The Law of Love
Continuing in James 2, Jesus' earthly brother gives us a short study of the law.
8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
If we love others as we truly ought, we will find that we will never violate the law, because love is the basis of the entire law. God is love, and everything He speaks is rooted and grounded in love. The statutes and judgments of the law are given to us in order to help us to define the love of God, because God knows that our carnal minds are not always capable of understanding Him.
The Law is Rooted in Love
How many times have I heard Christians say that the law is vengeful or hateful and that as New Testament Christians, we ought to discard it and replace it with the law of love??
Such people do not understand that the law is love. I ask such people, “Which law do you believe does NOT express the love and character of God?” They then proceed to tell me which laws they believe manifest hatred, not realizing that they are blaspheming Jesus Christ who gave those laws to Moses. (By the way, blasphemy is a misrepresentation of God’s character.)
Where did Jesus violate the law? Was He, after all, a blemished lamb? Was He qualified to be the great Passover Lamb to take away the sin of the world? Better yet, when He walked through life without sin, did He not move with perfect love and compassion by being lawful in all His ways? Which laws did He have to violate in order to be such a loving person?
In Matt. 22:36 a lawyer asked Jesus a question,
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:5 as the greatest law, and He quoted Lev. 19:18 as the second greatest law. He did not add these to the law, nor did He replace the law with love. Those who put away the law should ask themselves if these two laws were also put away.
His Judgments are Based on Love
The entire law depends on love, because it is based on love. Every law is an expression of the love of Christ. The judgments of God are designed to promote peace and to protect the innocent in a nation. They are also designed to correct the sinner, and if we believe that His corrective judgments are the expression of hatred, then we do not really know God at all, nor His purpose for judgment.
Even the death penalty is a statement of agape love toward society in general, for it protects society from such sinners. There are certain sins for which it is not possible to pay restitution. Those call for the death penalty, because in such cases the earthly court lacks the power to bring justice to the victims. Putting the sinner to death itself does not bring justice to the victims. Justice is not done until all victims have been fully restored and compensated. The death penalty merely refers the matter to a higher court and postpones his trial until the Great White Throne.
All of this is done by the mind of Christ by the spirit of perfect love—whether we understand it or not. The law is also applied impartially, as James says, because partiality is a sin. Sin is transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). God is not a sinner.
10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 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.
To commit adultery is to covet, and covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5). So if a man breaks the fifth commandment (adultery), he has also broken the tenth commandment (covetousness) as well as the first and second (idolatry). Likewise, he has stolen his neighbor's wife, so he has violated the sixth commandment (theft). And because he then presents himself to others as righteous, when in fact he is not, he bears false witness to the world, violating the eighth commandment. This dishonors his father and mother, so he violates the third commandment as well. And finally, by sinning, he violates the Sabbath, for he ceases to abide in God's Rest. He returns to his fleshly labor, no longer doing only what his Father does.
Hence, it is not possible to violate just one commandment at a time. To violate one is to violate them all. It is obvious that violating any of these commandments is done from one's carnal nature, rather than from the heart of God's love.
There are some who confuse fornication and adultery with the love of God, and so God found it necessary to give us more specific statutes to help us define true love.
There are others who believe that theft can be done by love, if we steal from the rich in order to give to the poor, so God found it necessary to help us define true love in that area of life. Modern Socialist governments base their “love” on this violation of the law, often with the support of the Church. The long-term result is to bring the people little by little into slavery to the state.
The Mercy Factor
Is there mercy in the law? If so, when should it be extended? Who is eligible for mercy in judgment? James 2:12, 13 says,
12 So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
God's law of liberty brings liberty. Man's laws bring slavery. That is why the Kingdom of God is ruled by the divine law, which is the expression of the perfect love of Jesus Christ and is the will of the King. Because men have disagreed with God, they have set up their own systems of government, each of which inevitably leads to the enslavement of the people. We reap what we sow.
At the Great White Throne, judgment will be meted out with precision, because the judgment will always fit the crime. That is the meaning of “eye for eye” (Ex. 21:24). But James had learned from Jesus that such factors as repentance, level of authority, ignorance, and especially the Mercy Factor all serve to lessen the judgment upon the sinner—if the sinner has shown himself to be merciful toward others.
For example, repentance is a form of death (of the carnal nature, the old man), and this can serve as a more merciful form of death penalty. Likewise, Luke 12:47-48 shows that those sinners who are ignorant of the will of God will receive fewer stripes than those who know His will and yet violate it. Paul claimed mercy because of his own ignorance (1 Tim. 1:13).
James, however, focuses primarily on the Mercy Factor, based upon Jesus' words in Matt. 5:7,
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
In other words, God will treat us by our own standard of measure. If we have shown mercy to those who have offended us, then God will show us the same level of mercy for the times that we have offended others in the same manner. Matt. 7:2 says,
2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
This Mercy Factor is built into the law of equal weights and measures found in Lev. 19:36, “You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin.” God judges us by the same standard of measure by which we have judged others. This Mercy Factor is built into the law.
James understood this very well, and his inner jurist says, “mercy triumphs over judgment.” This is a play on words, based upon the word picture presented by the Ark of the Covenant. In the Ark, the mercy seat was positioned over the tables of the law which were inside the Ark. When James says “mercy TRIUMPHS over judgment,” he uses the Greek word katakauchaomai, which means to exult (rejoice) or exalt, to boast itself as superior to something, to triumph over, to position one's self above or higher than something else.
The mercy seat was positioned higher than the tables of the law and the manna in the Ark. So James tells us that mercy has a higher position than the law itself. This is not an excuse for lawlessness, nor even for abolishing all judgment. Instead, it indicates that there is a Mercy Factor that can alter the sentence of the law upon sinners.
It must be kept in mind, however, that only victims have the divine right to forgive. It is not for the judge to forgive an injustice that has been perpetrated upon the victim. The task of the judge is to weigh the evidence from the witnesses and to apply the law as it is written. Only where there are no earthly victims does a judge have the right to apply the Mercy Factor himself. In such cases, only God is the victim, and so only God has the right to forgive the offence. The judge must hear the voice of God and apply mercy according to God’s instructions. In most cases it is the right of the victim alone to find reasons to apply the Mercy Factor as he or she is led by the Spirit.
The mercy factor was applied by Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:34) and again by Stephen when he was being stoned (Acts 7:60). As victims, each was given authority to forgive and to show mercy to the full extent that he had been victimized. It is the same today with each of us, and that is why God allows all of us to become victims of injustice. It empowers us with divine authority that even a judge does not have.