The Book of James, Part 20:
Real Love

Review:

Last week, we started a section where James focuses on how we are supposed to treat fellow believers. Specifically he is admonishing us not to show partiality. He uses the case of special privilege for the rich and disrespect for the poor. I think he means that, but I am convinced that the teaching is broader than that. It is about partiality of any kind.

We broke out the principles as:

  1. Real Love Reflects God's Perspective
  2. Real Love Respects God's People
  3. Real Love Is Rooted In God's Precepts
  4. Real Love Reveals God's Pity (Mercy)
Last week we covered:
    1. Reflecting God's Perspective and
    2. Respecting God's People.
We recognized that the world is not impartial, but that God is. As followers of Jesus, we are expected to show God's impartiality. We wrapped up last week with the realization that rather than disrespecting the poor, relative to the rich, we are expected to accept and help the poor. The Bible is full of such instructions, not as suggestions, but as directives.

Today:

...we will deal with love that is rooted in God's precepts and that reveals God's pity and mercy. James 2:8-11 teaches us that:

    3. Real Love Is Rooted In God's Precepts. (2:8-11)

The word precept is a word used of the Scriptures.

The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
   The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. --Psalm 19:8

I will meditate on Your precepts
   And regard Your ways. --Psalm 119:15
So when we say that real love is rooted in God's Precepts, we are saying that real love is rooted in the Scriptures, in the teachings of the Bible. James says:
If, however, you are fulfilling 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 and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. --James 2:8-11
"If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture..." - We're less than half-way through the second chapter and there have already been five references to God's Word. Why? Because God's Word is our authority for living. It is the operator's manual, the playbook, the rule book.

What determines how you see people and how you treat people? There are a lot of possible answers: TV, movies, your peer group, the society in which we live and so on. But James points us in a different direction, where we should get our determination - The Bible. Verse 8 says,

...the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"...
"Royal" - is from the Greek word, basilikos [basˇilˇeeˇkos], which is from the word for "king". So this word can also be translated "king's" ("If you really keep the king's law..."). Here again, James points our attention to Jesus. He is our King, our supreme authority.

"Love your neighbor" - Though this command was first given in Leviticus 19:18, James is speaking of how Jesus said that this command is so important for His followers. Both Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:29-31 record the time where Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment. His answer: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Notice that Jesus said "Love your neighbor", not just "Be polite to your neighbor" or "Be nice to your neighbor". Jesus' expectation of us is much higher. And the word for love here is agapao. So we're to love them with agape love, God's love.

"As yourself" - Over the past 20 years, a popular interpretation of this verse has gone something like this, "You can't really love your neighbor until you learn to love yourself". Have you ever heard something like that taught? Well, that is not the intended meaning of this verse! In fact, this interpretation turns the meaning of the verse from godly to worldly. It's classic ungodly thinking to turn the selfless teaching of this verse into something selfish and self-centered.

Paul's teaching in Ephesians 5 can help us understand the meaning of this verse when he tells husbands to love their wives the way they love their own bodies:

So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church... --Ephesians 5:28-29
That's what it means to love your neighbor as yourself -- to give your neighbor's welfare the same time and attention that you would give your own.
But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. --James 2:9
"But" - indicates a contrast between the command to "love your neighbor" and the attitude of "favoritism". These are contradictory behaviors; they don't fit together!

"...you are committing sin" -- These are strong words by James. He tells us that favoritism is sin; it's breaking God's law.

John MacArthur, in his commentary, writes, "James makes it clear that favoritism is not simply discourteous and disrespectful but it is a serious sin."

Have you ever confessed to the Lord your sin of partiality? Have you asked Him to forgive you and change you in this area? Clearly, God takes this very seriously, but I am afraid that most of us do not.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. --James 2:10-11
These two verses are very important to understanding God's view of man's sinfulness. What we do is categorize sins -- some are very bad, some are "medium" bad and some are not so bad. But it is this wrong teaching that God, through James, is correcting here. I really want to feel better about the gray or white ones.

There are no degrees of human sinfulness. We are either sinful or we are sinless; those are our only options. It's like being pregnant - a woman can't be "sorta" pregnant and we can't be "sorta" sinful!

That brings to the fourth principle:

    4. Real Love Reveals God's Pity   (Mercy)   (2:12-13)

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. --James 2:12-13
The last characteristic of God's radical love is mercy ("pity" is a synonym for "mercy"). Just as God shows mercy to us, so he expects us to show mercy toward others, especially other believers, and most especially other believers that the world looks down on. But first, James starts with a motivation that should work with all of us:
So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. --James 2:12

So whenever you speak, or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law of love, the law that set you free. --New Living Translation
"The law" - James is not speaking of the Old Testament laws here. He is referring to the "law of love" that He mentioned in verse 8 and that Jesus taught:
If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. --James 2:8

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. --John 13:34-35
"Law of liberty" - This is the second time James has spoken of the liberty that comes through God's Word. This first reference was in Chapter 1:
But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. --James 1:25
This is the opposite of what the world thinks. Irreligious people think of God's Word as limiting, keeping us from doing the things we want to do. Yet God's law doesn't enslave us, it sets us free. We talked about that a couple lessons ago.
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." --John 8:31-32

Ro 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. --Romans 8:2
"As those who are to be judged" - Notice that the word "judge" and "judgment" are used three times in these last two verses.

It's important for us to remember that the Bible clearly teaches that there is an accountability for believers. Jesus' disciples must answer to Jesus for what they have done with their lives after accepting Christ. It's equally important to understand that this "judgment" has nothing to do with losing or gaining salvation but with losing or gaining the rewards the Lord has promised for those who obey Him. It is about my skateboard in heaven.

There are many references to the judgment of believers in the New Testament. Here are a just a few of them:

But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. --Matthew 12:36

But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. --Romans14:10

So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. --Romans 14:12

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Is the fact of your accountability to God important to you? Does this truth motivate you to obey the Jesus, to seek to please Him in all you do? --2 Corinthians 5:10
James highlights two areas of accountability: Remember that the focus of our accountability here is how we treat other people, especially the poor, social outcasts of the world. So we need to think about words and deeds in this context. The next verse, verse 13, tells us what attitude God wants to see in our words and deeds:
For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. --James 2:13
"Mercy" - This word is used three times in this one verse! God wants us to show words of mercy and deeds of mercy toward others. The word mercy here is from the Greek word eleos [elˇehˇos]. This word and variations of it are used over 75 times in the New Testament alone. Clearly, this is a very important quality to God.

Mercy is a concern for people in need. It is ministry to the miserable. Offering to help for those who hurt, who suffer under the distressing blows of adversity and hardship. The term itself has an interesting background.

William Barclay, in his commentary, says: "It does not mean only to sympathize with a person in the popular sense of the term; it does not mean simply to feel sorry for someone in trouble. Clearly, mercy, means that ability to get right inside the other person's skin. Clearly this is much more than an emotional wave of pity; clearly this demands a quite deliberate effort of the mind and of the will. It denotes a sympathy which is not given, as it were, from outside, but which comes from a deliberate identification with the other person, until we see things as he sees them, and feel things as he feels them."

Do you consider yourself a merciful person? Do you appreciate just how important this quality is to God?

God is a merciful God. (there are many, many verses on this...)

But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness and truth. --Psalm 86:15

We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. --James 5:11
Jesus is merciful to us:
For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. --Hebrews 4:15-16
Jesus desires mercy from us.
But go and learn what this means: "I desire compassion, and not sacrifice," for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. --Matthew 9:13
Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words defines "mercy" as "to feel sympathy for the misery of another". Webster's Dictionary defines it as "refraining from harming or punishing; kindness in excess of what may be expected by fairness".

Mercy and compassion seem to be closely related character qualities. In fact, the Greek word used in verse 13 (eleos) is translated both "mercy" and "compassion".

For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. --James 2:13
How do you want God to deal with you? Do you want raw justice or loving mercy? The answer is easy for me; I want the Lord to be guided by mercy not justice in all His dealings with me! God gives us a very sober warning here. He tells us that we will not be merciful to others then He will not be merciful to us! Let me honest with you. This statement terrifies me! It's easy for me to be quick to criticize, quick to judge. Yet I know that I have a desperate need for mercy and grace from God. As a result, this statement in verse 13 has been a very powerful motivation for me to be more merciful toward others. Do you want God to be merciful? ...or merciless in how He treats you?

"Mercy triumphs over judgment!" - The Message paraphrase of this statement in verse 13 reads, "Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time."  When you consider the poor, when you consider those who are outcasts in our culture, make sure that you are guided by God's mercy.

A great danger here is that we don't even see these people. People who are not merciful tend to be blind to the people they are ignoring. Please pray - pray that the Lord will help us see and care for the hurting, needy people all around us every day.

I ran across a funny story that illustrates both the positive and negative truths of this passage:

The owner of a big electronics firm called in his personnel director: "My son will be graduating from college soon and needing a job. He's going to be your new assistant, but he's not to be shown any favoritism. Treat him just as you would any other son of mine."

The warning here is that, like the owner of the company, we all have a natural tendency to play favorites based on some bias. Even when we think we don't, we do - apart from God's spirit working within us.

But there's a positive message here as well.  We can think of God as being the "owner" in this story. When we have the tendency to ignore a believer based on appearance or economics or some other reason, we need to remember the words of the "owner" as though they come from the Lord: "Treat him just as you would any other son of mine."

Next week: ...we will pick up with James 2:14. The rest of Chapter 2 deals with assessing your faith. Read through the rest of James 2 and score your faith.