Rich, Poor, & Uncomfortable Mercy

Loving your neighbor but showing partiality is like murder minus adultery.

If you really fulfill 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. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:8-13, ESV

James was a pastor who had experience overseeing a large church in Jerusalem with a primarily Jewish culture (not a lot of Gentile presence). He didn’t probably deal with a lot of the issues that arise when majority and minority culture come together in one beautiful humanity called the body of Christ. But he did clearly see the divisiveness of distinctions between rich and poor in his congregation—the fine clothes crowd and the shabby clothes wearers. The powerful and the tread upon.

In this passage I was reading this morning, he essentially says, “Guys, loving your fellow Christians, but then distinguishing between rich Christians and poor Christians in how you spend that love is equivalent to murdering your neighbor’s husband and thinking you’ve kept the law because you didn’t sleep with her first.”

He doesn’t mince words, this guy, James.

“You’re proud of yourself for being loving, but you should be mourning the fact you have transgressed the law with your partiality–your love colored by class distinctions.”

Yes, we are guilty, James. We’ve kept the law when it was comfortable (hanging out with Christians who draw paychecks just like ours), and broken it when it called us to embrace the poor or rich among us as equals—as justified family. Where can the guilty go? What can we do? I think James’ answer is in verses 12-13.

So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

You’ve been double-minded with the law. You’ve metaphorically knocked off a guy and thought you were morally courageous for not sleeping with his wife. You’ve been precise with your love, keeping it only for those who can pay you back with socially acceptable behavior or picking up the tab at the next restaurant.

So talk and act like someone who will be judged instead of talking and acting like someone who is spotless in character. People who will be judged and found innocent by Christ because of His freely lavished righteousness talk and act like this, “I don’t deserve to be in this family. I have nothing to bring to the table. I have no pedigree; I am a rescued orphan. I have been shown mercy. I do not belong, and yet because of mercy, I do belong.”

Do you see what happens? When you so talk and so act as one who will be judged by the law of liberty, you suddenly become aware that partiality is an impossibility. Your merciless thoughts against the poor vanish because you realize you are poor and you don’t want that same mercilessness to land on you. The heart that recoils and judges and comes up with all the haughty reasons as to why that guy has less and you have more melt away as you cry out for mercy for yourself.

Or more succinctly, mercy triumphs over judgment.

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