Reading Time: 7 Minutes
I frequently reflect on the words of Jesus, when he said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11.28-30).
Jesus, our gentle and humble-in-heart teacher, invites us to learn from him. It is obvious that James learned many lessons from his older brother, Jesus. He was diligent to pass those lessons on to us.
What did James learn from Jesus? Let’s reflect on a summary of James’ teaching in chapter 2, along with possible ways he learned this from Jesus.
(1) James 2.1 – My brothers and sisters, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
— Matthew 25.40 – In a parable Jesus said this about the judgment, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers and sisters of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
Jesus lifted up those whom society had put down and included those whom the world excluded. Those who imitate his behavior will be blessed in the judgment.
(2) James 2.5-6 – Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man.
— Luke 8.1-2 – He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.
In the eyes of the world, Mary was a demon-possessed nobody. Through Jesus’ power, she became free and actually followed Jesus before his own brother, James.
(3) James 2.8-9 – 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.
— Matthew 4.23 – Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.
Jesus fulfilled the royal law of love in many ways, one of them being his frequent healing ministry. He healed lepers and blind beggars, as well as children of important officials, showing no partiality to any.
Our study today contains more of what James learned from Jesus about showing no partiality or favoritism. James appeals to logic in this section and writes, “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 2.10-11).
The point James is making is that if we commit one offense against the law, the law has been broken, whether we think the offense is a “big deal” or not. James seems to be making this point. He may easily have said, “Yes, murder and adultery clearly break God’s commandments. So is showing partiality at the expense of the poor. After all, the heart of my brother Jesus’ message was to love other people like we love ourselves.”
James concludes his argument with these words, “So speak and so 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).
One of the most frequent requests Jesus heard was an appeal for mercy. Two blind men, a Canaanite woman with a demonized daughter, and a father with a troubled son are but a few of the appeals that people made to Jesus for mercy.
Jesus called the religious crowd of his day, “hypocrites,” because they eliminated mercy from their behavior. He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matthew 23.23).
Once again, James could easily have said: “When you include the outsider and lift up those who are normally put down, you show the kind of mercy that my brother, Jesus, lived on a daily basis. This kind of mercy will always triumph over your petty judgmental attitudes toward those who are different than you.”
Living the Message
How do we become people who live by the royal law of love (James 2.8) and love all people the way we wish to be loved? How do we become people who show mercy (James 2.13) as a natural outgrowth of who we are as a person?
What is in our hearts is reflected in our behavior. Our own selfishness is “enemy number one” in attempting to live the message of James. On the other hand, Jesus has a plan to conquer our self-centered nature – his love.
Jesus invites us to come to him and to learn from him (Matthew 11.28-30). He aims at nothing less than making us like him, so that we will possess all of his passion for lifting, healing and showing mercy to people around us.
We acquire this taste for showing mercy and lifting others by dwelling in Jesus’ company. We say, “Character is caught, not taught.” How true this is of Jesus! Jesus transforms us by being in contact with us.
One of my spiritual heroes, Dr. Frank Laubach, once wrote, “The dominant passion of Jesus was to lift the fallen; to heal the sick of mind, body and soul; and to change despair to radiance. He went out to seek and save the lost. His sympathies were strongly with the poor. His close companions were from the lower classes of society. Of himself he said, ‘I am meek and lowly of heart.'”
I learned from Laubach the practice of prayerfully reading a chapter of one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) every day. This has been my practice for at least 20 years. I believe my closer friendship with Jesus can be attributed to this daily meeting with him, as I read and pray the Gospels. I also believe that Jesus has used this time to make me more merciful and loving to others.
Thank you for reading these studies in James. I’d like to ask you to take this to another level. Please consider reading a portion of one of the Gospels before or after doing this study. As you read each section, talk to Jesus about what you have read. Experiment with this and see what the Lord does in your live.
Dear Jesus, thank you for the invitation to come to you and to learn from you. As we come to you, please give us your heart for everyone who needs to experience more love and mercy.