Peninsula Community Church
April 7, 2013
James – Mercy Over Judgment
James 2:8-13 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 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. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Two weeks ago we began to look at this passage and realized that there was so much here that we needed to take another week to look at what it presents to us. Two weeks ago we looked at loving our neighbor as ourselves and what that means to us as believers. We also discussed how love is a decision and not just a feeling. Today, we will look at the subject of how mercy triumphs over judgement. Before we get to that particular point let’s discuss a couple of issues that will lead us to understanding why this is so important.
To begin with, this passage presents God’s view of life in that we must obey all of the law and not pick or choose which of God’s commands we will obey. From the time of original sin and the fall of humankind, man’s innate desire has been to either reject the law in total or to obey only that part of the law that does not have a direct impact on them or the parts of the law that affects them the least. They also attempt to choose which commands they will obey and which ones others should or should not obey. This is not a smorgasbord or a menu of options but they are commands. This desire to pick and choose is driven by the carnal nature that stands ready to control and divert us away from God’s purpose and plan for our lives.
Here at PCC we have talked a lot about legalism. I want to be clear that this verse does not negate anything we have said about that but in fact brings that discussion into greater balance. Too often, legalism brings us to a place where we pick and choose the commands we will obey and what commands we think others should obey. This was the position of the Pharisees who were the kings of legalism. Legalism is in fact the very thing that James is addressing. Those who follow a legalistic mindset are good at redefining the law to fit one’s life and one’s own desire. We find this illustrated in Luke 10:25-37.
In this story, a lawyer came to Jesus and posed the question of who one’s neighbor might be. The goal of the lawyer was not to seek truth but to minimize the scope of the definition of who one’s neighbor might be. Rather than accepting the law of God at face value, the lawyer was attempting to reinvent the law and diminish the scope of the command to love our neighbor as ourselves. This was not unusual as the spiritual leaders of the day were always trying to bend the law to their favor and to limit the sphere of influence the law would have over them personally. The question posed was a means to diminish an understanding of who one’s neighbor might be and not to expand the scope of understanding. In essence, the lawyer was trying to redefine the law. He in essence was attempting to set precedence because precedence can become the rule of law rather than the law itself. But, not never accepts the precedence, only the law itself.
By James comments this continued to be one of the big issues of James’ day. Rather than living in obedience to the law, the leaders of the day would either marginalize the law or they would expand the law to cover issues never intended to be covered. They would also require perfect obedience to the law by others when they themselves could not keep the law. For that reason, James addresses the issue of how and which laws we should obey. He relates this to us by reminding us that when we break one law we are guilty in essence of breaking the whole law. The bottom line is that we sin by way of both commission and omission. The idea here is that sin is sin and is a result of a sinful nature and the failure of man. That is why we must guard our hearts against settling into a belief that we have reached a point of sinless perfection. We all sin but there is forgiveness at the cross and in Christ restoration for every sin committed.
We too are living in a society where we are bending the law to our purpose and bringing the law down to a human perspective. Society and the church at large is trying to redefine God’s law to make it more palatable and easier to deal with. But, we cannot redefine sin because sin is still sin regardless of the definition or name we use. We can redefine an apple as an orange but it will continue to have the qualities and attributes of an apple regardless of the name or definition we give to it. We can redefine abortion and call it woman’s choice but it is still an abortion. We can redefine a homosexual and lesbian lifestyle and call it an alternative lifestyle, but it is still a sin in the eyes of God. We can redefine the mismanagement of finances as creative financing but it is still a wrong way to handle our finances.
Paul continues his message by intimating that when we show favoritism we become a lawbreaker. That is why James elaborates on this issue in James 2:9-11. The message he communicates is, “Don’t think you are keeping the law of Christ while you are practicing favoritism.” James is straightforward and direct here. If you show favoritism, you sin. He purposes in fact that if one believes showing favoritism is not a sin they are in fact breaking the whole law. In verses 10 and 11, he gives us an analogy that illustrates what it means to be selective in defining sin.
In this case he uses the comparison of murder and adultery. He states that we may not have committed adultery and thus believe that we have kept the law but we are guilty murder by way of our tongues and through gossip every day. For that reason, we are guilty of breaking the whole law. Why is this? Sin is in reality rebellion against God and therefore one sin makes us guilty of breaking the whole law because we are rebellion against God’s will and purpose. Many believe that if they have not committed the big sins they will pass the sin test. We think we can a have little bit of gossip, favoritism and be all right. We think we can reject he spiritual authority placed over us or we disrespect our spouses and be righteous. However, we must understand that the law is not a multiple choice test. We don’t pick six and do our best. We must keep the whole law. And we should note that there are great rewards in keeping God’s law and that it is the Holy Spirit that empowers us to keep and obey God’s will and reap the benefits as promised by Deuteronomy.
In the final part of the verse, James states that we are to speak and act as if we will be judged by the law. We are to live as those who will be judged under the law of liberty. Notice that James defines it as the law of liberty. While the law points to our sin, Christ redeems the law and uses it to free us because we do not realize our need for freedom until our sin is recognized. This leads us to a final point. Be careful how you judge others as you will be judged by the judgement you give others according to Matthew 7:1. We must show mercy because mercy always triumphs over judgement. The funny thing about Christians is that we love to have grace and mercy extended to ourselves, but are often judge others quickly. Even in the area of showing favoritism we may find it easier to point out this sin in other people while we fail to own up to it in our own lives. The problem is that it is so easy to deceive ourselves if we are not careful.
Once again James is clear on how we should proceed. Both our words and our actions should exhibit our firm conviction that there is a real God who is really going to judge us. We should speak and act as if we really believe all the doctrine we love to vigorously defend. There should be real, tangible proof in our lives that the gospel has taken root in our lives and is growing and bearing fruit (as Paul would tell the Colossians). It is for this reason that James closes out his statements with one final statement – “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Do you try to minimize the definition of sin in your life?