The Latter Epistles – James 2

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.  For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.”  If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?  As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

  • James 2:1-26

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

James 2:5 ‘chosen the poor’: “We might well pray for God to invade and conquer us, for until He does, we remain in peril from a thousand foes.  We bear within us the seeds of our disintegration.  Our moral imprudence puts us always in danger of accidental or reckless self-destruction.  The strength of our flesh is an ever present danger to our souls.  Deliverance can come to us only by the defeat of our old life.  Safety and peace come only after we have been forced to our knees.  God rescues us by breaking us, by shattering our strength and wiping out our resistance.  Then He invades our natures with that ancient and eternal life which is from the beginning.  So He conquers us and by that benign conquest saves us for Himself.
“With this open secret awaiting easy discovery, why do we in almost all our busy activities work in another direction from this?  Why do we build our churches upon human flesh?  Why do we set such store by that which the Lord has long ago repudiated and despise those things which God holds in such high esteem?  For we teach men not to die with Christ but to live in the strength of dying manhood.  We boast not in our weakness but in our strength.  Values which Christ has declared to be false are brought back into evangelical favor and prompted as the very life and substance of the Christian way.  How shamefully do we exploit the converted celebrity.  Anyone will do to take away the reproach of obscurity from our publicity-hungry leaders: famous athletes, congressmen, world travelers, rich industrialists; before such we bow with obsequious enhance the standing of the Church of God, and the glory of the Prince of Life is made to hang upon the transient fame of a man who shall die.
“It is amazing that we can claim to be followers of Christ and yet take so lightly the words of His servants.  We could not act as we do if we took seriously the admonition of James the servant of God.”

  • A. W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man

James 2:8-13 ‘the law, our sinfulness, and showing mercy’: “I. The law that is to guide us, v. 8.  As the scripture teaches us to love all our neighbours, be they rich or poor, as ourselves, so, in our having a steady regard to this rule, we shall do well.  The rule for Christians to walk by is settled in the scriptures.  The scripture gives us this as a law, to love our neighbour as ourselves.  This law is a royal law, it comes from the King of kings.  Its own worth and dignity deserve it should be thus honored. …
“II. This general law is to be considered together with a particular law, v. 9.  The very royal law itself, rightly explained, would serve to convict them, because it teaches them to put themselves as much in the places of the poor as in those of the rich.
“III. The extent of the law, and how far obedience must be paid to it.  They must fulfil the royal law, have a regard to one part as well as another, v. 10. …
“IV. James directs Christians to govern and conduct themselves by the law of Christ, v. 12. …  Such as show no mercy now shall find no mercy in the great day.  There will be such as shall become instances of the triumph of mercy, in whom mercy rejoices against judgment.”

  • Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Scripture quotations are not in bold/italics)

James 2:17 ‘faith without works’ “Regeneration is making the old thing new.  It is infusing a new nature into a person.  The new birth is making the person a new creation in Christ Jesus.  But can a new creation have no repentance, good works, private prayer, charity, or holiness of any kind?  The new birth would be a thing to be ridiculed if it did not really produce a hatred of sin and a love of holiness.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

James 2:26 ‘faith that does nothing’: “Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want.  Faith is the belief that God will do what is right.  God is always near and always available.  Just waiting for your touch.  So let him know.  Demonstrate your devotion:
“Write a letter.
“Ask forgiveness.
“Be baptized.
“Feed a hungry person.
“Pray.
“Teach.
“Go.
“Do something that demonstrates faith.  For faith with no effort is no faith at all.  God will respond.  He has never rejected a genuine gesture of faith.  Never.”

  • Max Lucado, He Still Moves Stones

My Thoughts

First, we come to favoritism.  In spite of James admonishment to not show favoritism to the rich, just see who gets private visits by the pastor when they are ill, or they stub their toe and skip two Sundays in a row.  I teach a Sunday school class, but if I did not teach each Sunday, I could miss every Sunday in February and the pastor would not even call.  A recently retired pastor was a very good man.  He might not call, but when I showed up in March, he would ask about my health and that of my wife’s.  He might not call, but he would know each Sunday that I had missed.  I doubt if most pastors know.  They simply see a sea of faces in the congregation, or they make note of the ones who put a lot of money in the collection plate.

The second paragraph is talking about the lofted position of the poor and the needy position of the rich.  This seems like backwards thinking, but James goes on to charge the rich with taking advantage of the poor.  But in showing favoritism because someone has money is putting the focus on the money instead of the character of the person.

When I was in my early thirties, I was nominated to become an elder.  My Dad had been an early at an earlier age and was wondering what I was not doing right in the church – putting pressure on me, telling me that I was too much of a Jesus Freak for even the church to accept.  I had been a hard-working member of one of the church committees.  The committee chairman was a good friend and fellow Army veteran, although he served in Vietnam.  He nominated me, but there was one too many nominations.  They voted by ballot.  I was the one not elected, because every other nominated person had “Dr.” at the beginning of their name and the church was thinking of the big payday when they became elders.  After loosing the election when I worked hard and the doctors rarely attended, my friend suggested that we move our membership to another church, a PCA church in Augusta, GA, across the street from where they play the Wednesday, par-3 fun tournament before the Masters Tournament starts.  He knew my conservative views would not fit in with the church leadership.

But thinking of doctors being nominated as church leaders due to their wealth, my wife was assisting a surgeon when he said that he had been nominated as a church elder.  Knowing that she attended church regularly, but not his church or denomination, he jokingly asked her what it might “cost” him to be a church leader.  I am sure he was thinking of a dollar amount.  Her response was that he might have to say at least one sentence in ten sentences without using God’s name in vain, for starters, and he might have to actually attend church, maybe once a year.  He cursed so bad as to make a sailor blush and never attended church.  The nurses and the anesthesiologist stopped breathing.  No one talked to a surgeon like that in the operating room.  The surgeon then laughed and said, with that much “cost,” he would turn down the nomination.

The stories in the previous two paragraphs may not be typical, but it is the result of what James is warning people about in the first two paragraphs of chapter 2.

The next paragraph follows the logic of the first two.  It shifts the comparison of financial prowess to the spiritual.  We are to love our neighbor.  That neighbor could be rich or poor, but that neighbor has sinned and so have we.  I find the comparison bizarre.  James suggests that we may have never committed adultery, but we might have murdered someone.  If anything, I would have flipped that.  Yet, could it be in the first century that murder was more prevalent than “fooling around?”  These days, “fooling around” does not seem to be a sin at all.  After all, it is “fooling around.”  Adultery is such an icky word.  Adultery sounds sinful, but “fooling around” is just “fooling around.”  But then, abortion and euthanasia are the acts of killing.  Then again, abortion often, but not always, is an after effect of “fooling around.”  When we make excuses for one sin, then we must make excuses for the next.  Before you know it, we have a lawless society with no moral compass.  Am I the only one that thinks we are already there, at least as a nation?

The next paragraph ends with the words that faith without works is dead, but how does James get to that point?  He starts off by building on the entire chapter.  We judge based on appearance: being kind to the rich and ignoring the poor.  Yet, we should look more favorably upon the poor because the rich take advantage of the poor.  Which leads us to the concept that all have sinned and just as in finances, we cannot weigh one sin upon another.  We all fall short.  Thus, the new building block is that of mercy.  We must show mercy, without favoritism.  But speaking kindly to other people can fall on deaf ears if that person is hungry, naked, or homeless.  Thus, we should see that person the same way that God sees that person.  The outpouring of God’s love would naturally be to help them.  The “works” are an instantaneous outpouring from our heart.  The works are not an obligation.  They are not a building block that will form our mansion in Heaven.  That is, doing enough “works” does not get us inside the gate.  Our works pour from us because God has given us so much Love that we feel compelled to share it.  Works is evidence of God within the true Christian, not an obligation or a requirement for salvation.

Going to a “doing” church, it seems they have everything backwards and the two verses that are memorized have nothing to do with John 3:16.  These verses are James 2:20 and Philippians 4:13.  While they stand alone, they can be misused.  Works are not a requirement for salvation, and the Apostle Paul did not mean that when we are doing works, in order to earn our way to Heaven, (which he would have never said – indeed saying the opposite), God will give us the strength in order to earn our way.  We need to read those verses in their context.  Salvation is by Grace and that by Faith alone.  We can do nothing.  Yet, when God is already in our heart, we can do nothing but show that Love that God gives us by helping others.  And yes, God will give us strength so that we can do “things.”

And the next paragraph, a very short one, deals with that concept of “belief.”  The demons do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  They know.  The word “believe” in John 3:16 should be “believe and trust.”  We should not just have an intellectual knowledge and an assurance that Jesus not only walked the earth, but He taught the principles that are written in the Gospels.  No!  We must not stop there.  We must trust that Jesus is a person of His word and he will fulfill the promises that He made.  He is preparing a mansion for each of us.  He will never leave us.  We are His.

When that concept goes beyond the intellect and touches your heart, you feel so good inside that it pours out, showing love toward others.  It is simply a natural response.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“1. To you, who are people with ‘gold rings’:  The rich?  Powerful?  Athletic?  Mr. Right?
”2. Who are today’s ‘poor’:  Orphans?  School dropouts?  Refugees Single parents?  What would change if the ‘royal law’ and ‘God’s favoritism’ were applied to them?’
“3. How has favoritism in Christian circles affected you and yours?
“If you were arrested for being a Christian, what evidence would be used to prove the point?  From 1:22-27 and 2:14-17, what further evidence do you want to provide this week?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There is one unnumbered question, in two parts, that applies to James 2:14-26.  And note there are people in prison now, or house arrest, because they profess to be Christians.  There are imprisoned people in “camps” for their Christianity.  Some of these camps try to brainwash the Christians.  In other camps, when they will not deny their faith, they are killed and simply removed from the records as if they never existed, no relatives would ever know for sure.  And as the secular world is becoming even more radical, this type of attacks on Christianity will be more widespread in the future, unless the geopolitical atmosphere changes (a worldwide revival that affects governments and nations).  And for those who are imprisoned for their faith, they need our prayers.  Some are continuing to carry on God’s call behind the prison walls.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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