Verse 1: “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.” In the very first verse here James tells his readers not to have “the faith” with respect of persons. James’ usage of having the faith is subjective, just as stating being a Christian. Having the faith is someone who obeys and holds to the system of the faith (Ephesians 4:5). In having “the faith” a Christian cannot respect persons. In Christ we are all one (Galatians 3:26-29). Some have misconstrued passages such as this one to imply that we all have the same role and authority. Such is not true even in the case of a male Christian and a female Christian (I Corinthians 14:34-35 and I Timothy 2:11ff.) God is one, in three persons (I John 5:7), but God the Father and God the Son do not share the same roles in authority (I Corinthians 11:3). The fact that God recognizes differences in roles does not mean or imply that He is a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34 and Romans 2:11).
Verse 2: “For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;” The setting is made that a rich man who looks wealthy, and a poor man come into the assembly. First of all, the point needs made that if Christ were to be here and come into the assembly he would resemble the second man not the first (Isaiah 53:2-3). The only time our Lord had on garments portraying Him as royalty was just prior to Him being put to death (Matthew 27:28-30). Jesus didn’t even have a nice place to live (Luke 9:58).
Verses 3-4: “And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?” When brethren would respect someone because of their appearance they have shown themselves to be worldly. Our judgment should not be on the physical but, on the spiritual. In so looking at the physical we have become “judges of evil thoughts” in that we have displayed our respect and love for worldly things opposed to Godly things (Matthew 13:22, Mark 10:23, and I John 2:15). When we look to honor the rich do we show the attitude of trusting God rather than wealth (I Timothy 6:17)?
Verse 5: “Hearken, my beloved brethren, 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?” James tells his readers to “hearken” or “listen – hear” and then proceeds to tell them that God hath chosen the poor of this world to be rich in the faith and to have an inheritance. Jesus said it was easier for a camel to enter into an eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven (Mark 10:25). Paul told Timothy of those that thought gain was godliness and how that Christians ought to be content because the love of money is the root of all evil (I Timothy 6:5-10). It is those who have little that do not mind giving much up for Christ (Mark 12:41-44). The poor are blessed in the Kingdom of God (Luke 6:20).
Verses 6-7: “But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” Apparently, these brethren are ignoring the fact that they are lifting up the same people that are oppressing them. In lifting up the rich they are despising [insulting] the poor. They have obviously missed the truth about those who serve themselves and mind earthly things (Philippians 3:18-19). These same wealthy people who are persecuting them are also blaspheming [speaking evil of] the name of the Lord. The Lord will not forget those who abuse His name (Exodus 20:7). The sadness is that they are lifting up men who not only oppress them, but speak evil of the Lord. Just as a young man or woman in high school who get picked on by the “in crowd”, these brethren are obviously desiring to be worldly so much that their vision is off.
Verse 8: “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:” The Bible shows us that we are to love our neighbors and Christ even defines who are neighbors are (Luke 10:25-37).
Verse 9: “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.” Again, the point made in verse 1 is made here. We cannot have respect of persons. If we do “…ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.” So, we are convicted or made guilty, by the Law of Christ when we do show respect of persons. Transgression of the Law of Christ defines sin (I John 3:4).
Verse 10: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” Here we learn that when one commits one sin he is a lawbreaker and therefore a sinner. There is no way to get around this verse for those who like to teach that one sin is lesser than another. The liar will pay the same price as the murderer (Revelation 21:8). A point we cannot miss addressing here is that we are under the law of Christ (John 14:21, Galatians 6:1-2, and James 1:25).
Verse 11: “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 verse describes verse 10. You do not need to break the whole law to be a transgressor of the law.
Verses 12-13: “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” We are to speak and do the law of Christ as people who will be judged by it (John 12:48). There is a significant teaching in these verses we could easily overlook. Do we recognize the weight of the law of Christ? Do we realize that it was our obedience to the law of Christ that set us free from sin (Romans 6:16-18)? Those things we do and say need to reflect what we learn from the word of God because, in the Day of Judgment our actions will be held up to the word of God. To illustrate the point made in verse 13 look to the servant who was forgiven but, he could not return the action to others equally deserving (Matthew 18:21-35).
INRODUCTION TO SECTION ON WORKS: Now we begin a section on faith and works. One of the most abused and misunderstood doctrines of the Bible. Truly, we are not saved by our works but, by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). This area of the scriptures will explain to us how works plays into the salvation of the souls of men. Just as Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8), but still had to build the arch to be saved; we to have grace given to us, but must follow God’s plan of accepting that grace.
Verse 14: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” James opens this section of scriptures by asking two questions: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” The implied answers, and the text will prove it, are: NOTHING and NO! Just as a man that sees a speeding vehicle coming his way will see and believe it is heading towards him however, if he does not move he will be hit. If we believe in the word of God we must act on that faith and that action is called works. We see through the conversion accounts in the book of Acts that people heard the Gospel and believed it, but they did not just stop there. The faith of those who heard and believed brought them to action (Acts 2:37-41, Acts 8:4-13, Acts 8:26-39, Acts 9:1-20, Acts 10:44-48, Acts 16:13-15, Acts 16:25-34, Acts 18:8, and Acts 19:1-7).
Verses 15-16: “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” Here James uses the illustration that if we see a fellow believer in need our acknowledgment of their need is not enough. We must take action (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:31-37, Acts 11:27-30, and Galatians 6:10).
Verse 17: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” When we read Hebrews chapter 11 we read of men and women who believed in God. Their belief was made evident by their many great works. Our works are proof of our faith. The fruits we produce are often used to identify what we really believe and who we really serve (Matthew 7:15-20). James is clear here, faith – works = dead faith!
Verses 18-19: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Here James shows the hypothetical of a person who essentially says: “I have faith and you have works.” The type of “we do it different and that is OK” attitude. James challenges that theory by saying: “shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” It is impossible to show faith, for faith cannot be seen (Hebrews 11:1). James then shows that if faith were sufficient then the devils would be saved.
Verse 20: “But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” James again concludes this thought as he did in verse 17. This time he refers to the arguer of these scripturally baseless arguments as empty.
Verses 21-24: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Here Abraham is used as an account to show how a man is justified by his works. This account goes back to (Genesis 22:1-18; cf. Hebrews 11:17-19). James concludes this section in verse 24 with this: “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” How much more does one need to see on the subject?
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, Rahab the harlot is used to show us again that faith is shown through works (Joshua 2:1-24; cf. Hebrews 11:31).
Verse 26: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Again, James concludes in a very clear way.
James Chapter 2 Study Questions
1. Is it wrong to prefer one class of people
2. Are local congregations showing a respect
of men over women when only men lead and teach in mixed assemblies?
3. Who was oppressing the brethren James
4. According to James in this chapter how
do we fulfill the “royal law”?
5. If someone breaks one part of the law
of Christ are they guilty of all of it? Why or why not?
6. Since verses 8 and 11 make references
to things we find in the Old Testament, does that mean that this addresses
those under the Old Law? Was anyone under the Old Law at this time?
7. What is the law of liberty?
8. Explain verses 15-16.
9. Can man be saved by faith alone?
10. Explain how we are saved by works in
light of Ephesians 2:8-9.
2003 by Brian A. Yeager may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.