Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Applying the Law

James 2:8-11 (NKJV)8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

Having exhorted his readers to cease showing favoritism to the rich and famous, James counters a potential objection. “But James,” his readers think to themselves, “has missed the point of Jesus’ exhortation. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Aren’t the rich our neighbors?”

To this objection James responds with typical acumen. If you really are simply loving the rich as yourselves then you have done well, he declares. The rich are in fact our neighbors, and there is nothing inherently wrong in riches nor anything inherently virtuous in poverty. But James proceeds to ask the probing question – is this really what’s going on? Is this really what’s motivating you as a congregation? Because if you aren’t loving them as yourself but are instead showing partiality then you are convicted by the law of God as transgressors against God.

“How so?” we are tempted to ask and James answers. First, notice that James highlights the goodness of God’s law. The law of God has been given to us to direct our conduct as the people of God and to evaluate our behavior. When Paul says we are not under law but under grace, he is by no means contradicting what James has to tell us here. Rather Paul is announcing our freedom from condemnation, while James is addressing the lawful use of the law as a standard by which to evaluate our conduct.

But notice, secondly, that a proper use of the law requires wisdom and discernment. The law is not to be applied in some wooden, ham-fisted way. Rather it reveals principles of life and godliness that describe for us the life of our Lord Jesus Christ and that have to be applied carefully in any given situation. And notice the way James makes application of the law in this particular situation – an application that may cause us to do a double-take – he identifies the showing of partiality as a species of murder and thereby convicts his readers of transgressing the law.

Showing partiality, murder? Yep. When you favor the rich over the poor for your own selfish ends you are committing murder. For what is murder but the taking of innocent life to further one’s own desires? And here you are crushing the dignity of the poor, humiliating them in your assembly, making them sit at your footstool, and for what? For their benefit? Hardly. Rather for your own. You are murderers.

So the next time you are tempted to slight someone for your own advantage remember the stern words of our brother James – to do so is to commit murder and be convicted by the law as a transgressor.

Reminded that we frequently fail to handle the law with wisdom and that we fail, thereby, to see the true character of our sin, let us kneel and confess to our Lord that we too have been guilty of murder.