"Respect of Persons"
V. 1, James speaks again of "our Lord Jesus Christ," and he refers to Him as "the Lord of glory"
1:12 and v. 5 identifies Christians as those who love God. V. 20, with this identification, James is trying to encourage his readers in their love for and service to God, telling them that love for God equals works according to God's law, or there is no love for God.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. Identifies Jesus Christ as the Lord of Glory in the Old Testament:
1 Samuel 4:22 "And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken."
Isaiah 4:3 "And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory."
John 1:14 "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."
As we said, James was a half-brother of Christ, and he spoke with authority when he called his brother, the Lord of glory. His readers clearly understood that Christ was the incarnation and presence of the historic Thrice Holy God of ancient Israel. The Holy One had dwelt among His people.
James tells them that belief that Jesus Christ as the Lord of Glory, and respect of persons do not go together. For the Lord of Glory had said,
Deuteronomy 1:17 "Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God's: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it."
To be partial to persons because of their financial or social status was forbidden by the Lord of Glory, whom they claimed to love. Favoritism to the rich, James said, made them transgressors of the whole law, v. 10.
Today not only is special treatment given to the rich and famous, but to the poor and unknown. It is the average, law abiding citizen who is oppressed.
We have mentioned several times that the start the Christian assembly was the synagogue. The earliest name for the church was the Christian synagogue, because that assembly held strictly to the Old Testament revelation of God. James reminds them that the Old Testament revelation of God is in the man Christ Jesus, and the old laws of God applied equally to the new revelation of God in Christ.
The Christian assembly, the Christian synagogue, did not see itself as a new group. They saw themselves as the true recipient or vessel of the ancient faith that came down through the Old Testamet Israel of God.
It is evident from the context that these new Christians were very strict followers of the Law and Commandments as given of old. They saw those laws as being given to His people Israel, and they, as the new Israel of God, were legitimate heirs to what was given to Israel of old.
Thought they were faithful to the law, they had a problem with respect of persons.
In its earliest days, the new Christian synagogue attracted more than a few persons of importance, the rich and famous. They were curious about this new group who worshiped Christ as the Holy God of old and that now considered itself the true Israel of God, and had abandoned the Temple and now served Christ as the only approach to the Heavenly Father.
When these rich and famous people attended the Christian synagogue, there was a great deal of attention paid to them. Late comers into the assembly had to stand aside or sit on the floor, but these important, curious persons were given good seats rather than the floor space.
V. 4, this practice could be called a courtesy to the rich and famous who were visiting, except for the fact that the poor visitors were not given the same courtesy. They were told to sit on the floor, while the rich and famous were given the best seats. James firmly maintained the law as given by the Lord of Glory, so he calls their practice evil.
In 1 Corinthians 1:10-31, Paul makes the same point, as he condemns partiality based on education, riches and social status.
There were many prominent Greek and Roman converts who came to Christ as soon as the gospel was preached. But for some years, the notable Jewish theologians remained outside of the Christian fold, no matter how great was their curiosity. They probably did not come into Christianity until after the destruction of Jerusalem and the destruction of the old Temple worship.
V. 5. Both Paul and James reminded the church that in calling the poor and despised to Himself, God was confounding the wisdom of the wise men of the day. Yet those were the very ones who were being exalted by the church.
In laying the foundation of His church, God was choosing the poor of this world to be the heirs of the kingdom. That kingdom had not been promised according to ones education nor social status. It had been promised to them that love Him. Therefore, showing partiality to the learned and religious elite of the day, and who despised Jesus Christ was to go against the law, purpose and calling of the Lord.
In this we have a very serious problem today. A man is exalted in the "Christian Assembly" because of some natural ability such as speaking or writing, yet his life shows a total disregard for the moral laws of God. In other words, partiality is common, which is clearly and loudly condemned by James.
Vv. 6, 7. From the very start, these powerful and learned leaders were oppressing and arresting Christians, and having them taken to court for trial. James tells these Christians that their special treatment of these important men in the Christian synagogue would not influence or lighten anything as these powerful leaders took them to court.
James reminds them of the fact that these important men they were exalting in the assembly were blaspheming that worthy name by which ye are called.
V. 6. In other words, they were exalting the rich and famous. In doing so, they were exalting some among them who were attending the assemblies only to find a way to silence the Christians and make it easer to get them in court.
They were spying out their liberty in Christ so they could bring charges against them.
Paul seems to refer to what was going on in Galatians 2: (4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:)
V. 8. James did not call for treating those visitors ungraciously, even though they were there in their attempt to stop the growth of this new sect. Rather, he is insisting they obey the words of the ancient Lord of Glory, treat all men in terms of the ancient royal law.
Leviticus 19:18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
Matthew 22:35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, 36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
And then we have Gal. 5:14, 6:2
In this section, James presents the law as a single unit, and not a collection of various texts. When we violate a state regulation or some rule it does not make us a lawless man. We fail to wear a seat belt, and get a ticket, but we are not branded as a lawless man. There are enought state and federal regulations of which we know nothing about to convict us many times over.
God's law is a unit. 1:25, James tells us that the purpose of the law is freedom and justice, where man's laws, or humanistic laws seem to be just the opposite. If we violate the law at any point, we have turned from freedom and have chosen bondage and injustice. We have broken the law. If we carefully watch our diet, yet take a poison, all of our good eating habits will be useless. James tells us that we must keep the whole law to avoid being a transgressor of the law.
V. 12, God's law is "the law of liberty", not the law of servitude as the world, flesh and the devil would have us believe.
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
Sin is the law of servitude and bondage. Breaking God's moral law at any point is to give up freedom for bondage to that sin. James makes it clear that genuine faith results in a love for the law of God, which will then be followed with a willing spirit.
Notice that many today are using a past history of slavery to justify anger. But an honest view of history shows that those "slaves" had more freedom that the "free men" today. Freedom must be under God. Bondage expresses itself in anger and in rebellion against God.
Anger, let me say a few words here:
Ephesians 4:25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil. 28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. 29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. 30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
Angry words or corrupt communication, fits better in the next chapter, but I will say a few things here about the anger hidden in the heart as revealed in words.
Notice v. 26, there is a godly angeranger which motivates to godly action. However, we are dealing with ungodly anger as revealed in words.
Anger reveals a much deeper problem. Without going into detail, here are three short points:
First, pornography. My son-in-law will admit that pornography leads to anger. He was an angry man until he got the victory over that evil. He found the internet ready access to his most base desires, and as long as he followed those desires, he continued to be angry. The hard fought victory over that sin gave him victory over his anger, and a new love for his family.
Second, we make gods after our own fallen imagination, or gods in our own image.
Psalms 50:21 These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.
Then we get angry at the Lord God for not meeting our desires, nor answering our prayers. James deals with this problem in chapter four.
Third, the state is god to many people, so when the state falls to function as they think their god should function in supplying their every need, anger takes control, riots develop and cities burn. Thankfully, the Lord has placed us in a very rural setting.
V. 11, transgressor of the law.
Statist criminal law has removed itself from the Biblical premise of justice. Breaking the law of murder makes a man a murderer, and justice requires death. But as we depart from Christianity, many factors corrupt Biblical justice: society, poverty, parents, emotional distress, and many more reasons hinder justice to the law breaker.
V. 12, rather than being governed by social factors and the status of men, we must be governed by God's law, which James identifies as "the law of liberty".
V. 13, James' conclusion is "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment"
We are not to be hard-hearted. The fact that the prosperous visitors to Christian meetings may be enemies of Christ does not give us the right to be merciless or unkind. The fact that one may be anti-Chrisian and anti-justice to the core, does not justify unkindness to them.
The royal law, or the Golden Rule still must govern us. Grace and mercy toward enemies will result in God's grace and mercy toward us.
I admit that is only by the grace of God that we can show kindness to the our enemies and those who are openly known enemies of our Lord, but kindness was the Lord's requirement even in the midst of the terrible persecution in the first century church.
As late as the fourth century, there are references to the church as the Christian "synagogue."
Back to v. 2. The reference to a gold ring is better understood as "a gold-ringed man." That is, a man who had many gold rings. One of his rings would be the signet ring. The signet ring was a ring with one's personal seal on it, and was used to verify documents in the name of the wearer of that ring.
Greeks and Romans wore many rings, often more than one on a finger, but never on the right hand. After the battle of Cannae, Hannibal sent as a trophy to Carthage three bushels of gold rings taken from the Roman dead.
Early Christians for some generations wore rings adorned with symbols of the faith, such as the cross, the anchor, the monogram of Christ, etc.
The many gold rings on the man spoke of wealth and importance. As we mentioned, in 1 Corinthians 1, Paul repeats and expands on James' warning about respect of persons and calls attention to the infiltration of Jewish and Greco-Roman thought into the new church.
Both Paul and James tell us that Jesus Christ is the only true foundation of thought, and those who reject Him are fools and sinners, despite their claims of wisdom.
The last section is vv. 14-26
Faith and Works
This may well be the most controversial text in all the Bible. Many avoid James' epistle because they will not face up to what James says.
There are those who promote salvation by works from this section. Others promote salvation by faith alone, but James proves them both wrong.
So how do faith and works work together? The discussion has raged for many generations.
Example, heart and longues
It is easy to separate various parts that must work together
into separate parts for examination.
The various parts that the body needs to breath properly can be separated from the heart and its various parts needed for proper blood flow.
We go to a specialist to see why we cannot breath properly. We go to another specialist to see what is the problem with our heart.
But the cardiologist cannot exalt himself over the phulmanologist, and they both must work together to sustain life.
If one would go to a cardiologist convention, he might think that the lungs are unnecessary. If one would go to a phulmanologist convention, he might think that the heart is necessary.
The heart of Christianity is the gospel of the death, bural and resurrection of Christ. The breath of the life of the gospel is the works. With no breath, the heart is dead, and with no heart, the breath is dead.
Some groups emphasizes the heart only, which makes one think that the breathing is unnecessary. Other groups emphases the breath only, making one think the heart is unnecessary.
But James tells us that both are equally necessary. With no heart, the patient is dead. With no breath, the patient is dead.
Scripturally, faith is tied to the doctrine of salvation, and works are tied to sanctification, but, just as breathing is necessary for the life of the heart, so too are works necessary for a living faith. Neither can exist without the other.
V. 24, this is how James can say, "Ye see then how that
by works a man is justified, and not by faith only".
Biblical faith is separated from Biblical works for salvation in preaching and teaching Scripture, as one would separate the heart from the lunges in studying the heart.
Biblical works of sanctification are separated from Biblical faith in preaching and teaching Scripture, and one would separate the lunges from heart in studying the lunges.
But a living Biblical faith must combine the two.
Those who seek to make a theological distinction and assume that the Christian life consists of either one alone, they are promoting a non-Christian doctrine, if they are Christians at all. In fact, v. 19, James says they have no more than what the devils have.
There was an old song, "Love and Marriage go together like a horse and carnage" The unity between love and marriage has been lost, as now 43% of all births are out of wedlock. The Biblical family is being destroyed.
When faith and works are separated, there is no Biblical Christianity, no more than the heart can exist without the lunges. James clearly identifies Christian works with the law of God. I have found that an amazing number of professed Christians now see no problem with shacking up. James makes it very clear that with no Christian works there is no Christian faith.
V. 14, "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works, can faith save him?" Can a man live with a heart only, and not lungs?
Consider the Context.
V. 15, as we saw, James is writing in the context of Jerusalem very early after Christ ascended to heaven. His is probably the first letter written after Christ, as early as AD 35.
In Matthew 24 and just before His death, Christ spoke of the very soon coming of great tribulation. John in his Revelation of Jesus Christ, expanded on Christ's word in Matt. 24.
Real Holy Spirit faith did not come until after the resurrection, and the Comforter was sent back. Christians believed our Lord's words of Matthew 24, and sold what they had, and put it into a common fund. They use it not only for living, but to spread the gospel in Jerusalem. The fund ran short before the destruction, or the great tribulation, came upon Jerusalem.
Thus, we see from the book of Acts that there was a problem with poverty among the Christens who believed our Lord's words in Matthew 24. Acts 4:34ff tells us that the saints in Jerusalem had sold everything and were living out of a common fund, and poverty set in:
Romans 15:26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
There was a great need of charity in the Jerusalem Christian synagogue, and James speaks in the terms of his time.
James is blunt and real, as he addresses the problem in the Jerusalem church as well as churches of all ages. If a fellow believer is naked and hungry, and if we simply say, "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled," or, "we will pray for you," and nothing more, what good is all this? Such a professed faith, having no works, is dead. It is dead because faith cannot stand alone, for it must show itself in works.
Note that the starving believer cannot live on Christian words alone, but must have Christian works to sustain life. The heart and lungs must work together to sustain life.
V. 18, James is not anti-theology in the sense that he is emphasizing works over faith. What he is against is the separation of theology from life. He is against reducing faith to simply a gospel profession of faith, and that profession failing to result in Christian works, or sanctification.
Neither faith nor works can be separated one from another. How can any man demonstrate a valid faith without the works of the law? Faith must result in works.
V. 19, James is dealing with Biblical Faith. He says that simple belief can save no man. "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble". How could James be any more blunt? Those in hell, beginning with the very devils, believe that God is; the knowledge makes them tremble, but it does not save them. Faith without works is not saving faith, any more than the heart without the lungs can produce life.
Of course, James' words here strongly reflect Christ's words in Matthew 21, which we have examined many times.
V. 21, "But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?". Those who separate faith from works are called vain. Vain means empty, fruitless, foolish, senseless, purposeless, without effect. It is highly uncomplimentary. It is a fools opinion that has no salvation in it, leading to eternal damnation.
V. 21, James turns to Abraham, the father of all those in the covenant. He was and is the best known and most respected of the Saints of old. He says without qualification that Abraham was "justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar". The reality of Abraham's faith was manifested in his readiness to obey God, even to binding Isaac to the altar (Gen. 22:9). God waited until Abraham's faith was shown by his works before He delivered Isaac.
V. 22. James continues, "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect". Literally, James says, "faith worked with his works." Faith revealed itself in works, just as sure as a living heart will reveal itself in breathing, and breathing will reveal a living heart. One must affect the other.
V. 23, Abraham's active faith produced works, and those works were imputed unto him for righteousness, and he was called the Friend of God. In other words, if Abraham's faith had not produced obedience to the Word of God, there would have been no imputed righteousness.
Observe: Simply professing that there is a God, or even professing that Jesus is Lord, has no imputation in it, as the heart with out breathing has no life in it.
Genesis 15:5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. 6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
2 Chronicles 20:7 Art not thou our God, who didst drive out the inhabitants of this land before thy people Israel, and gavest it to the seed of Abraham thy friend for ever?
Romans 4:1 ¶ What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Galatians 3:6 ¶ Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
Paul uses Genesis 15:6 to criticize the idea of salvation through works.
James uses the same verse to call attention to the eternal danger of a faith without works.
It was Paul who said in Romans 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
Furthermore, our Lord said in Matthew 7:16-23 that "Ye shall know them by their fruits". That is, but their works.
V. 24, James insists that a man is justified by his works, not by faith only. Works clearly show the reality of a man's faith, so that his justification is shown to be genuine by his works, not by his faith only.
James then gives another illustration of a working faith, Rahab. Joshua tells us of the terror of the people of Jericho as they saw Israel's army ready to move in. They knew what God had done to other peoples, so they were confident that the Hebrew's God was working to destroy their enemies. Only Rahab acted on that faith. It was her works alone showed the reality of her faith. Hence, James says, she was justified by her works, i.e., her justification was revealed in her works.
Throughout James, he connects Godly faith and Godly works, and those works are identified by the law of God.
V. 26, James concludes with another blunt statement: "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also". James does not say the body is weak. Rather, he says the body is without life, dead. Here again, as in the Sermon on the Mount, and all the Gospels and epistles, we are told how to "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).
And righteous judgment demands a working faith.
There are many who hold to the ancient Greek idea that we cannot know a man's heart and therefore cannot judge him.
Our Lord clearly sais, "by their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:20). Works are faith in action, making one's faith known to the world.
We must also turn James' words around: Works without faith is dead, being alone.
Neither the heart nor the lungs acting alone can produce and sustain life.