In James 4:11-12, James warns us against passing judgment on others. Obviously, he’s not against exercising discernment, nor is he against correction. After all, he’s just called the congregation he writes to a bunch of adulteresses, correcting them for their rank idolatry.
The 9th Commandment
What James is concerned about, rather, is a judgmental spirit that holds itself above the law or above its neighbor. Whenever we advertise the failings of our neighbor, we actually violate the law. The 9th Commandment forbids bearing false witness. The Westminster divines elaborate on what that means: The 9th commandment requires that we maintain and promote truth between men, and that we maintain and promote our own and our neighbor’s good name. And it forbids anything prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own, or our neighbor’s good name. Furthermore, Matthew 18 requires that, if we recognize sin in our neighbor, we ought to handle that as discretely as possible. James is going to end his letter with an appeal to sharpening one another, to holding one another accountable. But here, he is concerned with those who would stand and publicly accuse brothers, rather than seeking to turn them back to Christ.
The Image of God
To stand as your brother’s accuser is a dangerous business. God alone is judge. And it is Satan who plays the role of adversary. Rather, we ought to focus on the speck in our own eye, we ought to recognize the amazing grace bestowed on us. When we do, two things happen. First of all, we recognize that we have no standing to accuse. We are the forgiven-righteous, not the inherently-righteous. And second, we glimpse the glory and wonder of our God, and long to exalt him. Since our brother is made in his image, we would see him exalted, not torn down.