The Royal Law
Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? James 2:5
A hug. An attentive ear. A pat on the shoulder. Often these gifts are more appreciated by the folks at the soup kitchen where I volunteer than the hot meal we serve. Why? These simple yet meaningful actions validate their worth.
Everyone needs affirmation. It’s the foundation of relationships and the building block of unity. Perhaps that’s the reason James addresses the dangers of favoritism several times in his letter to first-century Jewish Christians. In chapter one, James encourages a mind-set of equality among rich and poor worshipers. In chapter two, he highlights a specific manifestation of favoritism—giving the rich special seating in the worship services (vv. 2–4).
Such actions, James says, are evidence of judgmental, “evil thoughts”—unbecoming of those who are equal under grace. After all, some of those labeled “poor” may be the richest in faith (v. 5).
James also reminds his readers that the “royal law” of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves applies to common courtesy and mutual respect (vv. 8–9). Greet everyone with the same enthusiasm; extend to everyone the same respect. Favoritism, he says, is no less of a sin than adultery or murder because it undermines the worth of a human being (vv. 10–11).
One reason I love to volunteer at the local soup kitchen is the transparent, childlike faith I witness on the faces of those I serve. The confidence in God some of them exhibit in their actions and words humbles me. Because they depend on God to meet their most basic needs—food, shelter, transportation—they’re often more conscious of His goodness and more quick to express their gratitude than I am. Their reliance on His provision both convicts and inspires me.
“Don’t show favoritism” is James’s paraphrase of “love your neighbor as yourself.” How can you put that “royal law” into practice today?
Compare what Jesus says about the “least of these” in Matthew 25:31–46 with James’s teaching in 2:1–13. What similarities do you see? How do both Jesus and James suggest practical ways to love our neighbor as we love ourselves?
Favoritism can be defined as “keeping a mental list of those we like and those we don’t and treating them accordingly.” Read 1 Corinthians 13:1–7 this week, then be honest with yourself. Do you truly endeavor to treat everyone with this kind of love?
Denise K. Loock
This devotion is part of a series on the Book of James.