“Do not judge?” But what about everything that needs criticism? – Keeping that hard balance is what this week’s sermon is all about.
James 4:11–12 (NIV) 11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
It is nearly impossible for most Bible readers not to enter into the divine perspective of the narrative of the Bible. Yet, and here is the point, learning to enter into that Story’s perspective does not make us God, as David himself had to learn (2 Sam 12:1 – 5). We may know what God thinks, but we are not God. Instead, we need to hear from God and to be responsive to and responsible for that perspective in our world. This leads to what might be the cutting edge of learning how to read this passage most accurately: we must learn to distinguish moral discernment from personal condemnation. This distinction — the ability to know what is good from what is bad and to be able to discern the difference versus the posture of condemning another person — enables us to see what Jesus prohibits in this passage. The flipside of this posture of condemnation is love, humility, mercy, and forgiveness (see 18:23 – 35). In other words, a Jesus Creed — driven disciple does not sit in judgment but acts with mercy toward others. John Wesley said this well: “The judging that Jesus condemns here is thinking about another person in a way that is contrary to love.” But there is more here than a Jesus version of “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his sandals.” The Sermon on the Mount frames a kingdom ethic, an Ethic from Beyond. In Israel’s history there were judges (who unfolded into kings and justices), but in the kingdom of God, God alone is Judge; human judges will not be needed because kingdom citizens live under the Messiah King and do the will of God. Jesus’ disciples are being summoned to live in that kind of world among themselves as they seek to embody in the here and now that future kingdom. Instead of a society marked by condemnation, they are to form a society marked by humility, love for neighbor and enemy, and mutual reconciliation. – Scott McKnight
We now see, that the design of Christ was to guard us against indulging excessive eagerness, or peevishness, or malignity, or even curiosity, in judging our neighbours. He who judges according to the word and law of the Lord, and forms his judgment by the rule of charity, always begins with subjecting himself to examination, and preserves a proper medium and order in his judgments. – John Calvin
Verse 6 appears to be loosely connected to verses 1–5. The preceding verses address how one should correct a brother and assist him in overcoming his sin. Verse 6 relates to those who desire no assistance in overcoming their sin but intend to persist in their wicked behavior. No matter how humbly or lovingly the disciple approaches such a person, the efforts to assist will only prove disastrous…. Much more likely, “dogs” and “pigs” refer to wicked people who will despise and mock the Christian message. Both terms could serve as general terms of contempt. “Dog” was a word of reproach in numerous OT texts (1 Sam 17:43; 24:14; 2 Sam 9:8; 16:9; Ps 22:20; Prov 26:11; Isa 56:10–11). It also serves this function frequently in the NT. In Phil 3:2 the term “dogs” was used by Paul to identify the Judaizers. Revelation 22:15 associates dogs with sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying, all of whom are excluded from the holy city and barred from access to the tree of life. Jewish texts that combine metaphorical references to “dogs” and “pigs” typically emphasize their uncleanness and use the terms to symbolize the wicked. In1 Enoch 89:42, “dogs, foxes, and wild boars” represent the pagan enemies of Israel who were destroyed in the conquest. In 2 Pet 2:22 a “dog” and a “sow” portray false teachers who are “slaves of corruption” entangled in the world’s impurity and who have turned back from the holy commandment delivered to them. – Charles Quarles