Just as a little leaven in bread quickly spreads completely through the dough, one "little" sin affects our whole being. As James points out, if we break one commandment, we are guilty of breaking the whole law. One sin begets another unless the chain is broken through repentance.
Holy Days: Unleavened Bread
The whole law encompasses the entire will of God. To break any part of it is to infringe on that will and therefore become guilty of sin, to become a sinner in principle against each individual law and the intent of the whole law. Even under human justice systems, a person becomes a criminal by breaking just one law.
God's law goes beyond physical infractions of rules. For instance, when He directs us to love our neighbors, He does not ask us to like the way they are. He expects us to give them forbearance, patience, and help when needed. Passing by a beaten man lying in a ditch on the road to Jericho may not be legally wrong, but it is unloving (Luke 10:25-37). Thus, a person doing so is guilty of far greater spiritual sin. He does not love his neighbor as himself.
In Matthew 22:37-39, Christ tells us how we can fulfill His royal law—by keeping the two great commandments:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
If we want to be part of God's glorious Kingdom, we must face our guilt and overcome our sins.
Martin G. Collins
What Must We Do When We Recognize Our Guilt?
In Matthew 5:19, Jesus Christ mentions "the least commandment." It is parallel to verse 18 where it says, "not one jot or one tittle," the least things that are part of the law of God. Using this principle, consider that there can be no doubt that, of all the Ten Commandments held in respect and honor by the people of the world, the Sabbath commandment is the least of the ten. It is the least in terms of the world's regard and respect when compared with the other nine.
The Catholic Church thinks so little of it that it believes it has the authority to disregard it altogether. Even though officially admitting that the day is commanded in the Bible, the Catholic Church thinks it has the authority to change it. The Protestant churches' justification is to argue around it on twisted technical, legal grounds, but they ultimately reduce it to being merely ceremonial in nature.
Now we must add James 2:8 to our thinking. The fourth commandment is just as much a part of the royal law, the Ten Commandments. If not one jot or tittle, not even the least commandment, is done away until everything is fulfilled, the conclusion has to be that the Sabbath is still in effect—regardless of what men say—and to break it is immoral. It is just as immoral as adultery or fornication, lust, or lying.
The world does not think of immorality in terms of the Sabbath commandment, nor in terms of breaking the first, the second, the third, or the fourth commandment. How many people in the church think of breaking the fourth commandment in terms of immorality? Nevertheless, it is immoral to break the forth commandment.
James also refers to the royal law as being the law of liberty. Clearly, if people keep the seventh commandment, it keeps the world free from adultery and fornication. If people keep the eighth commandment, it keeps the world free of stealing. If people keep the ninth commandment, it keeps the world free of deceit. Keeping God's commandments keeps people free. If one keeps the Sabbath, like the other commandments, it leads to freedom. It produces freedom. God's is a law that liberates.
In our carnality, human nature tends to make us think that keeping the Sabbath constrains us, holds us in, and keeps us from doing things. In some cases, we feel almost imprisoned by it. That is human nature's thinking, not God's thinking. It helps us to understand what our thinking has to become. The Sabbath is a day, the breaking of which is immoral, the keeping of which will produce liberty.
There was a time that a group of people, the Pharisees, contrary to most of the rest of the world, believed that the keeping of the Sabbath was the most important of the commandments. They produced hundreds of laws in a vain attempt to try to keep people from breaking it, but they missed the point altogether. Because they understood Ezekiel 20, and other sections of the Bible as well, they knew that a reason for the Jews' captivity was Sabbath-breaking. So the reforms that were begun under Ezra were taken to radical extremes by people after he died. Their conclusions, though begun with good intentions, were worldly, and their keeping of the Sabbath, in that way, was just as wrong as the liberal tendencies that most of the world has toward the Sabbath.
Neither the Pharisees nor most of the people who have lived on this planet have ever grasped God's intent for the Sabbath. Because so much of this world's thinking carries right on into the church, some of us are thinking in much the same way the world does.
The Ten Commandments are a unity. To break one breaks them all, regardless of what level men think each commandment is on. To break the fourth commandment makes us just as guilty and worthy of death as breaking any of the others. This is where we have to begin. This is not a commandment that can be just shoved aside; it cannot be taken for granted any more than any of the other nine. God's intent for it is very important to our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 1)
James presents a tall order for God's people to live up to—and one impossible to do that unless one has the Holy Spirit.
James speaks of the "royal law," meaning the Ten Commandments, since he cites the specific requirement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." In this, he parallels Christ and Paul, finding in love of neighbor the sum of the law and its true fulfillment. James confirms that respect of persons is a breach of this "royal law" and leads to those indulging in it being convicted by the law of transgression.
Then, he affirms the solidarity of the law: that a breach of a specific commandment is a breach of the whole, making the transgressor guilty of all. This is a far-reaching principle that Paul also suggests by quoting Deuteronomy 27:26 in Galatians 3:10: "Cursed is everyone who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them." Paul also indicates it in Romans 7, where he explains that the conviction that he had broken the tenth commandment made him realize that he had broken the whole law.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing James 2:10: