Practical Christian Wisdom from the New Testament Book of James
Sin of Partiality (James 2:1-13)
Verse 1: “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism” (James 2:1 NIV).
What does Scripture mean by “favoritism” (James 2:1 NIV)? According to the Law of Love (Matthew 22:39), we are to treat our neighbor as ourself — not better or worse. Favoritism tips the scale to our own advantage. “These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage” (Jude 1:16 NIV). If you would like to test yourself, look at the mirror of the Word of God and see if you show no “favoritism” (James 2:1 NIV) to anyone in the world. Just when you think you might have none of it, you are humbled by a display that startles even yourself. If you already thought yourself as susceptible as everyone else, then such a revelation would be unnecessary and unshocking. I wonder, what it would be like, if we experienced the character of Jesus in our day to day life? Would He have the same impact on us, as He did with the early apostles, brothers, and sisters? Would we criticize Jesus about wasting money on Himself rather than giving it to the poor (John 12:5)? Would we, like Peter, rebuke Jesus about needing to accomplish some mystifying task to fulfill prophecy (Matthew 16:22)? Would we allow ourselves to voice our opinions about each other as to who would sit closest to Him in His kingdom (Matthew 20:21)? Would we humble ourselves like the Canaanite woman and accept scraps from the Master’s table (Matthew 15:27)? Would we take the lowest seat at our Lord’s banquet to make way for those more worthy than ourselves (Luke 14:10)?
Verse 2: “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” (James 2:2 NIV).
Now we have a test. “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” (James 2:2 NIV). Rich man or poor man, which one does God favor the most? If riches show industry, ingenuity, intelligence, and poor people may show less energy, less discipline, less intelligence, in a meritocracy, wouldn’t God be blessing the rich, and cursing the poor? Isn’t it a saying of the world, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1Samuel 16:7 NIV). Are we to disregard all outward indications? No, it would be extremely difficult to ignore them. The apostles prayed and cast lots to make up their minds (Acts 1:24, 26), when the outward circumstances were not obvious.
Verse 3: “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” (James 2:3 NIV).
James continues to set up the test of how we favor the rich man’s “fine clothes” (James 2:3 NIV), even though we may try to wear simpler, comfortable clothes from the thrift store. Good time to reflect. Christ became poor to make us “rich” (2Corinthians 8:9). Better to be the humble “doorkeeper” (Psalm 84:10) in God’s house than to “dwell in the tents of the wicked” (84:10 NIV). Even our Lord acknowledges the footstool as a place of subjection. “The Lord says to my lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet” (Psalm 110:1 NIV).
Verse 4: “Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:4 NIV).
The verdict is guilty. When we show favoritism, we are guilty as charged. Are we always in such a state of contemptible guilt? By God’s grace, No! Nobody but God is beyond reproach. However, despair can be a motivator. We will either choose death with the world or life with Christ. “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NIV).
Verse 5: “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?” (James 2:5 NIV).
Is James suggesting that God has arranged life so the poor would be the only ones who “inherit the kingdom” (James 2:5 NIV)? No, for Paul instructed us that “not many were influential” (1Corinthians 1:26 NIV). Paul did not say, Not any influential or rich. If riches hinder all attempts to enter Heaven, why make Job, Abraham, or Solomon rich? But, no more can a “camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25 NIV). But wait, Jesus already explained this statement — at least, in the KJV, not the NIV — “Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God” (10:24 KJV). This means, anyone who trusts in their riches cannot get into the Kingdom of God. You can be rich without trusting in your riches, but only God can transform your heart and thread that needle.
James is speaking of the “poor in the eyes of the world” (James 2:5 NIV), but Jesus more specifically referred to them as the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), to whom James further added, God has chosen them “to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him” (James 2:5 NIV). Why such tension between the poor and the rich? Because the very fact there is a difference should motivate us to seek God the Equalizer — for no one else is capable of bringing high the low, and bringing low the high, then “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11 NIV).
Verse 6: “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?” (James 2:6 NIV).
By showing favoritism, James reprimands his readers, “You have dishonored the poor” (James 2:6 NIV). But, he points out the paradox, by dishonoring the poor, you are favoring the rich. But, aren’t the rich the “ones who are dragging you into court?” (2:6 NIV). This is really only selfish interest. In reverse, it would make as much sense to oppose the rich — until you become rich. Self-seeking interest without regard to God or man is the very definition of sin. And, “sin is lawlessness” (1John 3:4 NIV) — not seeking the good of anyone but self.
Verse 7: “Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong?” (James 2:7 NIV).
James speaks of the “rich” (James 2:6 NIV), “who are blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong” (2:7 NIV). How? They think and act like godliness is only a tool for financial gain or political advantage, “from such withdraw thyself” (1Timothy 6:5 KJV). Character counts. If we support the positions of people in the world, who seemingly favor our moral values, yet they deny those values with immoral conduct, then they are condemned, as we would be condemned. For the Christian, Christ would ask, “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46 NIV). For the world, the Holy Spirit acting upon the conscience of the world, says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17 NIV). If we allow the world to direct the choice between the lesser of two evils, choose God, for He is always the unnamed choice. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15 NIV).
In our attempt to build the Kingdom of God, if we allow the affairs of the world to take precedence over God’s Kingdom, then we will become embroiled in all the decisions and shades of meaning, which the world argues in society and politics. It is always more important to discern how God can best use the circumstances for His benefit rather than to simply allow the world to use God’s people for their advantage, which they will, unless God’s people walk wiser than them. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10 KJV).
Verse 8: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing right” (James 2:8 NIV).
One would suppose it is the “royal law found in Scripture” (James 2:8 NIV), because it is the Great Law of God our True King (Psalm 5:2; 44:4; 47:7; 74:12; 84:3; 95:3; 145:1). “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly” (Leviticus 19:15 NIV). “Love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8 NIV). Treat all according to the nature of their being — the Most High first because He is the Creator of All, and your neighbors second because they are all our equal. Does justice demand love? The OT Psalmist connected Yahweh’s justice with Jehovah’s love: (1) “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of His unfailing love” (Psalm 33:5 NIV). (2) “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; love and faithfulness go before You” (Psalm 89:14 NIV). “You are doing right” (James 2:8 NIV) means right action, which should never be equated to legalism. We may comply to the letter of the law, and still be guilty; but, when we comply to the spirit of the law, God will always acknowledge our innocence, though the letter of the law condemns us. “Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent?” (Matthew 12:5 NIV).
Verse 9: “But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:9 NIV).
Favoritism is sin, according to James, for “if you show favoritism [Greek, prosōpolēpteō, respect, partiality, discriminate], you sin” (2:9 NIV). If God expects us to discern the difference between the holy and profane, why is favoritism sin? “They are to teach My people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23 NIV). Favoritism is sin, when (1) it wrongly puts an emphasis, where God does not, e.g., between rich and poor: “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” (James 2:3 NIV) or, (2) taking away a difference that God still maintains, e.g., between choosing a spouse from the Church or the world: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2Corinthians 6:14 NIV).
Verse 10: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10 NIV).
God the Judge of All the Earth (Genesis 18:25) executes judgment on the “thoughts and attitudes [Greek, ennoia, intents] of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV). In other words, God knows what we are thinking, and He will judge our heart intention, not being misled by even the most skillful misrepresentations of a human paraklete, seeking to manipulate the law to favor an opposite conclusion. In an all or nothing at all line of reasoning, James argues that anyone breaking any one point in the law is “guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10 NIV). This is suggesting obedience or disobedience to God’s law is the overall heart intent at any given moment with the breaking of even “one point” (2:10 NIV) as only an indication of our real purpose at any given time. “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (Galatians 3:10 NIV). Either God’s Law was intended to be so embarrassingly difficult to keep to maintain us in a sinful condition, or the Law of God was intended to teach us of our need of His Spirit and influence to cause us to walk in a holy condition. “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20 NIV). The teaching of Jesus reflects this understanding that our heart intent at any given moment is demonstrated by our keeping the least of God’s commands, and our instructing others to do the same. “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19 NIV).
Verse 11: “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” (James 2:11 NIV).
There are degrees of guilt and punishment with God. “But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48 NIV). But, there exists an impassable gulf between the warmest Heaven and the coldest Hell, which Jesus described in Abraham’s conversation with a departed rich man. “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26 NIV). Whether an adulterer or murderer, “you have become a lawbreaker” (James 2:11 NIV), and your punishment is enforced by the Most High, final, unending, without appeal, commutation, purging, forgiveness, or parole.
Verse 12: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom” (James 2:12 NIV).
The “law that gives freedom” (James 2:12 NIV) sounds like the taming of a frontier town with law and order, as opposed to the rule of violence and force. Despotic law is tyranny. No law is anarchy. Only God’s law “gives freedom” (2:12 NIV). “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out Your precepts” (Psalm 119:45 NIV). True liberty is not as the humanist says, Do as I please; but, true freedom is as the godly comprehends, Do as God pleases. The capacity of any people for self-rule is their ability to recognize and submit to God’s rules. “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:3 NIV). The Spirit of Liberty is our only personal guarantee of freedom. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2Corinthians 3:17 NIV). Every truth of doctrine must be understood and lived by each successive generation, for it not to vanish from the earth. “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether My teaching comes from God or whether I speak on My own” (John 7:17 NIV).
Verse 13: “Because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13 NIV).
A traditional understanding of mercy and grace is (1) Mercy is God withholding justly deserved punishment, i.e., “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13 KJV). (2) Grace is God granting unmerited favor, i.e., “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8 KJV). In the OT, the KJV uses the word “love” 131 times, while the NIV uses the word “love” 342 times. Both are correct. Likewise, in the OT, the KJV uses “mercy” 217 times, while the NIV uses “mercy” 71 times. Again, both are correct. For the OT, older translations stressed “mercy,” while newer translations stressed “love.” In the NT, both older and newer translations nearly perfectly agree in their use of “mercy” and only marginally favor the use of the word “love” in the newer translations. Under the Old Covenant, the concept of law was developed with the need for mercy, when the law was broken. With the New Covenant, the privilege of love is advanced as the fulfillment of the law. James reminds us that God’s law will still be honored, for “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (James 2:13 NIV), but he appropriately observes our greater NT understanding of the “love [that] covers over a multitude of sins” (1Peter 4:8 NIV) with his additional statement, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13 NIV). And, Jesus agrees. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7 NIV).
Faith Without Works Is Dead (James 2:14-26)
Verse 14: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”
Because we believe God will not contradict Himself in His Word — “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35 KJV) — and it is also said in Scripture, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV) — then, James must logically be referring to a dead, counterfeit “faith” that cannot save anyone.
Verse 15: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food” (James 2:15 NIV).
Jesus claimed, “Your heavenly Father feeds them [the birds]. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26 NIV). So, shouldn’t He be able to use us to assist our needy brothers and sisters?
Verse 16: “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?” (James 2:16 NIV).
God expects us to treat others the way we want to be treated. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act” (Proverbs 3:27 NIV).
Verse 17: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17 NIV).
God expects us to act, if it is in our power to do so. Otherwise, talk is cheap. “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46 NIV).
Verse 18: “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” (James 2:18 NIV).
Faith always works, given the opportunity. But, just as important, action without true faith, is also dead. “22 Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles? 23 Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:22-23 NIV).
Verse 19: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder” (James 2:19 NIV).
Sin is moral insanity. Demons have an intellectual faith but not a saving faith. The demons identified Jesus as the promised Messiah, even before humans understood. “What do you want with us, Son of God? they shouted. Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matthew 8:29 NIV).
Verse 20: “You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” (James 2:20 NIV).
One of the main complaints of those opposed to Easy Believism or Praying Jesus Into the Heart, is the tendency to give people an assurance of Heaven, when they do not bear the fruit of a disciple. But, more importantly, we should never assure our hearts that we know Him, while disobeying Him. “3 We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands. 4 Whoever says, I know Him, but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person” (1John 2:3-4 NIV).
Verse 21: “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” (James 2:21 NIV).
Here, James reminds us that Abraham was justified by the deed or action of offering Isaac, which Paul interprets as a true, saving faith. “What does Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3 NIV).
Verse 22: “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (James 2:22 NIV).
“Faith,” “actions,” and “working together” describe how Abraham’s faith was “made complete.” Faith is incomplete without actions working together. “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16, 20 NIV).
Verse 23: “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” (James 2:23 NIV).
Righteousness is simply right action, but with the understanding that it is only “God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 NIV).
Verse 24: “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone” (James 2:24 NIV).
Again, a trick of the devil is to persuade us to trust God to take us to Heaven without living a righteous life. But, just as deceptive, is to attempt to get to Heaven by our own righteousness. What are we to do? Admit what Jesus confessed, “By Myself I can do nothing” (John 5:30 NIV). Then, turn our confidence toward God, and say what Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13 KJV).
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?” (James 2:25 KJV).
“By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace” (Hebrews 11:31 KJV). Rahab was a prostitute, but not when she was trusting the Living God. Rahab’s faithful actions are the very core of righteousness. God, make us like Rahab! By the way, Rahab became the wife of Salmon (Matthew 1:5), making her King David’s great-great-grandmother. And, Rahab’s son Boaz married Ruth (1:5), making Ruth, Rahab’s daughter-in-law. Ruth became the great-grandmother of David. And, Jesus the Messiah came from the House of David 28 generations after David (1:17). God does not discriminate unfairly with people, and He does not forget His promises. “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before Me; your throne will be established forever” (2Samuel 7:16 NIV).
Verse 26: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26 KJV).
Good analogy! Every living “body” has a “spirit.” Just so, if a “body” is “without the spirit,” then it is “dead.” James has been insisting on a practical life that works, while Paul has been emphasizing a holy life that trusts. Both must be true. And, they come together through the gift of the Holy Spirit. “And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws” (Ezekiel 36:27 NIV). That is exactly what Peter was emphasizing at Pentecost. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 NIV).
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