should take care to avoid taking today's language and grammar as the interpretive rule for words spoken hundreds or thousands of years ago.
Language issues aside, the verse is simple to understand, using a common occurrence of life as the basis for the point, which James will make in the next verse and beyond.
Verses 14-15 --
This verse must be taken in its historical context,“living on borrowed time." James was trying to give a *wakeup call* to his readers. While in any age and for any person know not what **shall be on the morrow“a mystery" at the time of the writing of the epistle. Note that when Jesus spoke about someone who may be intending to build a tower (Lk. 14:28) he gave no similar chastisement for his presumption upon the future. In fact, none of the cross references give any similar material from the time of Jesus, yet modern preaching is filled with an anti-future bias for those involved in business as if this passage had a universal and direct application for all time, and especially for Christians.
Verse 16 --
The word boastings is“mere bragging" (see Strong's Concordance, G212) or “pride" (as translated in 1 John 2:16). The word evil is one which has a broader understanding than our modern usage. To boast in pride is degenerate, sick, illegitimate, etc.
Verse 17 --
The truth in this verse is well-known, as even a quick look at cross references will display. James uses this truth to call his listeners to action. Their omission of doing what is good will be sin, so he prods them to action.
Evangelicalism has often used “sins of omission” to manipulate audiences to certain actions. The actions may be good and beneficial (pray more, study more, witness more, etc.). At times the actions may be driven by local agenda (“You know our children need this new addition to our facilities...”). But are these sins of omission something that align with the Pauline mystery? Paul instructs us to not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not (Gal. 6:9), but this is a different motivation than the negative motivation given by James. Since we live in an “age of grace” in which God is not imputing sins (2 Cor. 5:19, see also Rom. 8:3). While we can certainly do that which dishonors God and His gracious gift, or fail to do that which would honor the same, the rule of James 4:17 should not be made a basis for any doctrine of “sins of omission” in the body of Christ.
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