Thanks for giving me a chance to help you connect with God through Scripture this year.
If you missed any of last week’s posts, catch up by clicking on any day below:
- Day 1: James 1:1
- Day 2: James 1:2-4
- Day 3: James 1:5-8
- Day 4: James 1:9-11
- Day 5: James 1:12-18
- Day 6: James 1:19-26
- Day 7: James 1:27
- Day 8: James 2:1-4
- Day 9: James 2:5-7
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 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. 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. Mercy triumphs over judgment. – James 2:8-13
The Bible reads you. (v. 8-11)
In the typical police-crime drama television show there’s always an interrogation scene. Right as they’re about to trap the accused into sharing too much information the viewer realizes what’s about to happen. The detectives ask a series of questions all meant to trip up the criminal and then all of a sudden it works. The criminal realizes he’s been caught and he never saw it coming.
That’s how God sometimes works in Scripture.
The claim James makes in verse 8 is a bit tongue-in-cheek because of course no one always loves their neighbor perfectly all the time.
The word James uses for “royal” law is the same root word for kingdom. So here, James is not just talking about the Torah. Instead, he is again echoing Jesus in his definition of kingdom/royal law: loving God and neighbor with your whole being.
Without knowing that, you and I might read verse 8 and think, “I’m doing pretty good at loving my neighbor. He stays on his side of the fence and I stay on my mind. Yeah!” Side note: My neighbor has free range chickens that have mistaken my yard for their range. One or two or twelve might start disappearing soon.
We’re again reminded by James that the kingdom definition of neighbor is re-defined by Jesus and now is extended even to our worst enemies.
But then James reveals that if we show any partiality, any level of favoritism to anyone, we’ve broken the royal law.
But even if we think we haven’t done that, James writes in verse 10 that all we have to do is fail in one point of the law and it’s just the same as failing the whole thing.
All of a sudden, instead of coming to the Bible expecting to glean some practical truths about how to be good people, we’re reminded that we’re not good people and we don’t measure up to the kingdom standard. We are in a constant position of need.
Ironically, if we respond appropriately to our inability to obtain the kingdom on our own, that’s precisely what we gain.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3
Boundaries actually free you. (v. 12-13)
James concludes this section with a charge to live under the law of liberty, this kingdom law of loving God and loving neighbor (everyone) with everything we’ve got. We need to remember that the law of liberty is still a law, by definition a boundary. When we commit to the way of Jesus there will always be things that we simply cannot do. They are simply not God’s best for our lives.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. – Psalm 16:6a
But it’s these very boundaries that free us instead of enslave us. Many people, outside and inside the Church, think following Jesus is all about what you don’t get to do anymore. There’s definitely an aspect of that to our faith but much more so there is an aspect of freedom from the captivity of sin and a whole new world that has been opened to us through mercy.
So what do we do with this grace?
We extend it to others.
In the midst of the good news of v. 12-13 we would do well to not miss the stern nature of James’ warning to those who cannot extend mercy to others, “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.”
One of my friends is always saying, “Mercy received is always mercy given.”
Grace and mercy were never meant to stop with you and me. It always comes to us through others because it is always going through us to others.
Questions for Prayer and Application
1. Have you ever been surprised by Scripture? Can think about a time when you’ve been listening to a sermon and it seemed like it was just for you? Spend a few minutes thanking God for all the ways his word reads us.
2. What good boundaries do you have in your life? How do those help you love God and neighbor?
3. Who do you need to extend mercy toward today? Mercy is not just a good feeling, but a definitive action. Is there someone you’re holding a grudge against or someone you’re avoiding because they’ve hurt you. Confess your wrongs to them today. Seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Mercy triumphs over judgment.