I belong to a Ward with a reasonably new Bishop. After only a few months in the calling, I am hearing of people murmuring about his performance in his calling. It distressed me greatly that they would be so unkind as to judge him in such a difficult calling, assuming all callings are harder for some than for others. Our Bishop is a very good man. The more I read in this week’s reading assignment the more I saw that the spirit of judgment taints all parts of pure religion, the main subject of the Epistle of James.
Reading Assignment: James.
Additional Reading: Bible Dictionary, “James,” 709; “James, Epistle of,” 709–10.
James begins by telling us that our many afflictions (divers temptations) work within us to create patience. Patience, like the name implies, is not a virtue that comes quickly, but must be built a small piece at a time. I have noticed that grandparents seem to have a lot more patience than new parents. That would support the theory that patience is learned through the things we suffer over a long period of time. Here is James 1:2 – 4.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; [JST says: many afflictions]
3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
The definition of perfection is to be complete, to be whole, lacking nothing. It is through learning patience that we come to be spiritually whole in all things. The examples given in the rest of the verses in James bear this out.
James 1:5 – 16 talk about the need to approach the Lord if we want to learn wisdom. But there is a catch. When we go to the Lord in prayer we must be humble and faithful, completely trusting that if we ask He will answer. If we doubt that He will answer us then we send mixed signals that show we are confused and not sure what we really believe. Those who are confused are like a rudderless boat that is tossed about by the waves of the sea. If we decide to go to the Lord we need to commit ourselves to the task, and choose to believe and expect an answer.
In James 1:18 19 it says:
19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
To be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” means to be patient. Patience demonstrates a willingness to hold off on judgment to see how things will develop on their own. It is the hasty word, usually spoken in quick judgment of a situation that gets us into trouble or hurts other people. By the same line of reasoning, it is the person who quickly makes an assessment (judgment) and almost immediately condemns another that causes harm to others with their anger. This is why learning to be slow to respond and slow to show anger works righteousness. The pause between the action and the reaction gives us time to think and time to react appropriately, increasing the chances for a peaceful outcome.
James finishes this chapter with the following two verses in James 1:26 – 27. Our ability to be patient and non-judgmental is what demonstrates that we are trying to live the religion we profess to others. Our willingness to accept others where they are and love them where they are at is what helps us remain undefiled before God.
26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Ask yourself this question: How often have you seen someone who is of a fiery tongue and a quick temper serving the poor in a spirit of meekness and charity? If we need to visit the fatherless and the widows in their afflictions it will require compassion, love, patience, tolerance, and kindness. All these things require that our judgmental nature be held in check. I’m not saying to abandon our judgment, but to hold it in check until all the facts are in, and we have had a chance to be guided by the Spirit of God.
In James 2:1 – 13 James is telling us that we need to learn to live the whole law of the gospel, not just the parts we want to live. He starts by talking about what it means to be a respecter of persons, something God is not. We tend to treat those with wealth better than those who are dirty and poor. He condemns such behavior, telling us we are guilty of violating the whole law if we violate even a part of it. Notice in verse four the Joseph Smith Translation. I have it printed right under verse four.
2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
Verse four reads differently in the Joseph Smith Translation [JST] James 2:4 Are ye not then in yourselves partial judges and become evil in your thoughts?
Giving preferential treatment to someone because of their wealth, position, beauty, strength, or any other outward advantage, is evil. Sounds kind of harsh, but that is what he is saying. We are judging others based on outward, transient and passing traits that the Lord ignores. He looks on the heart, which we cannot see. Because we cannot see the heart, which is what God judges us on, we are required to treat all equally under all circumstances. In other words, we have no right to judge someone. Judgment is the Lord’s right.
In the rest of the chapter, James tells us that if we want to demonstrate our faith, works are required. Telling someone that is hungry, “Go, and God give you peace,” will not fill their stomach and will not fulfill our requirement to love our neighbor as ourself. If we are to fulfill the second great commandment we must fill the need we see in our neighbor, without judgment and without any bitterness of spirit. Our service must be born of love for those we serve. Oh look, this also requires patience!
Let’s look at the first two verses of this chapter then the last three verses. In James 3:1 – 2 we are told that we are wrong to think that we have the right to be the greatest among our peers. He refers to them as the masters. Here is verse one according to the Joseph Smith Translation:
JST James 3:1 My Brethren, strive not for the mastery, knowing that in so doing we shall receive the greater condemnation.
2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
The apostles, during Christ’s ministry, were often concerned about who was to be the greatest among them. After the ascension and they received the gift of the Holy Ghost, we never hear about this issue again. James makes it clear that we should not be concerned with position, for we all have faults. If anyone is able to go through this life without offending anyone because of what they have said, the same is a perfect person.
The rest of the chapter is spent talking about the dangers of the human tongue and our inability to control what we say, and he talks about all the trouble our words cause to those around us. This is something we are all guilty of.
The last three verses talk about those who have learned to bridle the tongue and have learned some restraint so they don’t judge all the time. These are those who seek to make peace and be supportive of others. He says that those who participate in strife (contention) contribute to confusion and evil. Those, on the other hand, who are full of mercy and good works, who are easily entreated to do good and are gentle sew or create peace.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
This is where I state the obvious: those who are quick to judge and quick to announce that judgment spread confusion and do an evil for which they need to repent.
Chapter four is a little complicated. Basically, it says that when we do evil it is because we are giving in to our lusts and the temptations of Satan. Wars and evils are committed because people give in to their own desires and selfishly seek those desires above the needs of others. In James 4:11 – 12 we are told that to speak evil of someone else is to condemn the law of the gospel we are supposed to be living. We can’t be both the judge of the law and the doer of the law. We are supposed to be doing or living the law, with no judgment of others.
11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
James closes this chapter by giving us the definition of sin in James 4:17.
17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
This is an all-inclusive definition. If we know we are NOT supposed to do something and we do it anyway then it is sin to us. If we know we ARE supposed to do something, but we do not do it then again it is sin to us. So what is sin to one person isn’t necessarily a sin to another person. Who are we to judge who has sinned? That is up to the Lord. He alone claims the right to judge who knows what and who has and has not sinned.
This chapter covers several topics. James starts by talking about the wealthy who have lived in comfort while taking advantage of the poor. He moves on to talk about those who hold grudges against each other.
9 Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.
We all need to learn to have patience in our afflictions and exercise faith in the priesthood. When we are sick we are to call in the Elders for a blessing. The prayer of faith holds great power and leads to the forgiveness of sins.
Never before have I noticed the thread of the spirit of judgment that weaves itself through the Epistle of James. All throughout his writings on how to live our religion purely there are references that judging others and not bridling our tongues lead to sin. We all can learn to be more tolerant, more supportive, more faithful, more patient with each other. When we sustain each other in our various callings we are telling the Lord that we will do whatever is needed to prop each other up and assist each other to succeed in that calling. For most of us that can start with learning to not say those things that detract from someone’s ability to fulfill their calling, and to exercise patience with others as they learn to grow into their callings.