For an introduction to this series, click here.
November 26, 2007
I had a wonderful weekend with my folks and Beth Anne. I guess it is back to the old grind this morning. Oh well.
"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' while you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there,' or, 'Sit down at my feet,' have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors." (2:1-9)
James is concerned a lot with the way we live our Christian lives. Here we have a real-life situation: two visitors comes to church, one obviously very wealthy and one obviously very poor. How do we as members of the church treat them? This is just as relevant now as it was back in the first century. It is an easy temptation to just look at the outside and go out of our way to make sure the rich person is taken care of while at the same time ignoring or begrudgingly acknowledging the poor person. There are several passages in the Bible that say God is not a respecter of persons. When we do that, we show ourselves to be not like God.
"For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law." (2:10-11)
This is an important point for us to realize. We are sinners, whether we want to admit it or not. Most people think they are pretty good, and honestly, humanly speaking, most people are pretty good most of the time. But we deceive ourselves if we think that makes us right with God. God gave us the Law not so we can justify ourselves, but so we will be overwhelmed by it and turn to God for salvation.
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (2:14-18)
This is practical reality. We are often guilty of saying pious words to people in need or in trouble and not doing what we can to help them. But this illustrates a point about true faith. Faith is more than a simple intellectual belief. Faith is taking our intellectual belief and living it out every day in our lives. It is impossible to have real faith without obedience. Perfect obedience is impossible, but at some level obedience will follow genuine faith.
"You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!" (2:19)
It takes more than believing facts about God to be saved. Notice James uses language similar to the famous statement in Deuteronomy 6:4. This would have been very familiar to James' Jewish audience.
The demons believe in God. They are more aware of Him than we are. True faith lives itself out in obedience to God. The demons certainly do not obey God: they hate Him, but they do believe He exists. Obedience is a natural result of faith, and James gives us two biblical examples to finish the chapter:
"Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." (2:20-26, ESV)