Law of Freedom

Scripture Focus: James 2.8, 12
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 1.25
25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Reflection: Law of Freedom
By John Tillman

We have positive and negative associations with the concept of “law.” Law brings judgment. But law provides justice. Law brings guilt. But law provides accountability. Law brings punishment. But law provides peace. Law brings retribution. But law provides restitution.

When first-century Jews spoke of “the Law,” they were not referring to the law of the land. Jews believed the laws of Rome and other city or regional governments they lived under were corrupt—even sinful. They lived their lives within and under these governments, however, they followed and appealed to a higher moral code from the scriptures. 

What we call the “Old Testament” is composed of “The Law,” “The Prophets,” and “The Writings,” which correspond to the Pentateuch, the prophets, and the wisdom books such as Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. However, “The Law,” often referred to the entire collection. The Law was more than a civil code. “The Law” implied the totality of the wisdom of God expressed through scripture in many ways.

James, the brother of Jesus, mentions “The Law” many times. It is unlikely that he meant only the sections of the Torah that contained rules and regulations. When he referred to the “Royal Law” he quoted not just Leviticus 19.18, but Jesus from Matthew 5.43. 

James seems to make an analogy between The Law he grew up reading and following and the “law that gives freedom.” Through this law that gives freedom, mercy will triumph over judgment. James describes ways this law frees us and the effects of that freedom.

Freed from sinful personal behavior, our lives should demonstrate that our faith has an effect on our actions. (James 2.14) Freed from greed and selfishness we should act on social concern for our neighbors, caring for the poor and standing against favoritism in all its forms. (James 2.3-4, 15-17) Freed from cultural relativism, we can live according to renewed inner values, loving all without fear, regardless of how the culture or governments respond. (James 2.22, 25-26)

Christian distinctiveness from the world is not merely in exterior behaviors but in our inner being. We may live under governments that are corrupt—even sinful. Our higher moral code is the law of freedom. This law Christians live by sets us free from something but it also sets us free to something. The freedom we have in Christ is that sins can no longer hold us back from what God calls us to do.


Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; Lord, be my helper. — Psalm 30.11

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 6(Listen -5:10)
James 2(Listen – 3:32)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 7(Listen -5:18)James 3(Listen – 2:38)
Jeremiah 8(Listen -3:52)James 4(Listen – 2:25)

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
Tell us your favorite post from the past 12 months. We’ll repost it in September.

Read more about Captivity, Exile, and Exodus
While living in political freedom, the people of Israel and Judah became spiritually enslaved.

Don’t Play Favorites

Scripture Focus: James 2:5-6a
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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? But you have dishonored the poor.

Reflection: Don’t Play Favorites
By Jon Polk

A man walks into a church for worship wearing an expensive, tailored Armani suit and the greeter at the door shows him to a seat near the front of the sanctuary. An obviously homeless man arrives at the same church wearing clothes and worn-out sandals from a thrift store, and he is promptly escorted away from the sanctuary and asked to watch the service from the overflow room. 

Yes, the example seems extreme, but James, having been the leader of the early church in Jerusalem, does not sound as if he is speaking hypothetically in the opening verses of chapter two. 

We express preferences and show partiality every day in our lives. We cheer on our favorite sports teams, listen to music by the artists we enjoy, have dinner with friends and cast our votes for our preferred political candidates.  

While most of this favoritism is harmless, James is quick to call out our hypocrisy in showing favoritism unjustly while Jesus has expressly directed us to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matt 22:39

One of the most egregious ways James says we manifest the sin of partiality is the way in which we treat the poor and those in need. His words to the rich here in chapter two (2:6-7) and later also in chapter five (5:1-6) are quite scathing in their rebuke. The church should be a hallowed ground where all people are found equal before God, regardless of their financial profile. 

James cites a paradox when seen through the eyes of the world: the poor are a model of humble courage and deep faith and the rich are examples of arrogance and shallow faith.

We make judgments with our own eyes as to the character and circumstances of someone in poverty. Jim Wallis writes, “Most Americans believe that if you work hard and full-time, you should not be poor. But the truth is that many working families are, and many low-income breadwinners must hold down multiple jobs just to survive.” 

There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that refer to poverty and our God-given responsibility to seek justice for the poor. Theologians use the phrase “God’s preferential option for the poor” to refer to the trend in Scripture of commands and teachings from God, Jesus, and the prophets towards care for the needs of the poor and powerless in society. 

Looks like God may have turned our notion of favoritism upside-down.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O God of hosts, show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. — Psalm 80.7

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 15 (Listen -4:38)
James 2  (Listen -3:32)

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Read more about Waiting at the Beautiful Gate
Jesus has left his church work to do in this world. They are waiting for us at the Beautiful Gate. We are their miracle.

Read more about Whole Life Generosity
Christian generosity is not passively giving a portion of income as if we were being taxed. If we treat Christian generosity in this manner, we rob it of any spiritual power.