The Royal Law

INTRODUCTION: The phrase "royal law" in the KJV from the book of James caught my attention, and some other Old and New Testament references support the importance of this encapsulated phrase of guidance for the Christian. In this study, I have selected scriptures that parallel the topic verse from James, but also others to show how it is important to understand the "royal law" as an outworking of following the first and greatest commandment. The two are so intertwined, that to do one, necessarily encompasses doing the other.

NOTE: Bible text is from the King James version.


A - The Royal Law

James 2:8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

COMMENTS: James tells us he is referring to an unchanging precept we can find in the Old Testament when he says "according to the scripture," and he applies a term to it that we can use as a memory tool for ourselves. His reference is to the last part of a verse in Leviticus 19:18 "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD." Royal law is a very fitting label since this command comes from the Lord, our King, the most high of all royalty or nobility. The Greek word translated as royal in this passage from James in the KJV appears only five times in the New Testament, always related to the status of royalty or nobility. So, Christian, you should act in the manner befitting the nobility to which you belong as part of the kingdom of God. That is, realize that all those in the kingdom are of equal noble status in Christ, regardless of their station in this present world. James says we do well if we fulfill this law of love.


B - Do not show partiality

James 2:2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; 3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: 4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? 5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

COMMENTS: James provides a practical example of the type of situation that may confront any of us at various times that will then give us the opportunity to apply the royal law. No matter how we perceive our own importance, it is often easy to show extra favor to those we believe are of high standing, perhaps indicative of our desire to gain their favor, or because we aspire to attain a higher status such as they have. We should keep the "royal law" in mind as we encounter people of all economic, cultural, and social strata. Although Jesus walked among men as a common man, and he said that he did not even have a place to lay his head: he was at the same time far above all, as the source of eternal life for those who receive him by faith! Luke 9:58 "And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." 1 John 5:20 "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, [even] in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life." His disciples were taken from the working class, and most of his public messages were given to groups of common people as he associated with those the religious elite avoided. Mark 2:16 "And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? 17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." And who can stand before a holy God and claim to be righteous without the transformation by faith in Christ? Romans 3:23 "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." The problem of the religious leaders was that they could not accept the fact that they needed the redemption and justification in Christ just as much as any person of the lowest class.


C - Keep my commandments

Exodus 20:6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Deuteronomy 5:10 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.

John 14 15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. 18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

John 14:23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.

COMMENTS: The passages from Exodus and Deuteronomy are part of the Ten Commandments written by God onto tablets of stone for Moses to present to the people, and those brief excerpts tell us that God's mercy extends over all generations to the ones who show their love for God by keeping his commandments. Jesus explains to us in the passages from John 14, that we need the Holy Spirit to enable us to do that which man alone is incapable of doing. Christ said, "I will come to you", as he promised to send the Holy Spirit so that Jesus and the Father will always be with us. This is another beautiful though subtle, presentation of the triune God. No one is saved by keeping the commandments, but those who are saved are not exempt from loving God. In fact, if you do not observe the first part of the law, you cannot observe the second part. If you cannot love those who you see, how can you love the one you cannot see? 1 John 4:20 "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" And at the same time, the apostle John tells us that we must love God in order to love our brothers and sisters. 1 John 5:2 "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments." For man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible! Christ is the fulfillment of the law for us. Matthew 5:17 "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." So, the two aspects of loving God and loving our brother must work together, or they cannot work at all.


D - The two great commandments

Mark 12:28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

COMMENTS: Jesus clearly states in this passage that the first commandment requires that we love God completely and without reservation. Jesus gave his message to all people of all classes. It is not complicated or beyond the grasp of any he calls, for he also said, Matthew 11:25 "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. 26 Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. 27 All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. 28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Jesus can reveal the truth to those who do not have great learning or position and power, because he does the calling. The "burden" that he gives us as we continue in our mortal bodies is easy and light because he has already born the weight of the law and sin for us. If we come to him by faith alone in complete trust, we fulfill the first commandment; then the Spirit of God will enable us to fulfill the second. Both of these are far too burdensome for us without the enabling of God in us that will first remove the burden of sin that has us already overloaded. Psalms 38:4 "For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me."


E - A new commandment to love each other

John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

John 15:12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

John 15:17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.

COMMENTS: Again, we must demonstrate our love for God by our willingness to keep his commandments. If the sovereign of all creation has such great mercy and compassion for us, we should be very careful about our thoughts and actions in making judgments about others. Acts 10:34 "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." We should develop the same mind as Christ, and have sincere love for those he has accepted. Romans 2:7 "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: 8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, 9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; 10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: 11 For there is no respect of persons with God." It may take all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength to prove our love of God by demonstrating our love for the brethren in compassion and grace. Paul gives us this admonition to follow God's instruction. 1 Thessalonians 4:9 "But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another."


F - Loving one another fulfills the law

Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

COMMENTS: Paul seems to have understood the same thing from the Holy Spirit, as did James. Since love works no ill toward a neighbor, it sums up the other commands that instruct us of the proper conduct for those who serve God. And if we love God first, then our heart will be empowered with the mercy and compassion that is boundless in our Creator and Savior so we will love the diversified parts of the body of Christ. Romans 12:3 "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another."


G - Serve one another by love

Galatians 5:13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. 16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

COMMENTS: We have great liberty because we have been set free from the condemnation in the law, but that liberty is a call to serve others. That which is borne of the Spirit is Spirit, and that borne of the flesh is flesh. The flesh is condemned to death because of our father Adam, but our spirit can be saved to eternal life if we worship God in Spirit and truth, being then born from above through the last Adam, who is Christ. We must walk in the Spirit and have victory over the desires of our flesh which war against the Spirit. If we are led of the Spirit, we are not under the law for all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; you shall love your neighbor as yourself.


--- Reflections in prayer ---

Thank you Lord for providing a standard of conduct that has not changed from the Old Testament to the New Testament because it is consistent with your unchanging character. Guide me Lord to remember that outward appearance is not the measure of worth by which you judge, and give me the humility I need to prevent me from thinking of myself more highly than I ought, especially in any case when that would lead me to treat a neighbor in an unloving manner. May I love my neighbor as I love myself, remembering that you first loved me. Your love as our Creator God who called us to yourself, has given each of us a value that far exceeds any gain from this present world. Therefore, there is no basis for me to set myself above any other believer who is part of the body of Christ, of which you are the head. May my desire be first to love you Lord with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. I believe that through your Spirit I will then be enabled to love my neighbor as myself, and fulfill the law of your royal kingdom. Amen.

Published revision 7 April 2011, first issue 27 December 2005