James 2:8-13 – The royal law of love



James 2:8-13.




From the first 7 verses of chapter 2 we are left in no doubt that God is on the side of the poor, the disadvantaged, the widows and the orphans. In vv 2 – 4 James gave a clear illustration of favouring the rich simply because they are rich and discriminating against the poor simply because they are poor.


ILLUS.: The discrimination against the black people in SA is well known – they were marginalised simply because they were black. As things have changed over the last few years things have began to go the other way – Now white – esp., white males, are discriminated against simply because they are white. While it is understandable it doesn’t make it right.


Discrimination against anyone purely on the basis of their skin colour is wrong!

And so when we come to James – discrimination purely on the basis of a person financial state is equally wrong!


If we take James’ illustration to its logical conclusion we would be discriminating against the rich just because they are rich . That is why we must go beyond the illustration of vv 2 – 4 and get to the principle of verse 8 viz., ‘fulfil the royal law …’




James 2:8

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. (NIV)


The Christian and the Law – it might be helpful to look at this briefly – We tend to think that this command ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ originated in the NT. However, this royal law according to v8 was found in scripture – What scripture? It is not the NT because that was not complete nor was it recognised as scripture at the time. When Jesus said ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ he was quoting from Lev 19:18.


Are Christians therefore under the law? If we look at the OT and the history of Israel – God chose Abraham, he developed them into a nation, rescued them from slavery in Egypt and only then did he reveal the law to them.

The same God who is a redeemer is also a lawgiver, ‘Grace comes first then law follows’ [Motyer]. This is spiritual logic – first we experience God’s grace in redemption and then we should want to know how to live in order to please our redeemer.


Always bear in mind that obedience is responsive and not a way of trying to gain God’s favour. When we move from the OT to the NT the same principle applies – we experience the grace of God in salvation and then he puts the Holy Spirit in us and writes his law on our hearts.


Jeremiah 31:31-34 31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (NIV)


Why is it royal?

There is a sense in which it is the ‘king of laws’ – the most important law – although we could debate that as Jesus put ‘love the Lord your God’ before it, it is only of secondary importance.

It seems to me that James calls it ‘royal’ because this law was given a special place in Biblical Law by Jesus himself. It has been endorsed by the King – not that he didn’t endorse all the Law but he considered this to encapsulate that part of the law which tells us how to behave towards others.


‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

It would be fair to assume that James’ readers were not treating all their neighbours as themselves BUT only a selected few. James is not saying we should not recognise a distinction between rich and poor – the distinction is there – one is rich and the other is poor!!

BUT the difference in peoples status should not determine how we treat them.


The Bible sets a high standard as to how we should treat other – we are to act towards them in a way that brings about their greatest good regardless of —

– who they are

– of what the believe

– of how they behave

– of their attitudes or actions towards us — that does not mean that we only do for people what they like – because our primary responsibility is towards God – BUT we are to treat them in a way that is right before God.

This does not mean that we will be popular with everyone! Often doing what is right get an adverse reaction from people!



In the office insisting that you will not deal dishonestly may make you unpopular in an enviroment where shady dealing is practiced.


Humanly speaking it may not seem like the loving thing to do but before God it is because it is right.




James 2:9 9 But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as law-breakers. (NIV)


James commends them in v8 – if you keep the royal law you do well but – v9 – if you show favouritism you commit sin!


James holds out that the opposite of the royal law is the sin of partiality. And while the one enjoys God’s blessing the other incurs God’s anger.


ILLUS.: [from Motyer] In the OT – Deut. 27 – after Israel had entered the Promised Land they were commanded to go to two mountains – Ebal and Gerizim and there to identify these with the law of God. On Mt. Gerizim the blessing promised to the obedient were recited. On Mt. Ebal the curse promised to the disobedient were recited. The people could not escape their obligation to obey God’s law any more that they could remove these two mountains.


Here in James are the Christians Gerizim and Ebal – the royal law ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ and the sin of partiality.


It is easy to say ‘love your neighbour’ but it is infinitely more difficult to practise.


The world is full of needy people and we have far more neighbour than we can possibly care for!! What are we to do??


  • we each need to discover what God has called us to do. Out their is a world full of people who are my neighbours. Where has God place me? What are my gifts? How best can I fulfil God will?


  • we must understand that our callings are different –         : Nancy MacElroy – living in a mud hut amongst the Maasai of Kenya – that is her calling – not everyone can do that – I am not guilty about that fact that I don’t live in a mud hut.


  • We must support others in their calling – part of our calling is to support others in theirs – thus we as a Church support the Smalls in Paris – the Stanfords in Burkina Faso – and others — should involve not just money but other kinds of support as well.


It is all too easy to say ‘It is not my calling’ and to use that as a cop out – often ending up doing little towards your neighbour!!

Favouritism or partiality is not just a weakness it is an offence to God!!




   (You can’t choose which laws to obey!)


James 2:10-11 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, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a law-breaker. (NIV)


Is James saying that if you break one law you are therefore guilty of breaking every other law? No! I don’t think so!


ILLUS.: Someone you steals a chocolate bar from the corner shop is not a murderer!


To use the examples James uses – an adulterer is not a murderer.

However, what James is saying is that the law of God is a whole – it is a unified entity. So whether you break law ‘A’ or law ‘Q’ or law ‘X’ in one sense is irrelevant because you have broken the law and consequently are a law breaker!


ILLUS.: Two weeks ago we were on my Uncle’s farm – it brought back many childhood memories. One of which is that on many occasions I was called upon to help round up the cattle which had broken through a paddock fence.

It was irrelevant on which side of the paddock the fence was broken – the point is that it was broken!!


When we look at the law of God in this way we ALL stand guilty! If we want to be justified before God on the basis of keeping God’s law then we need to keep every last detail of it perfectly!!


Galatians 3:10

10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (NIV)


ILLUS.: a chain can be perfect except for one link ?!?! – it is broken.

A car tyre can be perfect except for one tiny hole ?!?! – it is punctured – does it matter where??


But even taking the examples of murder and adultery – which of us is not guilty! Maybe not the physical act —-BUT


Matthew 5:21-28

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment……..

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (NIV)


Before the law of God we stand condemned!!

Listen to the Psalmist


Psalm 143:2 2 Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no-one living is righteous before you. (NIV)

Psalm 130:3 3 If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? (NIV)


The answer — NO ONE!!


As Christians we were not saved by keeping the law – so now we are not kept by obeying the law – it is by God’s grace and mercy alone!

Philippians 3:9 9 …….., not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (NIV)


If you are trying to gain acceptance with God by living a good life – forget it!! – you can’t do it that way. God calls ALL people EVERYWHERE to repent and trust Jesus Christ.


If you are a believer then ask God for more grace to empower you to obey him!

We often tend to think of God’s laws as a bind – as a hindrance – as if God is ‘kill-joy’ – obeying God is the greatest freedom there is!


If you have drifted away from God – your heart is cold towards him – maybe you are here out of duty — habit — duress — maybe you would rather be on the Golf-course or gardening — There is a joy in serving Jesus that surpasses all other pleasure BUT so often we miss out because our hearts are cold or as best luke-warm!!




James 2:12-13

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! (NIV)


Law and liberty.

To speak of the law and liberty would seems, to many, to be a contradiction in terms. To most people the word ‘law’ conjures up imagines of restrictions and limits, cramping your style and removing your freedom.


ILLUS.: When motor cars became widely used by the public many of the advertisement of the time exploited the fact that this new method of transport drought a new found freedom. BUT they soon discovered that unless there were laws to governs this ‘freedom’ there could be no freedom of travel.

Can you imagine Britain without traffic laws – everyone free to ‘do their own thing’!


These traffic laws were introduced to enhance this new found freedom of the road.


When the Israelites come out of Egypt God gave them the law [Ex.20] – it marked the end of an old bondage not the beginning of a new one – the law was given to mark their new freedom AND so that they could enjoy their new freedom.


In our generation their has been a push for personal freedom in the area of drugs and sex and so on – but far from bringing liberty these so-called freedoms usually bring bondage.

People demand the ‘freedom to be themselves’ – but people are made in the image of God and they will never known real freedom until they are what God intended them to be. It is only in knowing God and living by his laws that we will ever discover true freedom! And discover our true selves! Only then are we being and doing what we were designed to be and do.


ILLUS. Going back to the illustration of the car – when you try to drive through a forest or down a cliff we come unstuck –or get stuck!!


The car only brings freedom when we stick to the rules! In life we only experience freedom when we stick to God’s rules.


The rule that is being emphasised here is ‘loving you neighbour’ – our words and our deeds “…speak and act …” – must be in line with this royal rule because it is by this law that we will be judged!!


Judgement and Mercy.

You and I know that we fail again and again – and we would have all given up long ago were it not for the mercy of God!


But a word about judgement first. The law of God is fixed and does not change because God does not change. And by God’s law every person will be judged.


Matthew 25:31-32

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (NIV)


2 Corinthians 5:10 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, ……. (NIV)


Hebrews 4:13 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (NIV)


God’s justice is not selective everyone is included!

Some will be asking —

-What about babies [the children of Dunblane?]

– What about those who have never heard the gospel?

We tie ourselves in knots with these questions – the Bible tells us that God’s law is perfect. When Abraham was pleading with God for the people of Sodom he makes a statement that is pivotal to our understanding of God’s judgement – Genesis 18:25 25 ……… Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (NIV)


This would be a depressing end – because we all deserve God’s judgement – BUT it is not the end.


Mercy – “Mercy triumphs over judgement” – the mercy of God is seen in the cross of Jesus who took our judgement and offered us mercy.

[A Barnes] “In the plans of salvation .. respect is done to justice, but mercy triumphs. Justice demands, as what is due, that the sinner should be condemned; mercy pleads that [he] the sinner may be saved – and mercy prevails!” [from Motyer p.104]


Are we merciful to others? or are we judgmental? Do we show favouritism and relate to other on the basis of what we can gain in return — these and many more questions will flood our minds as we compare ‘what we should be with what we actually are’.


James directs us away from self-questioning – we will not find mercy there – and he turns us to God “Mercy triumphs over judgement”


Motyer – “In the cross of Christ justice is fully done, its claims are fully met and God’s mercy to sinners triumphed in the provision of a complete forgiveness and a full salvation ………….

…….. Judgement looks at our deserts; mercy at our needs. And God himself looks at the cross of His Son.”


Praise God for Jesus!






James 2:8 – 13.




      rLove your neighbour as yourself’






      r partiality – favouritism – discrimination






      r ‘You can’t choose which laws to obey’






      r Law and Liberty


      r Judgement and Mercy


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