The Unity of the Law

by | January 12, 2017 | Bible Study, Marci Turner

Read James 2:8-13.

Children rarely respond well to short emphatic commands.  When in danger, we may need to yell “Get out of the street!” but the loving explanation that follows softens a potentially defiant heart.  God made humans to question and when told by authority what to do, we want to know why.

The Book of James is known for its short sentences and imperative language as the author James teaches his readers.  His letter is often considered New Testament wisdom literature, comparable to Proverbs.  In James, a command is often followed by a teaching; a strong rebuke is often followed by a rationale.

After instructing his brothers to show no partiality, James now explains why impartiality is the way of God.  His explanation contradicts the way many Jews perceived sin and the law before Christ.  He challenges his brothers and us to rethink our perception of the Law as 613 individual isolated rules, or the summary 10 commandments, some more serious in our eyes than others.  There is the Law, in its entirety, a unified whole that mirrors the unity of God.  We can’t separate God’s love from his wrath, his healing provision from his sovereignty.  God’s character is one just as the Law is one, and attempting to subdivide and then prioritize the Law is playing God.  Once a note is misplayed, a harmony is broken.  Once struck in a single place, a glass pane is shattered.  Once one law is broken, the entire Law is broken.  Has God given an impossible standard to keep?

Yes.  But through Jesus, we live under the law of liberty.  Our judgment under the Law is replaced by the One who showed no partiality.  Jesus lowered himself so that we could be shown favor by a just God.   Our response to others through the power of the Holy Spirit is impartiality and mercy.  Through Jesus, mercy triumphs over judgment.

 

OBSERVATION

What is the royal law (v. 8)?  Why does James mention it here (reference James 2:1-7)?  What is his intent in writing this passage (James 2:8-13) to his original readers?

James describes those who show partiality in two ways (v. 9).   How does he describe them?

Underline each time James uses the word mercy (v. 13).   What is mercy?  How does James relate mercy to judgment?

 

INTERPRETATION

Simply, what is the law mentioned in v 9-11 (Hint:  Exodus 20)?  Referencing, Matthew 22:37-40, how does this law differ from the royal law?  Which law was James’ audience more concerned over or more likely to live by?

In v. 10, James writes of the “whole law”.  In Galatians 5:3, Paul also writes of the “whole law”.  Is it possible to keep only part of the law and why do we think we can?  Referencing Matthew 5:17-18, is the “whole law” in effect today?  Has the Law been accomplished and if so, how?

In v 12, James writes of two types of judgment, one explicitly stated and another inferred.  What are those two types of judgment?  In the context of James 2:8-13, what is the law of liberty and who embodies it? How are we to speak and act under the law of liberty?  And how does that relate to the royal law and partiality?

Mark the following words in James 2:8-13:  law, transgressors, judgment, mercy.  How does this passage explain and inform us of the Gospel?

 

APPLICATION

The sin of partiality is not just rich over poor.  It can be partiality towards education or lack, ethnic similarities or differences, or even those who have experienced similar abuse or addictions versus those who have not.  Partiality can even be playing favorites with those who are just more agreeable and enjoyable to be around.  How have you recently showed partiality? 

In what ways do you forget about the unity of the whole law and use a perceived disunity of the law to defend your sin?  The doctrine of unity of the law (“whole law”) brings disbelief for the sinner and frustration for the religious.  Which way do you most often respond?

How does the statement “Mercy triumphs over judgment” change how you live out each day? How can your actions towards others change beginning today knowing that God’s mercy triumphs over the judgment you deserve?

 

–Marci Turner