After describing the Jealous Love of the Holy Spirit and calling us to repent as the Holy Spirit gives more grace, James turns his attention to the manner in which we ought to love fellow believers in the Church:
11Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)
This passage must be read in context. James is not offering an extreme, blanket prohibition against any kind of judgment between right and wrong in the lives of our fellow believers. The very last words of his letter, in fact, say this:
19My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
Instead, James is prohibiting judging your brother (and sister; the word is gender neutral in Greek) by elevating yourself above the law. When we become judges over the law, we lose sight of the fact that we ourselves are as much in need as our brothers.
In context, what James has already told us about the jealous love of the Holy Spirit offers a helpful model for how we ought to exercise judgment in the lives of our fellow believers.
Judging Your Brother Against the Law
In v. 1-5, James warned against quarreling, fighting, coveting, murdering, and greed. Here, James warns against speaking evil against one another, or “judging your brother.” This kind of judging is not actually motivated by a desire for transformation in the lives of fellow believers, but stems from a battle of spiritual one-upsmanship. If I can point to sin in your life, then I, by contrast, come off looking that much holier-than-thou.
This is precisely the kind of worldly passion that James denounced in v. 1-5, but in a form unique to Christians. Doing this does not promote holiness, repentance, and godly sorrow, but arrogance, contention, and pride.
This kind of judging your brother sets you up as the judge, capable of condemning or vindicating–while ignoring your own sin that brings condemnation upon you.
And so, James asks pointedly, who are you to judge your neighbor?
Judging Your Brother in the Love of the Holy Spirit
Instead, consider the model of the Holy Spirit as you seek to interact with your fellow believers. The Holy Spirit could adopt the position of a judge and condemn any one of us. The Holy Spirit (as his name suggests) is the Holy One of Israel, the righteous God whose eyes are too pure to look upon sin.
And yet, rather than judging us and condemning us to hell forever, the Holy Spirit yearns jealously over us. Instead of washing his hands of us or destroying us, he gives more grace.
The Holy Spirit, then, is the model for how we ought to judge in the lives of our fellow believers–not to set ourselves over them, but to enter into the pursuit of righteousness with them. We recognize that we are in the same mess, that we too have sinned grievously against the Holy Spirit, and that we are as much in need of grace as our brothers and sisters.
But we also refuse to abandon those who are wandering into death. We simply love them too much, with a jealous Wrath-Love that is passionate for the purity of our fellow believers. Like the Holy Spirit, we yearn over them jealously as we desire to see them presented spotless to their Bridegroom (and ours), Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters, let us not judge one another. Let us love one another, bringing back wandering souls from death, and covering a multitude of sins.