“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. 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.” (James 2:8-13)
God’s law is love, but partiality violates that law (2:8-9). James singles out the command from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is cited six times in the synoptic gospels, and also in Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14. Jesus referred to it as the second great command, after, “Jesus replied: “‘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.” (Matt. 22:37-38). He added (Matt. 22:39-40), “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”” Just prior to the command to love our neighbor, Moses wrote (Lev. 19:15), “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.” So part of biblical love for one’s neighbor includes treating each person fairly and impartially.
James goes on (2:9) to apply the law of love specifically to partiality. To show partiality to the rich while you treat the poor with contempt, or to show partiality to a certain race, while treating those of another race as inferior, is to commit sin. In case we didn’t understand those plain words, James adds, you “are convicted by the law as transgressors.”
Modern “Christian” psychology has taken the command to love your neighbor as yourself to mean that we are commanded to love ourselves. “there was no need of a law that would increase or rather enkindle this already excessive love.” (John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion[Westminster Press], II:VII:54, pp. 417-418). So the point of the second great commandment is, you care about your own needs; show the same care for the needs of others. You care about your own feelings; show the same care for the feelings of others. You care about your own desires; show the same care for the desires of others. You care about how others treat you; treat them as you would want to be treated.
James knew that his readers would try to squirm out from under this guilty verdict by saying, “Well, okay, maybe we’ve not treated everyone fairly, but it’s not that big of a deal. After all, we haven’t been committing adultery. We haven’t been murdering people. We keep the important commandments of the law, even if we haven’t always treated the poor as we should have.” Anticipating this dodge, James continues, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.” (James 2:10-11) Jesus said that the weightier provisions of the law are justice, mercy, and faithfulness, thus implying that other matters, such as tithing table spices, are less important (Matt. 23:23). The apostle Paul implied that sexual sins are worse than some other sins when he said (1 Cor. 6:18), “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.” He adds, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) But James’ point is, whatever the sin, it renders you a lawbreaker. You can be a good person in every other way, but if you break the law, you are a lawbreaker.
In the letter to the Galations, Paul writes to refute the Judaizers who were teaching that Gentile believers must obey the Jewish law in order to be saved, and to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ. “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’ The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, ‘The person who does these things will live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Galations 3:10-14) The reference is to legalists—those who refuse God’s offer of grace and insist on pursuing righteousness through works. No one under the law ever perfectly kept the law. God’s blessing has never been earned but has always been freely given.
Jesus said (John 5:24), “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” But even though we do not need to fear that awful judgment if we are in Christ, Paul wrote (2 Cor. 5:10), “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Our sins have been judged and removed from us through the death of Christ. But our lives as believers will undergo the Lord’s heart-level evaluation. Those things that were done out of love for Christ and for His glory will be rewarded. Those things that were done out of selfish motives are worthless in God’s sight and will be burned as wood, hay, and stubble (1 Cor. 3:11-15). Our words need to be accompanied with godly actions. James is telling us to live in light of the fact that we will soon stand before Jesus Christ, who will reward us for our faithful obedience, but also save us through the fire as our worthless deeds go up in smoke. There is an essential agreement between the teaching of Paul and that of James on the subject of faith and works. The justification of the sinner, it is true, is by faith in Christ and not by works of his own; but the hidden root of faith must bring forth the visible fruit of good works.
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.'” (Jeremiah 22:3) Doing the right thing means living obediently to God. Good deeds do not save us, but they display our faith. “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13)
Showing mercy to others demonstrates that you have already received mercy from God. As Jesus said (Matt. 5:7), “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” He did not mean that we earn or merit mercy by showing it to others. Mercy, by definition, is unearned! Rather, mercy flows to others from those who have received it from God. They will receive mercy in its fullness at the final judgment. “While setting forth a strict standard, conformity to his holy law, as the basis of judgment, God ultimately is a God of mercy, who also provides in his grace a means of escaping that judgment” (Moo, p. 118). If it refers to the mercy we show to others, it means that when we are merciful toward others, we demonstrate “a heart made right by the work of God’s grace” (ibid.).
I don’t know exactly how you need to apply it, but the Holy Spirit does. If you think about it and ask Him to apply it to your heart, you will grow in practical deeds of love for those whom you might naturally despise or disregard. As you love your neighbor as yourself, you are fulfilling the royal law of the King! In his book, “Humility”, C.J. Mahaney recommends actively looking for evidences of grace in others’ lives. “Look anywhere and you’ll see evidences of God’s activity, evidences of grace. What a joy and a privilege it is to discern this activity in the lives of those we love and care for — and to draw their attention to how God is at work in their lives.”
Pray that instead of seeing how others are different, you would see evidence of grace in others’ lives.