James can’t stop warning us about that most unruly of our members—the tongue (1:26; 3:1-12). Moreover, he has just called us to that most important of virtues—humility. People who humble themselves before the Lord concern themselves with their own sins; they mourn and weep over their own wicked deeds. When they think of others, they think in this way: If they are believers, they thank God for their lives and pray God’s blessings on them. They marvel at the godliness of their brethren and bless God for their gifts and witness. Or if they know that their brother is straying from the path of life, they pray earnestly for his repentance while at the same time confessing their own sins so that no haughtiness accompanies their prayer. They will also pray for pagans that God will grant them repentance knowing that they too were once estranged from God (Ephesians 2:12).
But now James warns us against judging our brothers. He does not mean here that discipline that is necessary in the local church in the hopes of reclaiming an errant brother (Galatians 6:1-5), but rather that haughty spirit that looks upon another with contempt as if haughtiness were a virtue. On the contrary, in judging his brother with such a prideful heart, the haughty brother judges the law as well, James tells us. How so? By usurping the law of God by becoming a law himself! The judgmental brother errs in that he assumes the role of divine Judge—a role only God can fill. And in doing so, he applies his own law, though he flatters himself that it is God’s law. In this case, a change in the judge necessitates a change in the law as the one now judging is anything but the righteous God but instead a poor imitation thereof, a sinner no better than the brother he judges, incorrectly applying a law he has broken time and again which he now coopts and employs without mercy. He who judges his brother becomes prosecutor, judge, and executioner all at once—and that as a sinner. And as a sinner rendering judgment, he usurps God’s role as judge and inevitably misapplies God’s law inserting his own law instead and thereby judging God’s law as inadequate.
But we don’t want to do that. If we do have a brother or sister in the church who is straying from the way, we want to approach them with humility knowing that we too are sinners in need of grace. We will want to follow our Lord’s words in Matthew 18:15-20, all the while checking our own hearts, being doers of the word and not hearers only, and leaving final judgment to the only One who can fill such a role, who is able to lift up or cast down, save or destroy. All glory to Him.