3. A sermon on partiality, 2:1-13
Moving from his introductory sayings / instructions, James now presents a mini sermon. He confronts a particular problem within the Christian fellowship, the problem is "status serving" - favoritism. We are easily attracted toward the successful, wealthy and beautiful people of this world. Yet for James, such partiality is something quite evil. James' message is simple: "the profession of Christian faith is inconsistent, indeed incompatible, with an attitude toward other people that discriminates against some and in favor of others", Laws.
i] Context: See 1:1. We now move from the introductory instructions, The Marks of a Wise Believer, chapter 1, where James develops his theme, Genuine faith yields good fruit. In the Introduction James broached many of the subjects that he intends to examine in detail, and now in the argument proper, 2:1-5:12, he gathers together sermons, and sets of sayings / instructions, that address the ethical issues he wants to raise with his readers.
First, we have two sermons:
Poverty and generosity:
Discrimination against the poor violates kingdom law, 2:1-13;
Faith without works is a dead thing, 2:14-26.
Then follows three sets of subject-related stitched sayings / instructions: the tongue, wealth, and general instructions. These sayings / instructions don't always flow logically, indicating that many are probably independent, either from James own hand, or other sources, but are assembled by James to address the particular ethical issue at hand. The subjects addressed are as follows:
The use of the tongue:
A loose tongue is driven by anger, 3:1-12;
A loose tongue is driven by worldly wisdom, 3:13-18;
A loose tongue is driven by worldly passions, 4:1-6;
A loose tongue calls for humble repentance, 4:7-12;
Worldliness and wealth:
The test of wealth, 4:13-17;
The danger of wealth, 5:1-6;
General instructions, 5:7-12.
ii] Background: 1:1.
iii] Structure: Discrimination against the poor violates kingdom law:
It is inconsistent with God's choice of the poor, v5-6a;
It is consistent with the conduct of the rich, v6b-7;
It is inconsistent with the law of love, v8-11.
believers must act in ways which are consistent with God's coming judgment.
This passage, as with the one that follows, is in the form of a rhetorical speech / sermon. Each is headed with a leading admonition which serves to identify the topic of the speech / sermon. Here it is favoritism. The sermon / speech opens with the topic revealed in a question or exhortation (see below), v1. The issue is then illustrated, v2-4, with the explanation as to why favoritism is wrong provided in v5-11. The sermon concludes with an exhortation and warning, v12-13.
In the opening verse we strike a problem with translation. The generally accepted approach is to translate the verse as an exhortation - "Don't show favoritism", as NIV. Such a translation sets the tone of the passage and certainly is in line with the point James is making. Yet, it is possible to take another tack. The RV margin translates the verse as a question expecting a negative answer; "do you, in accepting persons, hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory?" The thrust of the verse is still the same, although now the implication is that to show favoritism in relationships because of status, wealth, etc... is to express non standing with Christ. A person who shows partiality in relationships, on the ground of status (ie., being a respecter of persons), is by definition not a follower of Christ. So, taking the line of the second possible translation, we would end up with a much stronger statement. It is not just an exhortation to show no partiality, but a question asking whether the showing of partiality in itself, implies that one does not "hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ." This possible interpretation fits well with v12-13. Of course, if a question, the point is not to definitively deny a person's faith, but rather to prod them to recognize that faith and favoritism are inconsistent.
Although the sermon functions as a whole, v13 looks very much like an attached saying with the usual tenuous links, here gar, "for", and the word "judge". None-the-less, as Dibelius notes, it is quite "appropriate".
In what sense is the "law of liberty" a vehicle of liberation? It is difficult to describe the totality of God's law, in particular neighbor law, as liberating. Yet, it is possible to describe the consequences of compliance as liberating, although compliance itself is not always liberating. Clearly, compliance as a means of escaping judgment cannot be intended, unless James is speaking of compliance in and through Christ. Given the context of this phrase in 1:25, it is possible that James is saying nothing more than that compliance with God's ethical guidelines is a very liberating experience and thus it is possible to describe the law as God's "perfect / flawless and liberating law." On the other hand, it can be argued that the descriptive "of freedom / liberty" for the law is prompted by the link between justice and mercy, an idea drawn out in v13. Divine judgment under the law is not without mercy and thus it is possible to describe the law as a "liberating law." Does James mean "the law that treats men as free", Goodspeed, Williams? Certainly an interesting translation, but it doesn't work in 1:25. "The law of liberty" may well mean "the law of Christ", in the sense of "the law of love", but in application this is little different to neighborly law. It may well mean "the law of the gospel", in the sense of "the law of grace", the new covenant law realized / fulfilled in Christ, but isn't this just spiritualizing a simple concept? Moo thinks not. With this interpretation James is addressing two laws in v8-13, the Torah and the liberating-law. See Adamson for his take on the law / grace argument - "the law of ordinances / the law of liberty." Yet, it is a rather left-of-field argument to propose that James is into Pauline theology at this point. Given James' Wisdom perspective that right / blessing / reward follows the right acts of the righteous, then it is very likely that he is making the point that the law (the totality of God's ethical / moral instructions) are liberating.
Other than the scriptural reasons why preferential treatment of the rich and powerful is forbidden (it is against the "royal law"), James gives a pragmatic reason, namely that those who respond to the gospel tend to be the poor and lowly, Matt.11:25; those who persecute the faith tend to be the rich.
It is worth examining the fact that in Western societies, surveys indicate church attenders tend to be middle-class, ie., upwardly mobile eschatological (future-planning) thinkers (the working-class tend to be existential thinkers - present-acting). Does this mean that today, church attendance suits this particular mindset? It is worth noting that Church Growth strategies are aimed a middle-class mindset, so are we gathering in sheafs of wheat, or weeds?
It is exceedingly easy to market middle-class acceptance and end up filling the church with socialized Christians.
vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.
Text - 2:1
Favoritism condemned, v1-13. i] The warning: If a person shows favoritism, can they really call themselves a believer? v1. As noted above, the verse is best read as a question; "My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?", NRSV.
mh .... ecete (ecw) pres. imp. "-" - [brothers of me] not [in = with partiality] have [the faith of the lord of us]. If a command, this negation may imply an instruction to cease an ongoing action - habitual partiality. If a statement, "brothers, you cannot at one time believe (have the faith) in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ and be a snob", Barclay. Best taken as a question; see above.
tou kuriou (oV) gen. "[faith / believers in our glorious] Lord" - [the faith] of the lord [of us jesus christ of glory]. As is usual, and particularly with the phrase "faith of Lord / Christ / Jesus", there is ongoing debate as to the function of the genitive. It is usually understood as an objective genitive, our faith / belief / trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, there is much to support a subjective or possessive understanding of the genitive, the faith / faithfulness of Christ (his faithful submission to the Father, expedited on the cross, on our behalf). This "faith" we "have" for ourselves / "take" to ourselves. James' point would then be that we can't take to ourselves Christ's work on our behalf and "connect that with", en, "partiality". Of course, it is unclear whether Paul intends a subjective / possessive genitive, let alone James, so the issue must remain unresolved. The best work on this subject is Richard Hays' doctoral dissertation "The Faith of Jesus Christ" now published in The Biblical Resource Series.
Ihsou Cristou gen. "Jesus Christ" - Genitive is apposition to "Lord".
thV doxhV gen. "glorious" - of glory. The genitive is probably adjectival, attributive, limiting the title, "Lord Jesus Christ", as NIV. There are other possibilities: i] it modifies "faith" = "the glorious faith of our Lord Jesus Christ"; ii] it modifies "our" = "our glory"; iii] it modifies "Lord" = "faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord", NJB, cf., TEV. iv] in apposition to "Lord Jesus Christ" = "our Lord Jesus Christ, the glory (who is the glory)", Moffatt, and less likely, "who reigns in glory", REB. "Our glorious Lord Jesus Christ", Barclay, etc.
mh en proswpolhmyiaiV ecete "must not show favoritism" - not in partiality have. The preposition en, "in", is probably intended to express association, "with", so "do not (ecete) hold with (have a connection with) partiality, discrimination, the making of unjust distinctions between people by treating one person better than another*." "Treat some people better than others", CEV.
ii] James now illustrates the issue - the rich favored over the poor, v2-4. Partiality, within the Christian fellowship, is described in the terms of discriminating in favor of someone on the basis of their wealth and status. To do this is to "become judges of evil thoughts", that is, rationalize in an evil way. By showing favoritism toward the wealthy we imply that they are more desirable than the poor person, when in fact, in God's eyes, both rich and poor are precious. Doing such breaks the law of God, ie., is evil, Deut.1:17.
gar "-" - for. In combination with "if", gives the sense "for instance", REB.
ean + subj. "suppose" - if [enters]. Introducing a conditional clause, 3rd class, where the condition stated in the protasis has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, ..... then ...." The apodosis, the "then" clause, is v4. "For If a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly ......... [then] v4, have you not made distinctions .....", NRSV.
anhr (hr droV) "a man" - a man [with gold rings on fingers in splendid clothing]. It is reasonable to drop the sex, "a person", NRSV, and it is reasonable to emphasize the contrast established by James with the "poor man", so "a rich person", CEV.
eiV + acc. "into" - Spacial, as NIV.
sunagwghn (h) "meeting" - synagogue [of you]. Best to use the term for a Christian meeting place, so "church", "worship service", "meeting", Barclay, "assembly", NAB. It is interesting that "synagogue" is, at this time, used for a Christian place of meeting. For James, Christianity is still a Jewish sect.
en + dat. "wearing" - in. Locative, expressing space.
lampra/ adj. "fine [clothing]" - shining, bright, splendid [clothing and enters also a poor man in shabby cloths]. Possibly in the sense of "clean", but also in the sense of "bright", as of cloth woven with gold thread.
There are textual variants regarding the instructions to the poor man. UBS5 opts for "sit or stand there [under my footstool]."
de "if" - but/and. Transitional; used here to extend the protasis of the conditional clause begun in v2.
epibleyhte (epiblepw) aor. subj. "you show special attention" - you look attentively at, direct you attention to. "Show more respect to", TEV.
ep (epi) + acc. "to" - upon [the one wearing the splendid clothing and say]. Spatial.
kalwV adv. "[here's a] good [seat for you]" - [you sit here] good, well. Adverb of manner. Possibly meaning "please sit here", but more likely modifying seat, it's a "good" seat, as NIV. "Sit here, this is a good place", Goodspeed, "best seat", CEV.
tw/ ptwcw (oV) dat. "poor man" - [and] to the poor [you say]. Dative of indirect object.
uJpo + acc. "by [my feet]" - [you stand there or sit] under [the footstool of me]. Spacial; use of hyperbole to stress humiliation. The sense is probably just "sit on the floor", CEV.
We finally come to the apodosis of the conditional clause commenced in v2, the "then" clause.
ou "[have you] not" - [then did you] not. This negation is used in his questions expecting an affirmative answer.
diekriqhte (diakrinw) aor. pas/mid. "have you [not] discriminated" - judge, make distinctions, evaluate. Usually taken as middle voice, "judge between", "make distinctions", in the sense of discriminating in a negative way, so NIV. If a passive voice, then the sense is "having doubts", meaning torn between different actions; "do you not see that you are inconsistent and judge by false standards", NEB.
en + dat. "among [yourselves]" - in = among [yourselves]. Expressing sphere, or association; "among yourselves", "among your members", REB, which fits with "discriminated", but more naturally "in yourself", "in your own minds", Moffatt.
ponhrwn adj. gen. "with evil [thoughts]" - [and become judges] of evil [thoughts]. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "thoughts". Not that they judge the evil in others, but that they are "evilly motivated / evil-minded judges", Davids.
iii] The reason why favoritism is wrong, v5-11. Blomberg offers the following three reasons: a) It is inconsistent with God's choice of the poor, v5-6a; b) It is consistent with the conduct of the rich, v6b-7; c) It is inconsistent with the law of love, v8-11. James makes an observation about life. Those without status and wealth seem to be the very ones who respond readily in faith toward the Christian gospel. Therefore, showing favoritism to the rich is a bit of an insult toward a group that represents the majority of church members. Also, those with wealth and status have been the very ones to oppose the Christian faith and to slander the name of Christ.
akousate (akouw) aor. imp. "listen" - hear, listen [my beloved brothers]. The "listen my dear brothers" signals that the illustration is over and James now moves into an examination and application of the issue of partiality; "For do notice my brethren", Phillips.
ouc "[has] not [God]" - did not [god]. In a question, this negation expects an affirmative answer.
exelexato (eklegomai) aor. "chosen" - choose [the poor ones]. This phrase seems to imply that God actually calls out the poor of this world to be his children. If we hold that God chooses (selects, prefers) those whom he will save, then this is how we should interpret the verse. Yet, it's probably better to regard that God has chosen the weak and ineffective family of Abraham to be the channel of his blessings to all mankind. The foolishness and weakness of this people has tended to attract a response from those who are the dispossessed of our world. It is they who tend to respond to the gospel and become members of God's called out, chosen people. That is, individuals, of their own volition, choose to be members of God's set-apart down-trodden people, and those who so choose tend to be poor (working class).
tw/ kosmw/ (oV) dat. "in the eyes of the world" - in/by/for the world. Variant readings exist trying to make sense of this phrase, eg. the preposition en, "in", is added to give the phrase a local (spatial) sense, "in the world", NRSV. A variant reading has a genitive instead of a dative, "of the world" = origin or possession; "the poor of the world." As a dative, it may be a dative of interest, advantage,, ie., "for the benefit of the world." It may be a dative of reference, "with reference / respect to this world's resources." It may possibly be a rare dative of feeling (ethical), "the poor to this world" = "the poor as far as this world is concerned." Most commentators and translations opt for this sense, although define it as either a dative of interest (Adamson, Davids) or reference/respect (Johnson, ....). Like beauty, Greek grammar can sometimes be in the eyes of the beholder! "Poor in the view of the world", Davids.
plousiouV adj. "to be rich" - to be rich. This accusative adjective introduces an object clause ("rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to the ones loving him") serving as the accusative complement of the object ("the poor ones in the world") of the verb "to choose", standing in a double accusative construction.
en pistei (iV ewV) "in faith" - The preposition en may indicate a dative of interest / advantage implying that the poor possess an abundance of faith, but this is unlikely; "God has given a lot of faith to the poor", CEV. A dative of reference /respect may be indicated; although they are poor, in / with regard to their faith, they are rich, "rich in the sphere of faith", Davids. Possibly we again have a dative of feeling (ethical); they are rich as far as faith is concerned, ie., in the judgment of the divine realm of faith, as compared to the judgment of the world. "Rich in the realm of faith", TH.
thV basileiaV (a) gen. "[inherit] the kingdom" - [and heirs] of the kingdom. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "heirs", or it may be taken as verbal, objective, "they inherit the kingdom", Adam. Israel's inheritance was the Abrahamic promise = a kingdom. "He also promised them a share in his kingdom", CEV.
ephggeilato (epagnellomai) aor. "he promised" - [which] he promised. The NIV treats the aorist literally, but an English perfect seems appropriate, "he has promised", NRSV.
toiV agapwsin (agapaw) pres. part. dat. "those who love" - to the ones loving [him]. The participle serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object / interest, advantage.
de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrast, "and yet".
uJmeiV "you" - Nominative subject of the verb "to dishonor"; emphatic by use and position; "You, on the other hand", NJB.
htimasate (atimazw) aor. "have insulted" - dishonored, humiliated, despised, shown contempt toward [the poor man]. Assuming that James has in mind no specific act of discrimination toward a particular poor person or group, the aorist is best translated as an English present tense and "the poor" as a general group. "But you humiliate the poor", Goodspeed.
ouc "is it not" - do not. The negation introduces a question expecting a affirmative answer. Although a single sentence in Greek, the NIV breaks the sentence up into two questions. "Is it not the rich who lord it over you and drag you into court?", Moffatt.
katadunasteuousin (katadunasteuw) pres. "who are exploiting" - [the rich ones] oppress, exercise power over. "Treat you as tyrants treat their slaves", Barclay.
uJmwn gen. pro. "you" - Genitive of direct object after the kata prefix verb "to oppress."
krithria (on) "court" - [and they drag you into] judgment-seat. Secular civil or criminal courts are intended, probably civil courts within a local jurisdiction. Those on the fringe of society, Jews and Christians, were vulnerable, in the first centuries, to civil action on trumped up charges for commercial advantage.
autoi "are they" - do they [not]. Nominative subject of the verb "to slander." Emphatic by use and position. The negation ouk, when used in a question, expects an affirmative answer.
blasqhmousin (blasqhmew) pres. "slandering / blaspheming" - blaspheme, slander, abuse, speak evil of. James identifies this behavior as typical of the rich and powerful.
kalon adj. "[the] noble [name of him]" - [the] good [name]. Modifying "name", the direct object of "blaspheme". "The excellent name", NRSV.
to epiklhqen (epikalew) aor. pas. part. "[to] whom [you] belong" - having been named [over / upon you]. The participle is adjectival, attributive; "the good name which has been named over you". In the sense of give a name to someone and therefore identify possession of. The name "invoked over you", NRSV, is obviously "the glorious Lord Jesus Christ", 2:1. It is this name under which we are claimed by God and which is blasphemed by the rich and powerful; "the honorable name by which God has claimed you", REB.
To show favoritism is to break the divine law of God's kingdom, namely, the law of love, v8-9.
ei + ind. "if" - if indeed, as is the case, [you perform the royal law, then .....]. Conditional clause, 1st class, where the proposed condition stated in the protasis is assumed to be true.
mentoi "really" - This conjunction is either affirmative, "indeed / really / verily", as NIV, or adversative (probably more concessive), "however", cf., NAB. It is likely that v8 is being contrasted with v9 so an affirmative sense seems best; "if you really fulfill ......... if however you practice favoritism.....", Johnson. "
basilikon adj. "royal [law]" - Possibly "royal" in that this law derives from God (from a king, so "the Law of the Great [Heavenly] King", Wesley), or "sovereign" in that it is authoritative, REB, or the first and most important law, "supreme", NJB. Some commentators suggest lex regina, "the Law of the kingdom", ie., the law that governs the kingdom. It would seem that the law is as quoted, Lev.19:18, although some argue that "the royal law" is the Ten Commandments, of which duty to neighbor is summarized in the quote "love your neighbor ....". The fact that "law" is anarthrous (without an article) supports the argument that "the royal law" is the whole law. "You will be doing the right thing if you obey the law of the Kingdom", TEV.
kata + acc. "found in" - according to [the scripture you shall love]. Here expressing a standard.
ton plhsion "neighbor" - the near one, neighbor. An adverb used as a substantive. For a Jew, "the neighbor" is a fellow Jew, including Jews of the dispersion, even a syncretized Jew - a Samaritan (so Jesus). The proper Christian equivalent is "brother", a fellow believer.
wJV "as [yourself]" - like, as [yourself]. Comparative.
kalwV adv. "[you are doing] right" - [you do] well. Adverb of manner. The phrase makes up the apodosis of the conditional clause; "you are doing well", ESV.
de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point; "however", Johnson.
ei + ind. "if" - if, as is the case, [you show partiality, then you commit sin]. Introducing a 1st. class conditional clause where the proposed condition is assumed to be true for argument sake. It serves to contrast the first in v8.
proswpolhmpteite (proswpolhmptew) pres. ind. "you show favoritism" - show partiality, discriminate. Hapax legomenon - once only use in NT. "If you treat some people better than others", CEV.
elegcomenoi (elegcw) pres. mid./pas. part. "and are convicted" - being exposed. The participle is adverbial, best taken as consecutive, expressing result; "as a result you are exposed by the law as transgressors."
tou nomou (oV) gen. "[by] the law" - [by] the law. Genitive after the instrumental uJpo, "by". Which law? Is James referring to "the law of love", or God's law in general, or the Torah? The kingdom's call for love, for compassion, summarizes all neighborly law, but probably James has in mind the whole law of God, the totality God's ethical directions in both the Old and New Testaments.
wJV "as" - Not a comparative here, as if they are like lawbreakers, but expressing a characteristic quality which they possess by showing favoritism.
parabatai (hV ou) "lawbreakers" - transgressors, offenders. Referring to rebellion against God's law, literally: "breaking the fence of the Torah."
In v10-11 James goes on to reinforce the point by noting that his comments may seem to be making a mountain out of a mole hill, but when we break the law, even in just one respect, for example by showing partiality, we have broken God's law as a whole and are liable to God's condemnation. Disobedience at only one point makes us a lawbreaker.
gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why a person who shows partiality is a transgressor.
oJstiV + subj. "whoever" - whoever [keeps]. Nominative subject of the verbs "to keep" and "to stumble." The particle an is missing and would normally stand in front of the subjunctive to properly form this indefinite relative conditional clause. The clause will express "a possible or supposed fact in future time, or a generality in present time", Smyth. "Whoever obeys the whole law", Moffatt.
oJlon ton nomon "the whole law" - all the law. Again, we are unsure what law James is referring to. Certainly the law of love, summarizing the law toward neighbor, remains a possibility, but the totality of God's ethical instruction is probably best.
ptaish/ (ptaiw) aor. subj. "stumbles" - [but/and] trips, slips, falls. "But fails to keep it in one particular part", Barclay.
en + dat. "at just" - in. Here adverbial, reference / respect; "with respect to just one point."
eJni "one point" - one matter. Presumably in the sense of breaking one element of the law, eg. discrimination.
pantwn gen. adj. "all of it" - [has become subject, liable, guilty] of all. Genitive with the predicate adjective enocoV, here with the sense "answerable, accountable", indicates against whom the subject has acted; "has become answerable for the whole." The sense is possibly that a person who has broken one element of the law is liable to the penalty for breaking the law as a whole, but then the sense may also be that "as people try to direct their lives by the law, they find themselves bound to keep all", Blomberg. "Remember that a man who keeps the whole law, but for a single exception, is none the less a lawbreaker", Phillips.
gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why it is that a person who breaks just one of God's commandments is guilty of breaking the law as a whole.
oJ ... eipwn (legw) aor. part. "he who said" - the one having said. The participle serves as a substantive.
mh moiceush/V (moiceuw) aor. subj. "do not commit adultery / you shall not commit adultery" - Hortatory subjunctive, as with "do not murder."
kia "also [said]" - [said] and = also [do not murder]. Adjunctive, as NIV.
ei + ind. "if" - [but/and] if, as is the case for argument sake, [you do not commit adultery, but you murder, then .....]. Possibly concessive, "although", but more likely introducing a conditional clause 1st class where the stated condition is assumed to be true, for argument sake. "Even if", TEV. If we don't break one command, but break another, we "have become a lawbreaker." This fact is emphasized by Jesus.
nomou (oV) gen. "a lawbreaker" - [you have become a transgressor] of law. The genitive is usually taken as verbal, objective, but it could be classified as adjectival, attributive, limiting "transgressor"; "a law-transgressor." "You have become a breaker of God's whole law", Phillips.
iv] Conclusion, v12-13. , A concluding exhortation which sums up James' instruction on this matter. "Christians must act in ways which are consistent with God's coming judgment", Blomberg. God's perfect liberating law is administered under His gracious mercy, a mercy that should motivate us to show mercy. If we show favoritism within the Christian fellowship, does this not imply that we have yet to experience God's favour? So, let us overcome favoritism with triumphant compassion.
ouJtwV "-" - thus [speak and] thus [do]. Possibly drawing a logical conclusion, referring to what precedes, but better emphasizing what follows; "speak in this way and act in this way, that is, as those who ......"; "in such a way / with this in mind", Davids.
wJV "as" - Comparative.
mellonteV (mellw) pres. part. "those who are going" - being about. The NIV takes the participle as a substantive, as do most translators, "those destined to be judged", Cassirer. The "being about" is not taken in the sense of "near", but rather of "will definitely come." "Act as men who are going to be judged", Barclay - non-sexist, "those who are going to be judged."
krinesqai (krinw) pres. inf. "to be judged" - The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of "being about".
dia + gen. "by" - through, by means of. Instrumental, means; "your are being judged by means of the law of liberty."
eleuqeriaV (a) gen. "[the law] that gives freedom" - [the law] of freedom. The genitive is obviously adjectival, attributive, limiting "law"; "the liberating law", or idiomatic / of product, "the law which produces liberty", or description, "which is characterized by liberty." "The law that sets us free", TEV.
gar "because" - for. More reason than cause, possibly serving to draw a conclusion from the argument so far, although as already noted, James has possibly just used this conjunction to stitch an independent saying to his sermon. "This is why one should speak and act as one about to be judged", Adam.
tw/ mh poihsanti (poiew) dat. aor. part. "to anyone who has not been [merciful]" - [the judgment will be merciless] to the one not having shown [mercy]. The participle serves as a substantive, dative of interest. If mercy is the guiding feature of the law of liberty, then to claim mercy for ourselves while living without mercy, serves only to deny our claim. It is hard to claim we live under grace while constantly being anything but gracious. In the context, discriminating against the poor illustrates a life that is not merciful, gracious.
alla "-" - but. Not found in the text although the adversative is rightly assumed, ie., an asyndeton; "judgment will be merciless for the man who acted mercilessly. But mercy can laugh at judgment", Barclay.
katakaucatai (katakaucaomai) pres. " triumphs over" - [mercy] boasts against, exalts over ..... wins out over. A positive declaration concludes the argument, although the existence of numerous variant readings indicates that the sense is anything but clear. The "judgment" possibly represents the critical, unaccepting, discrimination against the poor practiced by some in the congregation, which practice should be smothered by the showing of "mercy", compassion, acceptance, so "boast of triumphant compassion with others", Bultman. Yet, it is more likely that the mercy in view here is both human and divine; "true believers (the ones showing mercy to others) will find God's mercy in Christ annuls the condemnation they otherwise would have received", Blomberg.
krisewV (iV ewV) gen. "judgment" - Genitive of direct object after the kata prefix verb "to boast against."