Synopsis: Judging and Boasting
This week’s passage from James actually brings together two items that don’t really mesh very well. A warning against the dangers of judging (4:11-12) is followed by a section which warns against the dangers of dangerous boasting (4:13-17), a section that would probably fit better with James 5:1-6, another warning against the rich, this time against rich, oppressive farmers. We will explore both sections this week and build the bridge between chapters 4 and 5 next week.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Correcting without judging. James 4:11-12 is a strong warning against the dangers of judging others. But at the end of the book, there is a kind of blessing pronounced on those who are able to rescue wayward souls and bring them back to God. How does one distinguish between damaging judging and helpful correction?
2. Leaving it in the hands of the Lord. James declares that one should explicitly say, “If the Lord wishes….” before embarking on a plan (4:15). Can one accomplish the same by making such an proviso implicitly? What value is there in saying something out loud compared to saying it silently?
3. The callous traveling merchant. If 4:13-17 is another frontal attack on the wealthy, this time the traveling merchant, how might that change our understanding of the counsel to say, “If the Lord wishes….?
4. Sins of omission. In the light of 4:17 – “Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin” – how would we evaluate the degree of guilt between sins of omission and sins of commission? It is worth noting that several passages in the Gospels assign sins of omission a high place in a hierarchy of values. Three passages are worth noting: a) the servant who failed to use the money entrusted to him (Luke 19:11-17); b) the goats in the parable of the judgment who did nothing to help those in need (Matt. 25:31-46); and c) the servant who knew the master’s will but did nothing about it, receiving a severe beating as a result (Luke 12:47).
5. Nothing but a mist. Describing the merchant as a mere mist (4:14) may be intended to have a very specific focus, yet the use of the image of “mist” raises the question of how James views humankind: As a can of worms? Or as a jewel in the rough, waiting to be polished?