Speak evil/against/slander means to talk down to others-as in being condescending. This refers to slander out of envy and reflects the work of Satan whose name means slanderer (Rev. 12:10). It breaks God's royal law (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-10; James 2:8), destroys fellowship, and keeps non-believers away from the church. It also devalues those who are also precious in His sight, as slander has no concern for truth or the view from the other side (Ex. 20:16; Psalm 15:3; 50:19-20; Prov. 6:16, 19).
Brothers here means fellow-Jews. At this point, most, if not all the early Christians were Jews. However, the rest of us have been grafted in, so it now also refers to all those in Christ (Rom. 11:17-24).
Judges here refers mostly to slander. Jewish wisdom opposed slander too, and they knew this well! It also refers to condemning the faults in others to cover up our own faults, especially the ones we refuse to see in ourselves. He also is condemning the practice of verbally attacking other, which will only bring condemnation on us (Deut. 19: 16-21; 22:13-19; 1 Sam. 24:9; Psalm 34:13; 50:20; 52:4; 101:5; 109:3; Prov. 10:18; 11:9; Matt. 26:60; Luke 6:45; 1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 4:31; 1 Tim. 3:11; 5:13; 1 Pet. 2:1, 12; 3:10, 16; 4:4).
Law refers to God's love and care-not to rules and regulations. As God declared His love for Israel, He also does so with us; because He loves us, we can respond in gratitude and keep His precepts. Thus, to slander a fellow-Jew was to place oneself above the law and actually slander God. The same goes to slandering a fellow-Christian-and this certainly does not give license to slander non-Christians!
Do not hide your sin by exposing the sin in others-whether true or false! Gossip and slander do more to damage the church than any fire or false doctrine could ever do! Refuse to compare yourself with others! Remember the need for prayer! Remember the need for love!
James points out how highly presumptuous this attitude is in his next sentence. "He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law." When we set ourselves up as "the expert" in speaking against another, James says we are actually claiming to be an expert on the very law of God and judging it. Rather than putting ourselves under God’s law along with everyone else, we put ourselves above the law and use it as we see fit to judge others. And once we do this, we are no longer in right relationship with the law or God. Our relationship to God's law is to be people who obey it out of love, trust, and hope in the One who created us and teaches us how we are to live. But we are not trusting in God our Father when we set ourselves up to "know" exactly what is going on with another and so dismiss them with our word of judgment. The only One who truly sees all and knows all and can see into the heart of others is the Lawgiver, "he who is able to save and destroy." Since we do not have ultimate power over life and death, we should be very careful when our words convey "the final word" about another. "But who are you that you judge your neighbor?" James asks his readers.