Study 10           Love Motivates

James 2:8-13

8. If you really fulfill the royal law, according to the scripture, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

9. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

10. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

11. For he who said, ‘do not commit adultery,’ said also, ‘do not kill.’ If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law.

12. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.

13. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment.

Verse 8 If you really fulfill the royal law, according to the scripture, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

In verses 5-7 James argues that favoritism is wrong because it makes no sense and contradicts God’s regards for the poor. Now he shows that to favor one group over another goes against the great law of love.  James is asserting that the sum total of God’s will (moral law), takes place in accordance with the central demand of His law love your neighbor.  (Read Matthew 22:37-40)

In the Old Testament a neighbor was considered a fellow Israelite, but Jesus changes the definition to include everyone. (See Luke 10:25-37; Matthew 5:44)

The church is being forbidden to discriminate against anyone regardless of his or her relationship to the church. See my blog post for December 8 on the place of love within the church. This would be a good time to go over 1 Corinthians 13 again.

Verse 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors

The church is called to be different from the world because we are called upon to respect each person equally. Verse 8 reminds us that the role of the church is not to discriminate against anyone but to love people as brothers and sisters in Christ. Now we are told that to reject the law of love and show partiality is sin and when the law of love is broken by discrimination we are convicted as transgressors or lawbreakers.

Verse 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it

James argues that if you break one part of the law of love by discriminating you have broken all the law. Paul presents the same argument in Galatians 5:3, “I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.” (see Matthew 5:18-19)

Verse 11 For he who said, ‘do not commit adultery,’ said also, ‘do not kill.’ If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law.

James argument in verses 10 and 11 according to Moo is, “If we view the law as a series of individual commandments, we could assume that disobedience of a particular commandment incurred guilt for that commandment only. But, in fact, the individual commandments are part and parcel of one indivisible whole, because they reflect the will of the one Lawgiver. To violate a commandment is to disobey God Himself and render a person guilty before Him.” Commentary on James p. 115

We need to keep in mind that what is being talked about here is discrimination against poor people in favor of the rich and prosperous. The royal law of love will not allow us to do that as a church or as individuals because we are all precious in God’s sight. To discriminate is no different than breaking any commandment because they all fall under the law of love. So James is saying by way of the examples in verse 11 that you might pride yourself in keeping the commandments but if you discriminate you have in reality broken all the commandments because they are one.

Some of the Jewish Christians were showing favor to the rich over the poor while believing at the same time that they were walking close to Jesus by obeying His directives as outlined in the commandments, but they were guilty under the law of love. The Ten Commandments are summed up under the idea of love, so anything we do, think, or act upon that is not rooted in love we are in reality breaking the commandments. On the flip side when we show love and compassion we are fulfilling the call of the law of love in our lives. Bottom line for James, if you discriminate you are a lawbreaker.

Verse 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty

Speak and act are in a Greek tense that emphasizes the continuing nature of these actions. The idea is that someone would keep on speaking or keep on acting as someone who is to be judged under the law of love. If we discriminate against the poor we will be judged to have failed in our calling by God to love the poor and care for them thus breaking Jesus call to love our neighbors. The Ten Commandments can be summed up by saying, the first half is directed towards loving God, and the other half is the outgrowth of that love and that is to love our neighbors.

We need to remember that the law we are judged under in James is not the Old Testament law, but the Old Testament law reinterpreted by Jesus. We have been set free from the penalty of sin because of Jesus death at the cross and His taking my place in death. As a born again Christian my heart is changed (Romans 12:1-2) and I walk in the newness of life. Because I am saved by grace and not of my own works (See Ephesians chapter 1:2) I am set free and rejoice in the goodness of God. That love God has bestowed upon me pours out towards a desire to tell others the good news. Our selfishness is cast aside in our desire to share Jesus with the lost (Acts 2) and our love for our fellow humans is overwhelming. If we profess to be a Christian, however, and instead continue in the self-centered ways of putting our own comforts and desires first we will be judged by the law of liberty to have rejected Jesus. To discriminate is to reject the law of love.

In short, a born again Christian loves his neighbors and a hypocritical professed Christian couldn’t care less. The first Christian will go into the Kingdom and the second will be under judgment.

Verse 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy; yet mercy triumphs over judgment.

This verse illustrates what I’ve been saying in verse 12. If we are without mercy we will receive no mercy. (See Zech. 7:9-10 and the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35) Being merciful is more than mere concern; it involves reaching out in love. Discrimination is the opposite of mercy and anyone who continues to show discrimination towards others (especially in the church setting) will find himself or herself having no mercy in judgment.

Now comes the hope in verse 13 when James reminds his readers that mercy always wins out over judgment. Think about that for a moment. I think James is not talking about God’s mercy here but our mercy and love towards others. This love is the manifestation of God working and living within us through His Spirit. John 5 tells us that those who hear God’s word and believe it do, “not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.” (v.24) We are not judged because we have passed from death to life through God’s grace, which is sufficient, and the proof of our conversion is found in our love for others. We love others because we are saved and are overjoyed to share Jesus. That mercy we show to others is proof that our hearts are right with God and we have accepted His love into our lives and thus we do not come under judgment because we have been declared to have eternal life. (see verse 29)