Lessons from James--Week 1, Chapter 1
Last week, in chapter 1 of James, we noticed a basic theme where James is encouraging people to be mindful to eternal things, rather than temporary things. He urges them to focus on the word of God, and do what it says in order to keep from being enticed by the world. Let's see where James takes this idea in chapter 2...
"My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't 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? 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? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of Him to whom you belong? 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. 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. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement!"--James 2:1-13
-----The first thing that I notice in this passage is that James seems as though he's just continuing with the main thought of chapter one, the idea of focusing on the eternal rather than the temporary. But, this time, he's being more specific about it, which is one of the things that makes his book such an excellent one to study. He's just very practical. He tells the people that they should not be focused on the worldly, but then he gives them one example of how to actually go about this, by treating everyone equally. He reminds them that not only does failing to do so not make sense (the rich are, after all, exploiting them disrespecting the One to whom they belong!), it is a sin! You've seen those "billboards from God" in black, with white lettering? One of my favorites was the one that said: "That 'Love thy neighbor' thing...I meant that"--God. This almost seems to be James' point, as he points out that treating people negatively is just as much against God's law as adultery or even murder. For when we treat people that way, we are passing judgement on them based on the temporary, and doing so unmercifully. James, instead tells the people to live as though they will be judged by a law that gives freedom...so there is no room for judgement when we bring mercy into play.
"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. 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. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. 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. 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. 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."--James 2:14-26
-----This passage of scripture is an excellent one, as James continues to stress the importance of what we DO. Remember in chapter one, where he told us not to just be listeners but to be "doers" of the word? And just a moment ago, when he gave us an example of how to treat others? He took God's law and made a real-life application, something that his readers would actually have to DO when they were dealing with each other. Now, here we are, once again, with James flat-out saying that if we aren't "doers" our faith is dead. Dead. Just like when evil desires give birth to sin, which gives birth to death. So you mean we don't have to do anything bad, we can just 'do nothing' and be dead spiritually? That's what James is saying...
When we were studying this book last fall in our Singles group, when we got to this passage, we compared it with some of the writings of Paul, in Romans, in particular. Romans 4:2-3ays, "If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. What does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'" Interesting that Abraham is the example given in both of those seemingly contradictory passages of scripture. One pointing to justification by faith, and the other to justification "not by faith alone." But, one must note that James doesn't discount faith...he just points out that it must lead to action, he takes it one step further. One guy in our class pointed out that what James means when he talks about "works" might be similar to what Paul means when he describes "fruits of the Spirit" or talks about living in the Spirit. What do you think of this idea? One thing is certain--whether you are a subscriber to Paul or James (but hopefully, you'll listen to both!)--there must be some tangible evidence of your faith in your daily life!
Stay tuned for more lessons from James! Much love!