October 24, 2019
Daybreak: James 2:1-26
“If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: but if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.” (James 2:8-9)
As a teenager, my mother attended the Apostolic Faith Church in Portland, Oregon, for about a year. She was convinced that what she heard there was what the Bible taught and the way to have a relationship with God, but unfortunately did not pray through to a real assurance of salvation.
By the time I was a teenager, though, Mom had come to the Lord, and He had made a real change in her life. However, the nearest Apostolic Faith Church was a long way from where we lived, and we had no simple way of getting there. As we started attending whenever we could, a young church family took us under their wings and cheerfully began inviting us over for Sunday dinner after morning services. This made it possible for us to stay for the evening services as well. Looking back, I realize that we were at their house almost every Sunday for several years! And in all that time, they never made us feel as if we were imposing although in a sense, we were. They never looked down on us in any way. On the contrary, we always felt warmly welcomed.
The blessing to us went far beyond just the meeting of our temporal needs. Not only did we enjoy the food — the wife was an excellent cook — but for the first time in my life, I saw a loving, peaceful Christian home in action. It wasn’t long before I wanted exactly what that family had. And looking back now, after many years of serving the Lord together with my loving wife, I realize the great legacy this family left me. Truly, they were examples of what James alluded to in our focus verses: people who fulfilled the “royal law” of our Savior by loving their neighbors as themselves, without any hint of patronizing or superiority, even though we could do nothing for them in return.
Every Christian is called to love others, although we will not all be called to demonstrate that love in the same way. Gracious Christian hospitality, in which we share our resources and our time, is one way, but there are many other means by which we can show care and concern. The key point we must remember is that we all have something to give. The blessings God has poured into our lives are not just for our own benefit, but also for the enrichment of those around us. Let’s purpose to be alert to any opportunities that God puts in our path to love our neighbors as ourselves!
The second chapter of James has two main sections. Verses 1-13 outline the proper Christian attitude toward social stature, and warn against showing partiality to certain classes of people. Verses 14-26 stress the importance of demonstrating living faith by loving actions — the “works” that should accompany a Christian’s faith.
James lived in an environment characterized by prejudice and hatred based on class, ethnicity, nationality, and religious background. Individuals were commonly categorized as Jew or Gentile, slave or free, rich or poor, Greek or barbarian, and so on. While the unity of the Early Church was unique in such an environment, this unity did not come about without effort. For that reason, in verse 1, James taught these early believers that genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ must be without “respect of person” (discrimination or partiality).
He provided an example in verses 2-4 to illustrate why it is never right to judge a person by his or her economic or social status. The “gold ring” was an indicator of nobility or a high governmental officer. The word lampros, translated goodly apparel, means “splendid and magnificent”, indicating a luxurious and elegant dress style. The command to the poor man to “sit here under my footstool” indicated that the poorer attendee was being offered a position beneath that of honor (the chairs in the synagogue that were reserved for elders and scribes).
James gave a number of reasons in verses 1-13 regarding why it was wrong to show partiality to the affluent. These could be summarized as follows:
- Verse 1: It is not in alignment with Christ’s teaching.
- Verse 4: It is based in selfish motives and evil thoughts.
- Verse 6: It despises those who are poor.
- Verses 6-7: It favors those who oppress others, initiate legal proceedings, and blaspheme the name of Jesus.
- Verses 8-9: It goes against the law of love given by Jesus.
- Verse 9: It is a sin.
- Verse 10: It makes one a transgressor of all the law.
- Verse 11: It reveals a lack of mercy, which will result in judgment.
The second portion of this chapter, verses 14-26, deals with some of the specific “works” that James asserted would follow true faith. For example, James pointed out the hollowness of telling someone who was destitute to “be warmed and filled” while doing nothing to provide for his necessities (verses 15-16).
Though some might think that James’ statement in verse 17 contradicts Paul’s emphasis in Romans on salvation by faith, the two perspectives are actually in perfect harmony. James’ use of the word “faith” was a reference to the faith, and centered on how the Christian life was to be lived out after salvation. By “works,” he meant the righteous deeds that should be the natural outcome of a heart truly filled with love for God. He was not suggesting that good works could earn salvation, but simply that they were evidence of a right standing before God.
Paul’s use of the word “faith” referred to saving faith; the faith that must be exercised in coming to God for salvation. His point was that one attains salvation by faith in Christ’s atonement alone. He was not teaching that it was unnecessary to live in a godly manner after experiencing salvation. When Paul spoke of “works,” he was alluding to legalistic adherence to the requirements of the Jewish Law or other acts to earn or self-justify one’s salvation.
Both men believed and taught that true faith results in a changed life that is demonstrated or proved by good works. The differing emphasis is because the two men had different purposes in writing their epistles. Paul wrote to explain that salvation comes through faith, while James wrote to show how salvation through faith would impact daily living. Their teachings are in no way contradictory, but are complimentary.
(Hannah's Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
V. Faith and impartiality (2:1-13)
A. The command (2:1)
B. The illustration (2:2-4)
C. The instruction (2:5-13)
1. God’s choice of the poor (2:5)
2. The conduct of the rich (2:6-7)
a. Oppress and imprison (2:6)
b. Curse (2:7)
3. The Scriptural injunction (2:8-11)
4. The coming judgment (2:12-13)
VI. Faith and works (2:14-26)
A. Faith without works is non-faith (2:14-17)
B. Works are an evidence of faith (2:18-20)
C. Justification is only by faith that works (2:21-26)
1. The case of Abraham (2:21-24)
2. The case of Rahab (2:25)
3. The conclusion (2:26)
A Closer Look
- What action did James identify as sin in verse 9?
- Although James focused in this chapter primarily on partiality based on social class, what are some other areas in society today where partiality occurs? What should be a Christian’s attitude toward any type of favoritism?
- Think of someone who took an interest in you as a young Christian and encouraged you. What are some lessons you learned from his or her example?
A genuine love for others will be among the many evidences of salvation apparent in the lives of those who truly love God.