Three Strikes and You’re Out

James 2:8-13

James gives sin of partiality and his treatment of it as an example. Uses a strong line of reasoning to demonstrate how this sin along with others is not matter of opinion or interpretation, how practicing it (or other sins) is antithetical to pursuit of holiness. Trials/temptations along with the Word are God’s means of moving his children along toward holiness. The response of true child of God – obedience to the Word/Law of God resulting from love for God and fueled by faith in God.

LBCF I.1 The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.

Proper way to determine progress in sanctification: check our conformity to the rule. If the rule is silent on a point, we have liberty. If the rule speaks on a point, we must conform – because we desire to please Heavenly Father AND in dependence on his supply of resources. Both the obedience/works and the faith are essential to growth in sanctification; growth ceases if either is lacking, may even turn into decline if lack occurs over extended/prolonged period of time.

Perhaps a sizable segment within early church defended their bad behavior by claiming to follow Jesus’ command, “love one another”. That could explain James’ use of really/truly/certainly (μέντοι) – “if you really fulfill the royal law” (8). Claiming to do something out of love doesn’t negate all other standards; love is defined and exemplified quite explicitly throughout Scripture. Having right understanding of love and obedience requires right understanding of God’s Law, its relationship to itself. Also important to keep in mind that general and comprehensive pattern of one’s life is good predictor of God’s assessment of person, what his declaration will be on the Great Day.

A. Strike 1 – love v.8

νόμος, nomos, almost always functions as collective noun in Scripture – singular word, law, referring to a body of individual laws/statutes. God’s Law usually refers to moral code expressed in 10 Commandments, summarized in the two (love God and neighbor) and then the one Law of Love. Since the one and the two summarize the 10, references to the one or two include the 10 in meaning and application. James uses other terms to speak of God’s Law:

perfect law of liberty (1:25)
royal law (2:8) whole law (2:10) law of liberty (2:12)

Surrounding context shows what James had in mind: 10 commandments and associated application. Love is sum of the Law, Decalogue is substance of the Law, Sermon on the Mount shows depth of the Law that was fulfilled (brought to its ultimate goal) in Christ and should likewise be in each of us as we are conformed to his image.

Called “royal law” – came from the king, rules the kingdom, the one stated is summation of the rest that govern human relationships. As with remainder of God’s Law, character of the law derives from character of lawgiver. Lawgiver, God is: perfect, trustworthy, righteous, holy, just, good, and so is his law (Ps. 19:7, 9; Rom. 7:12). The Lord who is Judge and Lawgiver is also King (Isa. 33:22); the law of the King is rightly called a royal law. It is law that governs the King’s kingdom – when we pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, what are we asking? That mankind would do the will of God which is… “if you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15).

obedience <> love; love <> obedience. Neither one can be reduced to the other. Are associated together throughout Scripture: Ex. 20:6; De. 5:10; 7:9; 11:1; Neh. 1:5; Dan. 9:4; John 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 Ti. 1:5; 1 John 5:2, 3; 2 John 1:6. Love is shown by obedience, love fuels and motivates obedience. Obedience without love is mere formalism, unacceptable to God; love without obedience is empty and meaningless.

What is love? First, a desire to be one with the one loved; second, delight when that union is achieved; third, lavish and sacrificial giving to obtain and maintain union. #1 example: God. Don’t have to think long or hard about relationship between Heavenly Father and his children to see that at work. God loved the world and sent his Son (John 3:16); he “takes great delight” (NET) in his children, exults over them with singing (Zeph. 3:17); the Father gave the Son, the Son gave himself for his children, the church (1 John 4:10; Eph. 5:25). All that is the exact opposite of prejudicial partiality which is thus ruled out by definition and character of love. Strike 1!

B. Strike 2 – law v.9-11

partiality is sin, violation of law (9) James doesn’t beat around the bush – showing partiality = sin = breaking the law. In this case, sin of both omission and comission; or as catechism puts it, “sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” (WSC, Q14) At a minimum: one being shunned is not being loved as neighbor (failure to conform to 2nd great command), is being treated/thought of unjustly (transgression of C5, proper relationships, & C6, murder).

the law is a unity – violation of one part is violation of all (10) You cannot sin against one aspect of the law in isolation from the rest. Violation of one part is all that is necessary to make one a lawbreaker; you don’t have to break every command to be guilty of sin. Nor does keeping one part get you points that offset breaking it in another part. If the diamond is the law of God, each facet is a command; to disregard or disrespect one facet is to show contempt for entire diamond.

authority of law comes from lawgiver (11a) God’s Word is authoritative because it is God’s Word; so, too, with God’s Law. Meaning and application of God’s Law not up for grabs when he has given instruction and/or example. “That’s your interpretation” doesn’t cut it when there are clear guidelines to follow given in Scripture.

one command is not more “essential” or higher priority than another (11b) Both have same source, since God is unity, so is his law. Unfortunately not the mindset in the church today. According to statistics, divorce occurs at same rate and for largely same reasons as in culture at large. Yet while most church-goers would avoid murder, breaking the 6th commandment, at all costs, few if any regard divorce as equally serious transgression of the 7th, intended to safeguard marriage.

partiality equated with murder – farfetched? not given John’s teaching about “hate”

“Whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15)

based on Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 5:22) “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”

based on Lev. 19:17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” Showing partiality in way described by James indicates judgmental sinful way of thinking about a neighbor, effectively an expression of hatred toward them rather than the love Christ requires. Strike 2!

C. Strike 3 – judgment v.12-13

standard of judgment is Law (12) not just any law, the law of liberty (aka, law of God, law of Christ, law of love, etc.) Why, how can law and liberty go together? First, lawlessness does not = liberty or freedom; equates to slavery in sin. In contrast, faithfully following God’s law as rule of life (not means to justification) signifies liberty from sin, Satan and self. Therefore, it is the only suitable standard for speech and action.

individual’s attitude toward Law parallel’s God’s view of their performance (13a) Do we hold God’s law in contempt, disregarding its commands and principles, determined to do our own thing? Strike 3! Or do we like the Psalmist (Psa. 119:97, 113, 163) love God’s law because of it’s intimate connection with and reflection of the Lawgiver? From that love of God’s Law do we strive to obey it by faith? Do we lovingly and anxiously anticipate the Lord Jesus’ return? Having received mercy from God that enables us to think and act this way, do we show mercy to others? If so, we can expect mercy from God when that Day arrives.

showing / receiving mercy not a quid pro quo (13b) We don’t earn God’s mercy by showing mercy. Rather, mercy we show to others flows out of mercy God has already and still is granting to us. When God shows mercy to his children in that Day, he is publicly acknowledging the great work of grace he has done in them.

see how you measure up now rather than later — James for our edification has given profound example of analysis here: take a particular behavior, examine it in light of Biblical precept and principle. The particular “infraction” cited might seem moderately harmless on the surface; on closer inspection, partiality just like any habitual sin will absolutely derail pursuit of holiness. May God give us grace and strength that we may daily put to death sin more and more, determined to live by faith in way that pleases him that we may receive mercy on that great Day.


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