James 2:8-13 “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as law-breakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a law-breaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!”
We live at a time when ordinary folk are saying, “I don’t think there is a right and wrong.” They are, without knowing it, relativists. They believe that what is true, good, right and wrong varies from time to time, place to place, and person to person. Their favourite phrase is ‘It all depends . . ‘ It all depends where you are, when you are. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. When in Rome we do what the Romans do and when we are elsewhere we fit in with the there and then. But that state of affairs of everyone doing what is right in their own eyes can result in chaos, so the relativist suggests that the cure for that problem is tolerance. We must live and let live. All opinions are to be tolerated and permitted unless they do serious harm to others. So even the relativist can’t tolerate both Jesus and Judas because Judas’ behaviour resulted in Jesus being crucified. But the relativist can tolerate Jesus and the Pharisees, as both offer different religious views. The Pharisees, however, created a bondage of rules and regulations covering a million minute details. It was a religion without assurance and little joy. So not all religions are equally helpful are they ? What the relativist can’t stomach is someone who says, “No one can come to God except by me” and that is exactly what the Son of God does claim.
Then we ask the relativists what they think of the behaviour of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Again, even they would judge that that conduct would be wrong because of the pain it has caused many people. If you marry someone you give up doing what is right in your own eyes in certain areas of your life. You have a spouse and children to consider. So what do you teach children about ‘doing right’ ? What moral views should accompany a sex-education lesson ? Does it tell the Hilaries of this world just to tolerate their Bills’ promiscuity ? For me that is a cruel nonsense. Everything is not relative. There is such a thing as doing right. Not your doing right as you understand it, but doing right as the Creator of this world understands it.
This passage is about the Christian view of doing right: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing right” (v.8). Notice it tells us that we find out what doing right is in Scripture, that is, in what has been written down, a script authored by God. In other words, we have an external reference to appeal to. The Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘The Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35). The apostle Paul said that “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) and the apostle Peter said that “no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). God has taken great pains in inspiring and guiding prophets and apostles to give us a book which contains exactly what he wants it to contain. That Scripture tells us how to do right. There are often times when we don’t want to do right, and we can persuade ourselves that a certain course of action must be right because it seems irresistible. The whole history of the medieval troubadour and his love songs right down to the mournful country music of today all have the same theme, “How can this be wrong which feels so right ?” But the Christian is not a slave to his feelings. He has the Scripture which endures for ever, and it tells us what right and wrong are, and it is consistent, still the standard when our marriages go through bumpy times. It has the extra advantage of being simple. For example, it tells us doing right is purity before marriage and faithfulness within it All the ten commandments are like that.
Then you see that James also tells us that we learn to do right from “the royal law found in Scripture” (v.8). You notice that in every verse from verse 8 to verse 12 there is a reference to God’s law, and it is always in a most positive and respectful way. This is the New Testament, and James is writing to people who are believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, but he still refers to the law. The Son of God has brought in a new covenant but James still refers to the law. James was conscious of how messed up had been the converted Pharisees who were now in this Christian congregation, that they had brought with them into the kingdom of God an attitude to a host of man-made regulations and laws, and part of his pastoring was to disentangle them from those ideas which had so over-sensitised their consciences, but James still refers to the law. There were also converted Sadduccees in the congregation, but they were more liberal in their view of the Scripture – they didn’t believe in the resurrection – he also told them of “the royal law found in Scripture.” Legalism and antinomianism arise from a common root of dissatisfaction God’s royal law. The legalist wants just the law: the antinomian wants nothing to do with the law.
James had met Paul, in fact alongside Peter and John the three of them had given to Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship when they recognised the grace given to them” (Galatians 2:9). In other words, there was no difference at all between James’ message and Paul’s. When Paul said, “you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), James would echo a hearty ‘Amen.’ He would say, “My covering is not the law of God. I am under the blood of Christ as my protection and salvation.” That is what ‘under grace’ means. For forgiveness, and deliverance from condemnation we are under the protection of the grace of the Lord Christ, not under the law. But the law tells everyone who is sheltered by the blood of King Jesus how to serve him. That is why it is called the ‘royal’ law. It belongs to the King of kings. It is given to those who by the new birth, have entered the kingdom of heaven. It is a law fit for those who have been made kings and priests to God. So we have God the King of kings; we have God’s children made kings to rule under him; and between the King and those in his kingdom we have a a royal law that tells us how to do right. This royal law is the mother of all the laws found in the universe. I am glad that I live in a country where there is a rule of law. I would hate to live in the anarchy of some of the countries in the world where there is no recourse for justice and desperate corruption. Thank God for a land under law. I am also glad that the King of love who ‘my Shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never,’ has given me a royal law in Exodus 20 and Matthew 5,6 and 7, and Romans 12, and Ephesians 5 and 6 to tell me how I should live in his kingdom. In the Coronation Service the monarch is given a Bible and as he or she holds it these words are said, “We present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is wisdom. This is the Royal Law. These are the lively oracles of God.” Let world leaders remember that they will answer to the law of the King of kings.
So to do right you need Scripture and its royal law, and then notice that that law is comprehended in these words, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (v.8). That phrase is so important that it is cited six times in the synoptic gospels, and the apostle Paul quotes it to the Galatians and to the Romans. There was a man who came to the Lord Jesus on one occasion and asked him, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” It was a much debated question, but Christ told him immediately, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). So after love for God with every ounce of moral, spiritual, mental and physical energy, the next commandment in importance is the obligation God places upon everyone in his kingdom of loving their neighbours as themselves.
We are beginning to see what it is to do right in life, that we find how we are to live our lives in Scripture, especially in those ethical sections which James calls the “royal law” and they are summed up in the idea of loving our neighbours as ourselves. How different all this is from pervasive relativism. James then gets more specific and he tells us that if we are going to do right in our lives we have three responsibilities:-
1] You Have A Responsibility to Every Neighbour (v.9)
James is still concerned with this problem of ‘Christian favouritism.’ People with status were being loved and warmly welcomed into the church while poor folk were merely tolerated.
Let me clarify this matter of Christian friendships. There were just twelve disciples out of 120 brethren whom our Lord chose to be ‘with him.’ Jesus wasn’t a loner. He was a gregarious man. He believed that it is not good for a man to be alone. There were three of the twelve with whom the Lord Jesus was particularly close, Peter, James and John, and he took them with him to special places like the Mount of Transfiguration, and they were asked to pray for him in the garden of Gethsemane. Then of these three there was the apostle John and he is given the description ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ There was a special friendship between Jesus and John, though Peter was obviously the leader of the twelve – he is the one who preaches on the day of Pentecost. Now the Lord Jesus was doing nothing wrong: he is the archetypal man, and he is vindicating the place of special friendships within the church, like Andrew Bonar and Robert Murray McCheyne. We are closer to some people. We get on with them; we sit and talk with them; we’re on the phone with them; we may spend a day together. That is not favouritism. What is sinful is possessiveness and jealousy in friendships. What is wrong is ignoring those who are not in our circle. “If you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as law-breakers,” (v.9) because the royal law says, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (v.8). Love your neighbour ! Let’s look at this in three ways.
A] Who am I to love ? “Your neighbour.” Your neighbour is the person who in the providence of God is brought near to you. The people who live on your corridor in the hall of residence. The boys and girls in your class in school, or taking your course at university. The folk on your street. The men and women in your office. The persons you do business with. The postman. The window-cleaner. The check-out girl. The hairdresser. The filling-station staff. The baker. The paper-boy. All those people we meet each day, and we have some personal contact with them, that has made them all our neighbours. Then there are the people we get to know through friends. A woman is desperately ill and she asks for our prayers – she becomes our neighbour. All the men in a family in Kenya die of AIDS and there are a dozen fatherless children whose school fees need to be paid, and when the request comes to us they become our neighbours.
Some of these neighbours are desperately poor; we don’t scorn calling them neighbours though they are our inferiors. “God hath made of one blood all people that dwell on the face of the earth.” You are not better than they are. They are men, and what are you more than that ? They may be men in rags, but men in rags are men. You love your neighbour in rags. Some of your neighbours are wealthy. You notice his fine clothes, and her dress, and the new car. God has given them those things. Don’t covet them. Think no hard thoughts of them. There will always be ‘the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate;’ so let it be. Be content with your lot in life, and do not throw in your lot with those who would rid that man of his wealth that they might get suddenly rich. Love him, and then you will not envy him.
Your neighbour has a different religion from you. He is a student from Iran, or India, or Israel. You may not choose which one is nearest to your beliefs and love that one and ignore the other. Love your neighbour. He thinks differently from you. He has a different holy day from you. There are foods he thinks are unclean. Love him for all of that. Possibly he has no religion at all. Your neighbour is an agnostic; he disregards God; his language is bad – love him still. His sin is not against you it is against God. Leave God to deal with him. If you can do him a kind turn, if there is anything in which you can serve him, do it, day or night. And if you make some distinction against him let it be this, because he is not of your religion you will serve him more, and you will love him that he may find more easily the Lord you have found.
Your neighbour is your rival in school. He loves the girl you love. He is going to get the prize as the best student. He is going to be captain of the team, head of the house, and speak on behalf of the school on speech-day. He is going to get the annual scholarship to Oxbridge. Love him as you love yourself ! He is your rival in business. His shop is not far from yours. He advertises in the same section of the paper as you do. Some of your old customers have gone to him. You must not hurt him but love him. You taught him all he knows and now he has set up on his own, and he owes you money. Give him time to pay. Let him set himself up and then he will pay you back. Love your neighbour. With everyone with whom you do business he is your neighbour. If you sell to him or if you buy from him you are to love him, though he is creating pressures for you – love him. Do not retaliate. If he is near you, and you have any dealings with him, the royal law says, Love your neighbour as yourself.
His language and lifestyle offends you. We are sometimes overwhelmed when we see or hear how people behave. They have no sexual morals. They do not think shoplifting is wrong. They steal from the welfare system. They are into drugs, and they drink until they get drunk. They are pimps, and blasphemers, and call-girls, and thieves, and men of violence. We don’t want them as our neighbours. We couldn’t live as Michael Toogood does in the heart of the red light area of London in Soho and plant a church there. You don’t know what you could do until God starts to work in your life, but you do know that God wants you to love those people. We want to lock them up so that they don’t bother us. But who was ever helped by being locked up ? We are bound to love our criminal neighbours as ourselves. Didn’t Jesus have a thief as a neighbour and even when Jesus was dying he loved him ? He did not love his thieving, or Jesus would be a thief himself. I cannot love a man’s lying or I would be untrue, but though he has wronged me I may not harbour one vindictive thought against him.. If he sins against the law of the land so that he goes to prison I will love him in the punishment, and visit him, and pray for him, and not rejoice if the prisoners treat him cruelly. My neighbour claims my love. I must love him. I am not bound to give him a room in my home, and give him all my money and possessions. I am not bound to treat him as a member of the family. That would be imprudent and ruin others, but him I must love.
I am bound to set my face against him as a paedophile, but not my heart against him as my brother-man. I am bound to love him as a man, though he cannot speak without swear words, and his history is a story of wife-battering and child abuse. Yet he is a man, and as my neighbour he is my brother and I am bound to love him, and by stooping I can lift him up maybe. I must try. I am wrong if I do not offer a hand. I am bound to love him as myself.
O that God’s royal law were carried out by all of us. “There’s nothing to do in the church,” says the whinger. “Love your neighbour as yourself !” Let’s start doing that. Some of you don’t love the people who are in this same chapel as you are. You certainly don’t love those who have a different opinion from yourself – that, of course, is the great get-out clause from the obligations of this royal law. “If they believed what I believe than I would love them.” Then you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (v.9). I wonder would you love them if they believed the same things ? Would you ? Some of you are angry with your own brothers. Some won’t talk to their own sisters. Some of you have not written to your parents for an age. You have no natural affection; how can I expect you to obey the royal law and love your neighbour ? But whether you love them or not it is mine to preach the will of God for you. You do right if you love your neighbour as yourself – only then.
B] What am I to do ? “Love him.” ‘You do him no harm, you say, and not try to hurt him.’ That’s all right as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. You are saying that you don’t hate him, but God says you are to love him. It’s not enough to say you didn’t throw a Molotov cocktail at the convicted paedophile’s house. I am glad to hear that, but do you love him ? You do your neighbour no injury, but do you love him ? You never walk by someone collecting for charity, but do you love those people for whom they are collecting ? A neighbour on the street has cancer. You give to a cancer charity but you never find out what you can do for that suffering neighbour.
“You don’t have my neighbours,” you say. “They are neighbours from hell.” That is where all our neighbours will be one day if grace does not touch them. You reach them by loving them, and love means heroism. You want to be Mr Cool when you love your neighbour. You don’t want to be embarrassed; you don’t want to be out of your depth; you always want to be in control. The Lord Jesus found himself in very strange circumstances when he was loving his neighbour. He who dares wins. It is true in battle and it is true in the fight of faith. The path of love may be rough but you keep on loving your neighbour through thick and thin. Heap coals of fire on his head. And if there seems to be nothing you can do to please him then please your Master. Remember if they have spurned your love, the Lord has not spurned it.
We are to love our neighbours, and we know exactly what that means. Towards your neighbour “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs … it always protects (your neighbour), always trusts (your neighbour), always hopes (in your neighbour), always perseveres (with your neighbour)” (I Corinthians 13: 4-7). Love forgives. “Well,” someone says with exasperation, “I can’t see that I am ready to forgive. You know a worm will turn if it is trodden on ?” And you have a worm as your example ? A worm will turn, but a Christian will not. It comes to something that you have chosen a worm as your exemplar when we have got Christ as our copy. The Lord Jesus didn’t turn on you did he ? Think of the ways you’ve provoked him. Aren’t you glad he loves you better than you love your neighbour ?
C] How am I to love my neighbour ? “as yourself.” It would be good for some of you to love your neighbours as your pets. How dependable you are in your care for your dogs. How much money do you spend a week on them ? You talk to your pets more than you talk to your neighbours. Little wonder they don’t know the gospel. It would be good for some of you to love your neighbours as you love your homes, your gardens, your Tessas, and stocks and shares. But we are asked to love our neighbours as ourselves. This is not a nice idea, nor is it a suggestion nor an option: this is the royal law by which we will be judged. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” People don’t need to be urged to love themselves: the worst sinners will love themselves like they breathe air. Serial killers languishing in prison love themselves. The church does not have a mission to teach unbelievers to love themselves. “Love your neighbour” is the commandment, and “as yourself,” the standard.
How much does a man love himself ? None of us too little; some of us too much. When I love my neighbour as I love myself then his concerns become as important to me as mine, and his needs, and his condition, his losses and crosses. I respect him as I want to be respected myself. I am as interested in him as I would like him to be interested in me. Alec Motyer asks, “how do we love ourselves ? Never (it is to be hoped !) with an emotional thrill; rarely, as a matter of fact, with much sense of satisfaction; mostly with pretty wholesale disapproval; often with complete loathing – but always with concern, care and attention. When we catch sight of our faces in the mirror first thing in the morning, the word ‘Ugh’ comes spontaneously to the lips; yet at once we take our revolting face to the bathroom, we wash it and tend it and make it as presentable as nature will allow. And so it goes on through the day; loving ourselves means providing loving care and attention. This is the model on which we are to base our relationships to all to whom we owe neighbourly duty. Everything conspires today to define ‘love’ primarily in emotional terms. Scripturally, love is to be defined in caring terms, for the love that is owed to our neighbour is the love we expend on ourselves” (The Message of James, IVP, p.97). You have a responsibility to every neighbour.
2. You Have a Responsibility to the Whole Law (vv. 10 & 11).
James moves carefully from limited love to limited obedience, from partiality with people to partiality with the commandments of God. All of us have favourite commands that we believe we keep, and particular sins which we hate. The high priests Annas and Caiaphas had one pet commandment, the third, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guilty who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7). They were determined to nail Christ to the cross on the strength of that broken commandment. They claimed that Jesus of Nazareth had committed blasphemy. But there are other commandments which said, “You shall not murder” and “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” They broke those commandments without compunction because their concern was to use the law for their own ends, not to magnify it by the way they loved and kept it. Limited obedience for their own ends.
You might find a primitive community where committing adultery is absolutely wrong because then a wife could be bearing someone else’s child. But in that same community killing and eating your enemies is not considered wrong. So James’ words would be right up to date for them: “For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a law-breaker” (v.11). So when John Elliot, who was a missionary to the Indians of North America began to translate the Scriptures into their language he did not begin with John 3:16 but with the Ten Commandments, and this was also the theme of his first sermon. He did not think that they could be saved by the law of God – the thought never entered his mind – but the commandments showed these people their guilt before God and why they needed to be saved. They were law-breakers and needed a law-keeper to be their substitute. John Paton, the missionary to the New Hebrides in the South Seas also first taught the commandments to the islanders because they would never become interested in their relationship with the Redeemer until they had seen the terrible breach in their relationship to the Creator. The good news is only good news to those who have heard the bad news. Our Lord said, “But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matt. 9:13). Now none is righteous absolutely, so he must be speaking of those who are righteous in their own eyes; he is not summoning those to become his disciples, but those who feel the weight of their sin.
Think how Saul of Tarsus had once such a confident view of the law of God. It described him, how he lived his life. Then one day God took just one of those commandments and taught Saul that he was a sinner. Romans 7:7-9 reads like this, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.” As Al Martin has pointed out, “Paul could look at the law as a code of external conduct, and check himself out pretty well. Then he came to that tenth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not covet.’ How does one covet ? Not with the hands, feet, or mouth ! You covet in the heart. And when he saw the spiritual intent of the law, that it touched the dispositions of the heart, suddenly that cesspool of iniquity that had been covered over with a garb of respectability was laid bare in his own eyes and he said, ‘I saw in me every kind of covetousness desire.'” (Banner of Truth Magazine, Issue no. 50, p.4).
The awareness that he had broken one commandment was enough to convict Paul that he was a law-breaker, that if the tenth commandment spoke to hearts and imaginations so did the other nine commandments too. Paul didn’t conclude, “Well, I’ve kept 90% of the law” but “I am guilty of breaking all the law.” The whole law of God was represented by that tenth commandment, “You shall not covet.” If I think I can pick and mix which laws I keep and which commandments I break I am no better than Annas and Caiaphas. I am using the commandments for my own self-righteous ends. I am defying the great Law-giver himself and putting myself on the throne and putting the Son of God on the cross. The law of God is an expression of the being and righteous character of God himself. “The law of God is not like a heap of stones but rather like a sheet of glass. We could take away one stone from the heap and leave the heap itself intact; but when we throw a stone through a window, it strikes one place but it fragments the whole. The law of God is like the glass; a break at one point cannot be contained; the cracking and crazing spreads over the entire area” (The Message of James, IVP, 1985, p.99).
Men and women, we are all law-breakers in God’s eyes. Have you seen it ? I want to say that to realise that reality actually gives men hope, because it was for law-breakers that the Lord Jesus came. He kept the law of God: he magnified it because he – the second person of the Godhead – lived a life in obedience to the ten commandments. But he also took the curse of the broken law that we might be forgiven, and he gives us through the new birth a new source of divine energy and a new desire to obey him, “that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). So James is saying that we have a responsibility to every neighbour, and to the whole royal law, and now thirdly:
3] You Have a Responsibility to Live in the Light of Judgment (vv. 12 & 13)
You are going to be judged, says James. In Scripture these three things always hang together, the law of God, the cross of Christ and the righteous judgment of almighty God. Ernest Reisinger’s constant message to the American church has been these three things:
1. Do away with the law of God, and there is no sin because sin is the transgression of the law. I John 3:4 reads, ‘Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” No law, no sin. And if there is no sin, we need no Christ or Saviour.
2. Without the work of Christ on the cross there is no solution for sin. In many respects one of the most wonderful descriptions of the work of Christ on the cross is found in Isaiah 42:21 which tell us, ‘He will magnify the law and make it honourable.’ The Cross without the law is a jigsaw with the key piece missing. The message of the Cross is Christ satisfying the righteous demands of a holy law. The base of the Cross is eternal justice, and the spirit of the Cross is eternal love. If there is no Cross, there is no gospel, and therefore no answer to the question of sin.
3. If there is no righteous judgment by almighty God, then who cares about sin or the Cross ? (Lord and Christ, P and R Publishing, 1994, p.172).
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged” says James (v.12). Imagine two factories, both producing the same product. One has never been changed. The sons run the business just as their fathers ran it before them. Off the line comes the finished product, and nobody checks it. Not many people buy it because they never know what they are going to get. You may be lucky and get a reliable one. But a new factory has opened up making the same product. There’s quality control on its production, and it’s quite rigorous, every single item they manufacture is checked thoroughly. The result is that the workmen are not slipshod. They know that unless they do exactly what their employer requires from them their work will be discarded and they are in trouble. Customers too are going for this product. They are ending their support of this old firm in their hundreds because you can guarantee you are going to get a fine reliable product, tried, tested and approved if you buy from the new manufacturer. They don’t advertise a lot, but the grape vine is very effective. This is the brand to buy.
That’s what James is saying. Everyone is going to be inspected. Our actions are going to be evaluated. Yes. But this control is far more searching – our very words are going to be judged. By your words you will be justified and by your words you are going to be condemned. We are heading for the day of judgment. This is a moral universe. For every action it is the living God who supplies the power. For every word it is the Lord God who provides the energy. We live and move and have our being in him. “How did you use the strength I gave you ?” he will say. “Your breath was in my hands. How did you use your breath to speak ? Were there words of hate, and threat ? Did you tempt and seduce and boast and blaspheme with the strength I was supplying ?” “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged.”
Then he tells us the criterion for judgment – “the law that gives freedom” I was reading an interview with the singer and film-star Kris Kristofferson. A man of many gifts, with broken marriages and lots of pain in his background, but now he has found peace in a happy marriage and five children. Here is domestic bliss sitting on a figure who has always played the tough loner, the loser, the world-weary drifter. His early songs used to be about ‘freedom’ – that is, freedom from taking responsibility for yourself, and freedom from keeping your marriage vows, freedom from keeping sober and in your right mind, and freedom from self-control. Lots of things were promised to give freedom which brought in fact bondage. He looks back over those days now and he quotes one of songs, in which he sang, ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.’ In the name of ‘freedom’ men lose wives, homes, children, health and liberty. Then he adds, “I got plenty to lose today. But I am also free today of a lot of things I wasn’t free of before. Loneliness. Depression. Anxiety.” (The Sunday Telegraph, October 4, 1998).
Kris Kistofferson is learning about freedom but it is in God’s law that true freedom is found. Freedom from a life enslaved to idols, freedom from living for your work seven days a week, freedom from broken homes, freedom from estranged parents and rebellious children, freedom from hurting others, freedom from guilty affairs, freedom from greed, freedom from lying. Freedom to be content in whatever state you are in. Freedom to enjoy the peace of God that passes all understanding. The rules of a game don’t destroy a game; they make the game possible ! Quality control inspectors are not killjoys; they guarantee the product ! God’s laws don’t take away our freedom; they make us free. Those are the laws by which we will be judged.
What does the law say ? “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6, and quoted by Jesus in Matthew 9:13). You see the picture ? A man who never misses the daily sacrifice in the temple, but if you were a day late in repaying him a shekel into prison he’d have you thrown. A man who never failed in all the outward signs of religion, but if you crossed him in the slightest form he’d have you by the throat. God’s royal law of freedom says, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” It warns, “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” You who love the jots and tittles of the law, but are strangers to the loving spirit that gave the law – beware ! Did you forgive ? Were you merciful ? Were you kind to your enemies ? Did you go the second mile ? What does James say ? “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” Judgment without mercy is not the same as merciless judgment. If we fail to show mercy we ourselves have never known the wonder of divine mercy. We might have made a religious sacrifice every day of our lives, but we’ve been strangers to God’s mercy. We show this by what we are demanding from fellow sinners. We could never have prayed the Lord’s prayer and meant it, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” God’s law will take an absolutely just and equitable course. We have never shewn mercy to others and that is how we too will be treated. We get what we deserve.
Mercy triumphs over judgment ! cries James. He is speaking of the heart of God. He is speaking of Calvary. There is no more godlike act that God ever performed, when he visited his own Son in judgment that he might visit us in mercy. Judgment was fully done on Golgotha. All our sins were laid on the Lamb of God, so God is just in pardoning us. Mercy triumphs over judgment.Go thou and do likewise !
GEOFF THOMAS October 11 1998