BOOK OF JAMES BIBLE STUDY
LESSON # 5 - (James 2: 8-13, NIV)
TITLE: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR
DR. MICHAEL COCHRAN
APPLICATION: If I show favoritism, I am not loving my neighbor as myself.
JAMES 2: 8-9
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers
What James has been saying with regard to partiality is here summarized in the royal law of Scripture: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What the term “royal” means is disputed by scholars, but the idea of this royal law is first stated in Leviticus 19:18 in the middle of a section of very specific commands with regard to the proper treatment of one's neighbor. Even the “alien” was to receive protection. Later, in New Testament times, Jesus expanded the Law to make it specifically clear that all people are neighbors (Luke 10: 25-37).
In close connection with the law to love one's neighbor is an injunction not to show partiality (Leviticus 19:15); favoritism should be shown neither to the rich nor the poor. Obviously, in regard to the situation to which James is writing it was the rich who were getting the better of it. Indeed, it would be difficult to find many circumstances in history where the reverse is the case.
For today's Christian, it would be well to keep clearly in mind that James does not say the rich are excluded from the Kingdom; that they cannot be saved. It is not even certain that James talks about Christians when he again excoriates the rich in chapter five of his epistle. The point he is making is limited—-partiality is wrong.
Those who truly seek their neighbor's good don't need a book of commands, since actions that spring from a thoughtful awareness of others will naturally do what the law requires. The apostle Paul seems to refer to this truth when he writes in the Book of Romans that “Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law” (Romans 2:14).
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 lawbreaker.
James wants the readers of his epistle to realize that they cannot point to a generally successful effort to keep the law as an excuse for any one particular failure to live up to its high standards. Commentators point out that the law of God is a whole. Although, there are many laws, the guiding principle of God's love is behind them all, so they are in essence the same---many manifestations of the same unity.
It seems a natural reaction that when we find a moral failing in ourselves, rather than deal with it we direct attention away from it. We say, “But look; I do this and this and this....” We want acknowledgment for the correct things we are doing. Our bad behavior we want excused as irrelevant---a double standard all in our favor.
It is interesting to note that James nowhere implies that the moral force of the law has lost its relevance and power because Christ has come. Though the law cannot save, it can convict: “If you show favoritism, you sin...as lawbreakers.” Thus, the apostle Paul says that we would not know sin without the law (Romans 7). God's moral standards are there to urge us on to do what is right, but then as we begin to do what is right, we learn that God's commands are a double-edged sword: the more we take heed to them the more they cut through our sham and reveal our failures.
James warns, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” The severity of the law, of God's holiness shown thereby, drives us to the mercy of Christ! “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). And Paul points out, “The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24).
The law leads us to Christ? This may well seem like too positive a view of the law if we know people who are attempting to earn their salvation by keeping it. But no one can be less free than those who think that one little slip will eternally condemn them. Such people have not yet discovered the truth of the New Covenant: it is Christ working in us who gives us a desire to fulfill God's commands. There is nothing of earning salvation in the desire to obey Christ from the heart. One who does so obey will not use that freedom to sin. There is no ultimate conflict between James and Paul on the issue of law and grace, though there is a difference of emphasis.
On the other hand, James continually reminds his readers that internal motivations must have their external results. We cannot make claims to be keeping the law in our hearts if the evidence shows otherwise. If a poor brother is put aside to make way for a rich man, then it does not matter much what we avow about what great things God is doing in our hearts. To James the proof of where we stand is manifested by what we have done.
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!
Though James words have been sharp, he reminds his readers that rightly motivated obedience does give freedom. If they have been showing partiality, they can repent. God is not interested in holding grudges. Changed behavior brings God's mercy. To James that is what the law is really all about. God's royal law of love isn't a restrictive command but a merciful liberation. Now don't use this liberation to slight others, he says. Poor people entering your assemblies should find love and acceptance, not humiliation and rejection.
The church is to picture God and His will. There will be a judgment, and James reminds his readers that their hope for mercy will be tied to whether they have been merciful. This truth is so simple and, on the other hand, so profound, that it has to be repeated throughout Scripture. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” is a similar principle (Luke 6:37). Scripture says that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:14). And in Matthew 7:2 it is recorded that the standard we use in applying judgment to others will be the same standard used to judge us. In fact, “It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God,” says the apostle Peter (1 Peter 4:17).
Do you want things to go well with you at the judgment? Then show the fruits of your regenerated life now! Be merciful, because mercy triumphs over judgment and will be triumphant at the judgment.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER:
1. Is it possible to overdo the command to love your neighbor?
2. How can we love a neighbor who resists or rejects our love?
3. Have you ever attempted to excuse an action by pointing to numerous other actions of yours that were good?
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