James 2:1-13 1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. 2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: 4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? 5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? 6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? 7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? 8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. 10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For he shall have judgment
Christianity is perfection by degrees. It does not abolish the law – it fulfills it. I have spoken many times about the cognitive dissonance produced in our soul by observing the lamentable reality of our lives – our weaknesses, bad habits, tendency to fall into sin again and again – vs. the promise and requirement of our becoming perfected. What we see in our lives does not approach this ideal!
What to do? Even with the help of Christ, how can we change within so completely?
They key to our COMPLETE change is the ROYAL LAW: (if) “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well”. It is NOT POSSIBLE TO BE SAVED if we do not love our neighbor. It is not possible to love our neighbor if we are a “respecter of persons”, that is, if we love some more than others.
These are well known, but little followed words. They are the EASIER way, because as James makes clear, if we transgress part of the law, we are guilty of all, and we certainly transgress more than just a little bit! We have only one chance; we must live according to the law of liberty. “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty”
The Royal Law, and the Law of liberty are the same. They are both rooted in mercy. Since we have obtained mercy, we must mete it out without regard to persons. This is the key to our regeneration. The EASY way is to love our neighbor, and we know who he is. Let us not mock God by choosing who to love and who we hate, who to treat with deference, and who to ignore – the question of who our neighbor was was answered emphatically by the parable of the Good Samaritan.
As a priest, and a sinful Christian, I have learned that many of us lack confidence that we can ever get completely better – it is that cognitive dissonance thing rearing its ugly head. Since we cannot see the way right now to get better in EVERYTHING, I have proposed a strategy many times – “If you cannot stop sinning, at least be kind!” In order to guard against favoritism, and in the spirit of the words of the brother of the Lord, let me amend that directive: “If you cannot stop sinning, at least be kind TO EVERYONE!”.
Is it really that simple? Can we really be saved by being kind, even though we still sin? What does James say? “ “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.”
Kindness, mercy, non judgment, love – all are fundamentally the same virtues. Our own kindness will save us, if we apply it EQUALLY and liberally to all.
Look carefully at your life. You may think you are kind, but will this belief stand up to careful scrutiny? It is easy to love the lovely; it is easy to be kind to the kind. It is natural to treat well those who we think can help us or hurt us – are we kind to the “little ones” who cannot influence our lives unless we let them? We will hear their voices at the judgment day – what will they be saying? If we have lived according to the law of liberty, we will be judged by it, and be saved.
There is no other way to be saved. If we follow this “Royal Law” (of liberty) carefully, we will see a marvelous thing in our lives – we will get stronger – we will stop sinning. This is for later – for now, let us be no “respecter of persons”: since we cannot stop sinning, let us be kind to everyone.