What is the royal law? Do you need to keep it and what happens if you don’t?
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)
What is the royal law? It is the commandment to love others as you love yourself.
It sounds terrific. It isn’t. But first…
What makes this law a royal law?
Why is the command to love your neighbor a royal law? It is not a royal law because Jesus invented it. He didn’t. This law comes straight out of the Law of Moses:
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev. 19:18)
Nor is it a royal law because Jesus put his kingly seal of approval on it. Jesus mentioned this law on occasion (Matt. 19:19), but he spoke about other laws as well. He never said this one was particularly special, and he even added to it (see Matt. 5:43–44).
Nor is it a royal law in the sense that this law should rule you like a king. We are not under law.
So what makes the love-your-neighbor law a royal law? It is the king of laws because loving others fulfills all the other laws.
For the whole law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:14)
Keep this one law and you will keep all the laws.
So far so good.
The royal law in James 2
Go back to James and notice the if at the start of that verse.
James is making a conditional statement. If you keep this law, you are doing well. Conditional statements are a hallmark of old covenant law and that’s what James is preaching here. In context, he is preaching the second commandment to law-loving Jewish people.
James: “Hey, it’s great if you love your neighbor, but if you are discriminating against poor people, you’re a law-breaker” (see Jas. 2:9–10).
Does this royal law have any relevance for us? It has none at all, for we are not under law but grace. We are to be led by the indwelling Spirit rather than ruled by external laws.
In the new covenant, we don’t love our neighbors because it’s a law but because God loves us and out of the overflow of his love for us we are able to love others.
But what about this verse:
He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. (Rom. 13:8)
There are two ways to read this. An old covenant mindset says, I had better love my neighbor so I can fulfill the law. But a new covenant mindset reads it as written. When we love others, we fulfill the law.
Which brings us to the most important question of all.
How do I love my neighbor?
How do I love my neighbor who voted for the wrong party?
How do I love my Muslim neighbor, my gay neighbor, or my vaxxed/unvaxxed neighbour?
And that’s just for starters. Jesus raised the bar when he said I must also love my enemies. How do I do that?
How do I love the jerk who bankrupted my business?
How do I love the adulterer who wrecked my marriage?
How do I love the drunk who killed my child?
How do you love the unlovable? The royal law can’t help you. It simply says you must love them as yourself.
Good luck with that.
Under the old covenant, you provided the love and whatever else was needed to fulfil the law, and if you couldn’t do it, you were condemned as a law-breaker.
Do you see how unfair this is?
Someone destroys your family or your business, and the law says you cannot pursue vengeance or bear a grudge, but you must love them as yourself.
It’s like trying to walk on water.
A new law
Like any old covenant law, the royal law is brutal and merciless. It demands that you do the impossible and condemns you when you fail.
Thank God for Jesus who gives us a new law for a new creation. Thank God for the law of Christ which says this:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. (John 13:34)
Jesus does not say “Love others as you love yourself.” He says, “Receive my love and out of the overflow of that love, you will be empowered to love others.”
It is a brand new kind of law and a brand new way to live.
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