James 2:1-3 begins with the problem of showing partiality and Favoritism. It deals with a discussion of various temptations and trials that are common to all believers. There are certain temptations and trials that are constantly confronting us. One of the strongest is that of showing partiality or favoritism, of discriminating against people. What does it mean to show partiality? It means to favor some people over others or to pay special attention to a person because of his wealth, social standing, position, authority, popularity, looks, or influence. Note that this charge is given to believers. Of all people upon earth, the very people who should not show partiality are believers.
The reason is clearly stated in James 2:1. Everyone who is in the church is a brother; everyone stands on an equal footing before the Lord Jesus. Wealth, status, social standing, position, appearance, nothing matters except all men coming to Messiah and worshiping Him. Everyone who has faith in our Messiah bows before Him as Lord. This means that all who bend the knee are called as servants. We all come to Him on an equal footing; no one is higher or more acceptable than anyone else. All are His servants or slaves.
Yeshua the Messiah is the Lord who rules and reigns in glory, in majesty and perfection, in the dominion and power of God Himself. His glory is so majestic that the appearance of man fades into nothingness before Him. Consider the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1, 5). Therefore, any person who stands before Him should not be thinking of his own worth and preference, but of the Lord’s glory. The person who believes and worships the Lord of glory, no matter his status, realizes that he is as all men as nothing compared to the Lord.
Therefore, he can not elevate himself or anyone else above others, no matter how poor and lowly they may be. Our Messiah, who left the glory of heaven and came to this corruptible world to save all men, humbled Himself, laid aside all His glory, majesty, brilliance, and the splendor of heaven itself and came in utter poverty and humiliation to this earth in order to save us.
If the Lord of glory loved us that much, then all who believe and follow Him must humble themselves and love the poor and lowly of this earth just as much as He did. All believers must do what the Lord of glory did: humble Himself and reach out to bring all men to the Messiah so that they might be saved—reach out to the poor and lowly as well as to the rich and high. The charge is clear: believers—those who truly believe in the Messiah Yeshua, are not to show partiality or favoritism. It is strictly forbidden. (Leviticus 19:15 & Proverbs 24:23).
James 2:2-3 In these verses we have an illustration. Two unbelievers visit the Church. One man is sharply dressed, so much so that it is immediately noticed that he is wealthy. He has on the finest of clothes and an expensive gold ring. The other man is shabbily dressed, and it is immediately noticed that he is very poor. The Greek word for the kind of clothing he is wearing means filthy and dirty. The man is so poor that he is actually a dirty, smelly street person. The point is this: What happens when these two men visit our congregation? The picture painted by Scripture is that of showing partiality to the rich man.
The rich man is escorted to a good seat. But the poor man is told to stand or be seated away from everyone else. He is treated as unimportant. Note that the two men represent the extreme ends of wealth and poverty. If partiality is not to be shown in this case, then it is never to be shown. There are to be absolutely no distinctions social class, standing, position, wealth, prestige, or recognition. Scripture is quite clear on this “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy” (Psalm 82:3).
James 2:4-7 – There are five things wrong with showing partiality and favoritism.
1. Showing partiality puts us in the position as a judge of men (James 2:4). In essence it makes us as God; it says who can worship God and who cannot, who is acceptable to God and who is not. Only God Himself can determine whom He will accept and not accept (Romans 14:4).
Showing partiality reveals evil thoughts (James 2:4). The person who shows partiality focuses upon mundane and changeable things, things such as clothes, cars, houses, and all the other outward things that change, waste away, rot, and decay ever so rapidly. Such thoughts are corrupt because they focus on things of this world and neglect the person entirely. It says that material things such as clothes and cars are more important than the person himself. This, of course, is foolishness. Yet it is exactly how most of us behave, for in truth most of us do show partiality.
Believers are never to show partiality, not to a single soul. We are to look at the person himself. What matters is his life, his health and soul, his body and spirit. What matters is that he be given the opportunity to experience life. To come to know the love, joy, and peace that only our Messiah can bring him. Then and only then can he become a dynamic personality who can serve God and man to his fullest ability. But for this to happen we who are believers must stop discriminating against him and begin to love him and win him to our Messiah. Listen to the words our Messiah said to the righteous of His day (Matthew 19:21-22)
2. Showing partiality discriminates against the poor and lowly, a people who are loved by God (James 2:5). This verse is not saying that God doesn’t just love and care for the rich and high. He does, but He also cares and loves the poor and lowly. And history shows that God has chosen the poor and lowly to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom. In fact, they have been the very ones who have found so much hope in the gospel and have turned to it in great numbers. Therefore, they are not to be discriminated against. (Psalm 14:6;140:12).
3. Showing partiality shows a disgraceful attitude (James 2:6a). It dishonors, humiliates, and insults the poor and lowly person. Just think of the hurt and pain within the heart of the person who is publicly discriminated against, the pain and hurt when he sees us shun, ignore, and withdraw from him. No believer is to ever make a person feel unwelcome or of little value and worth.
4. Showing partiality shows foolish behavior (James 2:6b-7). Two things are said about the rich that need to be heeded. It is usually the rich who oppress the poor and grab what they can, using the very laws of the land to do it. The idea is that they use the law unjustly in order to protect and increase their wealth and power. The rich tend to be self-sufficient and self-confident. There is a reason: they have everything they need upon earth—food, clothing, shelter, pleasure, possessions, position, recognition, and varying degrees of authority. Therefore, they think little about needing anything. They forget two things:
1. that everything they have fades away ever so quickly, including their health, body, and life.
2. and that they are subject to accident, disease, and death which is just around the corner.
James 2:8-11– There are three warnings against showing partiality:
1) Showing partiality is sin; it violates the royal law of love James 2:8-9). The great law of God is the law of love (Leviticus 19:18) It is the royal law of God’s kingdom. It was given by God Himself and reinforced by His Son, our Messiah, when He came to earth. It is the great law that embraces or includes all other laws. That is, if a person loves God and loves his neighbor as himself, he will automatically be obeying all the other laws. (Mark 12:31; Romans 13:8-10;Galatians 5:14) It is the very commandment that leads to real and abundant life. (1 John 4:7-12). The point is this: believers are to love people, not show partiality, discriminating against some. Showing partiality is sin and it makes us a transgressor of the law.
2) Showing partiality makes a person guilty of the whole law of God (James 2:10). How is this possible? How can a person be guilty of all the law if he breaks only one law? Men follow God or else they do not follow God. There is no such thing as subtracting the laws that one does not like and keeping the laws that one does like. Every law has been given by God. They all form a whole pattern, a complete style of life. They are all necessary to point one in the right direction and toward the right goal. Thus, to offend in one point or to slip from one law makes one short of the goal. One side-steps from the right direction. One goes astray from the whole law of God and one becomes guilty of the whole law. Although he broke only one law, he is still guilty; he is still a transgressor. He has still broken God’s law.
He is no less guilty than if he had broken every law. He stands as a transgressor before God and he must be forgiven by God just as much as any other transgressor. This is significant for us to notice and heed, for it means that we cannot pick and choose what laws we will keep and what laws we will violate. We cannot build up a merit system with God by keeping most of the laws and be allowed to break a few of the laws. We are not more acceptable to God because we keep most of the laws and break only a few. We are not more righteous than other people because we keep more laws than they do and break fewer of what men call the more meaningful laws. The point is this: showing partiality makes a person a terrible law-breaker, the most serious offender imaginable.
James 2:12-13 There are two things that should stir us to love and care for all people, showing no favoritism whatsoever. The first is that we shall face the judgment of God (James 2:12). Therefore, we should speak and act like people who will stand before God and give account for what we have done. Secondly we shall receive a reciprocal reward for our behavior. God is going to treat us exactly as we have treated others. If we have shown mercy, then He will show mercy to us; if we have not shown mercy, then He will not show mercy to us. The first temptation to overcoming the trials that face us is showing partiality.
The second is having hollow faith that has no fruit we see this in James 2:14-26. At the heart of this passage is the fact that genuine faith produces genuine works. Many have missed the emphasis of Jacob’s words here, thinking that it contradicts Paul’s message of justification by faith alone. In fact Martin Luther thought the book should be removed from the Cannon or received Books of the Bible, because of that contradiction. Paul’s message emphasized the “root” of faith focusing on what happens at the moment of salvation.
While Jacob’s message calls attention to the “fruit” of faith, considering what happens after salvation. Paul’s perspective focuses on God’s part in our salvation, while Jacob focuses on our response to that salvation. Paul deals with the issue of justification while Jacob deals with validation. One of the greatest tragedies among believers today are people who profess to belong to Messiah and yet do not live, follow or abide in Him. We are called to live pure lives, to have a real desire to reach the lost and needy of the world. It is easy to question that when we don’t do we have a genuine faith? This is what Jacob deals with in this passage.
There are two questions that every believer needs to ask himself. Can a man have faith and not do good works? Can faith without good works save a man? Every thinking person who is honest knows that the answer to these two questions is an emphatic, “No!” A person who really believes something does something; he acts. Yet this is the curse of Christianity and of the church. Millions profess faith in Yeshua and belong to a church, yet they do not live for the Messiah.
They live for the world and self. They live like everyone else in the world. The only difference between their lives and unbelievers is that they sometimes get up on Sunday mornings and attend church. There is little if any difference between their behavior and speech during the week. So Jacob asks a piercing question: “What profit is it if a man says he has faith, and he does not do good works? Can his faith save him?”
James 2:14-16 At the heart of this passage is that genuine faith produces genuine works. Note two significant facts:
1) The man says he has faith. But it is only what he says; he does nothing to show that he really believes in the Messiah. He does not live for Him. His faith is only a faith of profession, not of possession. His faith is only a false profession. It is as Jacob says in James 2:17 that it is a dead faith.
2) Note that it is called a dead faith three times in this passage (James 2:17, 20, 26). The faith of a false profession is:
a) a dead faith (James 2:17, 20, 26),
b) an unprofitable faith (James 2:14).
c) A hollow faith. In order to truly demonstrate our faith we need to do what our Messiah says.
We are called, in fact purchased, to be His bond servants. He must be our King and Lord, and the center of our life.
Five examples are given to illustrate the point:
1. (James 2:15-17) Jacob gives us an example of a destitute believer. The example is a rebuke to us, most believers and most congregations throughout the world. The example is dealing with believers, with brothers and sisters in the Lord. A brother or sister faces some need or problem that makes him or her destitute. They are unable to properly dress themselves, to stay warm, and to secure enough daily food. We see them and share words of comfort with them. We speak peace and sometimes give a few items to help them in their need as they seek to solve their problem for warmth and food.
True faith loves and cares and is compassionate and reaches out to help those whom God brings before us who are needy. We need to think of creative ways in making those who are needy among us self-supporting. True faith is an operative faith, a faith that really works. (Matthew 19:21‑22).
2. James 2:18 Then there is the example of two men of arrogance. James paints a picture of two men, but only one man speaks and what he says is only one sentence. The man says to another imaginary man: “You have faith and I have works.” The picture is that of two arrogant men. The imaginary man has faith and believes that he is saved by faith—that God accepts him because he believes in Jesus even if he fails to live for Him. He believes that because of His faith God will take him to heaven when he dies.
Consider these verses (Matthew 7:21;Mark 7:6;Titus 1:16) The second imaginary speaker claims to have works—that God accepts him because he does good works and lives as good a life as he can. He believes that the important thing to God is to be religious and do all the good that a person can. If a person does this, God will never reject him; God will accept him no matter who he is and no matter what religion he follows.
Consider this in light of Matthew 7:22. Jacob pulls no punches: it is not a matter of faith or works. To say and profess faith alone, will not save a person, and to follow works to become acceptable to God will not save a person either. James handles both men of arrogance with one clear statement: “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
A person who truly believes in Yeshua works for Him. He follows and lives for Him. A person who only professes Yeshua lives for himself, going about doing what he wants when he wants; He professes to be a believer, but lives for himself. He knows nothing of the life of Messiah, of the sacrificial giving and living that our Messiah lived and demands.
3. (James 2:19-20) Then there is the example of the orthodox religionists. A true man of religion believes in one God: he is not an atheist or an agnostic. He is a believer, and his belief in God is said to be a good thing. The man does well to believe in God. But believing in God is not enough. There is a dead belief and a living belief, a belief that does not lead to salvation and a belief that does lead to salvation.
Consider the demons or evil spirits. They believe in God and know that God exists. They even believe in the deity of the Messiah. On one occasion they cried out to Jesus, “What have we to do with you, Jesus, Son of God?” (Matthew 8:29). But the demons are not saved. Their belief has not affected their lives and behavior at all.
4. (James 2:21-24) Then we have the example of Abraham who proved his faith by his works. Note exactly what James 2:21 says. This is a verse that causes great problems for some people, for it seems to say that when Abraham offered up Isaac in obedience to God’s instruction, he was justified. That is, Abraham was justified by works; but what James is saying is that Abraham proved that he was justified by his works. James says: Abraham’s faith worked with and cooperated with God, by his works (James 2:22).
That is, his faith was acted out and proven by his works. By his works Abraham’s faith was made perfect (eteleiothe) (Heb. Tam), that is, finished, completed, carried to the end (James 2:22). Abraham’s faith was proven, shown to be a complete faith. A true and living faith works: it completes and finishes its course. If a faith does not work it is a dead, incomplete, unfinished, and unproven faith. Abraham’s faith fulfilled the Scripture that said “Abraham believed God; and it was imputed unto him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
These words were declared some thirty years before Abraham ever offered up Isaac. God pronounced that Abraham was justified and saved thirty years before this event referred to by James. James plainly declares that when Abraham offered up Isaac he was proving his faith. In fact, there is not a chance that Abraham would have ever offered up Isaac unless he already believed in God.
The reason Abraham offered up Isaac was because he did believe God. He believed; therefore, he did what God said. This is true with us as well. If a person believes God, he does what He says. If a person does not believe he goes about doing his own thing and does not follow the Lord. Abraham was called “the Friend of God.” This says that Abraham had an intimate relationship with God; he believed God and walked in communion and fellowship with God, following and living for God.
Faith only is dead, inactive and worthless. True faith is a living and active faith—a faith that proves itself by living for the Lord and obeying Him.
5. (James 2:25-26) Finally we have the example of Rahab: the converted harlot who proved her faith by works. Why mention Rahab and not end the discussion with Abraham? Because as a harlot she was considered by the Jewish believers reading this letter, the very lowest of society. Even the lowest person who claims to believe in God must do good works. They must clean up their lives and follow God as Rahab did.
When the spies for Israel were being hunted down by the Jericho soldiers, she hid them. Why would she betray her country and protect the Israeli spies? Because she believed in God and His promises. We see this in her confession in Joshua 2:9,11. She believed in God, therefore, she acted.