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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
was a garbage dump where the residence of
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
. 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
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
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
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.