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Epistle of James 2: 1-10 (NIV)
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 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, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
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.
James referred to “the royal law found in Scripture”. He was pointing to Leviticus 19: 18, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD.” Our Lord Jesus Christ taught that this verse is one of the two great commandments (Mark 12: 31).
Obedience to this law forbids that we show favouritism. Love for one’s neighbour, demonstrated in Jesus’ famous parable regarding the man who fell among thieves, is required regardless of a neighbour’s race or religion. According to Jesus, preferential treatment is unacceptable whether by governments, individual citizens or members of his church. But can any one of us stand before the judge of all the world and be considered to be without blemish according to his law? Every human person has failed in some respect to observe that law in its entirety. How can it be a law that gives freedom (verse 12)?
For every one of us there is no alternative but to call upon the mercy of God.
We know God to be merciful because his mercy has been demonstrated for humankind in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are conditions, however, for receiving his mercy. James wrote, “judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (verse 13). Jesus expressed it positively: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5: 7). Being merciful to others demands obedience to “the royal law”, that we love others as we love ourselves. That requires followers of Jesus Christ also to be merciful to ourselves, regardless of our flawed pasts, for we know we have a redeemer who loves us.