Selective obedience is actually disobedience. Good parents do not allow their children to pick and choose when they will obey. Likewise, God has given commands to men expecting all of them to be followed. He is the one lawgiver who stands behind all of the commands. If we fear God, we cannot treat His words as a buffet, picking only those precepts which we like to keep, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). When it comes to civil offenses, people speak of “breaking the law” in general not “breaking a law” because one does not have to commit every crime to be a criminal. The law has a unity to it which is indivisible.
The above reference in James is in the midst of a discussion about showing partiality. Evidently a problem existed of honoring the rich and snubbing the poor (James 2:1-4). To act this way was to disregard God’s law. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9). God’s law demands love for all. One may well refrain from breaking one stipulation of God’s law, but to show partiality runs against the whole tenor of the law in loving your neighbor as yourself, referred to here in James as the “royal law” (cf. Lev. 19:18).
By way of illustration, James 2:11 gives an example from the Old Testament law given on Sinai, “For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” Prohibitions against adultery and murder are found in the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:13, 14; Deut. 5:17, 18). Both do harm to one’s neighbor (Rom. 13:8-10). The point James is making would be true with any two of the commandments of God. The murderer may be faithful to his wife, but that does not absolve him of taking innocent life.
Selective obedience really is a form of idolatry. The attraction of the idol is to be able to create our own good and evil. Sin occurs when we set ourselves up in the place of God (Gen. 3:5). Thus, the beginning of the Ten Commandments is foundational to what follows. If one is willing to have another god besides the one, true God, then disobedience to God’s commands in other places will follow (Ex. 20:3). If one wishes to fashion a god in the image of the creature rather than following the authoritative Creator, then God’s rightful place has already been supplanted (Ex. 20:4-6; Rom. 1:25). Selective obedience takes God off the throne and puts self on the throne.
Let us not treasure our own opinions or the trends of the world around us above the commands of God by following only those commands that agree with us. Instead, let us reverence God by esteeming all His commandments highly. “Therefore I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold. Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way” (Psa. 119:127, 128). -Mark Day
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