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Keeping the Whole Law

Woven through the last chapter of Hebrews 13 is the story of Joseph. Which is interesting because verse 1 – “Let brotherly love continue” – is certainly not what Joseph experienced early on in life from his brothers. But despite what they did to him, by selling him into slavery, it didn’t stop him showing brotherly love to them when they came down to Egypt.
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James told his readers “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” (James 2:8).

Reading between the lines in the context it seems that those James wrote to thought they were keeping the second greatest commandment under the law. It probably looked like they were doing loving things for other people in the ecclesia, sacrificing their time for others and so on. However, the problem James’ highlights is that they were choosing who their neighbors were.

It’s easy to love those who are lovable. For James’ readers they were loving the people in the ecclesia – who were the rich. They were ignoring the orphans and widows. The next thing James says illustrates the point –

“But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

James here isn’t just saying “you’re missing the point of the command to love your neighbor as yourself”. He’s telling them they’re keeping one law, loving their neighbor, but excluding another law that is in the exact same context as “love your neighbor as yourself”.

Look at what he says next –

“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 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.” (v10-11).

It’s pretty obvious that if you keep the commandment not to commit adultery, it doesn’t make up for disobeying the commandment to not murder. The same is true for loving your neighbor – that’s good – but not if you’re showing partiality.

Look at where the commandment is found in Leviticus 19 –

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (v17-18).

James’s readers were obeying that, but if only they read a couple of verses before –

“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” (v15).

Verse 15 convicts them. As they looked around their ecclesia, they should also have noticed what James says in verse 6 – “But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?” They were partial to the poor and deferred to the great.

We’re only fooling ourselves when we keep the ones we like and conveniently ignore the ones we find more difficult or downplay their importance.It’s easy to pick and choose what commandments and principles suit us. We’re only fooling ourselves when we keep the ones we like and conveniently ignore the ones we find more difficult or downplay their importance. Just like it is easy for us to like certain people in our ecclesias and ignore others. With the Black Lives Matter movement going on a brother wrote about how even though we like to think this doesn’t happen in our Christadelphian community, he felt that our community was actually behind the world in dealing with this issue. He said from his personal experience, minorities or people who were different were often ignored in eccleisas, and as a young person he often wasn’t invited to things by other young people, or if he was, was ignored and felt like he didn’t fit in while there.

This is something we as a community need to fix. The challenge for all of us is to notice our flaws and work on them instead of just concentrating on those aspects of our faith that we find comfortable.

Richard Morgan,
Simi Hills, CA

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