Now we are looking at James chapter two. Here is a standard read of James 2:1.
James 2:1 NASB My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
You should know that italicized wording is an add on, for the sake of clarity. Sometimes it adds clarity, and sometimes it detracts. Without any additional knowledge, what could I ascertain that James, through the NASB, is trying to tell me?
First, he is either trying to say that the faith I have received from Jesus Christ is glorious or, it’s my faith and something worthy of bragging about. The first option is more likely. Secondly, according to the NASB, these people, and by extension, we, have been displaying an attitude, in which God sees some of us as personal favorites. Well, it’s either that or we think that I have some special privilege.
But what do we know about the immediate audience James is writing to?
He tells us the answer to that when he opened this letter.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. (James 1:1 KJV)
James is writing to Jews. I have a touch of Jew in my background, but my grandfather, who died when I was around 15 years old, had been a follower of Jesus Christ for the better portion of his life. Now, he had immediate family who maintained their Jewishness, but, to the best of my knowledge, he never did. So where could I get a real feel for how a Jew, or a Jewish convert, would feel about this “new” Christianity, in which they are integrating with Gentiles who have no concept of Jewish traditions and patterns. (Make a note of something before we move on. God has not walked away from His people, or these patterns and Holy Days – traditions.) So I did an internet search and found this.
“In view of the well-known fact that the overwhelming majority of so-called Jewish converts in Austria and Germany – there are very few of these pseudo-neo-Christians in Russia, and almost none in other parts of Europe or on this continent – enter the Church for merely selfish reasons, a Jewish wit offered the following definition of them: “ A Jewish convert is one who pretends to believe in dogmas and to follow traditions which the educated Christian himself is gradually abandoning.” I know this statement will be a hard blow to those pious Christian souls who contribute to the Jewish Missions; but there is consolation for the millions of genuine followers of Christ in the other fact that thousands, yea, tens of thousands, of educated and noble-minded Jews in our day, while firmly standing upon the monotheistic platform of the Synagogue, are gradually giving up the attitude of their forefathers toward the central figure of Christianity – which was a pathetic mingling of ignorance, antipathy, and fear. I can bear witness to this momentous change from my own personal experience. When I was a boy – that is, between thirty-five and forty years ago – in my little native town in Moravia, had my father or any other member of the congregation heard the name of Jesus uttered from the pulpit of our synagogue, he would have immediately left the building in indignation, and the rabbi would have been summarily dismissed. Today, however, it is not strange in many synagogues, especially in this country, to hear sermons preached eulogizing this same Jesus; and nobody, except a few Pharisaic followers of the Neo-Romantic school of Judaism, thinks in earnest of protesting against claiming – with some dogmatic reservations of course? Jeshua ben Joseph as one of the noblest twigs of the old branch of Judah Joseph as one of the noblest twigs of the old branch of Judah.”1
The generalization is that most Jews perceive Jewish converts to Christianity as pretenders who are buying into traditions that even the educated Christians are abandoning, so why wouldn’t this be a comparable attitude against the Jewish converts within the early church, and perhaps played a role in the attitude of those same converts, as they held to standard Jewish perceptions that are tied to the Abrahamic covenant.
Alternative translations of James 2:1 can be very revealing.
(BBE) My brothers, if you have the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory, do not take a man’s position into account.
To take a person’s position into account could imply that you are regarding or considering them as what, practically a god, and not to be challenged? And all this is in regard to your faith in Christ Jesus. I am not even sure how this looks unless I am in the Catholic church or some spin-off, since to the best of my knowledge, the Catholics buy into the idea that the Pope is god.
(GW) My brothers and sisters, practice your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ by not favoring one person over another.
Typically, we show favoritism to people who are on the same economic plane as us or higher. I have seen this all my life in church settings, and yet, it also happens within the faith movement, so that those who do not hold a strong faith in the Word of God are excluded, intentionally, from the conversation.
But what did I say, this is directed at Jewish convert congregations, who hold fast to an attitude that God loves them more, simply because they are Jewish; that, and they have these precious traditions, given to them by God, with little to no desire to explain them to those around who are not Jewish.
Follow James’ explanation of his own words.
James 2:2-4 NASB For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, (3) and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” (4) have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?
James, possibly trying to evade a fight, focuses on the obvious, a man with money (or so we think.) I added that comment, “or so we think,” because I know a “brother” in Christ who has an occupation in medical sales. In order to elicit trust in his products and confidence in his sales abilities, he bought a Rolex watch and wore very expensive shoes; and yes, he took out a large personal loan to create that appearance.
What is the result of the scenario that James spells out?
You have made bad or improper distinctions and have become judges with evil motives.
James 2:5 NASB Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
If I were to perceive this as an admonition to improve my people skills, James hardly gives it a chance to sink in, when he dishes out the next verse. But before we go there, note what this says.
- “did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom …”
God told Abraham that He would make the man rich; mind you, this was said in a time when having herds of sheep was an indication of your wealth, well, that and a donkey. A donkey was like having a Mercedes back then. The reality is that most of our Biblical characters scratched out a living, and apparently that was enough.
Just to muddy the water, I want to throw Daniel into this idea of God choosing the poor of this world. When Daniel was taken into captivity, he had been primed to lead, either the priesthood or the village government. How do we know this? Look at the job qualifications that Nebuchadnezzar puts forth.
Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. (Daniel 1:3-4 NASB)
Pick one, or pick several, as many of these descriptions fit Daniel. There is one other thing that you need to consider when you think about Daniel. If he was on a fast track to the priesthood, many are married. Daniel does not tell us that he was made a eunuch; however, information gleaned from Isaiah 39:7 gives us what we are looking for. Don’t waste your time in the NASB, as they apparently could not handle the strength of the Hebrew word that they translated official. The KJV straight out tells the reader, “your sons will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
Eunuch is the Hebrew word sârı̂ys and means to castrate.
That means his dreams of being married are over, and he would never be allowed into the temple of God again. Now, knowing all this, was Daniel the poor of the earth?
- “a kingdom, by the way, that is promised to those who love Him.”
It is not entirely as though we are awaiting a kingdom, as Paul explains in his letter to the church at Colossae.
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, (Colossians 1:13 NASB)
Although it is an aspect of who we are in Christ, there is still an awaited kingdom. In 1 Thessalonians 2:12, we are being called into His own kingdom, as though it is something to long for. However, in 2 Timothy 4:1, that kingdom is something that will arrive at His appearing (as the ruling Messiah). Paul tells Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4:18 that, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom;” (NASB)
All this is promised to the one who loves Him. Love is not a difficult word, but living it seems to be. The word love is agapáō; and means to esteem, love, and indicates a direction of the will. I suppose I could say, I will myself to love Him, but then that seems like such a struggle, as we compare that love to some people.
Paul and James said that they were bondservants of Jesus Christ – a relationship that does not require or engender love. Both Paul and James understood the depth of that word and how it applies to a slave who has given themselves over to a lifetime of voluntary service.
James 2:6 NASB But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?
Can you hear the tone in his voice?
“Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man.”
Dishonored is the Greek word atimazō and it carries these meanings: dishonor, insult, treated with contempt.
So when I talked about Daniel, can we see any of those attributes associated with him?
The answer is, certainly, although we NEVER look at them because we choose to only see Daniel walking in Nebuchadnezzar’s courts, carrying himself with esteem, and that he did, but it was a choice he made in the midst of a life-altering situation.
What else does James 2:6 say?
It tells us that it is not the poor and the broken that drag you into court; it is the rich and wealthy in this world; in doing so, they oppress you.
Poor is the Greek word ptōchos and means to be destitute of wealth, influence, position, and or honor.
Oppress: To load or burden with unreasonable impositions; to treat with unjust severity, rigor, or hardship; as to oppress a nation with taxes or contributions; to oppress one by compelling him to perform unreasonable service.
Perhaps we could say that the wealthy, in their acts of unreasonable impositions, quarantine entire nations, destroy economies; disallow us from attending our churches, but allow for pot parlors, liquor stores, and abortion clinics to remain open.
James 2:7 CEV Aren’t they the ones who make fun of your Lord?
“They” is referring to the rich and the wealthy. Other translations include:
“Do they not say evil of the holy name which was given to you?” (BBE)
“Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name of Him to whom you belong?” (CJB)
All of these things are happening on a daily basis.
Now, if they make fun of or blaspheme the name of the Lord, is God crippled by their words?
No, but it often causes us to withdraw or respond in anger. This possibility of an angry response becomes more valid when you look at James 2:8,9.
James 2:8-9 NASB If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. (9) But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
With people talking evil about the Lord, a name, that we, as followers of Christ, have been given, suddenly, it seems as if the focus of their blasphemy is now directed at me. Why do you suppose that is; do you think it has anything to do with how reactionary we are?
But I have to remember how this study initiated.
My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? (James 2:1 NLT)
Based upon James 2:1, I can assume that with an attitude that causes exclusion of others, especially if they are not as acceptable as prosperous people, then I may be the one that promoted the blasphemy. Simply because hardly anyone knows what blasphemy is, I include the words of Jesus, who defined blasphemy after the scribes and Pharisees attributed the healing of a blind and deaf man, to the work of a demon by the name of Beelzebul. You can look this up in Matthew 12:22-32.
What does the CEV translation tell us about James 2:8-9?
“You will do all right if you obey the most important law in the Scriptures. It is the law that commands us to love others as much as we love ourselves. (9) But if you treat some people better than others, you have done wrong, and the Scriptures teach that you have sinned.” (James 2:8-9 CEV)
There is, however, another way to look at this section of scripture.
(For those who feel they are NOT under the law, James very clearly pushes back against that false idea when he says, love others as much as we love ourselves. Leviticus 19:18 NASB)
If we are doing what the Lord commands us, then, as James says, you are fulfilling the royal law of Scripture, and you will do alright. In other words, then you won’t be showing partiality, committing sin, and be convicted by the law as a violator.
But doesn’t operating in this mindset put us back under the law; and put us under a mountain of guilt and shame?
It could, and James will give us the answer to that momentarily.
James 2:10-11 NASB For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. (11) For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now, if you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
For one, James is addressing a crowd – the Jewish community, that struggles with the guilt of the law already. Becoming a follower of Christ rarely strips all the caustic emotional damage off you and that damage can and will leak out at times, and when it does, it gets on other people; and that creates an entire scenario, which James found it necessary to address.
I am sixty-six years old at the time of this writing, and I still struggle with legalistic religious guilt and self-esteem issues because of the way I was raised. I feel as though I have a strong understanding of God’s word and His love toward me, so go figure, I can only impute this lifetime struggle to the brokenness of this human body, that all of us struggle with. Thankfully, there is a day coming, and soon, when I will be changed, and so will many of you.
James 2:12 NASB So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.
What if it was just that simple?
Just speak and act as those who are to be judged by the law; NOT just some arbitrary, strike you dead, law, but THE LAW OF LIBERTY – a law that brings you life. We already covered this to some degree when we looked at the first chapter of James, but let’s look once again.
“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:25 NASB)
The law that brings liberty is the Word of God – the God that never changes, and neither does His Word. His Word stands forever, and if you struggle to understand who He is and what He is like, then look at Jesus. For it was Jesus who said, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father; that’s because He is the Son of the Father, an unblemished representation in every form. And James told us that if you want to walk as though the law guides your paths, then we should, not just look into, but make it an integrated part of our lives. Think about that for a moment.
Why would that be important, or perhaps even worse, critical?
Because we are broken. Look, I don’t care how pious you may think you are, or how much money you have, none of that matters when they arrest you for spousal abuse, or a manslaughter charge because you were driving under the influence. You and I are broken, and our only hope lies in Jesus Christ. No wonder both Paul and James, declared, I am a bondservant of Christ Jesus. Slaves do not get to express their own will, and yet, in this bondservant relationship, I see men most free because they came to understand that the soundest of decisions come from the Holy Spirit of God.
How does James end this section?
For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13 NASB)
Judgment, what a horrible word, especially if you have NO hope, but we do, and His name is Jesus.
Judgment is the Greek word krísis, meaning to judge. But look at the other words that the Word Study Dictionary communicates as part of the meaning: Separation, division, dissension, decision, crisis, turn of affairs.
As Pastor Paul Begley would say, are you kidding me! These words define our everyday lives. One moment you and the Mrs. are fine, and the next moment you are at each other’s throats; within the church body we have separation, division, and dissensions; and, because you are “not” under the law, you took your liberties with a few too many alcoholic beverages and now you have a crisis and a drastic turn of affairs.
Far too many Pastor’s love to fling this word judgment around because they feel a need to manipulate and control the sheep. The Greek word Bema is almost always attached to the sermon. Two of the places we can find this word is in Romans and in the letter to the church in Corinth.
But why do you judge your brother? Or also why do you despise your brother? For all shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Romans 14:10 MKJV)
Here, the application applies to how we are treating a brother in Christ, and that is exactly what James has been saying. Now, try to apply to some ghastly judgment before the Father, who doesn’t change, and sent His son to die for you, at a time when you did not love Him. Something is not right about the logic, is it?
Another reference, as I mentioned, comes from Corinthians, so let’s go there.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10 NASB)
Here we are, once again, before that judgment seat. For the believer, there is only one place for judgment, and it is NOT the great white throne of final judgment. It is that moment when we, as believers, with broken human bodies, are changed. What that looks like, or exactly when it happens, is not clear, but we know that NOTHING unclean enters God’s kingdom. (Rev. 21:8)
The word I want you to focus on is the word recompensed. That word recompensed is the Greek word komízō. And yes, the idea of judgment is a part of its definition, but look at the words and phrases that define it: to take care of; to bear or bring to oneself, acquire, obtain, receive.
We are brought before this judgment seat, and, as I pointed out to a friend, as we studied the first chapter of James, that when we have endured the test/trial we shall receive the crown of life. Where and when do you think that this happens? It only happens at the Bema seat of Christ. To teach anything else makes you a false teacher and not to be followed.
Having told a fellow believer, years ago, that I was ashamed of them, I came to realize what this judgment looks like, as it came crashing down on me six months later. The impact of that decision and the resulting turn of affairs has lasted for the rest of my life – in my head. This is why the words of James, though directed at a Jewish audience of believers, still rings true for all of us.