James 2.10Break one commandment and you break the whole law.
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
Growing up in a faith tradition that tended toward legalism this sort of text really bothered me, confirming my worst fears that God was a nitpicky moral bean counter when it came to evaluating our sins and slip ups. But reading back over James 2 my opinion of this text has completely changed.
Consider the context leading up to James 2.10:
James 2.1-10The context of James 2.10 is marginalizing and ignoring the poor. And the "royal law" to be kept is the commandment "love your neighbor as yourself." Marginalizing and ignoring the poor is breaking this law.
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
Thus the conclusion of James 2.10: Hey, if you treat everyone well except the poor that's not just a minor detail, that's the whole ballgame.
Treat the poor badly--stumble at just that one point--and you break the entire law.