Summary: To follow Jesus’ example of mercy and love for others
Fulfilling the Law of Love
Primary Purpose: To follow Jesus’ example of mercy and love for others
Having told us not to be partial to those who are rich earlier in this chapter, now James is going to tell us how we should act. He begins vs.8 by telling us that we are doing well if we are following the royal law. He then talks about why we are to show love in our relationships with others and why we should also be merciful to them. Our example in all of this is Jesus Himself who is both the source of love and our supreme example of what it means to love.
Some of you have read the book “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren. It is an extremely popular book right now and very practical. Rick says about love that “Life is all about love! Because God is love, the most important lesson he wants you to learn on earth is how to love. It is in loving that we are most like him, so love is the foundation of every command he has given us; the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love others as you love yourself” (pg.123). This is also true when it comes to our relationships with each other. This is part of the reason why James refers to the law of love as the “royal law”.
The word “royal” here is the word Basilikos (bas-il-ee-kos) and it means to belong to a king, subject to a king or is a metaphor for principal or chief. So, it means first that this is the law that comes from our king and was emphasized by him as most important in all our relationships. Jesus said this in Matthew 22:39 that this is the second most important commandment of all. The second reason it is royal is because it is primary or chief among all laws. Paul said it was so important than even if he gave all his possessions to feed the poor and delivered his body to be burned and didn’t have love then it didn’t profit him a thing. (1 Cor 13:3) This shows you just how important he thought it was. Later in Galatians 5:14 he will say that the law is fulfilled in the command to love your neighbor as yourself.
James gives us another reason to act with love towards others; that no one can claim superiority over another because of the law. In vs.10-11 James emphasizes that even if we are guilty of breaking one law then we are guilty in God’s eyes of breaking them all. We could think of it this way. Let’s suppose a person performs good deeds for most of his life like following the speed limit and doing good works. Then one day he becomes desperate for money and decides to rob a bank. He goes into the bank and gives the teller a note that says he is sorry but needs the money and that “this is a hold up”. He doesn’t intend on hurting anyone, but only to get some money. He then leaves the bank and the police promptly arrest him and convict him of bank robbery. This man could say that he doesn’t deserve to go to jail because he was a good person and performed many good deeds and that he was only desperate for cash. But, the fact remains that he broke the law. James is saying here that we all stumble at some point. The word stumble is the Greek word, “patio”, which means to cause to stumble or fall, to err, make a mistake. Since we all at times stumble then we should be patient with each other and not be superior to others.
Another point to remember that James would speak of is that we are now under the law of liberty. James also said this back in 2:25. The law was very important to James because he had to grapple with something that we take for granted. As a first century believer, he was to understand the laws of Moses. James had to understand even more so because he was a Jew and a devout one at that. Before the law, people tried to gain approval from God by following rules but not doing other things. James is telling us to remember that we don’t seek approval from God by that means. Now we are under a new law which is a law of liberty. James saw that we now have a freedom that the old law could never give us. Liberty means that we are free to serve God knowing that we have peace with him; to serve God not out of fear, but out of love. The love and mercy that God shows us is the supreme reason that we are to love others and show mercy to others.