The Royal Law of Love
As I walk in the store, I can tell I’m being sized up.
This isn’t Wal-Mart, where everybody wears those blue how can I help you today? vests. This is the fancy department store, the dog-eat-dog world of commissions, where your paycheck depends on how much you sell. These men and women don’t have time to waste on people just browsing—they zero in on those who have money and are ready to make a purchase. In only a few seconds they’re trying to figure out is this chump worth my time?
In my case, the answer is usually no.
I’ve walked into this kind of situation; seen 4 or 5 salespeople on the floor and not one came up and asked Can I help you, sir? If I dare chase them down they get this look, a cross between pain and annoyance, and quickly try to get rid of me. On the other hand, let another man or woman step foot into their area—someone who looks like they stepped off the cover of a magazine—and I’ve watched them literally race to get to them.
I think I know what they’re thinking. I can tell from his clothes this guy’s not buying anything. He doesn’t need a refrigerator—he probably spends all his money on food. If he can’t afford nice clothes, he sure as Sears and Roebuck can’t afford anything in here!
Usually they’re right. But sometimes—say when a tax refund or stimulus check comes my way—they’re wrong. The interesting thing is they never find out for sure, because they have already sorted out the important people from the unimportant people.
Sometimes you and I are like that. They tell you never judge a book by its cover, but you and I are judge people by their appearance, or their race, or their economic status, what kind of clothes they wear, what kind of car they drive, who their family is.
The real problem comes when we as Christians try to sort out the important people from the unimportant people. That’s a big problem because God says there are no unimportant people. He values us all equally, and He commands you and I to value everybody else equally. When we don’t, we commit the sin of partiality. Tonight I want us to talk not just about partiality, but the royal law of love described in James 2:1-13. Let’s begin with vs. 1-7.
A little sweetness helps make bitter medicine go down better. I think that’s why James begins dealing with this issue with the phrase my brethren (v. 1) and my beloved brethren (v. 5). Someone has pointed out that every time in this epistle James calls them brothers he’s about to drop the hammer on them. This is certainly true as he addresses partiality.
The very first verse could be translated Stop showing favoritism. The tense in Greek suggests this is something the church is already doing. The most important reason why partiality is wrong is connected with the phrase used here: do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. James says an attitude of partiality is incompatible with the glory of the Lord. Faith in Christ and partiality don’t mix. Why? One very important reason is God Himself does not show partiality.
Dt 10:17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe.
Ac 10:34-35 34Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. 35But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.
James’ point in vs. 1 is Partiality is a petty attitude not worthy of anybody who claims to belong to Christ.
But what exactly do we mean by partiality? James gives a clear example in vs. 2-4.
Just before the church service begins, 2 visitors step in.
The first visitor wears a nice suit, sporting a shiny gold ring on one hand, a man whose clothes and attitude say this guy’s got it made. Somebody---usher, deacon, pastor—notices him stroll in and meet shim at the door. Glad to have you with us this morning, sir! We’ve reserved a special seat for you here up front! Come right in and enjoy the service! Let us know if there’s anything, anything at all we can do for you!
Why do you suppose they welcome this wealthy man like this? They look at him and see Important person! Maybe he could get the Romans off our back a little! Bet his tithes could help out our budget! If we can get him in church no telling how the Lord could help us out!
The second visitor is much different. He comes in dressed in shabby clothes—the best rags he can afford. There’s no ring on his finger, nothing impressive about him. He asks where he should sit, and somebody---usher, deacon, pastor— says We’ve got a special place for you—here on the floor, or somewhere else out of the way.
Why do you suppose they welcome this poor man like this? They look at him and see unimportant person! He can’t even do much for himself, much less the church! He’s probably coming to church just because he wants something. If we can just keep him quiet and hidden, maybe he won’t offend anybody important.
James hits the nail on the head when he asks in vs. 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
They are trying to sort the important people from the unimportant people. This partiality is foolish, James says for 2 reasons.
It’s foolish because God sees the poor as important. (v. 5-6a) Throughout the Bible, God demonstrates a special concern the poor. One reason why is they are most often the people who are overlooked and ignored. To the Jews, the poor trusted in God because they had no nobody else to trust in. God’s special concern for the poor is a picture of God’s special concern for everybody that we might deem unimportant.
Lk 6:20 …Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God.
Partiality is also foolish because the rich often see God as unimportant. (v. 6b-7) James reminds his readers it is the rich people they welcome into church that are oppressing them and dishonoring the Lord.
Throughout the Bible, God demonstrates the dangers of being rich. One reason why is people equate wealth and importance, as if having a lot of money or possessions makes you more important than everybody else. But God is not impressed by money or wealth, and these can even hinder a person’s relationship with God.
Mt 19:23 “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
James’ point here is not that only poor people make it into heaven, or that all the rich people go to hell. His point is that because there are no unimportant people to God, there must never be any unimportant people to us. The royal law of love prohibits partiality.
Ron Hutchcraft tells this story: The bad news that I got at the airport was that my flight had been canceled, and the airline I was booked on couldn't get me to my destination in time for the meeting I was supposed to speak for. But the good news was that they found me a seat on another airline. But the bad news was that it was an airline I had barely heard of; I wasn't sure what to expect. Ah, but the good news was, it was an airline with a wonderful difference from all the others. There was no first class section, but every seat was as wide as a first class seat! And instead of the plastic plates, paper napkins and average food I'm used to in economy class, I got (we all got) china plates, cloth napkins, a real meal - I mean like they usually get in first class. That's the kind of treatment you would only get if you've paid for those expensive seats up there. But what a great concept this particular airline has - treat everyone as if they're first class! God tells us to Make sure there's only one section for all the passengers in your life ... first-class.
Partiality is a petty attitude not worthy of anybody who claims to belong to Christ.
That’s the negative side. But James also gives us the positive side in vs. 8. This is the Royal Law of Love in a nutshell: love your neighbor as you love yourself.
It’s nothing new. It first shows up in the Bible in
Le 19:18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Jesus put this as the 2nd greatest commandment, right under loving God with all that’s in you. But in the context of James’ words, there are some important implications.
This law doesn’t demand that I treat everybody exactly the same. I am not to treat your wife the way I do my wife, or your children the way I treat my children. This law doesn’t demand that you be “best buddies” with everybody else. There are some special friendships that are different from others, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t even mean that the church make no distinctions between Christians and non-Christians, or between members and non-members. In other words, the Royal Law of Love doesn’t call us to erase all distinctions in our relationships.
What it does mean is that in every relationship I have with anybody, I love them by treating them the way I want to be treated. Jesus put it this way:
Lk 6:31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
This is what it means to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Nobody does it perfectly except Jesus, but this is the rule of life for each of us. It’s really very simple to understand, but not always so easy to put into practice.
You see, I tend to focus on myself, instead of other people. That’s our default setting, isn’t it? It takes some thought and effort to put myself in somebody else’s shoes, to think about their needs. It takes some courage and determination to love them like I love myself, to forgive them like I forgive myself, to care about them like I care about myself. But that’s what the royal law of love is all about, isn’t it? Asking God for grace to make the choice over and over to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Let me share with you some of the best advice I’ve ever read about how to practice loving your neighbor, and then a real life story about how it works.
In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”[i]
Newspaper columnist and minister George Crane tells of a wife who came into his office full of hatred toward her husband. “I…not only want to get rid of him, I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has me.
Dr. Crane suggested this plan “Go home and act as if you really love your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him.
After you’ve convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that you’re getting a divorce.”
For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving, reinforcing, sharing. When she didn’t return, Crane called. “Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?”
“Divorce?” she exclaimed. “Never! I discovered I really do love him.” Her actions had changed her feelings. Motion resulted in emotion. The ability to love is established not so much by fervent promise as often repeated deeds. - J. Allan Petersen [ii]
Maybe that doesn’t sound like something you can do. Find another way. What I want you to remember is this: God commands us to love one another, no matter how we feel. It takes practice, but by God’s grace and our choice, we can fulfill the royal law of love.
But what if we choose to disobey this law? James reminds us of the consequences in vs. 9-13. He minces no words in vs. 9: partiality is sin.
Not only is partiality sin, but it is a serious sin, as serious as murder or adultery. In the context here, this is what the point James hammers home in vs. 10-11.
He is not saying all sins are equal in their severity or their consequences. He is saying all sins make you equally guilty before God. Bible scholar Bruce Barton puts it this way:
Where we tend to see God’s rules like a fabric, James sees glass. If we throw a small or large stone at the fabric, the hole will be similar in shape and size to the rock thrown. If we throw a stone at the glass, however, any sized stone will shatter the glass. This does not mean that breaking any commandment is just as bad as breaking any other (for example, stealing bread instead of murdering a person). It does mean…We can’t decide to keep part of God’s law and ignore the rest. We can’t break the law a little bit.[iii]
There is no way we can ignore the sin of partiality because God does not ignore it.
Not only is partiality a serious sin, but it is a sin that brings on God’s judgment. (v. 12-13)
James mentions the law of liberty. Remember he uses this same phrase back in James 1:25 to describe how obedience to God brings not slavery, but freedom. In this passage he is saying that obedience to the royal law brings freedom from judgment. If you love your neighbor impartially, you have no fear of God’s disapproval.
But if choose not to love your neighbor impartially, you can expect God to act toward you accordingly. You show mercy=compassion for your neighbor—forgiveness, willingness to overlook faults, reaching down and out to help them in need—God shows you the same mercy; refuse, and you will find yourself under God’s judgment. His judgment includes conviction (a constant reminder of your guilt) chastisement( divine discipline meant to bring you back to where you need to be) and if we persist can lead to apostasy.
James wants to make it crystal clear for us: partiality is a dangerous sin. God intends for us to obey His royal law of love, or we suffer the consequences.
The royal law of love commands us not to show partiality, but to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, or we will suffer the consequences.
His name was Bill. He had wild hair, wore a T-shirt with holes in it, blue jeans and no shoes. One day Bill decided to visit a church nearby, a church full of well- dressed, middle-class people. He walked into the church, complete with wild hair, T-shirt, blue jeans and bare feet. The church was completely packed, and the service had already begun. Bill started down the aisle to find a place to sit. By now the people were looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one said anything.
As Bill moved closer and closer to the pulpit, he realized there were no empty seats. So he squatted and sat down on the carpet right up front. By now the tension in the air was thickening.
Right about the time Bill took his "seat," a deacon began slowly making his way down the aisle from the back of the sanctuary. The deacon was in his eighties, silver-gray hair, a three-piece suit and a pocket watch. He was a godly man -- very elegant and dignified.
He walked with a cane and, as he neared the boy, the church members thought, "You can't blame him for what he's going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and background to understand some college kid on the floor?"
It took a long time for the man to reach Bill. The church was utterly silent except for the clicking of his cane. You couldn't even hear anyone breathing. All eyes were on the deacon.
When he finally reached Bill, the elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty, he sat down on the floor next to Bill and worshipped with him. Everyone in the congregation choked up with emotion. When the minister stood up he said, "What I am about to preach, you will never remember. What you've just seen, you will never forget."[iv]
To God, there are no unimportant people. If you and I obey the royal law of love, there will be no unimportant people to us.
Tonight I want to challenge you to practice what God’s Word says. I want you to think about one person you know—somebody as work, at school, or anywhere you will be the rest of this week---somebody whom the rest of the world sotrs as unimportant. Maybe somebody comes to your mind; maybe you’ll need to think a little. Maybe it’s somebody you haven’t even met, maybe it’s somebody that rubs you the wrong way. I want to ask you to make a commitment tonight to reach out in love to that person. That might mean going out of your way to speak to them, to listen to them. It may mean making a phone call or a visit. It may mean stepping out of your comfort zone and showing Jesus’ love to somebody who feels very unloved. Would you commit to obey the royal law of love this week?
[i]10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2000).
[ii]10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2000).
[iii] Bruce B. Barton, David Veerman and Neil S. Wilson, James, Life application Bible commentary (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers
[iv] Rebecca Manley Pippert, from Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul, Copyright 2000 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen