In our study of James chapter two, we will look at poverty and God's plan for the church. If we stop and look at all of the government programs from around the world to fight poverty, we will be amazed by how ineffective they truly are. We may ask ourselves why this is so and why God allows so much hurt and suffering. The simple fact of the matter is that the "church of today" has largely went missing in action in God's war on poverty. The poor are mentioned often in scripture and it is made clear that it is the duty of believers in Christ (not governments) to take care of the widows and the poor. James reminds us of this in this chapter!
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism.
It is interesting to note once again that, instead of reminding us that he was Jesus' half-brother, he calls Jesus "our glorious Lord Jesus Christ". We can also see immediately that he is addressing us because of our relationship with that same Jesus. He gets right to the point in telling us not to show "favoritism".
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, 'Here's a good seat for you,' but say to the poor man, 'You stand there' or 'Sit on the floor by my feet,' have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Now, he gives an example from one of the believers' meetings. It is important to note here that he is not talking about going to a "church" building but is in fact talking about when the believers met in a home. James shows us two different reactions to men and the reactions are based on their outward appearance of riches. Then he asks them (and us) to examine those reactions and the motives behind them. We may be quick to say that we do not do this but just try to imagine these two men walking into our worship meetings. The simple fact is that in many cases the reaction is based on the judgment that the poorly dressed do not have the financial means to further the "mission of the church" and they are seen as takers and a burden to the rest of the "members". Often, leaders will fall all over themselves to get to the one that appears to be rich and not even notice the poor.
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?
James reminds us (with a question) that God uses the lowly and the poor (in the eyes of the world) and in fact that they are chosen to inherit the kingdom. If we look back at the family tree of Jesus (see Matthew 1:1 - 17), we will see that God chose these "poor" people to be a part of bringing Jesus into the world. There are murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, lowly shepherds and those without money on that list. We may ask ourselves why God uses this type of people and the answer is very simple. When God uses the "lowly and poor" to do great things it is obvious that it is only by God's power that the things are being done and not of the power of the humans. This brings greater glory to God and also helps us to see that God can use each and every one of us for His kingdom. Do you know of someone that is considered "lowly and poor" by the standards of this world yet God is using them? You can share the story with us and help us to build up the church.
But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?
Many of us will be quick to read this and point the finger at "the rich" but we should first remember that, since you are reading this study on a computer, you probably are one of "the rich". Then, we must look at ourselves and ask ourselves the questions in this passage. You may ask: "How have I slandered the name of the Lord?" The simple fact is that by not remembering that all men are created in God's image (see Genesis 1:27) and respecting them/showing them love we do not present a true picture of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is slander to His name. Showing them love involves sharing with them and helping to meet their needs; that is what Jesus told us to do.
If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
Here, James reminds us of the commandment to love others as yourself. This was originally given to God's people in Leviticus 19:18 and Jesus, when asked what the greatest commandment was, said that this is second only to loving God (see Matthew 22:39). He shows us that the poor that we are discriminating against are in fact our neighbors. When we do not respect and show them love, we are breaking what Jesus called the second most important command.
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said. 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
James is pointing out the simple fact that sin is sin. It seems today that we act as if some sins are worse than others but, in reality, God sees them all as disobedience. James points this out to make us see that not honoring the poor is just as bad as murder or adultery in God's eyes.
Speak and act as 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!
Once again, James is not talking about becoming saved by works. He tells us to "speak and act" as if we are under the law not to show mercy to become saved. He is simply saying that, if we are saved by Jesus Christ, we will demonstrate mercy to the poor and others because of the love that is in us through Jesus. We, as Christians, will be judged on our words and actions but it is not a judgment of salvation it is a judgment of rewards.
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Now, James tries to reason with the readers and gives us a practical example. He asks us to look at the case of someone who doesn't have proper clothes or food and ask ourselves what good it is to give that man words. He will still be hungry and cold. In the same way, if we say we have faith and yet that faith does not bring about change in our lives, we have to examine our faith and our walk with the Lord.
But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
Once again, James shows us that deeds do not stand alone and cannot save us. But, he also shows us that, if we are saved, our faith in Jesus Christ will cause us to demonstrate it through our actions. We must understand that God does not need our works as He created everything by simply speaking. But, He gives us the opportunity to serve Him so that we may bring Him glory and so that others may believe in Jesus Christ.
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder.
There is much talk of faith these days and even the fact that there is one God is widely accepted. James tells us that even the demons believe that but real saving faith is a faith in Christ Jesus as the payment for our sins.
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
When James is talking about "useless" faith he is talking about faith that is dead and by that he means faith that is not being put to use. It is like having a thoroughbred race horse but never taking it out of the barn to race. Even though it is not taken out of the barn, it is still a racehorse but it is not the runner that God made it to be. The same is true with faith in that many have faith in Jesus for salvation but they leave it in the barn. They do not realize the blessing of taking it out and putting it to work which will strengthen and help the believer to grow closer to God. James uses the example of Abraham and Isaac to demonstrate how faith and action go hand in hand.
And the scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
The scripture quoted here is from Genesis 15:6 and refers to the fact that God told Abram that his children would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and, even though he was an old man, he believed God. Justification is a legal term where an accused person is declared to be not guilty. James is talking about the fact that we are declared not guilty of sin because of our faith in Jesus Christ but he is also saying that, if we have faith in Jesus, there will be outward demonstration of it (works). You can think of your walk as an apple tree where faith in Jesus is the roots which nourish the tree. An apple tree when fed by the roots will produce fruit because that is what God created it to do. The same thing is true of a Christian in that, if we have a saving faith, we will produce fruit.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Now, James gives us the second example of faith in action and the reason is that, with God, all matters are to be settled by two witnesses (two is the number of witnessing throughout the Bible). Here, he uses the example of Rahab the prostitute from Joshua chapter two. Then, James ends his teaching with the example of the human body and death.