The Rule of Love

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  September 5, 2021

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Read
James 2:1 – 10
 
Our New Testament lesson for this morning picks up where we left off last week in the book of James, which, as you may recall from last week, was written by the brother of Jesus.  As you also may recall, James wrote this letter to address some of the hypocritical practices that were taking place in the church back then... many of which we are still seeing in churches now.
 
In today’s passage, James’ words provide encouragement to exercise faith over favoritism.  It is a reminder that we should not judge people based on appearances, particularly if we claim that we are Christians.  This follows along the lines of what we find in Hebrews 13:2 which reads, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” 
 
In reality, because we are all made in the image of God, our text seems to beg the question, “Who are we to make distinctions between people based simply on how they look or what they are wearing or what we THINK their political or socioeconomic status may be?” 
 
After all, that person who comes in wearing the uniform of a fast-food worker could actually be the crown prince of Zamunda like Eddie Murphy in Coming to America and a poor little girl known only as Anya might well be the Russian princess, Anastasia.  We should always keep in mind that looks can be deceiving.
 
So, this morning, I want to invite us to set aside any tendencies we might have to judge a book by its cover. And rather than rushing to judgment about someone else, let us consider abiding by THE RULE OF LOVE.
 
In encouraging his readers not to show favoritism, James calls their attention, and ours, to what he refers to as the “royal law found in Scripture,” which is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  This is a foundational teaching for all Christians that has its roots in the Old Testament. 
 
In responding to the question of which is the greatest commandment, Jesus made reference to Deuteronomy 6:5 which reads, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” and to Leviticus 19:18 which reads, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord.”
 
Jesus explained that “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40) … the command to love God and to love others as we love ourselves.  Despite all that we have heard in recent weeks, months and years about the so-called rule of law, let me suggest that what we really want to follow is what Jesus gives us which is ultimately THE RULE OF LOVE.
 
Now, as our New Testament lesson explains, showing favoritism is actually a violation of what James refers to as the royal law of Scripture, because playing favorites is anything but loving… judging others is anything but loving… making assumptions about someone based on arbitrary characteristics is anything but loving.
 
This reminds me of something that happened many years ago when I was at a local shopping mall.  Now, I will be the first to admit, I do not actually like to shop.  I am definitely not someone who sees browsing or window shopping as a form of enjoyment or entertainment. 
 
If I go to a store, it is generally because I am in search of some specific item.  So, in order for me to have been in a shopping mall that particular day, I must have been on a mission.  Although so much time has passed since the incident occurred, I cannot remember what I could have been in search of but what I do seem to recall is that I was dressed in sweats and tennis shoes… attire that did not exactly give the appearance of someone who should be shopping in that particular mall… I guess you could say that I did not exactly LOOK the part of a serious shopper.
 
And as I walked into multiple stores, I could not help but notice that none of the store clerks took the time to greet me as I entered.  None of them asked if they could help me find anything.  Apparently, none of them thought that I had the means to purchase anything, so why should they be bothered with even acknowledging my presence… 
 
So, after the third or fourth time this happened, I took my wallet filled with some cash and a few credit cards and I left… and for many years after that, I did not set foot back in that mall. 
 
Now do I think any one of those store clerks noticed when I left without buying anything?  Probably not.  If anything, it served as more of a confirmation for them that I really could not afford to buy anything anyway.
 
And did my decision not to make a contribution to the profit margins of those establishments drive any of them out of business?  I seriously doubt that it did. 
 
But for all any of them knew, I could have been the beneficiary of a large inheritance or I could have just hit the lottery and had thousands and thousands of dollars to spend… which could have added a significant amount toward their sales goals and commissions.
 
And so, if we were to think about that situation in terms of our text for this morning, what happens when members of a church make assumptions like those store clerks did that day? 
 
It should cause us to ask the question, how many people come through the doors of a church looking for something that they need but because they are ignored, they leave back out, often never to return?  I know that would never happen here at Ledgewood, but it is still a question worth pondering.
 
I came across a story the other day entitled, “Hasty Conclusions,” that comes from H.A. Ironside’s book, Illustrations of Bible Truth.  According to Ironside, the story is one that the late Bishop Potter from New York actually told on himself.
 

[Bishop Potter] was sailing for Europe on one of the great transatlantic ocean liners. When he went on board, he found that another passenger was to share the cabin with him. After going to see the accommodations, he came up to the purser’s desk and inquired if he could leave his gold watch and other valuables in the ship’s safe. He explained that ordinarily he never availed himself of that privilege, but he had been to his cabin and had met the man who was to occupy the other berth. Judging from his appearance, he was afraid that he might not be a very trustworthy person. The purser accepted the responsibility for the valuables and remarked, “It’s all right, bishop, I’ll be very glad to take care of them for you. The other man has been up here and left his for the same reason!”
(Illustrations of Bible Truth, published January 1, 1945 by Moody Press)
 
Our New Testament lesson from James is a reminder to us not to be like Bishop Potter or even like those store clerks I encountered that day. 
 
Based on what we have read in our text, we should do our best not to make snap judgments about others or to play favorites.  Rather, we should make it a habit to follow THE RULE OF LOVE.
 
Now, THE RULE OF LOVE requires that we first love God with all of who we are.  But it also requires us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  And there in lies part of the problem when we consider what it means to love our neighbor as we love ourselves
 
Could it be that for some of us, we cannot truly love our neighbor because we do not truly love ourselves?  After all, it has been said that we can be our own worst critics. 
 
It can be all too easy to compare ourselves with others and feel that we are lacking because we have a misperception that someone else is prettier or more handsome than we are… or that they are smarter or wittier than we are… or that they have a bigger house, drive a nicer car, have a better job or have a larger bank account than we do. 
 
There is no lack of comparisons that we can make with someone else that can leave us thinking that we come up short somehow.  Unfortunately, that can in turn lead to feelings of insecurity and inadequacy which then becomes the fuel for a fire which can be used to burn others… inflicting pain on someone else based on the false assumption that it will somehow make us feel better.
 
It goes back to the saying that “Hurt people hurt people.”  People who have been abused frequently whether it is physically, mentally or spiritually become abusers themselves because they may not know any other way to respond and react to others.  For some, it can be a twisted attempt to soothe their own wounds by making someone else feel worse than they do.
 
But that is not behavior that is conducive to living out THE RULE OF LOVE.  Rather than doing unto others what has been done unto us, Jesus said to, “… do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
 
At its core, following THE RULE OF LOVE means that we should treat others in the way that we would want to be treated. 
 
When we walk into an unfamiliar place, don’t we want someone to greet us with a warm “Hello,” or “Welcome?”  If we are hurting, don’t we want someone to do something to help us feel better?  If we hungry or thirsty, don’t we want someone to offer us something to eat or drink?
 
It really isn’t rocket science and yet so often people make it so difficult.
 
It boils down to recognizing that we have much more in common than what separates us.  Which first and foremost, goes back to the fact that we are all made in the image of God.  And that means in order for us to truly love God, we MUST love one another. 
 
It is in 1 John 4 (19-21) that we read:
 
We love because [God] first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
 
When we reject someone who is made in the image of God, we are in essence rejecting God.  We simply cannot separate the two… despite our best efforts to justify doing just that.
 
“I definitely cannot love that person because they did this or said that.”
 
“I simply cannot love that person because they came from that place or belong to that group.”
 
“I honestly cannot love that person because they look like that or talk like that.”  You get the idea…
 
But would have happened if Jesus thought like that? 
 
What if Jesus had said, I cannot love them enough to die for them at Calvary because of what they said or did? 
 
Or what if Jesus decided, I cannot love them enough to pay the penalty for their sins because of where they came from or who their family and friends are or who they love?
 
What if Jesus made the choice not to follow His own RULE OF LOVE and disregarded His own declaration that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13)?
 
I dare say, we would all be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.  But isn’t it good to know that Jesus does NOT think like us?  And doesn’t it feel good to know that Jesus loves us far more than we deserve? 
 
The fact of the matter is that Jesus gave His life for us BECAUSE of what we have said and BECAUSE of what we have done and BECAUSE of who we are and BECAUSE of where we are from and BECAUSE of all those other arbitrary measures we have used to judge others… it is for all those very reasons that Jesus died for us.
 
Because at the end of the day, it all comes down to a plain and simple fact… we have no right to judge or play favorites because we are ALL in need of a Savior who loves us unconditionally.  As Romans 3:23 reminds us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
 
But there is very good news that can be found in Romans 5:8 where we read, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
 
When we talk about THE RULE OF LOVE, there is no greater model for us than Jesus.  It is Jesus who told His followers, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15).
 
So, with that thought it mind what better time is there than right now to affirm our commitment to follow the example that Jesus set for us to live by THE RULE OF LOVE?
 
Amen.

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