8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. 12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. ~ James 2:8-13
Treating one person better than another, for any reason is showing partiality or favoritism. The only legitimate favoritism allowed by God is that we esteem everybody else better than ourselves.
In James 2:8 we read, "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right."'
The guiding principle throughout the Bible with regard to how we should treat others is "Love your neighbor as yourself." Naturally, this follows the first greatest command to "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength." This pattern is clearly seen here in James 2 where in our last blog and podcast we considered the role of our growing love for God. It makes all the sense in the world that our ability to love others comes from the source of our love.
In order to love those whom we love and those whom we should love, we must have a proper understanding of God's love for us. Our ability to love others is dependent upon the reservoir of our love. To the degree that we understand God's love for us will be the degree to which we will be able to love others. The Lord Jesus put these two commands together, to love God and to love others, because they are inseparable. We have a hard time learning to love certain people because we have a ways to go at learning to love God and at giving our hearts to Him.
In v.9 of today's text we read, "But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers."
Partiality is a sin and all sin is foreign to the nature of God who treats everyone equal based on our relationship to Him. Consequently, that is the way believers should act toward others. We should treat people equally, with no regard for status of any kind. In fact, if we approach loving others as if they are God or ourselves, the problem is solved. Otherwise, we are those who break the Law of God which forbids partiality. When we do not love our neighbor, we are undermining our understanding of God's love for us, because our understanding of God's love for us underscores our ability to love, period.
In v.10-11 of today's text we read, "10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker."
We only have to break one law in order to be a lawbreaker. As we have mentioned before, once we became Christians, we entered into this process of sanctification whereby God is actively changing us from the inside out. In order to do that He convinces us that the way of the flesh or the evil desires within us are not to be invested in. And, having convinced us of this, He actively gives us His heart. The unity of God’s law is that it all hangs together. When we ignore one of God's laws, we undermine God's ability to give us His heart, and thus we are lawbreakers. We consciously break apart what God is trying to put together.
In v.11, James chooses two severe sins. The thing these two sins have in common is they required death. Now, adultery and murder seem pretty far beyond the idea of favoritism. James puts favoritism in very serious company in order to make his point. He wants us to understand that it is the sin of favoritism that can lead to an attitude of hate, which is the attitude behind adultery and murder.
In v.12-13 of today's text we read, "12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment."
If we live as people who are headed for a future judgment, then we will have the wisdom to shirk that which desires to destroy us, namely sin. James uses the phrase "the law that gives freedom" because real freedom is learning to live according to the specifications that God created us with. These specifications or laws make life happen in the way that He intended, thus freedom is found therein.
In Matthew 5:7 we read, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Where mercy is given, mercy is distributed. When we treat others impartially, we are not being merciful. And, "Mercy triumphs over judgment." If our lives are characterized by mercy, we will triumph over judgment, because the one who is merciful proves he is being transformed by God. When we show not mercy to others, we demonstrate we haven't yet been defined by God's mercy.
So, if we are merciful, without partiality, meeting people at the point of their need, no matter who they are, we give evidence of having received such mercy and of being transformed by the power of God, and thus ready for the Day of Judgment. And, we will triumph in that day by the demonstration of new life that comes through the attitude and the action of mercy toward others. This type of living is not what justifies us before God, but this type of living, very well, may lead others to be justified before God. I say this because when they see God in and through our lives, they will likely be drawn to Him, the One who justifies the sinner.