The Sin of Partiality


The Royal Law of Liberty

James 2: 8 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.10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 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. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

We find rationalizing around verse eight to be easy; all we have to do is think of our nice behavior toward others, and we’re quite alright, thank you very much. But with verse eight fitting easily, verse nine may squeeze just a bit.

Apostle James certainly knew how to cut to the chase, as verse nine demonstrates: Partiality is sin! No soft-pedaling or laying between the lines here. Verse 10 expands on that thought by holding us accountable for the whole law if we transgress just one point. Apostle Paul developed that same principle in his letter to the Galatians, chapter five: 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

For those “red-letter” Christians who accept only Jesus’ words as truth, we don’t have to quote Apostles Paul and James to make this relevant. Jesus asserted the “Greatest Commandment,” as recorded in Mark’s gospel, chapter twelve, verses 28 through 30: 28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Since we see that Jesus and his apostles were on the same page, let’s check back with James’ verse twelve above: We are to speak and act as those who are subject to “the law of liberty,” which is another name for the Royal Law. Then, verse thirteen shoots even closer to our toes: “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.” This also paraphrases Jesus’ words: “… and forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors … For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15)

With all these laws bouncing around, what about our freedom in Christ? Didn’t he fulfill the law? Here lies the crucial distinction that legalistic believers can’t seem to grasp; Jesus indeed fulfilled the entire Old Covenant law, removing its shackles from those who, through faith in his resurrection, are born anew. So we are now under the Great Commandment, which is to love God with all your soul, mind, and strength, or in other words, your whole being. How, then, do you know you are obeying the Great Commandment? You know that when you also fulfill verse thirty-one, above: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus illustrated that neighbor-love with his parable of the Good Samaritan, where the despised Samaritan went out of his way to help the very sort of person who most hated him: a Jew. While most people file that example in the doctrinal round-file, with Jesus command to turn the other cheek,  Jesus’ apostles James, John, and Paul brought it into contact with the road of life in their letters to the churches. Doesn’t that strike a bell? Maybe you should actually try reading those letters; they’re not private, you know.

The Royal Law is called that because the King of kings proclaimed it, personally. So obeying it is up to you, and me.

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