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The book of James: Active in showing love

A blueprint for living out our life of faith

Markings are meaningful. We’ve learned to look for them when making purchases of items like clothing or electrical appliances. Did you know that Christians bear markings too? Followers of Christ are marked with his love. In his blueprint for Christian living, James reminds us that faith is active in showing love.

Farce

In James 2:1-4, James pointed out a farce in the behavior of his readers. They were showing favoritism toward the rich. Some may have excused their behavior by simply saying, “We are simply showing love to all people.” James would agree that “the royal law,” the one that is king over and includes all laws, is “love your neighbor as yourself.” If their actions toward the rich came from such love, they were “doing right.” If not, the very law to which they appealed convicted them as “lawbreakers” (2:8,9).

James goes to the core of their deception. “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (2:10). Just one sin makes a person guilty of the whole law. That whole law is stamped with God’s authority. To disregard any part of it is to disregard his authority. We can understand this point. One crack ruins a car’s windshield. One wrong letter misspells the whole word. Their behavior was a farce—discriminating and favoring some while still bearing the name Christian.

Have we ever tried this farce? We too stand guilty of breaking the law by showing favoritism. James has told us that it takes only one sin to ruin us. And look how many we have!

Force

James’ words, though, were aimed at the discovery of hypocrites, not the discouragement of saints. So he moves on to God’s love, which is a freeing force. With “the law that gives freedom” (2:12), James refers to the entire Word of God, just as he did in verse 25 of the first chapter. The gospel of Jesus is in that Word. Only the Savior’s perfect death can free people for life in heaven and service on earth. Animals need to be prodded. Objects need to be pushed. Yet believers are powered by God’s love in Christ.

This same “law that gives freedom” will judge us. James doesn’t mean that we gain mercy from God as we give mercy to others. That would contradict clear words of Scripture: “A person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28). Instead, our invisible faith will be demonstrated by visible mercy toward others. It’s just as Jesus told his disciples in the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46).

It’s good for us to remember the coming judgment. It’s even better for us to remember that on that day the only safe spot will be a cleft in that merciful, loving Rock of ages. But while we are here on earth, we who have shared in his mercy will show his mercy. Our efforts may be feeble and pathetic, but they will be there with his love as the force behind them.

Digging deeper

  1. Explain how love for our neighbor is the royal law. See Matthew 22:39,40; Galatians 5:14; Colossians 3:12-14. In Matthew 22, Jesus summed up the law in two sections. The first is to love God totally, and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Paul in Galatians combined the two, reminding us that our love for God shows in the way we love our neighbor. Behind this love is God’s awesome love that fills our hearts and fuels our lives with such love. What could be greater than such love?
  2. How did Jesus fulfill the royal law for us? See Mark 10:45. What greater example of love for others can we point to than Jesus’ saving love for sinners. He exchanged his throne of glory for the altar of the cross—all because of his love.

This is an article in a continuing series on the book of James.

Author: Richard Lauersdorf
Volume 108, Number 10
Issue: October 2021

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This entry is part 40 of 63 in the series bible-study

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