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Bible Commentaries

Bell's Commentary on the Bible

James 2

Verses 1-13

  1. INTRO:
    1. Bishop Potter was sailing for Europe on one of the great transatlantic ocean liners. When he went on board, he found that another passenger was to share the cabin with him. After going to see the accommodations, he came up to the purser’s desk and inquired if he could leave his gold watch and other valuables in the ship’s safe. He explained that ordinarily he never availed himself of that privilege, but he had been to his cabin and had met the man who was to occupy the other berth. Judging from his appearance, he was afraid that he might not be a very trustworthy person. The purser accepted the responsibility for the valuables and remarked, “It’s all right, bishop, I’ll be very glad to take care of them for you. The other man has been up here and left his for the same reason!
    2. In ch.2 we’ll continue to understand what true religion & real faith look like (see 1:27).
      1. What if we just made that our perpetual goal?
    3. Over all theme: If you have true saving faith, you will practice impartiality.
      1. Also, we will see people in terms of character instead of clothing.
      2. You will not cater to the rich, nor ignore the poor.
      3. You will love each person for the sake of Christ.
      4. Christian love means treating others the way the Lord treats us & doing it in the power of the Spirit.
      5. Q: Are we free from the preoccupation with what people have rather than what they are? Q: Do we love & learn from the rich in faith?
      6. James made this a tightly constructed passage: 1st, he introduces a principle(1); then he illustrates his point(2-4); next he explains it(5-11); finally, applies it(12,13).
  2. SO SPEAK & SO DO!
    1. FAITH & FAVORITISM! (1)
    2. Clearly, faith in Christ & partiality are incompatible!
    3. Partiality/favoritism/respect of persons defined: It literally means to “receive by face”.
      1. It is to judge a book by its cover. It is judging a person by how they look.
        1. Like: by their clothes, cars, or color.
      2. It is pandering to someone, because he is rich or influential or popular.
      3. To lift up a person’s countenance, to regard him with favor. (i.e. Samuel w/Eliab)
      4. It is to hold prejudice [pre-judge]
    4. Saying it in the positive? Treat everyone the same!
    5. What does “respect of persons” actually look like?
      1. Discrimination - the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually.
      2. To be bias, bent, to have a tendency - an inclination of temperament or outlook, especially a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.
      3. Prejudice, from the words pre + judge: preconceived judgment or opinion; an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge.
      4. Judgments based on evil motives.
    6. James is not talking about the kind of discernment that comes from a thorough understanding of another’s character.
      1. The 3 other places partiality/favoritism shows up in the NT. We’re assured the Father is not a respecter of persons.
        1. When He judges, He judges the heart, not outward appearances!
      2. Wrong Judging! - Mt.7:1 Judge not, that you be not judged.
        1. krino meaning, “to separate, select so as to declare a verdict.”
    7. This type of judging is wrong because of the motive or attitude behind it.
      1. Right Discerning! - Heb.5:14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (NIV)
        1. diakrino (prefix added) meaning, “to separate, to distinguish, to select.”
        2. It’s the idea of distinguishing on the basis of comparison, coupled w/careful thinking
        3. The mark of a mature Christian is the ability to discern good from evil, strengths from weaknesses, to be concerned for the welfare of those we correct.
    8. THE WEALTHY & THE POOR! (2-7)
    9. (2,3) James fleshes out the issue w/a vivid illustration. They were guilty of 2 things:
      1. Treating rich visitors with great respect & Treating poor visitors with no respect.
        1. In 1884 a young man died, and after the funeral his grieving parents decided to establish a memorial to him. With that in mind they met with Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University. Eliot received the unpretentious couple into his office and asked what he could do. After they expressed their desire to fund a memorial, Eliot impatiently said, “Perhaps you have in mind a scholarship.” “We were thinking of something more substantial than that...perhaps a building,” the woman replied. In a patronizing tone, Eliot brushed aside the idea as being too expensive and the couple departed. The next year, Eliot learned that this plain pair had gone elsewhere and established a $26 million memorial named Leland Stanford Junior University, better known today as Stanford! (Today in the Word, June 11, 1992)
      2. Explain: Chief seats in synagogue(sit here in a good place); stepped seating around sides(sit here at my footstool).
      3. If you’re an usher, you’re probably not going to struggle with sitting Mr. Have, a wealthy man up front & Mr. Have Not, a homeless person in the back. But how might we struggle with this?
        1. We still struggle with this...we’re just better at hiding it now!
        2. It’s leveraging a relationship: What can I get/take from this relationship?
          1. Their position might be of help to you in the future; their finances; their connections; even their “coolness!” (like it will rub off on you)
      4. Dan & I were talking about being at an “Exponential 07” Generosity conf at Saddleback Church.
        1. “You can live without giving, but you can’t love without giving.”
        2. “Satan has a zillion ways to waste your money.”
        3. Rick Warren was on Larry King live because of the success of his book...but how did Rick leverage it? For himself? For his fame? He said, he realized, he was given a voice so he can be a voice for those who don’t have a voice!
    10. (4) So why can’t I show partiality? Because it’s impossible to judge another person’s motives simply on the basis of outward appearance or any other external force.
      1. No one can determine the heart of another especially in a 1st-time encounter.
        1. Thats why James says it’s wrong!
    11. Given half a chance, people often crawl out of the boxes into which we’ve relegated them!
    12. Judges with evil thoughts - It might be in hopes of selfish gain; or to maintain class distinctions; or simply out of pride & contempt.
      1. In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.”
    13. (5b-7) The Enigma! - James can’t understand this, for often it is the rich who persecuted them & ridiculed their Savior.
    14. SELF & NEIGHBOR! (8-11)
    15. (8) Obey the Lord’s Royal Command!
      1. Moses said it in Lev.19:18...It was law then, & it is still today, to love your neighbor as yourself!
      2. Wow, what if all our relationships were guided by the royal law of love?
        1. Unfortunately we all have certain built-in prejudices that color our reactions to people. Some against: divorced people, or emotionally ill people, or those who belong to a different political party, different ethnic or religious backgrounds.
        2. We all have our unwritten royal law of love that states, “I’ll love you if you don’t speak w/an accent...if you dress a certain way...if you’re educated...if...if...if.”
      3. Two apples up in a tree were looking down on the world. The first apple said, “Look at all those people fighting, robbing, rioting - no one seems willing to get along with his fellow man. Someday we apples will be the only ones left. Then we’ll rule the world.” Replied the second apple, “Which of us - the reds or the greens?”
    16. (9-11) Now, as if James is reading his readers minds, “Ok, my love might have a few little limitations, but at least we’re not murderers!” (see vs.10)
    17. If are a “respect of persons”, you are sinning, you are a transgressor of the law:
      1. Its inconsistent with God’s character(5); Its inconsistent with sound logic (6,7); It’s inconsistent with Scripture (8-11); It’s sin (9); It makes you guilty of the whole law of God (10); It is just as serious a sin as adultery and killing (11);God will judge Sin (11).
    18. MERCY & JUDGMENT! (12-13)
    19. (12) Law of liberty/freedom - Not freedom from the obligations of moral law; it is freedom to fulfill the just requirements of the law. (18b)
    20. 3 basic principles:
      1. Let the Scriptures be your standard, not how we were raised! (12)
        1. Instead of excusing our prejudices w/statements like, “That’s the way I was brought up!” - “That’s just the way I am!”
          1. ​​​​​​​Allow God to change how you think, speak, & act by living according to his word.
      2. Let love be your law!
        1. Some of the most needy people get treated the worse.
        2. Ask, How can I love this person? - What’s needed to build this person up?
      3. Let Mercy be your message! (13)
        1. To show no mercy is to receive no mercy!
          1. We are commanded to temper justice w/mercy.
    21. (13b) Mercy triumphs over judgment (not over justice, but judgment/condemnation).
      1. It was once said that when we see a brother or sister in sin, there are 2 things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin. And second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her. We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances.
    22. When I recognize my prejudice, I will tell myself I lack sound information & am pre-judging that person, which makes my opinion irrational & unfair.

A woman was waiting at an airport one night. With several long hours before her flight. She hunted for a book in the airport shop, Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop. She was engrossed in her book, but happened to see, That the man beside her, as bold as could be, Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag between, Which she tried to ignore, to avoid a scene. She read, munched cookies, and watched the clock, As the gutsy “cookie thief!” diminished her stock. She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by, Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I’d blacken his eye!” With each cookie she took, he took one, too.When only one was left, she wondered what he’d do. With a smile on his face and a nervous laugh, He took the last cookie and broke it in half. He offered her half, as he ate the other. She snatched it from him and thought, “Oh brother, This guy has some nerve, and he’s also rude, Why, he didn’t even show any gratitude!” She had never known when she had been so galled, And sighed with relief when her flight was called. She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate, Refusing to look back at the “thieving ingrate.” She boarded the plane and sank in her seat, Then sought her book, which was almost complete. As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise. There was her bag of cookies in front of her eyes! “If mine are here, she moaned with despair, Then the others were his and he tried to share! Too late to apologize, she realized with grief, That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief!”

Verses 14-26

  1. INTRO:
    1. Rick & Belize Team share:
    2. James has already warned against empty religion which is impure (1:26,27); Here he warns against an inactive faith which is impotent! (Stibbs)
    3. Faith is like calories: you can’t see them, but you can always see their results! (Swindoll)
    4. Martin Luther labeled James a “right strawy epistle”, meaning that he felt it lacked solid, biblical doctrine.
      1. Luther’s battle cry during the reformation was “Justification by faith alone!” Sola Fide
      2. Read Rom.4:4,5
    5. Important differences:
      1. Emphasis - Paul stresses the root of salvation (faith in Christ + nothing); James stresses the fruit after salvation.
      2. Perspective - Paul looks at life from God’s perspective; James looks at life from a human perspective.
        1. Paul is sitting in the den staring at the fire in the fireplace; James is up on the roof eyeing the smoke coming out of the chimney. [can’t see the fireplace only its results]
        2. To James, the world should be able to tell that a faith burns in our hearts by the works they see coming out of our lives.
      3. Griffith Thomas reconciled them this way: It has been well said that St. Paul & St. James are not soldiers of different armies fighting against each other, but soldiers of the same army fighting back to back against the enemies coming from opposite directions.
    6. So, James & Paul do not contradict each other; they compliment each other.
      1. We are justified before God by faith; but we are justified before men by works.
        1. Because God can see our faith, but men can see only our works!
      2. Paul was explaining how one gains entrance into salvation; James is examining how one gives evidence of it. (Swindoll)
    7. James contrasts having only Head Faith(14-20) vs. Head, Heart, Hand Faith(21-26).
    1. (14) 2 rhetorical questions:
      1. Q: Can someone have genuine faith but not have works in their life?
        1. What good is it to have a drivers license if you don’t drive? Answer? None!
        2. A workless faith is a worthless faith!
      2. Q: Can that sort of faith save him from condemnation? Answer. No!
    2. Empty faith is words w/o action, profession w/o performance!
      1. 1Jn.3:17,18 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love(only) in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
      2. The reformers said it this way, “we are justified by faith alone, but not by the faith which is alone.”
    4. [1st] It’s not Indifferent but Involved! (15,16)
    5. We’ve all received empty platitudes instead of real help. “Have faith!” “Keep a stiff upper lip” even “I’ll pray for you bro!” (if they don’t mean it)
    6. True saving faith is seen in activity.
      1. Faith isn’t something you only talk about; it is something that motivates your life, so that you think of others & serve them. (www)
      2. Vs.15,16 tell us it’s a faith that goes beyond words & reaches out to the needy.
        1. Some have said, The first reformation was about creeds; the new one will be about deeds.
          1. ​​​​​​​Christian doctrine is settled. No reformation is needed there.
          2. What needs reforming now are Christian actions. Learning how to be more the hands & feet of Christ in the world & less a mouth.
            1. (i.e.) Assist the poor, Care for the sick, Educate the next generation.
            2. Social gospel? No, a Jesus Gospel!
      3. If its a faith that fails to produce good is dead & useless!
      4. If you don’t live it, you don’t believe it.
    7. Listen to vs.16 from the Mess Bible For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup - where does that get you?
    8. [2nd] It’s not Independent but In Partnership! (17)
    9. Like the song “Love & Marriage”…(last stanza)
      1. Love and marriage, love and marriage Go together like the horse and carriage (ends with...) You can't have one without the other!
      2. Faith & works go together, they are in partnership.
        1. Like the Boatman that had painted Faith on one ore, & Works on the other. Then when people would ask why, he would pull one in, & paddle in a circle. If you do not have the use of both oars, you make no progress as a Christian.
    10. [3rd] It’s not Invisible but On Display! (18)
    11. It’s faith on display, or on exhibit! (thats what Show means in Gk.)
    12. Meet James 2 imaginary friends. [He creates an imaginary conversation between 2 people]
      1. First friend: “Do your best to show me your faith w/o using works, & I’ll show you by my works.” We’ll see which one has the real deal!
      2. Some might argue, however, “Look, there are all kinds of Christians. Some have the gift of works, others are quiet, never displaying their faith.”
        1. But that’s like saying some people have the gift of breathing & others don’t!
        2. James whole point...If it doesn’t don’t have it!
    13. [4th] It’s not Intellectual but From The Heart! (19)
      1. Second Friend: This person’s defense against not having any works is to hide behind an impressive knowledge of God’s Word.
        1. (i.e.) “My theology is impeccable; I believe God is One, just like it says in Deuteronomy 6:4.” “Wonderful”, James says, “join hands w/the demons!” (Charles Swindoll: James; pg.86.)
      2. Demons have their religious facts straight, but they’re still demons.
      3. There is 1 distinction though...the demonic tribes tremble at the thought of God (tremble/shudder = a rough, uneven surface; goose bumps!)
      4. The dead faith of the religious intellectual doesn't produce even that much of a reaction.
    14. If you take away the element of application, you’re left only with mere intellectual assent
    15. Do you still think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God?
      1. Faith w/o activity is just like the’s empty & barren devil faith!
    16. Q: How profitable is my faith by the test of James’ illustration? (Let’s lay our works on the table)
    17. Q: How does my faith differ from that of the demons?
    18. ​​​​​​​HEAD, HEART, HAND FAITH! (21-26)
    19. James now illustrates his argument by reference to 2 very different/opposite people & their Head, Heart, Hand Faith. And that their works proved their faith!
      1. Abraham was the Father of the Jews; Rahab was a pagan prostitute.
      2. Abraham was moral, admired, a Jewish patriarch; Rahab was a harlot, looked on w/disdain, considered insignificant.
        1. Yet both evidenced the same kind of faith.
    20. (21-24) Abraham was saved by faith (Gen.15:6), but he proved that faith by obeying God & offering his son (Gen.22).
    21. (25) Rahab was saved by trusting God (Heb.11:31), but she showed the reality of her faith by protecting the spies or lending aid to the Israelite army (Josh.2; 6:17-27).
    22. (26) Closing principle is simple: when there’s separation there is death.
      1. It’s true physically when the soul separates from the body; and it’s true spiritually when faith is separated from works.
      2. W/o works, faith is nothing but a corpse, void of vitality & useless to everybody but the undertaker.
    23. Faith, like calories: cannot be seen, but James says you can always see its results!
      1. ​​​​​​​Q: What results do you see in your life?
        1. Genuine faith is yours? Genuine faith is yours? Genuine faith is yours? Genuine faith is from the yours?
      2. I called it Functioning Faith...what would you call it? Active Faith; Intentional; Authentic; Real; Genuine; Expressive; Demonstrative; Gushing; Friendly; Affectionate Faith?
    24. I think Luther figured it out later - Call the one a public justification, the other an inward justification, in this sense that the public justification is a fruit, a result, a proof of the justification in the heart. Accordingly, man is not justified by it before God, but must previously be justified before Him. In the same way, the fruits of the tree proclaim the obvious goodness of the tree, which follows and proves its inner, natural goodness.

      This is what James means in his epistle when he says: “Faith without works is dead.” The fact that works do not follow is a certain sign that there is not faith, but only a dead thought and dream, which people falsely call faith.

Birch Tree in my front yard lost all its leaves one fall like it’s supposed to. But, the next spring there was no bud, no blossom. I let it go a whole year. But, how many years before I call it dead?

Copyright Statement
These files are the property of Brian Bell.
Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on James 2". "Bell's Commentary". 2017.