James 2

Where The Rubber Meets The Road - OffBeat Business Media

Chapter 2

Social Distinctions  

Verses 1-9 are continuing the thought in the previous chapter.  The emphasis is on the everyday works of the believer.  The command is brought in verse 1, an illustration is given in verse 2 and 3, and the indictment is given in verse 4-9.   

Verse 1 “My brethren have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, with respect of person.”  There is a debate at to what the author is saying by employing the name of Jesus Christ in qualifying the faith.  Is he saying that within the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ there is no respect of persons?  Or is he saying that our Faith, as distinguished from another faith, has the Lord Jesus Christ as its center?  I do not believe that it matters, both thoughts do not harm the passage.  The phrase, the Lord of Glory, has a reference to the Shekinah glory of the Old Testament. 

The command is simple.  Do not profess Christianity and have respect of persons.  The illustration follows in the next verses.  The scenario is given that a rich man and a poor man comes into the church.  The rich man is given preference by certain church members and asked to sit in an honorable place, while the poor man is asked to stand or sit in a lowly place. 

Condemnation given to this conduct is given in the proceeding verses. Verse 4, “ Are ye not partial  in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?”  Here the author gives us multiple sins in the matter:  First, the sin lies in becoming bias toward persons based upon faulty outward estimations.  Because of the gold ring and goodly apparel, preference was given.  Going deeper, the rich get preferential treatment because of their ability to provide something.  Herein lies the second sin, that of self centeredness.  Was preference was given to the rich in hopes of a returned favor?  It seems this is the motive here. Thirdly, the sin is traced further into the very thoughts of men.  The scripture says they have become judges of evil thoughts. This means that judgements are based upon thoughts which are evil.  The phrase may be best understood as saying, judges with evil thoughts

We prefer the outward adorning of the person rather than the inward virtues.  God is looking upon the heart, not the outward to make his preference.  We will choose the rich brother over the poor brother, thus displaying our faulty judgements and corrupt thoughts. 

Note: Sin lies much further than the naked actions of people.  The very thoughts of the unbeliever or hypocrite are sinful.  They proceed from a self-centered heart.  The case mentioned above illustrates this.  The church brothers thought they were being hospitable to the rich brother.  Yet their actions were only from a self serving motive.  The author condemns the action as being bias, but also points out the motive as being sinful. 

Verse 5  states: Harken my beloved brothern, hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

With this verse James shows my what estimate God chooses his people.  They that are rich in faith are the chosen, irrespective of worldly status.  The poor of the world are often those rich in faith.  This theme is reoccurring in the scriptures.  Adam seemed to be poor in comparison with Cain and his oppressive seed.  Israel as a nation were the poor and oppressed that God delivered from Egypt.  Christ sprang up from obscurity and poverty.  Yet all these, although poor, were rich by reason of faith. It is through this richness of faith that causes us to love him.   Divine love and faith always co-exist and can never be separated. 

Another thought conveyed is that the poor are “heirs of the kingdom he hath promised…”  There is something to be said of the promise of a future inheritance.  The promise of a heavenly inheritance is future and is not realized in this life.  This life is characterized by heartache, oppression, poverty, sickness and death.  Thank God we have a promise of a future Kingdom that raptures us away from this present oppression.

Verse 6 and 7 bring additional condemnation leading up to the ultimate sin by the brothers.  In despising the poor and preferring the rich, you have rejected whom God has chosen.  Secondly, you have given preference to the same men who drag you before the courts in order to try you.  These are the same men that commit the ultimate sin of blasphemy against Christ.  Note, the blasphemy is not against the Christian faith, but against Christ himself. 

Verse 8 If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself, ye do well

The Royal Law is the entire second table of the commandments (Exodus 20).  This portion of the commandments deal with our relationship with each other (commandment 5-10).  James is echoing Paul’s theology in Romans 13:10, in saying that when one loves his neighbor, then righteousness is done to the neighbor. 

Verse 9, But if you have respect to persons, ye commit sin…This means that the Christian that treats people with partiality, as in the case above, has sinned.  The root of the sin itself lies in selfishness.  What do we have respect of persons?  No other reason that to solicited gain from those we show partiality to.   

…are convinced of the law as transgressors.

James is saying that those showing partiality are in transgression of the law.  Lev. 19:15 addresses the subject of showing partiality, yet I feel the writer is talking about the Spirit of the Law being broken, which is loving one another.  

Verse 10, 11 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.  For he that said  do not commit adultery, said also, do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. 

This is a declaration of the essence of the Law.  That is to say that the law of the Old Testament is meant to be taken as relational and not as a list of injunctions.   James here follows after Rabbinical solidarity teachings that the Law is one in essence and to break any injunction is to violate the entire law.  This relational view of the Law promotes a more spiritual and intimate connection with God.  The example is that if one was not to commit adultery, yet commits murder, then the relation is broken between God and man.  Wycliffe says, that it is compared to a multitude of kind acts in a friendship can be severed by one act of treachery. 

We conclude this section of with verse 12 and 13.  The thought at the beginning of verse 12  is that our practices should reflect our preaching, “so speak, and so do”.  The conclusion of verse 12 is interesting.  The words, “law of liberty” reflects back to chapter 1:25 as an interchangeable title of the Gospel.  James here says that we are not only saved by the Gospel but we shall also be judged by the Gospel.  Jesus is not only a prophet that teaches, a priest that intercedes, but he is a King that rules.   James is here telling the believers how they should conduct themselves as servants of Christ.  Our life must be governed by the Gospel: it is a “Law.”  The Law is that of Liberty.  Liberty to serve the Lord from a premise of Love not of constraint.   

The judgement that is spoken of in verse 12 and 13 is regarding the quality of the believer’s profession.  To be sure, the justification of the believer is based completely on the work of Christ not the work of the individual.  Our eternal judgement hinges upon faith in Christ.  So what is being said here that the Gospel will judge our actions?  This particular judgement regards the quality of the Christian’s work subsequent to justification.  Here is a sobering thought: that our works will be brought into judgement.  Not in terms of being in danger of Hell, but to see if our profession of faith in the Gospel is bearing appropriate fruit.   

A warning is here given in verse 13.  In light of our works being judged by the Gospel we should be that more compassionate and apt to show mercy.  The disposition of mercy always triumphs that of judgement.  This is wonderful practical counsel for the believer.  We live in a world that offences abound.  If we can show mercy, forgiveness, and look over offences, it is the preferred course of conduct says James. 

A word is needful at this point.  The upcoming section has historically presented commentators with difficulty.  It was because of this section of the book that Martin Luther said this was “a right strawy epistle.”  The controversy surrounds the justification by work/justification by faith doctrine.  I side with those who believe that James is not contesting Paul’s position of Justification by faith alone, in Christ alone.   He is addressing a perversion of this doctrine that says only a profession is needful.  James argues that if a person has faith, then their works will prove the quality of their faith.  He is not saying faith plus works equals salvation.  He is saying true faith produces works.  There is a big difference.  Now on to the text. 

Faith and Works

Verse 14

The opening argument is presented in verse 14.  Two questions are asked: what profit that a man says he has faith and not works?  Can faith save him?  The answer to question one is “none,” and the answer to question two is “no.” 

Verse 15, 16

Here the author gives an example of hollow profession.  The example is of a person having need of clothes and food.  A mere profession of blessing does nothing to remedy this situation. The obvious solution the author is implying is to provide the destitute person with the needed provisions. 

James is attacking those that believe the mere profession of Christ constitutes saving faith.  Verse 17 says this illustration is an analogy.  Profession of faith, that is hollow intellectual assent, is dead.  The last phrase in verse 17 is worthy of special attention.  “Being alone” is not meant to say that work plus faith justifies.  It is meant to intimate that true faith is known by the works it produces.  True faith always produces works of righteousness. 

Verse 18 is in response to a controversy that separates faith and works.  The phrase, “Yea, a man may say,” is a common Jewish expression used to begin a teaching.  The phrase, “thou hast faith, and I have works,”  sets forth the two positions.  Here we have to groups: Antinomianism and Neonomiansim or Legalists.  Antinomianism is the view that the moral law, such as the Ten Commandments, are no longer binding on Christians.  It is the absence of all authority and law that places a person only governed by themselves.  The opposite is Neonomiansim which is the view that the Gospel is simply another law based justification system.  We simply keep the New Testament injunctions in order to gain favor with God.  James seeks to correct the perversion of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith by saying, “shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”  The message is very clear: faith without a body of evidential work is speculation and dwells dangerously close to mental assent. However those that have works, have proof of their faith.  A.W. Tozer writes, The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith. 

Another way of looking at this is seeing faith as the root, and works and the fruit.  The root must be present before fruit can be manifest.  The root is hidden but is the source, fruit is open for all to observe but depends upon the root for nourishment.  Justifying faith is for what God is looking for, evidential works are what men see.  

Verse 19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: devils also believe, and tremble. 

This is an interesting verse.  Faith without works is again being corrected by James, but at a different angle.  James picks out one of, if not the greatest statements of faith held by the Jew: “That the Lord Thy God is One God.”  (Deu. 6:4)  He is saying that you do no better than demons by believing the verse.  In fact, he adds that even devils have physical ramifications (tremble) from their agreement to doctrine.  We can only speculate as why the demons tremble, probably because of impending judgement.  One can believe orthodox teaching, even have emotions stirred by this teaching, but still not have saving faith.  Saving faith manifests in such a belief in doctrine as to stir us up to good and Godly works.

Verse 20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 

This represents a restatement of the idea in which James is arguing, faith without works is dead.  He placed added emphasis on calling the recipients of this jab, vain man.  A man in which is argument is full of holes and carries no water: empty and useless.  It seems to be in connection with the person’s salvation.  Wycliff renders this phrase as men, “unproductive of salvation.”  It appears that Christ used name calling when dealing with the lawyers and clergy of his day, perhaps this is the only way to get their attention. 

Verse 21-26

These verses are James doctrinal teaching on faith and works.  He takes two characters from the scriptures, Abraham and Rahab.  By using these characters he addresses the issue in the broadest, most general way possible. 

Abraham is an example of faith manifest by works to the household of faith: the believer, the Jew.  Rahab is an example of faith evidenced by work to the sinner, the unbeliever. 

James begins with Abraham. First, Abraham is cited to be the father of faith.  As such, he is our example, a pattern to follow.  There are two distinct scriptural references found here in regard to Abraham.  Genesis 15 and 22.  The Genesis 15 account is when the covenant was made between God and Abraham.  Abraham believed God and on account of his faith, God declared him righteous.  A careful study of this passages reveals that Abraham’s requirement regarding the covenant was simple faith.  God swears to fulfill the terms of the covenant, and because he could swear by no greater he swore by himself.  This scriptural illustration declares justification by faith alone. 

The second illustration, in Genesis 22, God tests or proves the reality of the Genesis 15 experience.  The key principle of this passage lies in Genesis 22:12 … “for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” 

The doctrine goes like this.  God tested Abraham by asking him to offer up his only son Isaac as a sacrifice.  Abraham obeyed the directive of God and at the last moment God stopped Abraham from the death blow.  The purpose of the test  is revealed in verse 12 “for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.”  Abraham’s faith toward God was proven by his actions/works.  The key word in verse 12 is “seeing.”  God, and every person who reads this passage, sees the quality of Abraham’s faith.  This is what verse 22 is saying, Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?”

Another thought found in verse 22 is that faith is matured by works. “by works was faith made perfect.”   The meaning is that faith is matured by works.   William Booth writes, “Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking.  First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again—until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.”  The seed of justifying faith, (Genesis 15) has within it’s nucleus, its DNA, work producing ability.  As the seed unfolds into a tree, the unfolding of justifying faith is the trunk, branches, limbs and fruit of works.  In Mark 4, the Kingdom of Heaven is described as a mustard seed (smallest of seeds, that grows into the largest of plants) that unfolds into a large plant.  The point is that the seed of the Kingdom of Heaven (faith) grows up into a multitude of works. 

So Abraham Genesis 15 faith is proven by his Genesis 22 works.  By having this type of faith he is called, the friend of God.  

Verse 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

Now we are on to the second example, Rahab.  She represent those on the other end of the spectrum.  Oh, how different from our first example.  Abraham was represented with utmost respect as the “father” to the Jewish people.  He is lauded as a righteous man. Here we have Rahab, she is not a Jew, so therefore has no claim to spiritual inheritance.  Scripture says she is a harlot, and thus represents the vilest of sinners.  Yet the scripture presents her in a position of justification, the same as that of Abraham by the words, “Likewise also…”  Think of the far reaching arm of Grace that stretches to the lowest corner of human depravity to rescue one his, through faith. 

Notice the statement about her works.  The received the messengers, and sent them out another way.  First she received the message of God.  That is to say she took the messengers inside her house.  One must take the message of Christ into the heart.  Next, she acted in obedience as to prove her faith in the message.  The full account of her actions are found in Josh 2:1-21.  

The sinner, alienated from the family of God can be adopted into the family of God.  Faith in the message of the cross is requisite.  This type of faith should not be confused with mental assent.  John Calvin says, “Faith is not a distant view but a warm embrace of Christ.”   This type of faith is proven by actions.  

Verse 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.  

Summary of the teaching is found in verse 26.  Faith is so connected with works as the body is connected to the spirit.  Love in the New Testament is used more as a verb than a noun.  Faith is also an operative principle, Paul says, faith worketh by love.  (Galatians 5:6)

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