Yesterday we discussed James as a letter addressed to a community. It is vital to remember that James was originally addressed to Christians gathered into groups, not to individuals. Reading and studying the Bible on our own is necessary, but it must always be balanced by reading the scriptures in community. In a community we hear different voices, our presuppositions are challenged, and we learn to grow closer to one another.
With this in mind, read James 4:1-14. Instead of reading "you," try reading "y'all." Remember, this is addressed to a community. (For more on this, read my blog post.)
Conflicts and disputes are a part of who we are as the church community. We can almost breathe a sigh of relief after reading this in James: "Whew, we've been fighting for two thousand years. Maybe our squabbles aren't so disastrous after all." Right now, the Episcopal Church is conflicted concerning human sexuality. But before that it was women's ordination, then the new Prayer Book, then Vietnam, then civil rights, then fundamentalism, then the Civil War, then....The list goes on and on.
The bigger problem is when we let our conflicts and disputes take the place of who we are; that is, human beings created for worship of God. At our best, and at our very core, God created us for worship. When we are distracted, by theological or political squabbles or even by the more mundane, like video games or crossword puzzles, we lose our capacity to worship and serve. One commentator on this passage writes, "Pursuit of pleasure leads not merely to indifference to religion but to downright hostility to God, destroying the capacity for worship and service."
Now read James 4:11-12. There are two images of "judgement" that I would like to offer. The first is that of a judge in a courtroom. The judge weighs the evidence and then sentences or punishes criminals. I believe this is the kind of behavior we are to avoid in the Christian life. Now take an image of a Justice of the Peace. A JP has to discern truth, weigh the good against the bad in light of the community.
As a Christian, I believe that we must "judge" this way all the time. For this is the only way that we can ever say "I should do x and not y." Without any sort of discernment, or "judgement," then all becomes relative. Without a standard (which, for a Christian, is the life of Jesus), our lives are oscillate between loss of faith and loss of love.