James says that “a person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (vs. 12) Loving God is not only possible for those in Christ, it’s required of us. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27, NIV). And we know why we love: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love because he first loved us” (1 John4:18‑19, NIV); “and so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16, NIV)
Where people trip up in this relationship of love with Christ is in trying to work their way to heaven. Practically speaking James points out a number of areas in his epistle where believers will lay the law down on other believers, non-believers (and even themselves) when they should rather realize that “mercy triumphs over judgement” (James 2:13). Please note that sometimes people do this in a way that is very difficult to understand or perceive at first glance; so, as Dezi Arnez would say to Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy, “I gonna essplain you.”
It is not uncommon for churches to have favorite hymns or songs, liturgies or ways of doing things. Some churches say you should only use a certain Bible translation, and yet others sternly advise no drinking or smoking, and of course, there are very obvious, grievous sins such as immorality, pornography, gossip, rage, prejudice, lying, stealing, etc.
Now I’d like highlight that James will later say, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1, NKJV). I think this means that God has uniquely placed some people in the body of Christ to make sound judgments on His behalf for the blessing, guidance, and direction of His people. In rare cases. like (Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1‑11), we see the Holy Spirit moving quickly with summary judgement against corrupt behavior. In other exceptional situations, Paul, Peter, Jude, and John, for example, were tasked by God to warn Christians in regard to the sinful activity of people. Paul warned, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9, NKJV; see also 1 Corinthians 5:6–7).
Our first, best, and most powerful response to sin is also the most personally challenging: love. Loving God in Christ is supposed to give you great fear, not of punishment from God (c.f. 1 John 4:18‑19 above), but rather a sobering fear of the gravity of sin. You can glory in the immeasurable tolerance and love that God has demonstrated to you in Christ (Isaiah 53:10, 2 Corinthians 5:20–21). Really ponder the wonder of this amazing grace and graciously extend it to others. Does this mean that you approve of sin or the person needs to change before you love them? Christ didn’t; rather, His love changes us (1 John 4:18‑19 and 1 John 4:16 above). Sharing mercy over judgement reveals that you really believe that the grace of God in Christ conquers sin.
Our first and primary motivation in living life and serving others (not to mention serving our Lord Jesus) is love. The danger for you, as a believer, is to gauge how another believer is doing based on whether the person has kept some rule or regulation. You wouldn’t want God to evaluate you like that. So, you need to persevere in love, as James says later, in verse 19‑20, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (NIV).
Returning to verse 12:
- It’s a great encouragement to know that God will help you persevere under trial or temptation. Pray for one another to not only survive, but thrive by means of the grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
- The crown of life is something that God really intends to give us. If we concentrate on our failings (or focus on the failings of others), we may underestimate God’s ability to save. “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will reveal the counsels of the hearts; and then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5, NKJV). “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13) and “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:9, Proverbs 10:12).
- We should take sin very seriously, encouraging people to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:12-13) emphasizing that Christ fully paid our debt of sin (Hebrews 10:15-23).
God’s love for us took the form of Jesus, “being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” Philippians 2:8 (NKJV). Let us then persevere in loving God and others—this is be the greatest challenge anyone could ever be called to. But Christ has called us to do just that. Consider how you can be an example of love to others. Ask God to make your life a testimony of Christ’s love. This is the highest and most noble cause—a beautiful crown of life!