19. Avoid Lawbreaking

Meditations in James: 19 :  How to Avoid Becoming a Lawbreaker

Jas 2:8-11 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, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

They say that in the modernist movements of the twentieth century, artists sought to paint ‘universals’, things that summed up all other things in that group, such as a human being, or a chair. What James refers to as the royal law,Love your neighbour as yourself is a spiritual example of a universal because it sums up all other laws that protect human beings from human beings, because that is what most laws do. That particular law was found in Lev 19:18 and the Lord knew that each person has a self-love, a concern for their own well-being. What that simple law says is that anyone should view other people as they view themselves.  Now if we do that, we will always be concerned for the well-being of others, just as much as we are concerned for our own well-being, and if we do that any other law about human relationships will be covered. Now it is called the royal law because it is a law that comes out of the character of God Himself, and God of course is the King of all things.

The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote: The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” (Rom 13:9,10).  Jesus had likewise previously declared this: One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  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. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:35-40). So, instead of having to think about the technical legalities of any particular situation, we ask ourselves, “If this was me, how would I like to be treated? This is how I ought to act towards this other person.”

But this is not a theoretical, abstract discussion; this is all to be seen in the light of what James has been saying about local gatherings of Christians. In case you’d forgotten, he was castigating them for showing favouritism and exalting the rich and ignoring the poor.  Implied in all this, he is saying, “Think about this, how would you feel if you were the poor coming into your congregations?  How would you feel if you saw the rich being exalted and yourself being ignored?”  There is an obvious answer to that which implies that the behaviour being referred to – favouritism – is wrong, because it demeans the poor and makes them feel bad about themselves, if not about you!  This favouritism must stop!  It must stop if for no other reason that it is wrong and ‘wrong’ is sin.  The law of love has revealed you as a lawbreaker. You are not loving part of your congregation as yourself.  If you were in their shoes you would not feel good; you would feel hurt, rejected and isolated.  Oh no, if you thought the previous meditations were the rantings of someone with a chip on their shoulder about being rejected, you have missed the point.  It’s all about sin in the local church!  Sin is breaking the Law whether it is the ethical Law of Moses or the law of love that summarises it.  Did you not realise this?   Favouritism is sin and we should never knowingly continue in sin.  We should repent of all known sin, and repentance involves giving up the sin.

To make his point even more forcibly James points out that if you break the law on just one point it makes you a lawbreaker.  If that doesn’t say much to you it’s simply that you haven’t thought about it yet.  If you are a lawbreaker you are a criminal in the eyes of the law. It doesn’t matter which law you break; if you break ANY law you are automatically a criminal.  Indeed for the purpose of definition every sin is the same, so once you sin by whatever means, it makes you a sinner and that puts you on the same footing as every other sinner, including those that you might have thought were ‘big’ sinners. No, a sinner is a sinner.  We are all lawbreakers if we knowingly do this thing. Once we say that, we need to add three comments:  First God is against knowing-sinners.  Yet, second, Jesus died for all sinners.  Third, all known sin is to be confessed and rejected.  When we do the third thing, the first thing ceases to be, because of the second one.

So, check it out. James has spent quite a while on this subject.  If not dealt with it can undermine the very foundation of the Church.  If not dealt with it causes division and hurt and is an issue that God is deeply concerned about because it flies in the face of His very character – love.  So, are there people we exclude?  Are there people we look down on?  Are there people we feel negative about, simply because of their looks or the culture they come from? Perhaps it’s time to do a reassessment of our church life.

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