James Chapter 2
Respect of Persons
James 2:1 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
In chapter one of the subjects was enduring in faith in times of testing. Now James turns to the subject of partiality in judgment based on a person’s standing in life. Respect of persons is the trait of being partial to the outward circumstances of a man, accounting greater worth to the one who is rich, high-born, or powerful. James is saying, do not judge the worth or the goodness of a person based on those things. Do not have the faith of our Lord Jesus, the Lord of honor, praise, and majesty, and be a respecter of the outward appearance of persons. God is not a respecter of those things.
When Samuel went to Jesse’s house to anoint a king for Israel, he looked at Eliab’s appearance and thought that surely, he must be the one God would choose to be Israel’s king.
1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.
We, too, are supposed to not give excessive credit to the outward appearance or circumstances of an individual in attempting to size up their worth. It is a trait of the flesh that is common among men to evaluate people that way. It’s the way of the world. But God looks on the heart, and the heart is rarely easily seen or recognized. In the kingdom of God, those who honor the Lord in their heart in secret are rewarded openly. It’s the heart that matters with God, not the outward appearance.
James 2:2 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;
James 2:3 And ye have respect to him [look up to him] that weareth the gay [splendid and goodly] 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:
James 2:4 Are ye not then partial [prejudice and discriminating] in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
The Amplified Bible says it this way . . .
James 2:4 (Amplified) . . . have you not discriminated among yourselves, and become one who judges with wicked motives?
James says that we’re being motivated by wicked motives. We are partial within ourselves and among ourselves. The motives of our heart are wrong.
God has Chosen the Poor
James 2:5 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?
He says, listen, my brothers, God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith. He has chosen believers to be the heirs of the kingdom He has promised, not the rich and powerful. The world chooses the wealthy and powerful to occupy the place of prominence in this world. But God has chosen the poor who are rich in faith to rule and reign in His kingdom.
The Riches of the Lord
It is important to note here that the Lord is not against wealth and riches. He does not intend for His people to be poverty-stricken beggars. On the contrary, He promises wealth to those who follow Him.
Proverbs 10:22 The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.
The blessing of the Lord causes one to gain riches or wealth. And He adds no painful toil or hard labor with it. So, it is not a sin against God to be wealthy. God is not against His people being wealthy. The Bible makes it clear in numerous places that God desires His people to prosper greatly. The difference is in the way the wealth is attained. Is it attained by wicked means at the expense of others, or is it attained by living in the blessing of the Lord?
A Level Field in the Kingdom
James 1:9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted:
James 1:10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.
James is alluding to Isaiah chapter 40, as Isaiah prophesies of things that will take place through the Messiah, or, that is, the Christ.
Isaiah 40:4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
He is saying that every low place shall be exalted or lifted, and every high place shall be brought low, thus making those in Christ to be on a level playing field.
That same chapter talks about how all flesh is like the grass of the field. It’s beautiful in its time, but soon loses its beauty and becomes old. That’s the way of the generations of men. They spring up in great beauty but after a relatively short time they lose that beauty, and another generation replaces them.
So, he says, don’t be moved by the glory of men. That glory is only temporary, but the things of the kingdom are forever. Set your perception of things based on the kingdom.
You Have Disrespected the Poor
James 2:6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?
But you have disrespected the poor, the ones whom God has chosen. And is it not the rich men of this world who exercise harsh control over you and drag you into the courts of judgment?
We see from this verse the type of rich men James is talking about, rich men who oppress the less fortunate ones, and who take them into court. The oppression of the poor by the powerful and wealthy is an age-old reality.
James 2:7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?
And do not the rich men reproach and revile that beautiful and honorable name by which you are called? It is the rich ones who don’t feel they need God. It is the rich ones who speak evil against the Lord. In other words, why is your respect toward them and not toward the poor ones, the ones who love God, the ones whom God has chosen, the ones who are rich in faith, the ones who shall inherit His eternal kingdom?
The Royal Law
James 2:8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
James 2:9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
If you carry out and perform the noble, kingly, and regal law from the scripture that says, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, regardless of his station in life, you do rightly. But if you discriminate between persons based on social and economic class, you are committing sin, and you are convicted by the law as transgressors.
To discriminate based on a person’s station in life is a violation of the royal law of love. It violates the first commandment that says that you shall love God with all your heart and that you shall love your neighbor as yourself. By discriminating between people, you have, according to James, broken the law of Moses.
Guilty of all
James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
James 2:11 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.
It only takes one violation of the law to be guilty of it all. If you violate one part of the law, you are guilty of the whole law.
The Law of Liberty
James 2:12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
So then, let yourself speak and act as those who shall be judged by the law of the freedom to do as one pleases, the law of liberty. He says that you have that freedom; you have that liberty. You can choose how to speak and act. And this verse implies that we will be judged by that law, the law of freedom to do what we like. James is saying, choose to speak and to do the things that are acceptable to God, as if you shall be judged by it, because you shall.
James 2:13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.
If we don’t show mercy to all, then we will receive no mercy when we’re judged. But if we have shown mercy, then the scripture is true for us, that mercy rejoices or, that is, mercy boasts in victory over judgment. God’s mercy is more powerful than His judgment, and we put ourselves in line to receive that mercy by being merciful. We restrict ourselves from that mercy by being merciless toward others.
Faith Without Works
James 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
James turns here to the subject of faith, in particular faith coupled with works. The Bible tells us that by grace are we saved through faith, and it is not of ourselves, but rather the gift of God, and not of works, lest any man should boast. Yet James makes an emphasis on the importance of good works in the life of the one who has been saved by grace and not of works. The example James is giving here is of a man who claims to have faith, or, that is, to be a believer, and has no works to back up that claim.
James 2:15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
James 2:16 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?
If a brother or sister is in need and you bless them and send them on their way without giving them what they need, then it does not profit the one in need, nor does it profit the one claiming to have faith. The one in need could have profited by receiving help in their time of need. The one claiming to have faith could have profited by adding a good work to his faith, that is, and act of mercy. The previous section talked about the importance of showing mercy. In this example there was an opportunity to show mercy that was not seized.
James 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Faith is not meant to be alone. It is meant to be accompanied by good works. James calls faith that does not have works dead, or, that is, deceased, without life and inanimate. That faith is not involved in doing anything, it’s just alone, by itself. The word alone here means by himself, by herself, or by itself. The faith that has no works is by itself, alone. It takes no action. It is inanimate. It is dead. One might call it “do-nothing faith.” It is faith that claims to believe but does nothing.
Show Me Your Faith
James 2:18 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.
You cannot show me that you have faith without showing me some of the works your faith has done. There is no tangible evidence that your alleged faith exists. You should be able to give me tangible evidence of the existence of your so-called faith.
Believing is Not Enough
James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
Believing is not enough. You say you believe in God. That’s good and commendable: but even the devils believe that there is one God, so much so that they tremble in fear. Even devils have faith. Your faith is no more than what devils have. Like one preacher said, if all you have is faith without any works, then you’ve just got devil faith.
James 2:20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
But will you come to know, will you become aware, will you understand, oh empty-handed and fruitless one, that faith without works is like a dead person, inanimate and lifeless.
Faith Justified by Works
James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
And the Bible says in Hebrews that Abraham did offer up his son.
Hebrews 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son . . .
And even though Abraham was stopped by the angel of the Lord from slaying his son, in the sight of God he obeyed. Abraham is the father of our faith. And his faith was made tangible when he obeyed God and offered his son Isaac. His act was a demonstration that his faith existed.
Faith Made Perfect
James 2:22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
Do you see how that faith was working together with his deeds? His faith was not by itself alone. And by his deeds was his faith made complete.
James 2:23 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.
And it was by his faith working together with his deeds that the scripture came to pass that Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for rightness: and he became known as the Friend of God. The importance of having accompanying actions, or good works, with our faith, should be easily seen in this verse.
By Works a Man is Justified
James 2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
We are not justified before God merely by having faith. Abraham was not justified merely by having faith. God saw that he had faith, based on what he did. And we walk in the footsteps of Abraham’s faith. Our faith is counted to us for righteousness also, when we add works to our faith.
James 2:25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
James gives another example. Rahab and her family were saved from destruction because of what she did in hiding the spies of Israel and sending them out another way, and she was not saved by her own goodness, as it is evident that she was a harlot, which, in the sight of God would be sinful. So, it certainly wasn’t her own righteousness or, that is, her own right standing with God that saved her. It was what she did in faith that brought protection to her and her family. It says that she was justified, or made righteous, by works. Rahab was a recipient of the righteousness of faith.
Works Gives Life to Faith
James 2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Works is to faith like the spirit that gives life to the body. Without the works, faith is dead. Works give life to faith. James is making a strong argument that our faith must have accompanying works to be alive. And without works, faith is as good as dead.
What’s the point he’s trying to make in this chapter? It appears that he is saying that if our faith is not producing good works, then the faith we claim to have is as good as dead. Faith that does not produce good works is as good as nothing.
He warns first against claiming to have faith and at the same time discriminating against the poor and showing favoritism toward the wealthy and affluent. This type of prejudice is of the world and does not recognize the value of people in the eyes of the Lord. It mistakenly gives greater worth to the wealthy, those who are historically the oppressors of the poor, and often blasphemers and slanderers of the Lord’s name. It is delusional to think in this discriminatory manner and claim to be of faith. Faith views things from God’s perspective.
By the same token it is delusional to claim to have faith and be devoid of good works that give evidence to faith’s existence. Without good works to show for it, faith is dead, ineffective, and unprofitable.