James: Judgment and Mercy

So speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

(James 2:12-13)

The context of this passage primarily deals with the sin of showing partiality (James 2:1).  These Christians to whom James was writing were giving more attention and favor to any rich visitor who walked into their church building while degrading those who walked in who were clearly poor (2:2-7).  By doing so, they had “become judges with evil motives” (2:4).  They weren’t loving their neighbor as themselves (2:8).  In these ways, therefore, they weren’t “speak(ing) and act(ing) as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (2:12), the same “law of liberty” mentioned earlier (1:25)…the Word of God.

Yet one could also apply to this passage’s command the earlier exhortations to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (1:19), “put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness” (1:21), “prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (1:22), “look intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abide by it” (1:25), the need to “bridle (one’s) tongue” (1:26), and the need to practice “pure and undefiled religion” by “visit(ing) orphans and widows in their distress, and (keeping) oneself unstained by the world” (1:27).  By doing one’s best to faithfully and penitently follow all of these divine directives, one certainly would be “speak(ing) and act(ing) as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (2:12) which is God’s Word (cf. Rev. 20:12; John 12:48).

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!  Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).  Christians, let’s test and examine ourselves.  As we live our daily lives throughout the week outside of the church building on Sundays, how often do we give conscious, serious thought to the fact that we will one day stand before the throne of God and be judged by our faithful, penitent obedience to God’s Word (2 Cor. 5:10; Eccl. 12:13-14)?  Is what we say to others, in person as well as in writing and online, proof that we are indeed very mindful that God will either save or condemn us by what we say, as He promised (Matt. 12:34-37)?  Do our daily actions, our dealings with our fellow man and our time spent in daily prayer and study of Scripture (or lack thereof), show that preparing ourselves for eternity is a priority?

God also inspired James in this passage to promise us that “judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy” (2:13a).  I’m reminded of the command to “let your gentle spirit (epieikes, reasonableness, patience, moderate nature; basically, how laid back you are in nature) be known to all men” (Phil. 4:5).  Christians, do you come across as a merciful, patient, fair, and moderate person to your family members, co-workers, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and even the stranger who only briefly interacts with you one time?  Or do the people in your life feel the need to metaphorically walk around you on egg shells because of how short-tempered, unfair, judgmental, and harsh you are to everyone?

God wants us to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other…” (How?)  “…just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).  We are to “bear with one another, and forgive each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:13).  He has also warned us, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15).  He promises, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Lk. 6:37).

Mercy does indeed “triumph over judgment” (James 2:13b).  How merciful are we, brothers and sisters?

— Jon

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