Chapter 2:8-13 (ESV) - 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.
Question to consider: Why are we guilty of all of the law if we violate just one of the commandments?
If James was teaching the young churches founded by those who were scattered at the stoning of Stephen, he may not have been writing about a specific instance of partiality, but of the temptation which eventually comes to the feet of every pastor. Even if that pastor kept the rest of the law, this partiality would violate the second table of the Law, that of loving our neighbor. The commands of Moses were divided into two tables: commands pertaining to our relationship with God and commands related to our relationship with our neighbor.
Of course, as James pointed out, to violate any of the commandments was to violate all of them. Why is that? Because all of them are tied to the first and most important command, “You shall have no other gods.” Every time we sin against our neighbor, we are sinning against a special creation of God, made in His image. Every time we violate a command of God, we are saying that our desires take precedence over God’s command which puts us in the place of God.
Every violation of God’s law, no matter how small we may consider it in the grand scheme of things, is worthy of death and eternal separation from God. For as James wrote in chapter 1, “there is no variation or shadow” with God. For several thousand years, we have seen the progression that one sin had upon the world. This should help us to understand why sin had to be fully and finally dealt with on the cross. We cannot be made perfectly righteous outside of Christ who gives us His righteousness.
James is not preaching salvation by works here. He is pointing out that to show partiality is to be unmerciful to those who share in our inheritance. Since our salvation rests on God’s mercy toward us, we must extend that same mercy to others. Because of the mercy of Christ, we will not be judged according to the Law, but it should still be our desire to live like we will be!
Dear heavenly father, thank You for the mercy You have given us through Christ. We look forward to the day when there will be no more death, pain or sin. In the meantime, please stir up in us a love for Your commands and a desire to extend Your mercy to those around us. Let the faith and love that You have given us shine like a city on a hill. Amen.