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.
CONSIDER THIS What is the “Royal Law” of Scripture? If someone asked me that question I would likely answer, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” or something to that effect. That’s not how James sees it. If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. James doesn’t cite loving God as the supreme law of Scripture. In other words, it’s not whether we say we love God or not or how much religious devotion we can demonstrate in support of our love for God.
James always makes us put our money where our mouth is. He wants to see the proof. When you boil love for God down to its core essence it always comes back to loving people. If a person claims to love God but does not love people, their claim is empty. They are self-deceived. We typically interpret the law with reference to ourselves. It’s all about what we are forbidden to do; what is against the law. We can say we have kept the law by identifying what we have elected to not do. James wants us to shift gears into thinking of the law with reference to other people; what the law is “for.”
In other words, the royal law of Scripture is love. Law is not about restriction. Law is about love. We should not think of the law in terms of whether we have broken it but in terms of whether we have injured, harmed or broken another person. This is how Jesus is able to bring his rule down to a single command. “This is my command: Love one another as I have loved you.” (see John 15) If we are living oriented around the royal law of love, which means we are progressively free from our own selfishness, we need not be concerned about breaking any laws. Love is both the freedom and the fulfillment of the law. Far from legalistic perfection, righteousness, in the vision of God, means perfect love for other people.
This is the definitive sign that a person loves God. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. The law that gives freedom is the royal law of love. Love’s first impulse is the movement to show mercy. It is human nature to want to make judgments against people and to seek justice. The nature of God is to make judgments and to show mercy. Mercy is not the absence of judgment but the triumph over it. Merciful people aren’t “soft on crime,” they see a bigger picture. Merciful people, above all, profoundly understand their own need for mercy. They are no longer self-deceived about their own righteousness. They have seen a bigger God.
THE PRAYER God our Father, I want to be a real Christian. Teach me the truth that I cannot love you apart from loving other people and that I cannot truly love them apart from loving you. Even more, train me in your mercy to love like you love. In Jesus name, Amen. THE QUESTIONS
1. What would it mean for you to switch your perspective from trying not to break the law to walking in the obedience of love? Do you see how it changes your point of reference from yourself to other people?
2. Are you a merciful person? Or do you tend to think people should get what’s coming to them? Do you err on the side of mercy or judgment? What will it take for you to err on the side of mercy?
3. What if you began to see sin not as the breaking of a rule but as the failure of love. How would that change your way of life? J.D. Walt