James 4: 11 – 12 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, 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. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbour?
Reflection “Everyone’s a critic.” That’s a response we often hear from those whose work or words have been panned by someone who can’t do what they do.
It’s easy to abuse the footballer who misses the penalty shot; it’s simple to describe a song as “terrible” because we don’t like that form of music; it’s tempting to write off an opinion as “rubbish” without engaging in respectful debate.
Comments like that can be hurtful to the recipients, and in our age of social media may be amplified to the point that they are tormented by commentators.
Add judgement to the mix and the combination becomes toxic. That’s the stage when casual criticism (sometimes in the heat of the moment) turns to gossip, slander, bullying and eventually exclusion.
No doubt we would like to think that such behaviour is never found in church life. Yet it is. We may not like another person’s moral choices. We may choose to interpret the scriptures in a way that persuades us to reject someone’s sexuality as an aberration. We may find the practice of other Christian groups distasteful. But the letter-writer tells us it is not our place to shun others or pass sentence.
Instead he reminds us to leave judgement to God. Our task is to be what Jesus urged us to be – good neighbours to all, regardless of our opinions or prejudices.
How can we do that? We are kind (but not patronising). We think before we speak. We are ready to help when invited to do so. We build up our brothers and sisters in Christ and in life at large instead of tearing them down. We are humble (conscious of our own sins), not high and mighty.
It may prove a challenge, but better than driving fellow humans to despair.
Prayer Lord, Keep me humble and help me become an encouragement to others, and not their accuser. Keep me from being wise in my own eyes or making arbitrary assumptions about the motives of others. Above all, teach me to love others as Christ loved me. Amen