The Main Thing – James 2:8-13
James 2:8 “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
James continues writing about how we are supposed to treat people. One of the biggest benefits of this little book is how practical it is. Let’s recap the last couple paragraphs really quick. The end of chapter 1 worked as a transition from how we are supposed to talk, into how we are supposed to treat each other. He told us that pure religion involves taking care of the oppressed in the middle of their oppression. James highlighted those without husbands or daddies. Then he showed how we are to treat strangers. Now, he’s taking one more step back to show us how we are to treat everyone.
We are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Whoa, have you ever paused to consider that comparison? It’s one thing to say that we need to love our neighbors, but it’s a totally different thing to say that we need to do so in the same way that we love ourselves. This is at the heart of what it means to be a Christ-follower. It’s interesting because he is quoting from Leviticus 19:18. The first part of this verse (that he doesn’t quote) involves not seeking revenge for what someone has done to you or even holding a grudge against them. This helps us understand that he’s not just talking about people you would call “friends” but everyone — even if they’ve done you wrong. He calls this the “royal law”. This could be because Jesus boils down the whole Old Testament into this perspective. Remember that? We can find these references in Matthew 22 and Mark 12. When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus says to love God and then love others. Wow. This is big deal.
Many of us might say something like, “Well, I’m not really a loving person”. But that doesn’t cut it. If we are in Christ, then we need to love others the way that God loves. Jesus even clarified that in John 13 and 15, where He tells us to love one another in the same way that He has loved us. These are heavy words that we can’t dismiss just because our personality isn’t bent that way. That’s not a valid excuse.
James points out that when we show partiality, we fail to love in the way that King Jesus commands us. This isn’t something we can take lightly because he goes on to compare it to other sins, sins that feel more significant. Now he’s not saying that adultery equals partiality. That’s not the point. He’s saying that the same One who told us not to murder and not to commit adultery has commanded us to love. At their core, murder and adultery are both the opposite of loving. This makes us lawbreakers.
So we need to love. And we need to see here that love actually frees us rather than enslaving us. It is the law that gives freedom. When we love others, we are being obedient to God and trusting Him. We do not need to be a slave to the opinions or reactions of others. We can put our practical faith in the One who is in control of everything and love without reservation. There no reason to worry how we will be perceived by others, since their opinion of us is not what matters. In this way, we are freeing ourselves from judgment and joining in with mercy.