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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lenschow

Love and Mercy

James 2:8-13

1. Recognize the Context: Previous Context-James 2:5-7

James continues to address the mistreatment of the poverty-stricken by moving from the hypothetical to the actual. Verse 5 begins with the imperative, which calls for the readers' attention. This is followed by another rhetorical question expecting an answer in the affirmative. The question considers those who love God but are poor by earthly standards. By God’s standards, these people are actually rich in a spiritual sense (Rev. 2:9), and they will inherit God's kingdom (Luke 6:20-22, Matt. 5:3-12).

Some in the church have dishonored the poor by their actions. James continues with three thought-provoking rhetorical questions for these individuals.

The first question reminds the church they were being exploited by the wealthy. Ironically, those in the church mistreat the poor in the same way they are being mistreated.

The second question reminds them the wealthy have taken them to court. If a person couldn't pay a debt, they could be taken to court, and any assets seized. It could also involve servitude until the debt was paid.

The third question reminds them these wealthy individuals were outside the church, and they blaspheme the name of Jesus Christ.

2. Read the Scripture: James 2:8-13

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. 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.

3. Reflect on the Scripture: In verses 5-7, James provides the practice reasons for not showing favoritism through a series of questions. Now, in verses 8-11, James presents the biblical reasons for avoiding such partiality.

Verse 8 begins with a conditional phrase about keeping “the royal law found in Scripture.” This term, royal law, probably refers to Jesus’ teaching on life in the kingdom of God, since James quotes Leviticus 19:18. The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” was a central theme in Jesus’ kingdom ethics (Matt. 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:25-28, see also Rom. 13:9 and Gal 5:14). Additionally, the adjective royal means “related to a king,” and James just mentioned the “rich in faith” who inherit God’s kingdom in verse 5.

The next verse presents the opposite situation. The one who demonstrates favoritism breaks the royal law and therefore sins. Verses 10-11 continues to explain that to break the law at even one point makes someone a lawbreaker. James uses the commandments about committing murder and adultery as examples to make his point. To show favoritism—is not to show love. To not show love—is to disregard Jesus' teaching from the Scriptures about living in God's kingdom.

Verse 12 contains two strong exhortations to speak and act. These imperatives are emphatic and in the present tense, indicating the need to speak and act continually. How should an individual speak and act? The answer, as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom. This law that gives freedom was referred to as the perfect law that gives liberty above (1:25). Again, this includes the Old Testament's message in light of the risen Christ and the teaching of Jesus found in the Gospels.

James’ point here—live in such a way as not to judge others. Rather, live like you will be judged by Scripture. This should not cause fear but freedom. Why? Because God’s people are called to live according to his word, which frees them to live as he designed. This life includes demonstrating mercy to others because God has shown his people mercy over judgment.

4. Relate to life:

Now it's time to get specific and respond today. Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.

To pray:

Today, prayerfully consider the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How are you doing with this?

Today, prayerfully consider if there are situations where you are showing favoritism and partiality to someone at the expense of someone else. Today, prayerfully consider if you are allowing God’s word to shape your life.

Today, prayerfully consider if you are judging people or showing mercy.

To do: (work produced by faith with the Holy Spirit’s help) Given the prayer suggestions above, how do you need to respond today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers. What specific actions can you take today? Ask for God’s help. Write any specific actions down. Ask someone to help you be accountable.

Share what you’re learning and doing about it with someone from your believing community.

To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passages).

Read and study the passages listed above. Read and study these verses on mercy. Old Testament—Ex. 34:5-6, Deut. 4:31, Micah 6:8, Zech. 7:9

Jesus in the Gospels—Matt. 5:7, 9:13, 12:7, 18:32-35, Lk 6:37.

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