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"Practicing Merciful Judgment"
James 2:8-13

Wednesday AM Bible Study
June 25, 2003

James' words in this passage are a continuation of his discussion of the sin of personal favoritism, or "partiality" in the church. In verses 1-7, his focus was on the practice of this sin; but in verses 8-13, he shows us the true nature of this sin.

A good way to enter into our discussion is to ask: How would you - a sinner - wish to be treated and judged in the community of Christ? Would you prefer that people judge you on the basis of what you had or didn't have - whether or not you were good looking or talented or intelligent? As a Christian and a member of the community of faith in Jesus Christ - one who, by definition, recognizes that you are a sinner that is reliant upon God's mercy and grace - isn't it true that you would prefer to be judged on the basis of mercy? Isn't it the whole basis of our Christian faith that we hope to be received by God on the basis of His mercy through Jesus Christ? Don't you hope in that mercy every day?

The fact is that we will never stand before God on the basis of anything but His mercy. And so, how inappropriate it is that we - who should see this most clearly - would judge each other in any other way than from the perspective of grace and mercy! God having received us in grace and mercy, how wrong it would be for us to treat each others in the household of faith in any other way than in the very way we hope to be welcomed by God! That's basically the whole thrust of James' appeal in this passage: As those who hope to be judged on the basis of God's mercy, we should not judge one other with personal favoritism.

"If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you do well; ..."

A. James does not begin by assuming that all his readers are sinning in the area of personal favoritism. The Greek word that begins this verse is one that means "really" or "actually". The NASB translates it "however". It's as if he is saying, "Now, I admit that not all of you are showing partiality. In fact, I take it for granted that some are, in fact, treating each other the way you should. Keep up the good work, if that's true of you."

B. The standard of treating each other correctly is found in Leviticus 19:15-18; especially verse 18. "... You shall love your neighbor as yourself ..." This is a verse that is quoted a surprising number of times in the New Testament; because it is the summation of God's moral instruction to us regarding our treatment of others (Matthew 7:12; 19:18-19; 22:37-40; Gal. 5:13-14; James 2:8).

C. We often hear this called "the golden rule". That's basically James' meaning when he refers to this as "the royal law". It is the summation of the law; and hence, we do well if we fulfill it.

"... but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not commit murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law."

A. By contrast, if we are showing partiality (as he described it in verses 1-7), then we sin. This may surprise us. After all, it's a pretty natural condition among people - seeing as how we're naturally drawn to those who are beautiful, or talented, or intelligent, or wealthy. We may consider it a thing that's not necessarily commendable; but we would think it was rigid to call it "sin". Yet, James isn't being rigid in saying this. We should call it what it is: "sin".

B. The reason it's "sin" - and really, the dreadful nature of it as sin - is shown in the fact that James identifies it as a form of murder. We tend to think of murder strictly as the act of taking someone's physical life. But Jesus explained the intent of the commandment against murder in His Sermon on The Mount (Matthew 5:21-22). Jesus teaches us that murder includes the idea of "diminishing" someone in any way or reducing their value - (through insults, slander, gossip, character assassinations, etc.) which includes the act of showing partiality against them, or judge them on the basis of outward things.

C. Bound up in this is the principle of "the unity of God's law". God's law is not a set of disconnected commandments; but rather a unified whole. If we keep nine of His ten commandments, and yet break one, we stand as guilty a lawbreaker before God as if we had broken all of them. We would shun the sin of adultery; but here, James is showing us that we're guilty of murder all the time; and are, therefore, just as much a lawbreaker as if we had committed adultery.

"So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment."

A. The effect of this is to make guilty sinners out of all of us (Rom. 3:19-20). If then, we are all equally sinners before God, then we are all equally in need of God's grace and mercy. We hope on God's mercy to be shown to us. It would follow, then, that we should show the same thing toward one another as we would hope to be shown toward us.

B. We've already encountered the phrase "the law of liberty" (1:25). It means that, when we look into the law, (1) we see that we are sinners, (2) we flee to the cross of Jesus for forgiveness, and (3) by God's grace, we are pardoned of our guilt and set at liberty (Gal. 3:24; John 8:36). We are to so act and so speak as those who hope to be judged by God's law in such a way as for it to be a "law of liberty" to us. We are to do unto others as we would have done unto us.

C. James emphasizes this by pointing out that judgment will be merciless to the one who ignores this principle and does not show mercy. Jesus taught this in His parable of the king and the servant (Matthew 18:23-35). It's also expressed in God's words through Moses in Exodus 22:21-24).

D. But James also encourages us by reminding us that mercy always triumphs over judgment. This means that mercy "assumes superiority" or "glories over" or, as it is in the NASB, "triumphs over" judgment (Matthew 5:7; Luke 6:37). Two dynamics are involved: judgment and mercy. And when pit against one another, mercy is always the one that wins out. Praise God that this is true in our case! We are to be sure it is true also with respect to our attitude toward others.

May God help us, then to treat one another as we would be treated with respect to our standing before God. We are all equally sinners in need of God's mercy and grace. Let us show to each other what we hope to have shown toward us.

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