In Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, one character pleads in court for another to be forgiven of his debt:
“The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. . . .
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice.”
As James wrote, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (v. 13). At the beginning of chapter 2, he argued that favoritism is sinful and not to be practiced by mature believers. In today’s reading, he points out that favoritism violates the “royal law” of loving your neighbor (v. 8). The phrase translated “royal law” indicates the Mosaic Law’s greatest commandment and its two dimensions of loving God and loving your neighbor.
The law is an organic whole. To break any part of it is to break all of it (vv. 9–11). One study Bible explains: “The law is the expression of the character and will of God; therefore to violate one part of the law is to violate God’s will and thus his whole law.” This means that since showing favoritism breaks a commandment, it is thus rebellion against God and therefore a complete breakdown of our Christian identity and discipleship.
Mature faith, with its disposition to obey the Word, does not show favoritism. What we should do instead, in following the law of love, is to be merciful (vv. 12–13; see Prov. 21:13; Matt. 5:7). This is the “law that gives freedom.” We to whom God has shown mercy should in turn show mercy to others. Since James was addressing believers, the “judgment” here relates to rewards received from God, not salvation.
Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant and God’s forgiveness in Matthew 18:21–35 is a wonderful portrait of God’s perspective on how we should be merciful. The Psalms also make many prayerful references to mercy, especially Psalms 57 and 116. Review these passages to help incline your heart toward mercy.