Responsibility to the Law
If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
James has been condemning the practice of favoritism, particularly paying special attention to the rich man. “But,” his readers might have replied, “The law tells me that I am to love my neighbor as myself, and so I have to welcome the rich man that comes in.” James answers: “very well, if you are really welcoming the man because you love him as yourself that is fine. But, if you are giving him special attention because he is rich, that is favoritism, and you are actually breaking the law that you claim to be bound by. If you really loved your neighbor you would not have discriminated against the poor.” James’ readers, had they responded in this way, would have been partially right we are bound to love our neighbor. When Christ was asked what the greatest commandment is (Mt 22:36-40) He replied by saying that first you must love God, and second “you must love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the royal law that James is talking about. He calls it the “royal law” because it was how the King summed up the horizontal (human to human) aspects of the law. When the Divine King gives and edict it is binding. Love is the law of the King, and will be the law of His kingdom.
But it is not just any love. True biblical love overlooks superficial distinctions like wealth or clothing. James readers did not understand this. They had not made the connection between showing partiality and Christ’s demand that they love their neighbor. In order to properly obey Christ command to love our neighbor we must understand who Christ considered a “neighbor.” In His Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37) Jesus answered this very question of who our neighbors are. He taught us that our neighbor is anyone who needs our help. That means that all who need our help, including the poor, are to be treated as a neighbor. If we can show love like the Samaritan did then we are doing well.But, if you show partiality it is a sin. The obedience that James’ readers might have claimed to have was now gone. For James the action of showing favoritism, while considered inconsequential by some, was a serious matter. This type of favoritism, and conversely discrimination, is not just bad manners it is sin. Favoritism is certainly not loving one’s neighbor as oneself. In fact, it is not loving one’s neighbor at all. This is not a trivial fault that is to be dismissed lightly; rather it is a clear case of disobeying the “royal law” of loving one another. Favoritism does not fulfill the “royal law.” In fact, it is totally inappropriate for heirs of the kingdom to disregard the king by breaking his law. Therefore to show favoritism is to break the “royal law” and stand before Christ the King as a lawbreaker (NASB transgressor). A law breaker is one who willingly goes beyond God’s sacred limits. It is clear to see that favoritism does not match up with the “royal law,” but why does this one sin make someone a lawbreaker in the eyes of God?
One sin makes you a lawbreaker before God because if you stumble in one point of the law then you are guilty of the entire law (1 John 3:4). Some people would like to distinguish between the “really bad sins,” and the “sins that aren’t so bad.” The problem is that God is perfect, and just. And if He is gong to remain perfect and just then he must require perfect, not partial obedience. To sin even in one instance is to fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). Think about it, what is partial obedience? It is disobedience! Even under the human justice system one crime makes someone a criminal.
We cannot choose the parts of the law we are going to keep, and neglect others. The whole law is the will of God, and to break any part of it is to infringe upon the will of God. This is what James is saying in verse 11. It is the same God who gave us the entire law, and do break even one part of that law is to show a disregard for God. When you sin you are telling God that your way is better than His. Disobedience is to be condemned, no matter what the situation, because it mocks the authority of God. All sins do not have equal consequences, but all sins show a disregard of the authority of the Lawgiver.