by Al Maxey

Issue #579 ------- June 26, 2013
The superiority that has no superior; the redeemer and
instructor of souls, as it is their primal essence, is love.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Pondering the Royal Law
A Reflective Study of James 2:8

The great English poet William Blake (1757-1827) once stated that love is "lawless, wing'd, and unconfin'd, and breaks all chains from every mind." In other words, love is liberating. Love, by its very nature, refuses to be shackled; it must be free to soar within and even beyond the hearts of those who have embraced it. To limit love by law would be criminal. Thus, it is not surprising that, after Paul informs us that the fruit of the Spirit is primarily love (and 8 other qualities inherent to the nature of love and its practical manifestation), he immediately states, "against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:23 -- please see Reflections #36). To regulate love is to restrain love; to legislate it is to limit it. Love, in the words of Blake, must be "lawless" if it is to be genuine; it must be unconfined and given wings.

Therefore, it is not inaccurate, and it is certainly quite appropriate, to characterize love as a "royal" law, or a "kingly" law, or even a "sovereign" law, for it truly reigns supreme over all else, and is subservient to no other precept or principle. Paul even went so far as to declare that no matter how good we become in our daily lives, if we do not have love, all our good deeds profit us nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). It is not the acts we perform that ultimately concern our Lord, it is whether or not we possess the proper motivation in our hearts for engaging in those acts. Jesus informed the church in Ephesus that He was aware of their many good deeds, and toil, and perseverance, but in spite of these He warned them that they were in danger of having their lampstand removed, for they had abandoned the love they had at first (Rev. 2:2-4). God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), and we are called to look like Him; we are children of the King, and we are to be kingly in our nature. Thus, we love just as He loved us and channeled that love through His Son, who, in His incarnation, became the visible reflection of that divine love. So, is it any wonder that the divine quality of LOVE should be characterized by our Lord's own brother, James, as a "royal law" (James 2:8)? He wrote, "If you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well."

The vast majority of our English versions render the Greek phrase used by James as "royal law," although a few have opted for a somewhat different reading: "royal rule" (The Message), "law of the kingdom" (New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition), "sovereign law" (New English Bible), "supreme law" (New Jerusalem Bible), "kingly law" (New World Translation), "the most important law" (Contemporary English Version). These all suggest that our Lord's command to love one another is a true reflection of our King, as well as a fitting guiding principle for His subjects within His kingdom. Indeed, as some versions suggest, it is the king of all laws; the supreme command, subservient to no other edict. The apostle Paul declared, "The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Rom. 13:9). Yes, it is the king of all law, the kingly law, the law of the King, the law of the kingdom! In this command to love one another (as well as the other part of it: to love our God) lies the fulfillment of all other laws, as well as the teachings of the prophets and the inspired writings and directives under both covenants. For those seeking "the list" of what our God expects of His creation, here it is: Love Him and love each other. List complete!!

As James clearly states in James 2:8, if one is truly following this "royal law," then one is "doing well" (i.e., one stands approved in the sight of the Lord God). Too often the people of God want to vastly increase the particulars of God's "list" to include personal and party preferences, perceptions and practices, with fellowship and even salvation either extended or withheld based on how well one follows our list. Divine approval, however, is never tied to such a humanly deduced list. Rather, it is tied solely and simply to the "royal law" -- do this and you "do well" ... do this and ALL law (whatever it may be) is fulfilled. A reader of these Reflections wrote me the other day, saying, "Al, I appreciate your energy to challenge the patternist mentality. I have read your articles all the way through, and I think you may have left yourself open for similar criticism." His point was: I have been asking the legalistic patternists for their "list of particulars" for almost 40 years, and they refuse to provide it. This reader wrote, "Get ready for those guys to ask you." Unlike the legalists, however, I am fully ready and prepared to "provide the list." It is short and to the point: Love God and love one another. There it is! When Jesus was asked for a list, this is the one He gave. It sums up the Law and the Prophets. Paul declares all other law subservient to it, and James characterizes it "royal law" (the law of the King, kingly law, the king of all law, sovereign law, kingdom law). Brethren, here's your "list" -- if you do this, you do well (so says James, the brother of our Lord).

"God's law is the law of love; and love is kingly. The divine nature itself is the foundation of virtue; and 'God is love.' Hence the divine law is the eternal rule and final standard of rectitude. It possesses supreme excellence and supreme authority. Every other system of legislation, and all other rules of duty, ought to be subordinate to 'the royal law.' This law, we know, cannot be unjust; for it is a transcript of the moral perfection of the divine nature, and is therefore the Alpha and Omega of all law" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21: James, p. 35]. What does obedience to this "royal law" look like in action? In human form? It looks just like JESUS. Thus, HE is our Pattern! He is our great example of how to evidence this "royal law" in our daily lives and in response to the daily challenges of life. To help us in that transformation into His image, God has given us His Spirit, who indwells and empowers us. As we bear the fruit of that Spirit in our lives, we show forth the evidence of this divine love to those about us, and in so doing we keep the "royal law," and we stand approved by our Father. It is truly that simple. Dr. Charles Ellicott writes, "The sovereign law of love, thus expressed by James, is one so plain that the simplest mind may be made its interpreter, and the violation of it is at once clear to the offender" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 364].

"What James is implying is that obedience to the 'love commandment' fulfills the 'royal law,' which refers to the entire will of God, especially as revealed in the teaching of Jesus" [Dr. Ralph Martin, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 48: James, p. 67]. "Jesus taught that love is at the base of every duty, whether to God or man" [Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the Epistle of James, p. 119]. Too often we seek to make the specifics of our "duty" to God and others the particulars of some "law list." In so doing, we completely miss the point of our Lord's teaching. Particulars of compliance to the "royal law" may vary from place to place, culture to culture, or over the course of time. The "royal law," however, is eternal. To elevate the former to the level of the latter is a fatal error, and one that has led to the factional feuding we find in the church today. God's "law" is very simple; all the rest is peripheral. Notice the following story told by Guy N. Woods: "A Gentile, desiring to make fun of the tremendous mass of material assembled by the Jews in their traditions, once said to a rabbi, 'Rabbi, teach me the law, provided you can do so while standing on one foot!' The Gentile, of course, felt that the eminent scholar could not long speak in this position. The rabbi wisely answered, 'Love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul; and your neighbor as yourself: That is all the law; the rest is mere commentary!'" [ibid, p. 120]. Similarly, Rabbi Hillel (c. 110 B.C.-10 A.D.), one of the most important religious leaders among the Jews (and who is said to have lived 120 years, just like Moses), is reported to have stated that the commands to love God and love others are "the essence of Torah; the remainder is commentary" [Dr. Ralph Martin, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 48: James, p. 68]. Little wonder, then, that the apostle Paul should write to the Galatian brethren, "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal. 5:14). It is the king of law; the sovereign law; the law of the kingdom; the "royal law."

"Being the most excellent of all laws, we may call it the sovereign principle of our conduct" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21: James, p. 29]. "It is 'royal law' because it is sovereign over all other laws, and is a law of such quality that on it hang all the Law (the Torah) and the Prophets (the whole Old Testament)" [Dr. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle of James, p. 570]. "It is called 'royal' because it is the supreme law to which all other laws governing human relationships are subordinate" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 12, p. 179]. "The great King, God, is love; His law is the royal law of love, and that law, like Himself, reigns supreme" [Drs. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1452]. Thus, those who "practice lawlessness," and who thereby will stand condemned at the final judgment, are those who refuse to "practice love." It is this (rather than non-compliance with a long list of legalistic, patternistic, party particulars) that constitutes "lawlessness" (contrary to what the legalists might tell you as they seek to tie "lawlessness" to such things as using multiple cups in the Lord's Supper, singing with an instrument, eating in a church building, having a Sunday School, etc.). To be lawless in the estimation of our Lord is simply to be loveless in our interactions with others! When we stand in judgment before our Father, it is how we treated others that will come up, not religious rules and regulations! This will come as a huge surprise to "the rigid religionists and legalistic patternists" at the great separation of sheep from goats! While they were busy performing their meritorious works of law, they failed to keep the "royal law." To these "lawless" ones, Jesus will say, "Depart from Me ... for I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me" (Matt. 25:41-43). All their religious exactness will profit them nothing, for they followed precisely the petty party patterns of mere men, rather than following the Pattern of the Person of Jesus Christ, the personification of the Royal Law -- LOVE. If we desire to "do well," in the words of James, we will follow this law.

Such a course through life is truly liberating. We are liberated from following the countless religious rules and regulations deduced, assumed and inferred by men, and are bound only to the "royal law" of love. "His royal law is at once a law of love and of liberty" [Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, p. 1452]. James refers to this as "the perfect law that gives freedom" (James 1:25). Therefore, we should all "speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom" (James 2:12). It is the divine standard of LOVE by which all will be measured in judgment. Those who look like Him will be approved; those who look like the world will perish along with it. Yes, when we submit to the rule of love (the royal law), we are thereby freed from bondage to all other law. As Paul told the Romans, "you are not under law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). In this dispensation of grace we are liberated from law and are now free to simply LOVE our God and one another as fully and freely as we desire, to His glory and their edification and our enrichment. Brethren, while I will continue to plague the patternists for their legal list of particulars, and while they will continue to refuse to provide it, let me invite you who are weary of their ways to come and embrace the "royal law" of our Lord. Together, let us simply learn to LOVE. It will be a liberating experience!!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Tennessee:

While reading your "furious responses" article ("From Out of the Woodwork" -- Reflections #578), I was literally overcome with sadness. I like to think our brotherhood has come a long way from the legalism of 50 years ago, but it appears there are at least pockets of it still left. I preached for 42 years, and, while not all my elders or members agreed with everything I said or did, I really had only one "bad" experience (a midnight firing in 1971, which actually turned out to be one of God's greatest blessings to us). Other than that, we were nurtured and blessed by the people in the churches we served, even though I'm sure many wondered why they weren't hearing the "old time preaching" they had heard for years. It was one of my beloved elders in my last church, in fact, who put me on to your Reflections. I have somehow managed to live most of my adult life on the "Grace" side of our brotherhood, and thus tend to forget that the other side is still there. My hat is off to you for persevering in trying to open eyes. I fear I would have given up long ago.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Thank you, Al, for your wonderful Reflections. The main problem the church has today is the legalists: those negative members who keep the church from being what it could be and what it should be. Please continue your outstanding work of preaching and teaching against a legalistic pattern.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother, I know you hear this a lot from people, but Thank You for your ministry and your commitment to our amazing Father. I recently purchased your Bible class series on CD titled From Law to Liberty, and I have listened to your entire series of lessons twice already!! I really enjoyed it, and I hope you will be making your upcoming class on Galatians available to the public also. Thank you again, my brother, for helping me to find freedom in Christ!

From a Minister in California:

I felt prompted to drop you a line to let you know that I appreciate you for your bold courage to speak the Truth -- and to do it in love, too! I know you take a lot of shots from your enemies. So, I want you to know that you have friends -- many -- who appreciate you as their champion. We are all called to accomplish something unique in our time on this planet. I am not called to do what you do (whew!!). So, I am grateful that you have answered that call. The Churches of Christ need you, Al ... and you are not letting them down! Blessings, brother! Carry on!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Thank you for your continual service in the good fight of faith. As you may recall from earlier emails, I too was once among the ranks of the legalistic patternists. I am so thankful to God for allowing me time to be delivered from the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of such a perverted view of the gospel and misuse of the NT writings. Since that time I also have had, like you, a number of so-called "sound" brethren condemn me, but always behind my back. It truly amazes me to what extent some will go in their effort to maintain that our "pattern" is not Jesus, but that it is rules contained within the writings of the NT Scriptures. It seems strange to me that they will argue such, but then will pick and choose their own particulars and make laws God never made. From my observation, having been a legalistic patternist for many years, they are their own worst enemies.

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Two things. First: Stephen, as well as Jesus our Savior, were "heretics" -- they dissented from the established and accepted "pattern" of the religionists. We need more "heretics" like them today who will stand against teachings that add to or take away from the commands of Christ Jesus (Matt. 28:20). Second: the list you ask for is completely identified in Luke 10:27, and parallel passages. The Jewish leaders didn't understand "the pattern." Jesus did, and He lived it by loving God and loving others! No one who attempts to follow this pattern established by Jesus will do so perfectly; all sin and fall short. Thank God for sending our Savior to deliver us from the due consequence of our failure to follow this pattern. "The pattern" isn't a long list of laws (do this; don't do that) -- it's love for God and love for our neighbors!

From a Reader in Louisiana:

It has been some time since I communicated with you, but I want you to know that I keep growing as I read your Reflections. I hope all is well with you and your family. As you know, I am 81 years old, have been in the Churches of Christ all my life, and am a retired Psychiatric Social Worker with 40 years of wonderful experience. I have to wonder: How long are we going to be plagued with these patternistic people in our churches?! They create so much dissention and division that prevents our living the Lord's prayer in John 17. At my age this generates a sense of hopelessness, as I see these destructive people all the time (though fortunately not in my congregation -- for that I am thankful). I have learned that it is useless to try and reason with one of these people, and so I suppose we just have to accept the reality of the existence of these Sommerites among us. I've seen where they've condemned someone who is singing in church and tapping the hymnal with a pen (they said they were playing a drum). The same with tapping your feet. How sick is that?! Okay, I just needed to get this off my chest. Thank you so much for your scholarship and spirituality in your presentations. Please don't let these "Daniel Sommerites" ever get you depressed. You are doing a wonderful work throughout the world.

From a Reader in Germany:

Al, your lengthy search for the list is over, and I am truly sorry you had to wait for almost 40 years for the answer. The pattern is found between the pages of Matthew 1 and Revelation 22. We are to live by "every word from God." Thus, the pattern you so desperately search for is found in the pages of the New Testament. Certainly from this point forward you cannot honestly say your request for a list of what God requires has gone unanswered. This information is in your Bible, just as it is in mine. So, go read, learn and obey what the NT says.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

It seems to me that if we are supposed to adhere to the first century "pattern," then we had better go back to house churches and love feasts where all ate a common meal and then had the Lord's Supper as a part of that. Funny how we pick and choose what we bind, isn't it?! I have yet to find in the NT writings where it ever uses the phrase "worship service," so I refuse to call our gatherings that. To me, these were instituted as fellowship gatherings where we were to encourage and edify one another. Our actual "service of worship" is referred to in Romans 12:1, which defines it as the manner in which we live our everyday lives.

From an Elder in North Carolina:

The reader from Tennessee (in your last Reflections) certainly hit the nail on the head when he referred to "the 21st century Pharisees." This has been my charge against them for many years. I don't remember the exact sequence of events that led to my wife and me seeking freedom, but certainly one event was the declaration by the preacher during a Wednesday evening class that he "understood everything in the NT perfectly." What unbelievable arrogance! That, along with the furor raised when I said from the pulpit that Christianity was not "a one hour a week 'worship service,' but a 24/7 life," led us to seek a better place. My heart truly goes out to this brother from Tennessee, whose own parents have withdrawn from him. How blind are those who will not see. I often wonder what will be the end of those who preach such garbage and, more importantly, those who are blinded by it. As a member of a Christian Church now, I still long for the tradition of acappella singing, and I feel sorry for my current associates in that they have never experienced that pleasure. However, I have vowed to myself that I will never willingly return to that former bondage. I would love to find a group of Christians who sing without instruments, but who would welcome someone who showed up with a guitar!

From a Reader in Texas:

Your last article ("From Out of the Woodwork") was tremendous. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. You do an excellent job of pointing out that Jesus is the pattern. Perhaps a new definition of "pattern theology" would be in order. It should embrace the idea that Jesus is THE pattern. Our pattern is a person, and that person is the Christ of God. While some meticulously search the Scriptures for patterns in order to lay heavy burdens on us, shouldn't we instead be searching for the riches of Christ in His person? Shouldn't we be trying to put on the mind of Christ? HE is our unfailing pattern. It is to HIM that we should look for our pattern of conduct in every matter. HE, and He alone, is the all-sufficient answer. Let us pattern ourselves after Him.

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Thank you, Al, for your most recent Reflections. A lot of this makes a great deal of sense to me, and it has restored my belief that I just might be living my life in a way that God would be proud to call me one of His own. I worry about that a lot.

From a Minister/Elder in Pennsylvania:

How interesting, and also disappointing, about Olan Hicks' statements. It was his work on marriage and divorce that first led me to understand the horrible way I had been distorting the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19, and led me to understand that there is forgiveness for those divorced, and that they have a right to a new marriage. Yes, Jesus obeyed the Law, but did He ever kowtow to human inferences and conclusions? No! He was always in trouble with the religious leaders of His day for violating their hedges around the Law (another name for human conclusions that men elevate to the level of divine law).

From a Reader in Louisiana:

I have thought long and hard on this, and I can't find one biblical reason to believe that men who teach salvation by law-keeping are true Christians! I sincerely believe that there is a great mission field in local Churches of Christ. My conviction is that if the gospel you preach does not bring reproach from the "religious-but-lost" crowd, then you are not preaching Truth. It was the "religious-but-lost" crowd who troubled Jesus the most, and so it is today. We must keep preaching what Christ has already accomplished for us by His worth and work, and then hope and pray that God will open the eyes of the spiritually blind to see the light of His glorious grace. Thank you, Al, for standing firm for Jesus and the Good News about Him!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

I just finished reading your Reflections titled "From Out of the Woodwork." It is true, Al, that the legalistic patternists attack the "man" (ad hominem), but I think they also are actively attacking the "message." The "man" (Al Maxey) has truly become the message (freedom in Christ), for you are a visible representation of one who is free in Christ. Sadly, they don't recognize that this isn't a new message, but rather one as old as the New Testament itself. Yet, there are none so blind as those who will not see! There are thousands of us who cherish our freedom in Christ, however, and we love both the "man" (Al Maxey) and the "message" (freedom in Christ from legalism).

From a Minister in California:

Keep rollin', Al. I can certainly feel your pain, frustration and incredulity at the stiff necks and hard hearts of your legalistic opponents. But, there are far more believers with you than there are opposing you! Your opponents are just louder and uglier. They are the same folks who don't like speckled puppies and babies!! Keep shining the light, brother!

From a Reader in Florida:

"From Out of the Woodwork" is such a good article, Al. I'm just curious: is there a way that this article can be linked to Facebook so that I can share it with people on there? I have many friends who are associated with the Churches of Christ and who are very legalistic. I would love to be able to share this article with them. Thanks for all you do.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

I guess I will just have to place my faith in Jesus, and let the "wise men" live by the proverbial patternistic "list." If I haven't been able to find the items on this list after 78 years, then my chances of doing so now are slim. God bless you, Al, and don't become discouraged by the blind arrogance of a few deluded disciples!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

I always enjoy reading your very thought-provoking Reflections. Your writings and theological analyses are excellent, and in my opinion they represent the true intent of God in His message to us. Thank you so much for teaching us about "Freedom in Christ." For many years you have asked our legalistic brethren for a "specific list of pattern law." You are never going to get that list because they are never going to write one. The reason they are never going to write one is because no list they write would be universally accepted among the 25+ different legalistic branches of the Churches of Christ. In addition, it would take way too long to write, and it would require way too much effort. If written, it would fill a huge volume, possibly even bigger than the original extra-biblical legal volume: the Jewish Talmud (or even the Encyclopedia Britannica). I agree with you, Al -- there is a pattern in the NT. That pattern is Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." That settles it. I agree that there are commands Jesus gave that we must follow, and they are: Love the Lord your God ... love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said that these sum up the Law and the Prophets. These two commands are the backbone of our relationship with Christ. They are the foundation principles for His church. May God bless you and continue to use you for His Kingdom purposes!

From a Reader in Georgia:

I really like the way that you provide a balanced approach in your Reflections articles by including, in addition to your own view, the various opposing views, as well as accurate quotes from those who differ with you. I believe this is why many are willing to consider your writings over those who only present and promote their own opinion. Question: Have you written anything that directly discusses the fact that no apostles were recorded as having been baptized into the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (as it relates to water immersion)? The only record of the apostles being "baptized" is when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost. I had a guy tell me this morning that we can assume they were all baptized in water because the apostles would not have been "exempt" from this "requirement." I find it interesting that they would presume from silence that something DID happen, when the whole CENI/Law of Silence hermeneutic usually demands that silence prohibits. My question to them is: What is the significance, if any, of this lack of biblical evidence for the water baptism of the apostles, when many insist that water baptism is essential to (and even equal to) the very act of being saved? I know you are busy, but I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

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