James 2 Bible study

Living Word Magazine

Chapter 2



The Sin of Partiality


2:1  My brothers and sisters, do not show prejudice if you possess faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.


The Lord of glory, or the Lord from Heaven, Jesus Christ, humbled himself and came down to earth. He took upon him the nature of a man so that he might give his life as a ransom for all men. If it is true that that the Lord of glory took the lowest place, then surely there can be no place for snobbery among those who claim to have faith in him. Christ's death for all men shows us that regardless of wealth or social station, all men are equal in God's sight. Whether Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, male or female all have sinned and so all need to be saved (Rom. 3:22-23). Christ died for all. Whatever we thought our social standing to be outside of Christ, it matters nothing now, for we are all sinners saved by grace. God has brought down man's pride, we must all come as empty and helpless as we are to the foot of the cross.


2:2-3 For if someone comes into your assembly wearing a gold ring and fine clothing, and a poor person enters in filthy clothes, do you pay attention to the one who is finely dressed and say, "You sit here in a good place," and to the poor person, "You stand over there," or "Sit on the floor"?


Here, James uses the rich and poor as an illustration. It is by no means the only way of looking at snobbery. Some men might be treated differently because they are strong, good looking or intelligent. Perhaps the worst of all Church snobbery is when prominent Christian ministers are considered to be better or set apart from other Christians and when they act and are treated as such. But back to James' example of snobbery. Two men come into the Church gathering. One is, by his dress, obviously rich. The other is poor - he is not necessarily a homeless beggar in rags, but possibly just a poor man plainly but tidily dressed. Now, says James, the rich man is treated with courtesy, we welcome him and find him a good seat. Next comes the poor man, but we are not courteous to him but rough - and we don't even let him have a seat. We treat the two men differently because one is rich and the other is poor. This is wrong. It would be OK to find the rich man a seat and  welcome him courteously if we were prepared to do exactly the same for the poor man. Our motive is wrong in pandering to the rich. Maybe we want to get his money out of him! All men should be respected because they are made in God's image and because God so loved them that he gave his only son to die for them all.


2:4 If so, have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives?


If we show partiality then we are putting ourselves in the position of judges and unjust judges at that. There is only one who is qualified as a judge of men, and that is God, who does not show partiality (Deut. 10:17 and Rom. 2:11). JB Phillips says "You are setting yourselves up to assess a man's quality." A man's worth can only be determined by the cost that was paid to redeem him at the cross.


2:5  Listen, my dear brothers and sisters! Did not God choose the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?


Snobbery against the poor may have been a real problem in the early church. It can still be so today. We must not forget however, that there is an inverted snobbery which discriminates against the rich because they are rich or against the intellectual because they are intellectual and so on. To show partiality is as bad either way round. We owe all that we have and are to God and to the cross of Jesus. Paul reminded his readers that God has chosen the poor and the despised so that through the gospel they might believe in the Lord Jesus and inherit greater riches than all the world's wealth. Believers are heirs of God and of the kingdom he has promised to those who love Him. 1 Cor 1.26-31. William Barclay rightly says " It is not that Christ and the Church do not want the great and the rich.. It was the simple fact that the gospel offered so much to the poor and demanded so much from the rich, that it was the poor who were swept into the church. It was, in fact, the common people who heard Jesus gladly and the rich young ruler who went away sorrowful because he had great possessions. Through (the gospel) a value is set on the man whom the world regards as valueless."


2:6  But you have dishonored the poor! Are not the rich oppressing you and dragging you into the courts?


This verse confirms to us that this was a problem in the early church. James accuses God's people of treating the poor with contempt. They could have done this by simply showing preference to the rich. Yet it was the rich, the ones they pandered to, who treated the Christians roughly and dragged them to the law courts - probably to repay a their debts. Or possibly because of their faith in Christ.


2:7  Do they not blaspheme the good name of the one you belong to?


Not only did the rich oppress the church, but they blasphemed the name of Christ. If a judgement between persons should be made at all, then perhaps it should be between those who are godly and those who are ungodly. It would certainly not be right, in the Church of God, for an unbeliever be allowed exactly the same rights as a believer. No unbeliever can ever be allowed to have a say in the running of any church. By the way, if an unbeliever ever speaks against a believer and you listen to the unbeliever or join in with them then beware, you are siding with the devil.


2:8  But if you fulfill the royal law as expressed in this scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well.


The law given by God and fulfilled in Jesus Christ is "love your neighbour as yourself." Such a love will not show favouritism.


2:9  But if you show prejudice, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as violators.


Not to love others as we ought, by showing partiality to some, is to break the law, which is sin and the law proves us to be law breakers.


The Law is One Law


2:10  For the one who obeys the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.


God only gave one law. It is complete. The rabbis thought of the law of God as a long list of do's and don'ts. If a man kept more laws than he broke then that would tip the balance in his favour. But this is not so in God's sight. The law is a whole, it is one. So, if one part of it is broken then THE LAW IS BROKEN full stop. If we break the law we are law breakers.


2:11  For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a violator of the law.


God gave the law. To break one of God's commands is to disobey God, as much as breaking all the law is to disobey God. In God's sight, it is not how often we have broken the law the fact is it is broken.The point is, we have disobeyed God. So whoever breaks one part of the law is guilty of the WHOLE.


We will All Give Account to God


2:12  Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom.


As believers we will not face judgement for our sins in the way that unbelievers will.  Christ has borne our punishment on the cross. Yet we will be judged as to how we have obeyed Christ. We are to live our lives and let our words be governed by the teaching and commands of Christ (called here, the Law of Liberty). Our reward will depend upon, not what we have achieved, but how we have obeyed.


2:13  For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment.


Those who have not made allowance for the faults of others will find that no allowance will be made for their own failings. Those who have been merciful will find gentle treatment themselves from Christ when he comes (Matt. 5:7). The scriptures confirm that we will all stand before the Judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). We will give account to Christ as believers (1 Cor. 4:5 and Rom. 14:10). We will be judged according to the revelation that we have received and the privileges and opportunities we have either taken or failed to avail ourselves of (Luke 12:48 and James 3:1). Faithfulness will be rewarded (Luke 12:37) Works and motives will be tested. Some will suffer loss, yet will not lose their salvation (1 Cor. 3:13-15). Paul taught that "a man is justified by faith without the works of the law." In all of his letters Paul stresses the fact that we are not saved by our good works but by faith. Eternal life is the gift of God and is received only when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. James is not opposing Paul, but those who misused Paul's teaching, taking it to mean that they could do as they pleased. James insists that true faith results in a life of good works. The whole NT agrees. Paul speaks of putting off the old man and putting on the new. John the Baptist said much the same when he told the people to "repent..and live in such a way that proves that your repentance is genuine." Our Lord's own teaching was "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven." Hence, James teaching is that, although we are saved by grace through faith, not by works,  genuine faith will produce good works. Or, in other words, we are not saved BY good works, but saved TO DO good works.


Genuine Faith is Realized in Salvation


2:14  What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him?


What is the use of a faith that does not result in obedience to God? Is that the faith which saves your soul? What is the purpose of God in saving sinners if it is not to produce in them lives of obedience and holiness. If your faith is genuine, and has "saved" you, then that salvation will be realized - or outwardly made known - by good works.


2:15-16  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm and eat well," but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it?


James illustrates the point. Suppose a Christian brother or sister has no food or clothing, nor any way of obtaining them. When they come for our help, we lift up our hands over them and say in "faith" so called, or a word of faith whatever you want to call it - "Go in peace, be warmed and filled" - but do not do anything to help them. What was the good of that? It hasn't helped them at all. A faith like that is no good to anyone. Such a faith cannot save your soul. True faith is what moves us to action. If a man really has genuine faith then he has been justified in Christ, his heart has been cleansed, his spirit renewed and this cannot fail to be seen in his actions.


2:17  So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself.


A branch which produces no fruit is a dead branch and a faith which produces no works is just as dead, for faith and works always go together.


Genuine Faith is Revealed in Service


2:18  But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works.


Some men claim to have faith without giving any proof of it in their works. Some even delude themselves into thinking that this makes them more spiritual. They discourage those men who spend all their hours working in the gospel, suggesting that they have less faith, for they are not leaving all the work to God, or depending on the Spirit. In fact, faith motivates us to work. William Barclay tells the following story. "It is said that Martin Luther was close friends with another monk. The other monk was as fully persuaded of the necessity of the Reformation as Luther was. So they made an arrangement. Luther would go down into the world and fight the battle there; the other monk would remain in his cell praying all the time for the success of Luther's labors. But one night the monk had a dream. In it he saw a single reaper engaged in the impossible task of reaping an immense field unaided and alone. The lonely reaper turned his head and the monk saw his face, and it was the face of Martin Luther; and he knew that he must leave his cell and his prayers and go to help." So whilst some say, I have faith, those who genuinely do have faith show it by what they do. Of course there are those who through bodily weakness can do no more than involve themselves in the difficult and serious work of praying for the laborers. Their prayers are vital. Nothing could ever be accomplished in the Lord's vineyard without the faithful and continual prayers of such dedicated prayer warriors. But how often have you heard some able bodied people say, "I'll pray for you", and it is nothing more than a way of getting out of doing anything. Faith without works is no faith at all. Genuine faith is revealed in our works of service.


2:19  You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that -- and tremble with fear.


Some might argue that their faith in God is very genuine. James warns that even the devil and his demons believe in One God and are afraid. They believe it and know it to be a fact - but it hasn't changed them - they're still devils. Some who claim to believe in God have obviously not changed in their behaviour either. They don't even go so far as the devils, for they do not tremble at the presence of God. genuine, saving faith in Christ will affect not only the mind, but the will and the whole personality. It will  transform a life and produce good works, for old things are passed away and all things are become new.


Genuine Faith is Recorded in Scripture


2:20  But would you like evidence, you empty fellow, that faith without works is useless?


Those who believe in God in their mind without giving Him the obedience of their hearts are fools. James sets out to prove from the scriptures that the faith which justifies a person is the faith which makes him obedient to God.


2:21  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?


He cites the case of Abraham, who offered up his son Isaac to God. The scripture says Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. But his faith was accompanied by works, for when God asked him to offer up his son Isaac, Abraham obeyed. He took Isaac, and was about to sacrifice his only son, of whom God had said "In Isaac shall your seed be called." Abraham believed that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead, and so he did not hesitate to obey. Hence the scripture was fulfilled for all to see, that Abraham truly did believe in God, and this was credited to him as righteousness.


2:22-23 You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Now Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness," and he was called God's friend.


Abraham's faith and works went together. Faith cannot exist on its own, but is only made complete by works. If someone has The faith in Jesus Christ, we will see that faith being made complete by the obedience it produces. There will be a change of life, a change of association and a change of desires. For example, instead of the old sinful life we will want the new life which God gives us. Instead of our former companions, we will gather together with God's people.


2:24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.


We must be careful to note that we are not saved by good works, but by faith in the Lord Jesus. However, whilst we are justified by faith, we are not justified by a faith which has no effect on our lives. We are saved by grace through faith which produces good works in us (Eph. 2:8-10).


2:25 And similarly, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another way?


Rahab is a second example from Scripture. She was the prostitute who hid the spies when Joshua sent them to spy out the land of Canaan. It was because she believed and feared Jehovah that she sided with the children of Israel and hid the men, risking her life to do so. We can see that she had faith, because her faith caused her to act. If she had not hidden the spies, she would have died when Jericho fell.


2:26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.


So in conclusion James is saying that faith and works go together. Unless our faith produces in us a willingness and then a performance of the actions that God requires, it is useless as a dead body (Phil. 2:13).



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