“If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:” James 2:8 (KJV)
This phrase occurs only here in Scripture. James chooses a term for the Law that usually refers to the Law as a whole rather than a term for an individual command. This is in keeping with Jesus’ response to the question, “What is the first (great) commandment?” [Matthew 22:36, Mark 12:28] His two-part answer included a commandment regarding man’s relationship to God and this command which covers man’s relationship to his fellow-man.
This same commandment was also part of the response given to Jesus by a certain lawyer. [Luke 10:25-27] It is here that Jesus links “love thy neighbor” to the well-known story of the Good Samaritan.
Paul further explains “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Galatians 5:14.
The importance of this commandment is unquestionable. But what makes it “Royal”? Several explanations have been offered. Here are two of them.
Jesus – King and Priest
One of these links the Royal Priesthood of Jesus (after the order of Melchizedek) to the Royal Law [Hebrews 7:17] and that to the believer – also of the royal priesthood [1 Peter 2:9].
There is a lengthy explanation available that offers that James borrows from Roman law a phrase referring to the “sovereign law” of the Emperor. Hence it speaks of this law as the will of the Sovereign King (The Lord God) for His people.
And finally, what is the scope and purpose of this Royal Law? To answer this we must look at the question that the lawyer asks Jesus in Luke’s gospel.
Who is my neighbor?
Is it our brothers and sisters in Christ (fellow believers)? Brotherly love is one of the marks of the believer. In the upper room Jesus spoke to his disciples “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:35 Paul writes often about caring for each other. But is this the limit (scope) of this commandment?
These words of Jesus are found twice in the Gospels, “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them.” [Luke 6:32, Similarly in Matthew 5:46] Here is the part that is quite simple to speak but more difficult to do. The Lord would have us to be His representative to lost people. The fact that the world hates us (Christians) should not be any surprise. [1 John 3:13]. Again in the upper room Jesus warned the disciples that the world would hate them (and us) because the world hates Jesus [John 15:18-19]. But our command is to love them!
While it is not within our natural ability and strength to follow this Royal Law we have this to comfort and strengthen us. Our Savior is praying to His Father on our behalf. [John 17:14] Let us be diligent to show the world His love in us that we might win some to Christ.