The Royal Law

“If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well” (James 2:8).

This affirmation is found in the very profound and practical book of James.

I find it interesting that though James was one of the first New Testament books written, (if not the first), James is mindful to include the proper way to treat people. In the beginning of chapter 2, he has just disparaged judging people according to superficial observations such as money or clothes, and now he raises the bar to the divine standard; he cites the second half of the Shema.

Remember, the Shema is an exhortation found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6, which states: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” These words were placed by devout Jews in little boxes called phylacteriesand worn on their foreheads and arms. They were to be a constant reminder of how they were to love God with their entireties. The other verse included in these boxes is found in Leviticus 19:18, and it is the verse cited by James.

When the Lord Jesus, in the New Testament, is asked how one may gain eternal life, or what are the most important commandments, He affirms these two passages!

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

James, as you know, is all about how to honor God by our actions. He refers to this appropriate way to treat one another as The Royal Law. It is truly an interesting phrase, not found anywhere else in Scripture. The word here for royalcan mean king, sovereign orpalatial. That would imply it is a law so issued by divine, or kingly decree, or that is was the law of a palace. As we gather in the house, or palace of the Lord, it is the Law in which we abide in order to please and obey God.

James says if you are doing this, you are doing well. If you are fulfilling the Royal Law, you are bearing the fruit demonstrating yourself as an obedient subject of the King.

What does this mean? What is the message of James to us today? I imagine it means, as Paul says, considering others as more important than yourself. But, how do we do that? Some neighbors can be pretty challenging at times. I used to have one who would throw all the leaves over the fence into my yard, when they had fallen from his tree! Anyway, how am I to love him, when, in my humanity, I am not endeared to him?

I think the answer is larger than we could imagine, but my guess is that it includes sharing. Sharing part of our lives with them. Time. Money. Words. A godly attitude. And surely, the Gospel.

What better way can we love our neighbor as ourselves than to invite them to share eternity with the God who loves them?

Now, James doesn’t communicate this explicitly, but as a good Jewish man he would know, that you don’t get too far in fulfilling the Royal Law, the second greatest commandment, without first having things pretty well engaged with the Greatest Commandment, loving the Lord your God with your entirety.

As we focus on loving the Lord, it gets a little bit easier to love the less lovable.

May you do well and glorify your Father in Heaven!