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Bible Commentaries

Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books
James 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-4

Christianity Eliminates Partiality

Roberts points out that the Greek word for "respect of persons" literally means "face receiving." In other words, judging what kind of man one is by how he looks. Their problem was rich versus poor. Others have had the same type of problem with race, color, nationality, social status, etc. To be a true follower of God, one must not be a respecter of persons (Leviticus 19:15). As Woods notes, Christ was lowly while on earth but is now the "glorious Lord" (James 2:1).

Remember that Jesus studied with a ruler of the Jews (John 3:1-36); a Samaritan adulteress (John 4:1-54); and taught both the despised tax collectors and sinners (Luke 15:1-2). He commanded his followers to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15-16). The true disciple of the Lord will be concerned about the souls of all. He will also make every effort to treat each in a loving manner. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said, "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).

The gold-ringed man, as Woods says the Greek means, likely wore his rings in a way which would cause others to take notice. Likewise, his clothes were brightly colored so they would cause people to look. In contrast, the poor man wore cheap, perhaps dirty, clothes. The Christians James addressed had been directing the rich man to the place of honor. The poor man was told to stand or lay under the usher"s footstool. In such a practice, they were actually being double-minded. They showed special favor to one over the other, which was against the Lord"s teachings, yet claimed to follow the Lord. Thus, they were showing that they still judged men by the evil standard of the world (James 2:2-4).


Verses 5-7

The Poor Are Often Rich In Faith

The simple truth is that the poor in this world are much more likely to have that rich faith which moves them to obey the gospel call (James 2:5). They do not have so much to give up. The rich young ruler wanted to follow Christ and inherit eternal life. However, he went away sorrowful instead of selling all he had and giving the proceeds to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22; 1 Timothy 6:8-19; Luke 12:13-21). All people are called by the gospel (Matthew 11:28-30; Revelation 22:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14), but the rich seldom accept the call (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).

Peter told Cornelius and those assembled in his house, "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:34-35). Instead of being like God, the scattered Christians had honored the rich while treating the poor despitefully. Yet, it was the rich who crushed Christians. It was the rich who dragged them into court against their will. It was the rich who spoke against the name of Christ (James 2:6-7).


Verses 8-13

The Royal Law

James seemingly anticipated their response. Perhaps they would say they were only following the law, fit for kings, which said they should love their neighbor as themselves (Leviticus 19:18). James said it would be fine if they really practiced that law. He just did not want them to do so to the exclusion of one class of people. The law also forbade prejudice (Deuteronomy 16:19-20). Woods says "you commit sin" literally translated is you "work sin." They apparently did not just slip into sin but intentionally practiced it (James 2:8-9).

Since they might appeal to the law of Moses, James showed that one who breaks one part of the law is a law breaker. Thus, he would stand condemned by the law. The law is taken as a unit because it all comes from one source, God. To violate one part is to stand condemned by the whole law as a transgressor. Ultimately, we should speak and live as those who will be judged by the perfect law of liberty. In Christ, we are free from the condemnation of sin (Romans 8:1-2). Of course, being free should not make us want to abuse our freedom and return to bondage (James 2:10-12; Galatians 5:13-14).

Each person"s judgment will be based upon how he has dealt with others. If he has failed to show pity on those in need, he can expect no pity. Jesus" parable of the judgment shows the importance of caring for the needs of others. Those who failed heard, "Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me" (Matthew 25:41-46; Matthew 18:23-35). Mercy will stand above judgment, so those who have been merciful have no need to fear (James 2:13; 1 John 4:16-18).


Verses 14-19

A Faith That Does Not Work Is Useless

Those who claimed to have faith but failed to be fair in their treatment of the poor, as well as rich, had a faith that would not save them. James does not say they are faithless, just without a faith that saves. In a similar manner, it is clear the works he speaks of are not works of merit which will save. Instead, they are the fruits of a faith that does save (Compare Luke 3:7-14; Matthew 7:15-20; 2 Peter 1:1-10; 1 John 1:6-7; 1 John 2:9-11). We can recognize a true man of faith by the things he does (James 2:14).

To show how worthless faith without works is, James uses the illustration of a brother, or sister, without adequate food or clothes. What would come from telling them to be warmed and filled. Obviously, they would not have a full stomach just because someone told themto be filled. Neither would they be warm because someone told them to be. Instead, it would take food and clothes coupled with the words to achieve the desired end. Just so, faith without works is "dead in itself." It is without any power because it has no works (James 2:15-17).

An objector might answer by saying one has faith and another works. They might say it is just as well since they are both good and useful in the Lord"s service. The only problem is that faith cannot be seen except through the works it causes one to do (compare Hebrews , 7, 8, 9, 21, 22,23, 24-25, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31). To the one who said faith was a good thing, James would say to test it by thinking about belief in God. If they mentally acknowledged that there was one God, they did something which was good. In fact, it is absolutely necessary, but it is not enough. Even Satan"s workers tremble at the thought of the God who will one day punish them (James 2:18-19).


Verse 20-21

Faith Without Works Is Dead

James wanted his objectors to acknowledge the obvious truth that faith without works is dead. Woods says "foolish man" literally means "an empty-headed fellow" (James 2:20). Those who really understood God"s word should have known Abraham was not only the father of the Jewish nation. He was also the father of all the faithful (Romans 4:1-25; especially 16). James says Abraham was pronounced free from guilt by works. Abraham"s works were those done to follow God"s specific instruction, as Coffman notes (Hebrews 11:8-19). The Hebrew writer shows that it was because of his faith that Abraham took action. Words like "obeyed," "went out," "sojourned," "dwelling" and "offered up" show specific actions he took to please God. It is these works which demonstrate one"s faith that James has in mind (James 2:21).

In contrast to James emphasis upon works of obedience which show we have faith, Paul is talking about works which earn an entrance into heaven in Romans 4:1-25. In verse 4., Paul says, "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt." Would anyone accuse James of saying our works make God owe us heaven as a reward? Certainly not. Instead, he is saying our salvation is contingent upon faith. The only way to have a living faith is to have a working, obedient faith like Abraham. Paul likewise teaches us that we must work God"s will to be saved (Philippians 2:13-15; Galatians 5:1-6). To be baptized in accord with the Lord"s will (Mark 16:16) is not to do a work thinking it will justify us. Instead, it is an act of obedience which shows our trust in Jesus" promise to save. Our works plainly show where our trust (faith) rests (Titus 1:16).

Abraham"s faith was tested when God told him to take Isaac, the son of the promised blessing, and offer him up as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-19). When he obediently went forth to work God"s bidding, Abraham showed his faith was real. Because he did God"s will, the blessing promise was his (see verses 15-18.) In verse 16, the angel of the Lord says "because you have done this thing." God saw Abraham"s faith in his works.


Verses 22-24

Abraham"s Justification

Woods says the word translated "working together" comes "from sunergei, imperfect active of sunergeo, to cooperate with; hence, faith and works kept on cooperating with each other to produce the result - Abraham"s justification". Abraham"s faith was brought to its full maturity by works. Faith without works would then be imperfect (dead, verse 17) and unable to save (James 2:22).

The quote in James 2:23 comes form Genesis 16:6. Abraham was 75 years old when he first received the blessings promise (Genesis 12:1-4). He had no children, yet he had faith that God could work what he promised. God counted that faith for righteousness. It should be observed that Abraham"s faith did not fully mature until he offered up Isaac, as noted above. His faithfulness caused God to call him his friend. We, thus, are brought by James to the inescapable conclusion that faith only will not save. Instead, it is a working faith which saves (James 2:24).


Verse 25-26

Rahab"s Example

Likewise, Rahab the harlot showed her trust in God by receiving and hiding the spies (Joshua 2:1-24). Despite the fact that she had lived a wicked life, as her name indicates, she and her household were saved because of her working faith (James 2:25; Hebrews 11:31).

Our body is a temporary dwelling place which will one day be put off. (2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Peter 1:13-14.) It was made from dust and will return to dust at death. (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 12:7.) Roberts says the spirit is "the animating principle of life." So, a body apart from the spirit is dead and will only decay. James concludes faith apart from works is also dead and will rot (James 2:26).

 


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Bibliography Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on James 2:4". "Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ghc/james-2.html. 2014.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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