Lesson 17--The Consequence Of Partiality (James 2:5-11) PART 2
by John Lowe
The doctrine of God’s grace, if we believe it, forces us to relate to people based on God’s plan and not based on human merit or social status. A “class church” is not a church that magnifies the grace of God. When He died, Jesus broke down the wall that separated Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11-22). But in His birth and life, Jesus broke down the barriers between rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated. It is wrong for us to build those walls again. We cannot rebuild them if we believe in the grace of Good.
8. If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
9. But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
In recent years, believers have waged battles over the authority and inspiration of the Word of God. Indeed, it is good to defend the truth of God’s Word, but we must never forget that our lives and ministries are the best defense.
James looked back into the Old Testament for one of God’s laws, “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19:18). In His parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told us that our neighbor is anyone that needs our help (Luke 10:25-27). It is not a matter of geography but an opportunity. The important question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” but “to who can I be a neighbor?”
Why is “Love thy neighbor” called “the royal law?” For one reason, it was given by the King. God the Father gave it in the law, and God, the son, reaffirmed it to His disciples (John 13:34). God the Spirit fills our hearts with God’s love and expects us to share it with others (Rom. 5:5). True believers are “taught by God to love one another” (1 Thes. 4:9).
But Love thy neighbor is the royal law for another reason: it rules all the other laws. “Love is the fulfilling of the Law.” (Rom. 13:10). There would be no need for the thousands of complex laws if each citizen truly loved his neighbors.
But the main reason why this is the Royal Law is that obeying it makes you a king. Hatred makes a person a slave, but love sets us free from selfishness and enables us to reign like kings. Love enables us to obey the Word of God and treat people as God commands us to do. We obey His Law not out of fear but out of love.
Showing respect for persons can lead a person into disobeying all of God’s Laws; take any of the Ten Commandments, and you will find ways of breaking it if you respect a person’s social or financial status. Respect of persons could make you lie, for example. It could lead to idolatry (getting money out of the rich) or even mistreating one’s parents. Once we start acting based on respecting persons and rejecting God’s Word, we are heading for trouble. And we don’t have to break all of God’s Laws to be guilty. There is only one Law Giver, and all of His Laws are from His mind and heart. If I disobey one law, I am capable of disobeying all of them, and by rebelling, I have already done so.
Christian love doesn’t mean that I have to like a person and agree with him on everything. I may not like His vocabulary or habits, and I may not want him for an intimate friend. Christian love means treating others the way God has treated me. It is an act of the will, not an emotion that I try to manufacture. The motive is to glorify God. The means is the power of God within (“for the fruit of the Spirit is love”). As I act in love toward another, I may find myself drawn more and more to him, and I may see in him (through Christ) qualities that were hidden to me before.
Also, Christian love does not leave the person where it found him. Love should make the poor man do better; love should make the rich man better use his God-given resources. Love always builds up (1 Cor. 8:1); hatred always tears down.
We only believe as much of the Bible as we practice. If we fail to obey the more important Word -- “love thy neighbor as thyself” -- then we will not do any good with the Word’s lesser matters. It was a glaring fault in the Pharisees that they were careful about the minor issues and careless about the fundamentals (Mat. 23:23). They broke the very law they thought they were defending.
The law is royal or regal because the King of kings decrees it, is fit for a king, and is considered the king of laws. The phrase, usually given in Latin, is known throughout the Roman empire. Obedience to this law, nonpreferential love, is the answer to the evident disobedience to God’s law, prejudicial favoritism -- “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
10. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
11. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
James was aware that some would tend to dismiss their offense of prejudice as a trivial fault. They would hardly consider themselves as lawbreakers. James went on to make it clear that this was no minor offense. Whoever keeps the whole law yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. There are no special indulgences. Utilizing the extreme instances of adultery and murder, James showed the absurdity of inconsistent obedience.
The truth is, any sin is against the Divine authority, and he who has committed one transgression is guilty of death; and by his one deliberate act dissolves, as far as he can, the sacred connection that exists between all the Divine precepts and the obligation which he is under to obey, and thus casts off in effect his allegiance to God. For, if God should be obeyed in any one instance, he should be obeyed in all, as the authority and reason for obedience are the same in every case; he therefore who breaks one of these laws is, in effect, if not in fact, guilty of the whole. But there is scarcely a more common form of speech among the rabbis than this, for they consider that anyone sin has the seeds of all others in it.
“For he that said,” - that is, the authority that gave one commandment also gave the rest, and he who breaks one resists this authority; so that the breach of any one commandment may be justly considered a violation of the whole law. It was a maxim also among the Jewish doctors that, if a man kept any one commandment carefully, though he broke all the rest, he might assure himself of the favor of God; they taught that for a while: “He who transgresses all the precepts of the law has broken the yoke, dissolved the covenant, and exposed the law to contempt, and so has he done who has broken even one precept. They also taught, “that he who observed any principal command was equal to him who kept the whole law;” and they give for example, “If a man abandons idolatry, it is the same as if he had fulfilled the whole law.” To correct this false doctrine, James says this in the 11th verse: “Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.”
1 “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world?” This seems to refer to Mat. 11:5: “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” These believed in the Lord Jesus and found His salvation; while the rich despised, neglected, and persecuted Him.
2 The administration of justice was at this time in a miserable state of corruption among the Jews, but a Christian was one who was to expect no justice anywhere but from his God. The words “oppress you” and “draw you before the judgment seats” show how grievously oppressed and maltreated the Christians were by their countrymen, the Jews, who made law a pretext to afflict their bodies and rob them of their property.
3 “Blaspheme that worthy name.” They took every occasion to slander the Christian name and the Christian faith.
4 “The royal law.” Royal is used to signify anything that is of general concern, is suitable to all, and necessary for all, as brotherly love is. The commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” is a royal law, not only because God ordains it and it proceeds from His Kingly authority over men, but because it is so helpful, suitable, and necessary to the present state of man.
5 “But if ye have respect to persons,” in judgment or in any other way, ye sin against God and your brethren, and are convinced “convicted,” by this royal law, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;” as transgressors, having shown this sinful acceptance of persons, which has led you to refuse justice to the poor man, and uphold the rich in his oppressive conduct.
6 “For whosoever shall keep the whole law.” This is a rabbinical form of speech. The point made here by James is if you leave out one part of the law, you are guilty of the entire list of laws.
7 “For he that said.” The Authority that gave one commandment also gave the rest, and he who breaks one resists this Authority: so that the breach of any one commandment may be justly considered a violation of the whole law.