James Chapters 1 and 2, Verse by Verse, Part 2
by Karl Kemp
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We continue the verse-by-verse study of James chapters 1 and 2 here in Part 2, starting with James 1:22.
(22) But [And] prove yourselves doers of the word ["Doers of the word" live righteous lives, as required by God's word, by grace through faith. God's word includes His moral law.], and not merely hearers who delude themselves. [[It is not acceptable, Biblical Christianity for us to be mere hearers of the word of God. We must be doers of God's Word. Cf., e.g., Matt. 7:24-27; Luke 11:28; and Rom. 2:13. I'll quote 1 John 3:7, where the apostle John warns his readers that they must not be deceived. There were many deceivers in John's day, as there are in our day. "Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness [or, "the one who is doing righteousness," which equates with being a doer of God's word, which includes His moral law] is righteous, just as He [God the Son] is righteous." To be righteous as God the Son is righteous is a bold way to speak of our righteousness; it certainly includes the victory over all sin!]] (23) For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror [[The hearer of the word who isn't a doer is the man who listens to the word without making it a top priority to understand the word, to take the word into his heart (to receive the word implanted), and to become/be a doer of the word on a continuous basis (by grace through faith). In this illustration, as the next verse shows, the "man who looks at his natural face in a mirror" considers what he is doing to be a low-priority item; you don't need to remember, meditate on, and act on what you have seen. No problem if you forget!]]; (24) for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of a person he was. [The NIV has, "immediately forgets what he looks like."] (25) But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty [[We are required to make it a top priority to read/hear God's word (with some emphasis on His moral law; James 2:8-12 confirms that the "law of liberty" includes Gods' moral law), to make sure we understand it, and to take it into our hearts with the intention of living according to His word by His sufficient saving, sanctifying grace in Christ by faith on a continuous basis. It is a great blessing for us to be able to keep "the perfect law, the law of liberty."
It is "perfect [or, complete]" because, for one thing, it includes the gospel of new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus, which enables believers to live as God requires His people to live. (The first five books of the Old Testament, which is sometimes called the Mosaic Law contained a wealth of super-important information along with the laws/commandments.) It is LAW in that includes God's moral LAW (whether found in the Old Testament, in the teaching of Jesus, or in other parts of the New Testament). It is "the law of LIBERTY" in that we are set free from bondage to sin and the kingdom of spiritual death and darkness and enabled to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God. (See, for example, John 8:31-36; Gal. 5:1-25; Rom. 8:1-16). Instead of "liberty" we could translate this Greek noun as "freedom"; the NIV has, "the perfect law that gives freedom." James 2:12, which also mentions the "law of liberty," confirms that God's moral law is included in what James means by these words]], and abides by it [In other words, he is a doer of the word.], not having become a forgetful hearer [[When we make hearing, understanding, and doing God's Word a top priority, we won't go away and forget what we have heard. Notice that James contrasted this person who was a doer of God's Word who was not a FORGETFUL hearer with the person in verse 24 who immediately FORGOT. Putting God first place in our hearts on a continuous basis (which is included in what it means to love Him) and hearing, understanding, and doing His Word is required of Christians. It is included in the contract that we sign when we become Christians (whether we know it, or not). Ignorance is not an adequate excuse.]] but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does. (26) If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue [cf. James 1:19; 3:2-12.] but deceives his own heart [Compare "delude themselves" in 1:22. As James shows in 2:10, 11, Christians are enabled, and required, to walk according to God's word/law in every area.], this man's religion is worthless. (27) Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by [the sinful and defiling things of] the world [cf. James 1:21-26; 4:4]. (2:1) My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. [[James goes on to discuss the sin of "[showing] partiality" (2:9) in a way that "dishonored the poor man" (2:6). What James says in these verses would be true whether the rich man and the poor man were Christians, or not. James would be concerned with dishonoring poor non-Christians, and he would be especially concerned with dishonoring poor Christians (cf. James 2:5, 15). Sometimes the poverty of Christians came as a result of their having becoming Christians.
I'll quote what the apostle Paul said in Gal. 6:10: "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people [which would include sharing with those in need], and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith." The apostle John, throughout 1 John, for example, emphasizes the special love that Christians are enabled, and required, to have and manifest for their brethren in the born-again family of God.]] (2) 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 [or, evil thoughts/reasonings; the KJV; NKJV; and NIV have "evil thoughts"]? [[They were "[making] distinctions" and judging the rich man to be better than the poor man; they were showing "personal favoritism" (2:1) toward the rich man and against the poor man. James makes it clear that their judgments are sinful in that they go against God's (moral) law/commandments. The "evil motives [or, thoughts/reasonings]" could easily include the idea that the rich man might benefit them financially and other ways.]] (5) 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? (6) But you have dishonored the poor man. [James 2:1-5 show how they dishonored the poor man.] Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? (7) Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? [[The "rich" in verses 6 and 7 are not Christians. Christians would not be blaspheming the name of "Christ" or "Jesus." We are called "Christians" through our having become united with the Lord Jesus Christ in new-covenant salvation.]] (8) If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,' you are doing well. [[(This double bracket goes on for five paragraphs.) James is continuing with the topic of dishonoring the poor man of 2:1-6. The NIV has, "If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right." The NIV and many commentators understand the "royal law" to refer to the law (commandment) to love your neighbor as yourself, quoted here from Lev. 19:18. (This commandment is given special prominence in the New Testament [cf. Matt. 19:19; 22:39, 40; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:8-10; and Gal. 5:14]. Fulfilling this commandment ALONG WITH THE MUCH-MORE-IMPORTANT FIRST GREAT COMMANDMENT [Matt. 22:37, 38] pretty well covers fulfilling all God's moral requirements for His people. Without the first commandment the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself would not begin to solve the sin problem. The unity of man without God (the God of creation; the God of the Bible) being the Center and Foundation leads to things like the tower of Babel and religions inspired by the devil.
I'll quote MATTHEW 22:34-40: "But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. (35) One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, (36) 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' (37) And He said to him, ' "YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD [Yahweh in Deut. 6:5] YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND." (38) THIS IS THE GREAT AND FOREMOST COMMANDMENT [my capitalization for emphasis in verse 38]. (39) The second is like it, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF [Lev. 19:18]." (40) On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.' "
As discussed in the Introduction of my paper, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism," it isn't adequate to say that all we need are the two commandments to love God and to love our neighbor. We also need God's definition of what it means to love God and our neighbor that is provided by other commandments. Without God's definitions it is amazing what often ends up being considered love and right and wrong.
I believe the "royal law" (the law of the King and His kingdom) is the equivalent of "the perfect law, the law of liberty" of James 1:25 (see under that verse; cf. James 2:12). The royal law includes all the moral law/commandments that God requires Christians to keep, very much including the commandment to love God will all our heart, soul, mind and strength (cf. Luke 10:27), the commandment that Jesus called "the great and foremost commandment" in Matt. 22:38.
It took a while, but eventually the early Christian church came to understand that God doesn't require Christians to fulfill the extensive ceremonial law of the Old Testament, including physical circumcision. Much of this understanding came through the apostle Paul, who God selected to be especially sent to the Gentiles (cf., e.g., Acts 9:15; Rom. 11:13; Gal. 1:16; 2:7-9), but it was verified through others, including Peter and James of the book of James (cf., e.g., Acts 15:1-33; that Council in Jerusalem took place in AD49.]] (9) But if you show partiality [[See James 2:1-6. The Greek verb translated "show partiality" is closely related to the Greek noun translated "personal favoritism" in 2:1; both Greek words were derived from the same Greek noun. To "show partiality" to the rich (against the poor) violates God's law.]], you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (10) For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. [[Cf. Gal. 3:10; Deut. 27:26 (Septuagint): "Cursed is every man that continues not in all the words of this law to do them: and all the people shall say, So be it." To break one of God's commandments is to transgress God's law, and God's people are not supposed to be transgressors. This is further strong confirmation that the Bible teaches that Christians are called, enabled, and required to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God, with the victory over all sin (by grace through faith). This is good news! James' point here is that he doesn't want to hear any Christians minimizing the importance of loving/showing mercy to the poor (or of keeping any other commandment). He definitely wants to see immediate repentance anywhere, and everywhere, that repentance is required.]] (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 [[It's worth mentioning that 1 John 3:15, which was written in a context dealing with the need to share with a brother in need, says that "everyone who hates his brother is a murderer."]], you have become a transgressor of the law. [[To be "a transgressor of the law," which includes all sin is serious business. If it really is sin it is serious business! Many Christians in our day are sure that the Bible teaches that we will sin daily in thought, in word, and in deed. I am totally sure that they are wrong! It's no wonder that we see so much sin in the Christian church in our day. The only way to have victory over sin is by grace THROUGH FAITH, and our faith must be based on God and what His Word says.]] (12) So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. [[In other words, we will be judged according to our works (see under Rom. 2:6 in my paper, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism"). These words confirm that Christians are called, enabled, and required to fulfill God's moral law/commandments. God knows if we are making it top priority to stop sinning and to live for Him with the victory over sin. He is quick to forgive those who truly repent, but WE MUST BE AIMING AT THE TARGET OF LIVING IN THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD WITH THE VICTORY OVER ALL SIN, BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH.]] (13) For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy [[Cf., e.g., James 1:27; 2:8; Matt. 5:7; 12:7; 18:21-35; and Luke 6:36-38. All Christians are dependent on God's mercy/grace. (We were spiritually dead, and we were sinners. Furthermore, although it need not be the case, most Christians have had to receive God's mercy of forgiveness after they became Christians. Everything we receive from God throughout this life and on into eternity comes by His grace/mercy to us through Christ Jesus.) This being the case, we must show mercy to others, even as we have been commanded. In this context, James is undoubtedly thinking mostly of showing mercy to the poor, especially to the poor brethren in Christ (see 2:1-12; 14-26; 1 John 3:11-24). The New Testament makes it super-clear that we must forgive if we want to be forgiven.]]; mercy triumphs over judgment [or, condemnation]." [[That is, God can be merciful to those Christians who show mercy. We can't earn God's mercy by being merciful (or by doing anything else), but the Bible clearly shows that we can block His flow of mercy by failing to show mercy. (For one thing, we must forgive if we want to be forgiven.) All sin tends to block God's grace/mercy. In 2:14-16 James goes on to deal with the need to share with the brethren in need.]] (14) [[(This double bracket continues for three paragraphs.) The apostle Paul and James sometimes use the words faith, works, and justify somewhat differently, because of the contexts in which they use the words (we'll discuss this point as we continue with these verses). IT IS SIGNIFICANT, HOWEVER, THAT PAUL WOULD AGREE WITH JAMES THAT WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS ARE REQUIRED AND THAT FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD; IT ISN'T SAVING FAITH. I don't believe there is any basis to say that James was reacting against the apostle Paul's teaching in these verses. EVERYTHING THAT JAMES SAID IN VERSES 14-26 DEMONSTRATES THAT CHRISTIANS ARE REQUIRED TO DO THE WORKS OF RIGHTEOUNESS THAT ARE REQUIRED BY GOD'S MORAL LAW AND THAT FAITH WITHOUT THOSE WORK IS DEAD AND USELESS. It wasn't optional, for example, for any Christians to fail to show mercy to the poor brethren. It was sin, and all sin is a transgression of God's moral law and is serious business!
The apostle Paul taught that Christians (those who have been saved and justified by faith) are called, enabled, and required to manifest God's imparted righteousness (righteous works; a righteous lifestyle), by grace through faith, as God's new creations, and not be characterized by sinful works (they should be dead to sin). If they are characterized by sinful works, they are not on the path that leads to heaven (cf., e.g., Rom. 6:23; 8:12-14; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Gal. 5:19-21; and Eph. 5:3-7). I'll say more about Paul's wonderful presentation of the gospel, which he received by revelation, as we continue.
For one thing, Paul, as the apostle to the Gentiles, received much very important revelation regarding the fullness of God's new-covenant salvation plans (including the important fact that Gentiles were not required to submit to the ceremonial works of the Mosaic Law, with an emphasis on circumcision, in order to become Christians), and he had to frequently deal with distortions of the gospel coming from those trying to force the new covenant into an old covenant/Law/works mode.]] What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can THAT FAITH [my emphasis] save him? [[Large numbers of Christians are confused on this issue, but Paul would agree with what James says here. Although it is true that Paul frequently said we are justified/saved by faith, not by works, he also taught that Christians are enabled, and required to have works, the works that God's grace/Spirit enables us to do (cf., e.g., Eph. 2:8-10; Titus 2:14; 3:8; Rom. 2:6-13, 26-29; 2 Cor. 5:9-11; Gal. 5:16-25; 6:7-10; see my paper, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism" and my e-book, "Righteousness, Holiness, and Victory Over Sin.").
There are at least four senses in which Paul was against works (all of them being quite important and relevant to the gospel he preached); He was against works without faith in Christ (cf., e.g., Rom. 9:30-10:4; Gal. 2:16). He was against bringing the ceremonial works of the Law (like circumcision) into the new covenant (cf., e.g., Gal. 5:2-4; Col. 2:16-23). He was against the works of the flesh being done to glorify man (cf., e.g., Rom. 3:27; 4:2; 1 Cor. 1:20-31; Gal. 6:14, 15; and Eph. 2:8-10). And he was against works being done in an attempt to earn that which has freely been given (cf., e.g., Rom. 4:4; 11:6; and Titus 3:5-8).]] (15) If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? [Cf. Gal. 6:10; 1 John 3:17, 18.] (17) Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead [That is, it is not true Christian faith.], being by itself [Faith, BY ITSELF, without the works that the grace of God enables us to do, is dead]. (18) But [or, "Indeed," or the equivalent] someone may well say, 'You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.' [[The works (those that are produced by the grace/Spirit of God as we walk in faith and by the Holy Spirit, which we are required to do on a continuous basis) demonstrate that the faith is real; it is saving faith. We could get into a lot of details about this verse, but I'll just point out that the words, "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works [which is impossible], and I will show you my faith by my works" perfectly fit what James is saying in these verses, and Paul would agree.]] (19) You believe that God is one. [See Deut. 6:4, which is discussed on pages 13-16 of my paper, "More on the Trinity," on my internet site.] You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. [[James point is that "to believe that God is one," in itself, doesn't make you a true Christian (a true believer; one who has saving faith in God). The demons also believe in the existence of the God of the Bible, but they are not submitted to Him, or living for Him, or on the path that leads to heaven. They are not believers! They do not have faith in God (by God's definition)! To have (saving) faith in God/to be a believer includes being submitted to Him, loving Him, trusting Him, and obeying Him (by His grace). True Christian faith WORKS, manifesting itself (by the grace of God) in love (Gal. 5:6) and in righteous works (a lifestyle of righteousness).
The demons "shudder" because they know judgment day is coming for them (cf. Matt. 8:29). James' point is that if you have faith without works, your faith isn't worth more than the demons' faith/believing in the existence of God, and you, like them, aren't prepared to stand before Him in judgment.]] (20) But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? [[There isn't any substantial difference between saying such faith "is dead" (2:17) and saying it "is useless" here in verse 20. It isn't real faith; it doesn't make you a new creation in Christ Jesus. Throughout James 2:14-26 (and many other verses of this epistle) James is exhorting his readers that Christians are called, enabled, and required to be doers of God's word/moral law, which equals being doers of the righteousness of God (cf. 1 John 3:7).]]
We will complete this study of James Chapters 1 and 2 in Part 3, starting with James 2:21.
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