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The first 13 verses of this chapter form a second division of the book, dealing with the faith of Christ as being above all personal considerations, perfectly true and impartial. To mix the faith of Christ therefore with a partial respect for persons, is a matter here strongly reproved. For Christ is Lord of glory, and we answerable directly to Him, not to mere men, wealthy or otherwise.
Verse 2 shows that Jewish believers were at that time still connected with the synagogue, for the word translated "assembly" is correctly given in the margin as "synagogue." Apparent dignity and wealth in the world always gives one preferential treatment; but it must not be so among those who know the Lord Jesus Christ. It is still a test for us today as to what we should do if one manifestly wealthy and another evidently poor entered a meeting. Would we be as considerate of the one as of the other? And is it so in our daily relationships with men?
If it is true that we show any preference to one above another, then we are solemnly asked, are we not in ourselves partial, and become judges with evil thoughts? If a judge does not judge righteously, then it is inescapable that his thoughts are evil.
And James calls our serious attention to the fact that God has chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith. It is of course not that God discriminates against the rich; for His Gospel is impartially declared to all. However, it is the poor who receive it, while the rich generally see no need of it. Consequently it is the poor who are blessed by it. And God honors the riches of their faith: they become heirs of the kingdom, for they love Him. How vastly more important is faith and love than all the wealth of the world!
But he charges them with despising the poor: he does not of course imply that every individual was guilty of this, but it was too prevalent a matter. Let them consider: rich men were very often their oppressors, by whom they themselves had suffered. Indeed, men can often strongly criticize the rich for their greed, but not to their faces: in fact the same men will show favoritism to the rich above the poor!
The rich too are more free in their despite against the worthy Name of the Lord Jesus: among the Jews this was clearly seen. Can these be preferred above the more lowly poor?
Verse 8 designates as "the royal law" the Scripture, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." This summarizes the last six of the ten commandments: the first four would no doubt be priestly in character, rather than royal, for they are toward God. Royal character however is that which bears testimony toward men. And genuine love for neighbors will seek their greatest good: it is impartial, and concerned for the purest blessing of its object. If it is merely my rich neighbor I love, this is not proper love at all: I expose my selfish motives. Respect of persons is both sin and transgression of the law, which Jews highly regarded.
For even one point of this kind, of disobedience to law, rendered one guilty of breaking the entire law. The law is one, though of course expressed in ten commandments: if one link of a chain is broken, then the chain is broken. It is the same God who forbids both adultery and murder; and though one is not guilty of one of these, yet if guilty of the other, he is guilty of disobedience to the same God: he has transgressed the law.
Verse 12 then exhorts that, whether in speaking or in acting, we should do so as expecting to be judged by the law of liberty. Ch.1:25 has used this expression, which is in contrast to the law of Moses, which was a law of bondage. The law of liberty is rather the ruling principle of a new nature as begotten by the word of God. Indeed, Christ Himself is the perfect exemplification of this nature, and thus its standard is of that a spontaneous, wholehearted, willing obedience.
Mercy toward others was a precious characteristic of this life in the Person of Christ: His spirit was far from that of legality; but one who shows no mercy can only expect judgment without mercy. This is true even in men's judgments one of another. "And mercy glories over judgment." (New Trans.) Mercy has a precious nobility about it that, when possible to be shown, is superior to judgment. Even God does not judge before He has exhausted every avenue by which He may righteously show mercy. If this is so, what of ourselves, who are not only given no position whatever of judges, but have been the recipients of the infinitely marvelous mercy of God, though totally unworthy of any such thing?
Verse 14 begins another division of the book, in which it is insisted that faith is manifested by works. Faith is not by any means belittled, but its reality is questionable if it is not accompanied by fruitful works. If a man says he has faith, this is of no value apart from consistent works. That kind of faith will not save him from the many pitfalls by which hypocrites are snared.
The type of works that are the result of faith are clearly shown to us in this last half of Ch.2. Works of mercy are only normal and indeed elementary, as verses 15 and 16 show. Even unbelievers often recognize some responsibility to relieve those who suffer poverty and hunger. Should I then tell suffering believers that I have faith that they will be provided for, while myself giving them nothing? In these very things my faith is to be proven. If good works do not accompany it, then such faith is dead: it bears no fruit: it is alone, solitary, isolated from reality.
One may blandly say that he has faith, and another has works, as though these were merely differing gifts given of God. But it is a false and sinful premise. One cannot show his faith without works, but James says, "I will show thee my faith by my works." Certainly, God can see the reality of a man's faith; but men can see this only in a person's works. Before God one is justified by faith exclusively, without works (Romans 4:1-25:l-5); but he cannot show others his faith except by his works.
Verse 19 illustrates the emptiness of a so-called faith that merely gives assent to facts. This means nothing in itself if it produces no proper results. Demons admit there is one God, but they tremble in prospect of certain judgment. Jews and Mohammedans believe there is one God, but they find no salvation in this fact. That kind of faith, having no works to substantiate it, is dead, for it produces nothing.
We have seen in vs.15 and 16 that faith produces works of mercy toward others. Now in verses 21-23 we see produced in Abraham works of obedience to God. In Rahab (v.25) works of sanctification as to the world, are the fruit of her faith.
As to Abraham, long before he offered Isaac, God counted his faith as righteousness. (Gen.l5:6) He was then justified before God by faith alone. But later, for every eye interested, he was justified by works, when he willingly offered Isaac, his beloved son. Only by real, active faith could he have done this; what he did added nothing to his it proved it. If God had not commanded this, the offering of his son would have been gross wickedness, but he trusted God's word, though it was contrary to every right natural feeling. Faith wrought with his works, and by his works faith was seen in mature fruition.
Interestingly, verse 23 speaks of this as fulfilling the previous Scripture as to Abraham's being reckoned righteous because of his faith. God was proven to be right in regard to Abraham's faith, for the later experience proved it. Precious indeed it is that he is called "the friend of God," because his actions showed him to have total confidence in God's faithfulness.
In receiving the spies, Rahab would be in the world's eyes guilty of treachery, but she recognized the far higher authority of the God of Israel, and acted by faith in Him, Faith's reality is seen in her protecting the spies; though her lying to the city officials shows the weakness of her faith. God used all of this, though we know not what miracle God might have wrought for her, had her faith been more bold.
V.26 declares what death is: the body without the spirit is dead, left helpless, useless, repelling, not extinct, but devoid of the power that once animated it: it is left alone. Such is the case of the so-called faith that has no works to accompany it.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on James 2". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30