Summary: The Royal Law, though neglected, is nevertheless the standard by which Christian conduct is judged.
YOU CANNOT OUTRUN THE LAW
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour 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 accountable for 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 judgement is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Jesus taught His disciples to love one another. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” [JOHN 13:34, 35]. Thus, the distinguishing mark of those who follow the Master is genuine, godly love for His holy people. In a previous message, we saw that this mark, together with love for God’s glory and love for God’s commandments, revealed love for the Lord God Himself.
This commandment is founded on what Jesus called “the great and first commandment.” Challenged to name one commandment that summed up all other commandments, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” [MATTHEW 22:37]. He did not, however, stop with citing that one commandment, but united it to another, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself” [MATTHEW 22:39]. In each of the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus brings these two commands into close proximity [see also MARK 12:30, 31; LUKE 10:27]. John, apparently building on these concepts of Christian love, restates these commandments by showing the close relationship between the two, “This commandment we have from [the Master]: whoever loves God must also love his brother” [1 JOHN 4:21]. Love for God compels love for the brothers; love for the brothers reflects love for God. The two ideals can be neither segregated nor compartmentalised.
In the text before us, James, guided by the Holy Spirit, demonstrates that he is fully cognizant of the need to reflect the love of God through loving others; and in our text he designates this tenet as “The Royal Law.” Quoting his half-brother, James reminds us that we must love our neighbour as ourselves. Therefore, we who are Christians do live under a law, but it is not a law that demands memorisation of judicial minutia, nor one that places adherents in a mental straitjacket. Rather, the law by which we are to live is a law of freedom reflected in lives that are increasingly godly, increasingly righteous, increasingly holy.
Theological lightweights seem often to be distinguished by an attitude that leads them to a determined effort to find exceptions to what is written in the Word of God. Listening to many supposed religious leaders in this day, one could draw the conclusion that preaching consists of making excuses for evil and finding loopholes that permit us to live as we wish without being bothered by feelings of guilt. God is frequently portrayed as a kindly grandfather type who winks at sin and acquits failure. However, that view is dead wrong. You cannot love God if you do not love your neighbour as yourself. James stance demands further exploration so that we can discover the will of the Father and do what honours Him.
TWO LAWS — James names one law and refers to yet another law; he identifies “the Royal Law” and refers to the Law of Moses in this passage. This Royal Law commands us, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ So, the Royal Law is a law demanding love for others.
This Royal Law appears frequently in Paul’s letters. For instance, Paul writes to the Romans, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” [ROMANS 13:8-10]. This commandment is iterated in GALATIANS 6:2. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” In another place, Paul says that “love … binds everything together in perfect harmony” [COLOSSIANS 3:14].
James also appears to refer to the Royal Law as “the Law of Liberty” in VERSE TWELVE. In other words, the Royal Law is the same law that gives liberty to those who belong to Christ Jesus the Lord. It is vital that I emphasise the stunning truth that freedom is found in Christ, and holding to the teaching about Him continues to give liberty.