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A Royal Pain

James Series  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  36:32
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Getting a proper perspective can help change our attitude. A cowboy out west was driving down a dirt road with his dog riding in back of the pickup truck and his faithful horse in the trailer behind. He failed to negotiate a curve and had a terrible accident.
Sometime later a state trooper came upon the scene. An animal lover, he saw the horse first. Realizing the terminal nature of its injuries, he drew his service revolver and put the animal out of it’s misery. He walked around the accident and found the dog, also hurt critically. He couldn’t bear to hear it whine in pain, so he ended the dog’s suffering as well.
Next he tried to locate the cowboy who had suffered multiple fractures when he was thrown out of his pickup. As the officer broke through the weeds he saw him. The cop asked, "Hey are you okay?"
The cowboy took one look at the smoking revolver in the trooper’s hand and quickly replied, "Never felt better!"
Getting a proper perceptive can change our attitude and behavior. The perspective of our text today should help us gain the understanding that we all need God’s mercy.
I titled the sermon this morning a royal pain because James speaks to us in this passage about the pain of a believer acting as an unbeliever:
James 2:8–13 ESV
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of 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 murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
James has been calling his readers, who were facing persecution, to live out the Word of God. Persecution has a way of causing us to be obsessed with persecution and to forget our other responsibilities. Christians are still called to live out the Word of God even when they are in the midst of difficulties. We must live as Christians despite circumstance of life.
Some of James’s readers were failing concerning the respect. They were failing in the area of Christian love by treating some in an unfair way. As we saw a couple weeks back, wealthy church visitors were being greeted with the best accommodations in the first generation church, while the poor visitors were regarded as an inconvenience and treated as shuch.
As James pointed out in verse 6, the whole ordeal was really hypocrisy. James’s readers were suffering persecution because it was the rich of their society that were playing favorites against these messianic Jews, and now they themselves were doing the very same thing when they came together corporately for worship.
In our passage today, James continues with this issue of partiality/favoritism. He does so by calling the attention of his readers to three things.

I. Partiality violates God’s law (vv. 8–11)

James reminds his readers of God’s command: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (v. 8). You might recall that this command is a reference to when YHWH spoke to Israel at the beginning of the Hebrew people forming as a unified nation ().
What is really interesting here is that James refers to this law as ‘royal’. This “royal law” (Gk: nomos) is referred to by several names (; ). It obviously points back to the Ten Commandments (cf. v. 11) but reaches into the inaugurated New Age of Jesus’ teachings, a new way of treating God and our covenant partners (cf. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in ).
“royal law” This (; ). It obviously points back to the Ten Commandments (cf. v. 11) but reaches into the inaugurated New Age of Jesus’ teachings, a new way of treating God and our covenant partners (cf. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in ).
James 1:25 ESV
25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
James 2:12 ESV
12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.
Some commentators think that it is the royal law because it is the one supreme law above all the other laws—the summation of the entirety of God’s laws. We know that God is love (1Jn4) and God’s laws reflects His character. Jesus himself taught that all the commandments of God can be summarized in terms of loving God and our fellow-man
Matthew 22:37–40 LEB
37 And he said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
We are, therefore, on the right theologically speaking when we call God’s command to love ‘the supreme law’.
Others think that James was emphasizing something else about YHWH when he used the term ‘the royal law’, specifically, the nature of the one who gave this law. God is the sovereign ruler of this entire universe—the King and, therefore, LORD of all. His laws are to be taken seriously by all and obeyed fully by all.
Both interpretations are possible and in keeping with Scripture, and, in the end, it doesn’t matter which we embrace since both interpretations are supported by good portions of the Bible.
The critical take away is whether the original readers were keeping this law. They likely thought that they were until James’s accusation of partiality was railed at them. And this is likely the reason why James uses the word ‘really’ (Gk: mentoi). He really is saying in verse 8, ‘If you ‘really’ fulfil the royal law, you would be showing love to the poor.’
This is the reason why James uses the word ‘really’. He essentially says, ‘If you really fulfil the royal law, you must show love to the poor.’ The law demanded no less!
Okay James, I hear ya! but what do you mean by ‘fulfil’? What does it mean to fulfil the law? The verb fulfil (Gk: tele-o) can also be translated ‘keep’ ‘accomplish’ or ‘perfected’
So, since the readers were not keeping YHWH’s law, James is warning them about the danger of partial, selective obedience. This is essentially what Jesus was exposing about the Pharisees: obedience in some things.
Selective obedience fails to see the foundational unity of YHWH’s character and the unity of the law. If we refrain from committing adultery but commit murder, we are guilty of breaking the law! Curtis Vaughan says it like this: ‘To break one link in a chain is to break the chain.’
By the way, James is showing us here why we are sinners. The law is part of that mirror fro verse 23 of chapter 1. It tells us what God wants us to do and not to do. Any failure is sin, and any sin makes us transgressors and disqualifies us from standing acceptably in God’s presence.
But what about the other NT scriptures? What about the ones that say, “we are not under the law but under grace,” and “we are dead to the law?” Was James not familiar with the Apostle Paul? According to , James was indeed familiar with Pauline theology at least by the Jerusalem council time but probably even earlier than that. So is James suggesting that every Christian is under the law? Maybe James needs a good dose of
Romans 8:1 ESV
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
At the surface, James seems to be contradicting this, but further consideration shows that he is not reversing Paul’s words. Roll up your sleeves, because this gets deep!
First, YHWH did not give us his laws so that we can be saved through keeping them. If that were the case, no one would/could be saved! God gave his laws to show us how very far short we fall of His righteous requirements and, therefore, how desperately we need the Lord Jesus as our Savior.
Second, the purpose of God’s law is to convict unbelievers ‘as transgressors’ (v. 9) so we sinners might flee to Christ. Also here we can note here that transgressions are worse than “general sins.” what do I mean? The difference between a transgression and a sin is: a sin is when you offend YHWH whether you know it or whether you mean to. A transgression is when you undeniably know the law and you still decide to willfully go against it. So, yes, a transgression is indeed a sin, however, it’s a sin that is specifically & willfully against God. If you don’t believe me, just look up all the references to transgression in the Bible and you’ll easily see that distinction.
Third, although we are not technically under the Mosaic law, parts of the Mosaic law survived through the law of Jesus that was instituted with the “New Covenant” why? how? YHWH is immutable—He never changes so naturally, even if by Him revealing more and more causes His governing us humans to change, His very nature never changes and, therefore, the parts of the Mosaic Covenant that reflect His nature would not change, even in the New Covenant--despite Jesus even changing the priesthood which is spoken about in the book of Hebrews.
All this to say, all unbelievers are still convicted under the Mosaic law because they never accepted Christ’s priesthood. But for us believers, when we sin we are guilty of breaking the law of Jesus, similar to the unbelievers, but maybe worse since we are transgressors, This is “A Royal Pain” except the radical difference is that we believers receive God’s mercy! That’s good news! you should start smiling now!
That brings us to our second point this morning:

II. Partiality will be judged (v. 12)

And it’s not just partiality--all our sins will be judged!
James 2:12 ESV
12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.
Wherever we turn in the Bible, we find prophecy of a Judgement Day that is coming. The authors of the Bible lived with constant and keen awareness of the reality of that day, and, to live well, we must do the same.
James calls on his readers to live with that same awareness. He tells them to speak and act with judgement in mind.
Kent Hughes writes, ‘ “Speak” and “act” are present active imperatives: keep on speaking and keep on acting in the reality of the coming judgement.’
We, too, are guilty of partiality to some degree, a couple weeks back, used the two McDonald’s employees as an example and today I have a raincoat experiment:
[RAINCOAT EXPERIMENT] Clothing companies try to offer garments that match the public’s perception of what a successful person wears. To determine this, a clothing analyst performed an experiment with raincoats. An actor wearing a tan raincoat approached people at a subway station. He explained that he had left his wallet home and asked to borrow train fare. People were surprisingly generous with this supposedly unfortunate executive.
Then the actor wore a dark raincoat and approached people in the same way with the same story. This time he was treated differently. Not only would no one give him money, but he was physically threatened. The opposite reaction was linked to the color of the coat. People saw the dark garment as threatening and judged the man with suspicion.
We too, are also guilty of judging by appearances to varying degrees—we allow externals determine how we respond to people. Though it seems unfair to pre-judge people we will unconsciously do so unless we are living in the power of Christ, walking in the Holy Spirit.
Whenever we discriminate according to race, age, gender, or income level, we are sinning. God is impartial, and when we accept all people equally we are reflecting His character.
The people to whom James wrote were guilty of partiality because they were passing judgement on others. The fix to passing judgement on others is to remember the stark reality that we must all face judgement ourselves.
All humans will be judged. Even Christians will be judged (cf. ), for evil attitudes, availability and for the use of their spiritual gifts. Scholars call this the ‘bema seat of Christ’ The judgment seat of Christ does not determine salvation. We believers should not look at the judgment seat of Christ as God judging our sins, but rather as God rewarding us for our lives. Yes, as other passages say, we will have to give an account of ourselves. And, partly answering for the sins we committed (another “royal pain”). However, that is not going to be the primary focus of the judgment seat of Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
Few commentators argue that the judgment here and in our passage in James is eschatological—
On that great day of judgement, we will all fully realize our sins. But we will also fully realize that YHWH’s law is that which James calls it, namely, ‘the law of liberty’. Yup! Great! what is the law of liberty? In short, it is another name for the law of Christ. Believers can taste—even in this life--the freedom that we have in Christ, however, we cannot forget that we are forever slaves of Christ also under His perfect law. Who is your slave-master?
Satan has been lying about the nature of God and the laws of God from the very beginning of human history. He has been saying all throughout history that God’s laws are designed to take the pleasure out of life, that they come from one who wants to deprive us of joy and make us miserable. It has been a very believable and productive lie! And Satan never abandons the spiritually productive.
But on that day of judgement, his lie will be seen for what it is—a lie! And that which the Bible has been telling us all along will be abundantly and transparently clear. The laws of God were not given to bring us into a miserable bondage, but rather to bring us into glorious liberty.
If we would stop and reflect for a moment, we would see that the life of sin is that which is enslaving. The evidence is all around us.
If we would stop and reflect for a moment, we would see that the life of sin is that which is enslaving. The evidence is all around us.
James has one more point to bring before his readers and before us this morning:

III. Partiality reveals a ruthless spirit (v. 13)

It is sickly amazing the downward digression and the power that sin has as it takes root in a person’s life. Just about all of us can easily bring to mind, a successful person (perhaps a friend or even a childhood hero) that gave in to the temptation of drugs and now are either forgotten or dead. Chris Farley was somewhat of a comedian hero to me yet his apparent success and his life ended with his sin—an overdose of cocaine and morphine. So, too, even the sin of partiality can have consequences:
James 2:13 ESV
13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
James 2
Now what is James actually saying here? Again, from a quick glance, it would appear that James is suggesting in this first sentence in verse 13 that for the Christian brother who doesn’t show mercy to the poor, that God may not show mercy to him. But if that is what James was trying communicate, then the second sentence does not fit too well.
No, James was not suggesting for a single moment that we can earn, or even secure our salvation for ourselves by showing mercy to the poor and needy. He was much too good a theologian for that! Remember, he spent a lot of time with Jesus.
We are saved only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and James taught this. James is teaching here that those who are truly saved cannot live as if they have never been touched by the mercy and grace of God. Those who know mercy cannot withhold it from others and those who commit the sin of partiality reveal things about their own faith.
Curtis Vaughan offers this good summary of James’s teaching:
James surely does not mean that by showing mercy to man we procure mercy from God. That would make salvation a matter of human merit and would contradict the whole tenor of Scripture.
What James means is that by failing to show compassion on our fellow men we prove ourselves to be utterly devoid of Christian character. Christian people are the children of God. They bear His image; they copy His example. It is therefore impossible for them to fail to share in His compassion, to fail to reflect His spirit of mercy.
Those who have truly been saved will give evidence of the merciful character of the God who saved them. As they give that evidence, they will assure themselves that they truly have been saved and, therefore, have nothing to fear on the Day of Judgement. ‘Mercy triumphs over judgment’. Truly, the only ones that should be scared are those that have not accepted Christ because their judgment is something to fear—the Christ will be the first one to say hell is real and hell is eternal.
It should come as no surprise that this was a hallmark of the teaching of Jesus (; ). A merciful attitude is one of the evidences that a person truly is alive in Christ.
Matthew 5:7 ESV
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Luke 6:36 ESV
36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Jesus calls us to be merciful based solely on His mercy on us while we were still sinners!
we will conclude with the words of a Baptist preacher Dr. Dennis Davidson:
Christian people have too frequently reflected the culture of their day and have shown little concern for the plight of the poor and the oppressed. We have closed our eyes to prejudice, exploitation and injustice. Instead of championing the cause of the weak and oppressed we often cast our lot with the powerful and privileged.
We must let our beliefs control our behavior and not our behavior control our beliefs. We must let our convictions control our conduct and not our conduct control our creed. A test to see if we are loving our neighbor as the Good Samaritan did is seen in how we treat the deprived and dispossessed that come into our fellowship seeking the mercy and forgiveness that we have found.
Since we all are law breakers, we need to seek mercy. Those who have found mercy from God’s judgment should no longer judge other’s with partiality but with mercy.
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