About Jesus    -  Steve Sweetman

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Chapters 2 and 3

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ch. 2:1-13    ch. 2:14-26   ch. 3:1-12    ch. 3:13-18

Favoritism Forbidden (ch. 2:1-13)

In the first 5 verses of chapter 2 James encourages his readers not to show favoritism between people. He uses the example of a poor man coming into one of their meetings. If you are to tell that poor man to sit on the floor, or to sit in a unfavourable place in order for a rich man to have the nice seat, then you are showing favouritism, and this should not be. He even says that when you do this, "you become a judge with evil thoughts".

When it comes to Jesus, we are all in the same boat. We are all lost in sin. Jesus is no respecter of people. Whether you are rich or poor, white or black, or whatever you are, you are freely invited to come to Jesus and receive His salvation.

In verse 6 he points out that if the reader looks around he will note that many poor people have received salvation and have been blessed with the availability of the Kingdom of God into their lives.

There obviously was a problem in parts of the early church, as there is today concerning the poor. In verse 6 James says that "you have insulted the poor". This obviously suggests that certain people were thinking of the poor as second class Christians. Whereas the poor in the church should have been receiving help, they were being shunned, something that is far from Godly.

The point is further made that it is the rich people in society that were persecuting the Christian readers of this letter. It was the rich people who were slandering them and the noble name of Jesus. So if this is the case, why would you put down the poor.

It is my experience that when we are all in Christ, and we understand what that really means, we lose the distinction between rich and poor, and we can all fellowship together as if there were no differences.

In verse 8 James uses the phrase "royal law found in Scripture". You can easily see once again the Jewishness of James by the use of this phrase. Yet the royal law is not the Old Testament Law. It is the Law of Christ that says, "love your neighbour as yourself". We all love ourselves. We are all, to one extent or another selfish. We put ourselves first. The royal law says that in the way that we think of ourselves first, we should think the same way towards our nieghbours. This means that we should not think of the poor among us as second class Christians.

We often hope, wish and pray for wealthy people to come into our churches because they are the ones with money, and it is money that we think we need to run the church. And as our modern day churches are run, that is quite true. I am not convinced that this should be the case. I am not convinced that we should have the mentality of hoping for rich people to join our ranks for the sake of their money.

By showing favoritism "we are convicted as a law breaker". Once again James is using Jewish terminology to express his thinking to his Jewish brothers. Favoritism is a sin.

James is appealing to his Jewish friends by saying, "if you break the Law in one point, you have broken the whole Law. He compares showing favoritism to other sins like adultery and murder. He is trying to say that one sin really isnít all that different than others in the sense that you break one, you break them all. Obviously the results of sin vary from sin to sin. That is to say, if you kill someone, that has a far more reaching impact on them and others than if you simply tell that person to sit at the back of a room.

I do not believe that James is upholding the Law as a means of salvation by the use of these words. He is not talking about our status before the Lord as Christians. He is pointing out the serious nature of showing favoritism and that it is a sin. In the process he is using the Law as a means to explain his thinking, because his readers would quickly understand his train of thought.

Jamesís use of the word law goes back and forth from the Old Testament Law, which we just saw , to the law of freedom which we saw earlier, and which we see again here in verse 12. He says, "speak and act as if those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment."

The perfect law of freedom speaks to the New Covenant by which Jesus has paid the price for us to receive complete mercy from God, even though we donít deserve it. If then we have received such mercy from God, we then should extend this same mercy to our fellow believers and others in the world.

We see James speaking here of both the justice, or judgment of God and also His mercy. Mercy will triumph over judgment. It has already for those who trust Jesus. Godís judgment is upon all men, yet because we trust in the provision that Jesus made, Godís mercy will triumph in our lives. Yet for those who do not trust Jesus, they will not receive Godís mercy. By making the statement that mercy will triumph over judgment does not mean that God will forego judgment and save all mankind. That idea is not consistent with Scripture.

The point that James is making is that since we will and have received mercy, we should extend it to others. Yet also, this does not mean we should be sloppy in our love. This does not mean we should tolerate sin. As a matter of fact, James himself is pointing out the sin in the readers lives. Part of showing mercy then is to give what some have called tough love. James is clearly telling his readers that some of the things that they are doing is altogether wrong and sinful and that they should change their ways in this area of their lives.

Faith And Deeds (ch.2:14-26)

Verse 14 begins the discussion concerning faith and works. This is where Luther and others had their problems with James. The point is made when James says, "what good is faith without works". Then he goes on to say, and this was a tough one for Luther, "can such faith save them?" The KJV says, "can faith save you". There is no precise word in the Greek for the word "such" as seen in the NIV. The translators of the NIV, I am only assuming, put the word such in this sentence because that is how they interpret this faith to be.

The point that James is making is that there are two kinds of so-called faith. One that will produce good works, which in reality, is the only true faith, and the other being faith that does not produce fruit. This second kind of faith is really no faith at all, because faith by its very nature is productive. Thus James is not saying, "can true faith save you"? He is saying, as the NIV says, "can such faith save you"? The "such faith" refers to a false faith, that as we know, cannot save anyone.

Without going into all of the Scriptures, which you can read in my commentary on Romans, Paul clearly says that faith alone saves you and nothing else. This is where the apparent conflict between Paul and James arises, and the reason why Luther and others did not like the book of James. Yet to me it is clear. Paul and James are not talking about the same kind of faith. Paul is saying that true faith, really trusting Jesus will save you. Paul would also admit that true faith will be seen and evidence in your actions. James is saying that false faith will not save you. A faith that is not productive is not really faith, and therefore can do nothing for you in relation to salvation. It is as simple as that. Why the major conflict over the years is beyond my thinking.

James uses an example of a poor brother who has no food or clothing. If we simply tell him "go, I wish you well", as James says, then what good are those words to him. You might as well say, "good luck" to him. What he needs is more than words. He needs some food or clothing. He may also need help in figuring out how he can go about making sufficient money on his own in order to buy his own food and clothing.

In verse 17 James says, "in the same way, faith without works is dead". Faith, or our trust in Jesus should be more than words. If it is only in words, then it is not true faith. If we truly trust Jesus, it will be evident in the way we live. The more we trust Jesus, the more it will be seen in our life. The less we trust Him, the less it will be seen. Once again, trusting in Jesus is productive. This is the issue that James is speaking to.

In verse 18 James assumes an argument that someone might present him concerning this issue. Some might say that they have faith and another has works, or vise versa. James says that I claim to have faith and you will see it by what I do, not by what I say.

He goes on to say, "you believe that there is one God, good, even the demons believe thatÖ" This gets to the core of what true faith is. Faith is not mental assent to the truth. Faith is trusting Jesus. In our modern-day language we equate the words believe and faith to simply mentally accepting something as true. Yet Scriptural belief and faith does not mean simply accepting something in your mind as being true. Scripturally speaking, faith is a loving commitment to Jesus. Faith is trusting Jesus for your salvation and the rest of your life as well.

In verse 20 James sounds like Paul himself when he says, "you foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deed is useless". What James is about to say next is the main reason for the apparent problem between him and Paul. At this point maybe even Paul himself, if he had read this letter, would have to step in and make sure that what he was saying was not being misinterpreted.

In verse 21 James says, "was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the alter"? Later, in verse 24 James says this, and this is the verse that we must deal with in relation to what Paul said. "We see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith aloneí.

Before we go further, we need to see Paulís words on this point because Paul uses the same person in Abraham to say that a man is justified by "faith alone". Paul says, that there is " a righteousness of God apart from the Law Ö which comes through faith in Jesus Christ". (Rom. 3:21) He also says, "if in fact Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about Ö Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness". (Rom 4:2-3) Paul goes on to say in Rom. 4:5, "Öto the man who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness".

We continue to see what Paul has to say in Gal. 2:16, "Ö a man is not justified by observing the law but by faith in Jesus ChristÖbecause by observing the Law none will be justified". One last quote from Paul. "you ware trying to be justified by the law have alienated yourself from Christ, you have fallen from grace." (Gal. 5"4 )

I think that you can see by these limited statements of Paul that he believed that salvation came by faith alone, and nothing else. Yet we have the words of James who says that salvation does not come by faith alone but works as well. So how do we reconcile this apparent discrepancy in Scripture. This is how we do just that. We first realize that James is speaking about a false faith and Paul is speaking about a true faith. Both James and Paul would agree that true faith would produce good deeds and that false faith would produce nothing.

We should note that both men are approaching the subject from two different perspectives. Paul presupposes when he is talking about faith that you realize he is talking about real faith. James is presupposing that you understand his concern about people not living up to what they say. This type of person has a false faith, and this is the faith James is talking about. Therefore James is saying that if someone has real faith, that real faith will produce real works and the combination of the two save them. He actually says that in James 2:22. Thus works is a natural outgrowth of faith. You canít have one without the other, therefore you could logically say that both save you.

Also, most of the time when Paul speaks of works, he is speaking about works of the Old Testament Law. He says that simply obeying the Law, simply doing the works it tells you to do, canít save you. James is not necessarily speaking about works of the Law. James is speaking about works that are a product of faith. So as in the fact that James and Paul are speaking about two different kinds of faith, they are also speaking about two different kinds of works. Paul speaks of works of the Law that canít save you. James speaks about works of faith that can save you when accompanied by faith.

The bottom line is that if James and Paul were in the same room, they would agree. They would agree that true faith saves you and nothing else. They would agree that true faith will produce good works. They would agree that works of the Law cannot save you. Yet because of Paulís very strong emphasis on being saved by faith alone, James feels the need to make a balancing comment. The words of balance are that true faith is productive. It will produce works and donít think any differently.     

When Paul was giving his defense before King Agrippa he makes an interesting comment that fits into what we are saying. He says, "I preached that they should repent, and turn to God, and prove their repentance by their deeds". (Acts 26:20) This makes Paulís position very clear on the subject. James would have no problem with these words. Paul clearly expected people to "prove that they have repented by showing it in their deeds, the things they do".

I like the way James says that "faith is made complete" by good works in verse 22. This is, what he really wanted people to know. That is faith in word alone is not complete. It is not real. Yet when he sees works as a result of faith, then he knows that faith is real. The natural consequence of true faith is some sort of good works.

In verse 25 we see James using another example of someone who had true faith. He has just used Abraham, now he uses Rahab as an example of someone having faith faith. She helped some Jewish spies by giving them a place to stay one night. She herself was not even a Jew, yet God viewed her deeds and called her righteous. Yet this woman must have had some type of trust, if not in the God of the Jews, in the people she kept over night, in order to do this good deed.  I believe it is clear that she had trust in the God of the Jews, and for this reason, even though she was a prostittue, she was viewed as righteous by God.  

We should look at the word "spy" in this verse.  The KJV does use the word spy.  It uses the word "messenger" which is actually a better translation of the Greek.  More than spies, the two men that Joshua sent to check out Canaan were messengers who were to report back to Joshua  

James closes this section by saying, "as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead". The simple fact that faith is not merely mentally accepting the truth as truth. Faith is giving your life to the truth and following it. This means that we give our lives to Jesus and trust Him, for He is the ultimate truth. There is a vast difference between mental assent and trusting Jesus.

Taming The Tongue (ch. 3:1-12)

James continues his letter in chapter 3 with a word of instruction. He tells his readers that not many of them should be teachers, like he is . He obviously considers himself to be a teacher. The reason why he suggests this to his readers is that teachers will be judged by God "more strictly" because they should know better. These words give you a hint about what James thinks about Godís judgment. If someone does not honestly know in his heart what he is doing is wrong, then God will judge him accordingly. This is what James appears to be saying.

James says that "we all stumble in many ways". He is including himself in this analysis. He makes two points here. First he says that we all stumble. Secondly he says that we all stumble in many ways, or a variety of ways, not just in one way. We are all frail, all in need of the constant interceding that Jesus makes on our behalf before God.

The word stumble means to fall, or slip. Ever since the fall of mankind all things lead to decay. All things have fallen, have slipped to a lower level, and are in the process of falling even more. All things need to be maintained or else they will continue this process until they disintegrate. You might even say that all things are fragile, and without tender care anything can fall apart. The pressure on all things is downward, not upward, whether this be in nature, in man made things, or in human relationships.

This downward slide can be seen in human relationships as an example. Unless tender care is evident in relationships, they will crumble. Relationships are more frail than secure. I have heard marriage counselors suggest that we need to take this view of marriage. The problem is that we take relationships, and many other things for granted, thinking that they are secure. Yet this is the beginning of the crumbling process. When we take things for granted, believing they are secure, we tend not to take care of them, resulting in decay which ends in death.

There is nothing in this world, as far as I can think of, that gets better without any care given to it. I first thought that a bottle of wine gets better with age when left alone, yet this is not so. Even though the bottle of wine is left alone to age, it is left alone in certain predetermined conditions. If these conditions arenít continually met, then the wine spoils.

James says that we all stumble, if we didnít we would be perfect, and we know that none of us is perfect. James says that a perfect man "keeps his whole body in check", that is, his tongue and every other body part he has.

James gives one example in how we stumble and fall, and in how we make others stumble and fall as well. He speaks of the tongue and compares it to a bit in a horses mouth. The horse is a big animal, and a bit is a small thing, but that small bit steers a big horse.

The same with a rudder on a ship. James says that a small rudder steers a big ship. So the tongue, a small part of our body can steer our lives in a positive or negative way. James has little good to say about our tongue. He also compares it to a spark of fire the causes a whole forest to be burned to the ground.

In verse 6 James says the tongue is "a fire", a "world of evil". He continues to say that the tongue "corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell". These are very strong words used against our tongue. It appears by what James says here that even hell itself sets out to control our tongue.

One can only sit and listen to various conversations you might over-hear in a coffee shop or elsewhere. The use of four letter words in public is worse than ever. The constant negative talk concerning government and others is ramped. The gossip and untruths that people spread in order to make themselves look better is commonplace. All of this is not in the world only. It fills the church as well.              

The word "hell" in verse 6 is translated from the Greek word "geenna".  It's the only place in the New Testament where geenna is used outside of the gospel books where Jesus used the word.  Just to the south of Jerusalem was a garbage dump where the residence of Jerusalem burned their garbage.  It was called Geenna.  It was so named because in centuries past this is where the pagans sacrificed their first born child to the god of fire.  The Jews hated that practice so much that they called their burning garbage dump the Valley of Geenna .  So, what James says here is very descriptive.  Our tongue can be like a burning garbage dump that was once used for the sacrifice of a family's first born child.  That's a pretty sad state of affairs that our tongue is associated with.         

James continues in verse 8 by saying that the tongue "is a restless evil, full of deadly poison". The word restless suggest that the tongue canít be happy when relaxed. It must be spewing forth some sort of evil in order to be happy. And what it spews forth to others is "poisonous". Poison kills, and so does the tongue. It kills relationship. Man is able to tame all sorts of animals and domesticate them, but he is unable to tame his tongue, James says.

In verse 9 James says that with the same tongue "we praise our Lord Ö and curse men". One moment you might be singing praise to the Lord as you drive down the street, and as soon as someone makes a wrong move ahead of you, you call him a nasty name. How ironic. But it is all so true. Too often "out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing". As James says, "this should not be".

James concludes this section by saying that salt water cannot come forth from a fresh water spring. Neither can a fig tree produce another fruit other than figs. He is suggesting that a Godly person will have a good measure of control over his tongue. You might even say that James would believe that the fruit of a Christian life can first be evidenced by the use of his tong.

Two Kinds Of Wisdom (ch. 3:13-18)

In verse 13 James speaks to those who consider themselves as wise. He says a real wise man "will show it in his good life, by deeds done in humility that come from wisdom". Once again we see the emphasis on deeds, or good works. This is what this letter of James is all about. Your Christian life must be seen in what you do. Here he says that if you claim to be wise, show it by what you do. Earlier he said, if you claim faith, prove it by your works.

James qualifies what type of works he is talking about. He is talking about works done in "humility that come from wisdom". These are not just any type of good deed. These are deeds that are wisely done, maybe thought out and done appropriately and at the right time. And they are done in a state of humbleness. True humility is humility that does not need any recognition by others.

He goes on to say that "if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart" then you cannot consider anything that comes forth from such an attitude as being wise. Many times good deeds are not performed from humility, but from selfish ambition, wanting to get ahead, wanting to be recognized by others in order for selfish gain. Then in the process of such deeds done, and even in the church, there arises bitterness between people because of selfish competition for recognition.

James tells his readers not to be proud of such deeds done with these improper motives. He says that they are "earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil". Nothing will be gained by you before the Lord for doing any good works from an improper motive. He goes as far to say that such activity is of the devil. Therefore, I conclude, that even within the church when people do certain activities, only to be seen and heard, that those activities are from the devil. These are serious words, yet need to be considered.

In verse 16 James points out the reality of such activity. He says "where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice". It is very evident that envy and selfish ambition produce disorder. Of course, in the world, we see this all of the time, yet within the church the same thing happens far too often. The disorder that comes within a church is because of certain people vying for attention. James does not stop at disorder as being a result of selfish motives. He says that "every evil practice" can be seen when deeds done from envy and selfish ambition occur. You see a progression here. You have wrong motives for good works done. They cause disorder. Then, once disorder sets in, comes all sorts of other evil things. It becomes a sad state of affairs when you see this take place within church relationships.

James compares this earthly, or devilish wisdom to true wisdom that comes from the Lord. This true wisdom is "pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere". All of these things are just the opposite to what he has stated from deeds done in the flesh. All of these characteristics stated here are relational. They produce good things between people. Instead of dividing the church, people submit themselves to one another, consider one another, and are impartial to one another". If two people both want to do the same job, usually a visible well noticed job, then both will not jump to centre stage. Both will have the attitude that says, "you go ahead".  

James closes this chapter by saying that "peace-makers who sow in peace will reap a harvest of righteousness". The end result of worldly wisdom demonstrated in selfish ambition is division. The end result of Godly wisdom that is evidenced in peace-making activity results in a harvest of righteousness, a harvest of very good thing from the Lord. What a better picture of the church.

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