A Journey Through James- Chapter Two
- Verse 1 and 4– The Greek word for “partiality” (NKJV) in James 2:1 has to do with the receiving of someone based on one’s face (i.e. appearance). There’s a different Greek word translated as “partiality” (NKJV) in James 2:4. This Greek word means “to separate out thoroughly, to make distinction, to discriminate, to prefer” and depending on context can mean “to be at variance with oneself; hesitate; doubt” like in James 1:6 which uses a form of this Greek word twice translating it as “doubting” and “doubts” (NKJV).
- Verses 1 – 6– In looking at the whole of Scriptures, we see that whether someone is rich or poor tells us nothing about that person’s relationship with God. (See “A Journey through James- Chapter Two (2:1-7) Study Aid” for a deeper look.) At the same time Messiah Yeshua uses a very poignant illustration to show how God looks beyond the surface of a man and how a man’s social status tells us nothing about the condition of that man’s soul. It’s found in Luke 16 where it states:
19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”
Luke 16:19-31 (NKJV)
- Verse 2– The Greek word translated as “assembly” can be translated as such. It is also the Greek word for synagogue– a Jewish place of assembling to worship and to hear God’s Word that’s distinct from the Temple. These places were especially important in the Diaspora because of the great distances many Jews were from the Temple in Jerusalem.
- Verses 2 – 6– When this passage mentions “poor”- the Greek word used is actually not just referring to someone who is poor, but implies someone who is reduced to being destitute to the point of being a beggar. It can also mean “someone who is destitute of wealth, influence, position, honor”.
- Verse 4– Take note that God, through James, shows us that we are having evil thoughts when we base how we treat someone on that person’s appearance (i.e. being partial to the wealthy-looking by treating them very special while treating the destitute-looking very rudely). In other words, showing partiality cannot be done without us thinking in an evil way.
- Verse 5– By calling the readers “beloved” (also meaning “well loved”) brethren, James is showing love for those he is addressing.
- Verse 5– For a better understanding of this verse read 1 Samuel 2:8 and Psalm 37:11 (the word “meek” could also be translated as “poor”).
- Verse 8– “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is a commandment from God first seen in Leviticus 19:18. It’s mentioned only once in the Tanakh (commonly called The Old Testament), but mentioned 7 times in the New Covenant Scriptures where its importance is shown (Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). This is what Messiah Yeshua said about this very commandment:
37 Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:37-40 (NKJV)
Here we see that it’s the second greatest commandment God gave and it is almost like the greatest commandment (i.e. to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds). We see that all of God’s commandments hang on these top two!
- Verse 8– The Greek phrase translated “do well” can also be translated as “produce well” or “perform excellently”.
- Verse 9– The Greek word translated as “partiality” is the a form of the word translated as “partiality” in James 2:1 which has to do with the receiving of someone based on one’s face (i.e. appearance).
- Verse 9– This verse is clear and to the point showing us that showing partiality (accepting someone based on that person’s appearance) is a sin. As we will see in the verses immediately following- it doesn’t matter what other commandments of God we keep: If we are being partial, we are still seen as transgressors before God!
- Verses 9 – 11– We see here that God’s commandments (His law) are meant to be taken as a whole and not little pieces. Many people, Jewish and non-Jewish, tend to look at each of God’s commandments as separate weights to be put on a scale called “Justice”. Many think that if they have kept a certain amount of God’s commandments and broke a lesser amount of God’s commandments, the scale of justice will tip in their favor. Yet, we see that is not how things work. Rather than God’s commandments being different pieces, they are all part of the same structure. If we break one of God’s commandments, we have broken the whole structure and are found guilty before God as a law breaker. This truth shows us our need for Yeshua’s work of salvation in our life. It also shows us the necessity of walking fully in God and not half-stepping.
- Verse 11– The commandments “Do not commit adultery.” and “Do not murder.” are both found in The Ten Commandments mentioned in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Yet, to really understand these two commandments according to God’s perspective we need to look at what Yeshua said in what is commonly called The Sermon on the Mount. This is what Messiah Yeshua had to say:
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ [an Aramaic term of great insult used amongst the Jewish people at that time meaning in essence “empty-headed” which had the sense of calling someone worthless] shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ [the Greek word here for “fool” would be similar to us calling someone a “blockhead” as if the person is totally without sense and shows no hope of ever having any] shall be in danger of hell fire…
27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28 (NKJV- with bracketed notes added)
- Verse 12– One thing that is awesome about God’s law of liberty is that the very thing that could judge a person is the same thing that could free a person if applied correctly. God’s Word doesn’t only show us exactly who we are before God, it shows us how to be liberated from the mess we might be in!
- Verse 13– In Matthew 5:7, Yeshua states that people who are merciful are blessed because they will obtain God’s mercy! To get a better understanding of James 2:13, lets look at a dialog Yeshua had with Peter about forgiveness which will also show us about how those who are merciful will be treated mercifully while those who withhold mercy from others will have it withheld from them:
21 Then Peter came up to Him and said, Lord, how many times may my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? [As many as] up to seven times?
22 Jesus answered him, I tell you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven!
23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a human king who wished to settle accounts with his attendants.
24 When he began the accounting, one was brought to him who owed him 10,000 talents [probably about $10,000,000],
25 And because he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and his children and everything that he possessed, and payment to be made.
26 So the attendant fell on his knees, begging him, Have patience with me and I will pay you everything.
27 And his master’s heart was moved with compassion, and he released him and forgave him [cancelling] the debt.
28 But that same attendant, as he went out, found one of his fellow attendants who owed him a hundred denarii [about twenty dollars]; and he caught him by the throat and said, Pay what you owe!
29 So his fellow attendant fell down and begged him earnestly, Give me time, and I will pay you all!
30 But he was unwilling, and he went out and had him put in prison till he should pay the debt.
31 When his fellow attendants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and told everything that had taken place to their master.
32 Then his master called him and said to him, You contemptible and wicked attendant! I forgave and cancelled all that [great] debt of yours because you begged me to.
33 And should you not have had pity and mercy on your fellow attendant, as I had pity and mercy on you?
34 And in wrath his master turned him over to the torturers (the jailers), till he should pay all that he owed.
35 So also My heavenly Father will deal with every one of you if you do not freely forgive your brother from your heart his offenses.
Matthew 18:21-35 (AMPC- Amplified Classic Edition quoted as is)
- Verses 14 – 26– If we were to glance at what Paul said in Romans 4 and then glance at this passage of Scripture we might think there is a contradiction in Scripture. Without really looking at what Paul said and without really reading what James is saying here, it might appear as if Paul is saying that we receive justification before God (right standing before God) by faith as opposed to works (our good actions) while James is saying that we receive justification before God by works. This is what Martin Luther (known as the Great Reformer who received revelation of the fact that salvation can’t be earned, it could only be received by grace through faith- Ephesians 2:8-9) thought. Martin Luther, in thinking that James was telling people they had to earn their salvation by works, was vehemently set against the Book of James!
Surprisingly enough- Martin Luther, The Great Reformer, had a misunderstanding of what James was saying. When we look at what Paul was saying throughout his Epistles and what James states here, we can rest assured that there isn’t a contradiction between Paul and James.
When we look at passages in Scripture where Paul is talking about receiving eternal salvation before God and being made in right standing before Him (justification), Paul does mention that we cannot earn it no matter how many “good deeds” we try in order to impress God. The reason can be found in Romans 5:12-17 where it states how we were all born in sin because of Adam. In Romans 3:9-26, we discover that we have no righteousness of our own and we see our need of Yeshua’s salvation He gave us through the cross/His death/His resurrection in order to save us from eternal destruction. We find in Romans 6:23 that because of our sins before God, the wages we earn is actually death. Yet, the gift of salvation that Yeshua offers us is absolutely free! So if we try to earn our right standing before God, we are going to fall short by far. (Romans 3:23) Yeshua is the only One Who truly paid the full price for our sins before God. Yeshua was absolutely without sin at all! He, Who was without sin at all, was the only One Who could adequately take our place and receive our penalty before God thus setting us free if we truly put our trust in Messiah Yeshua! (Colossians 2:10-15)
An illustration: Let’s say Tim owed Bill billions of dollars and Tim was only able to pay Bill a few dollars here and there, but never would Tim even come near the billions of dollars he owed Bill. Tim would still be in debt. Tim would still be libel for that debt. Let’s say someone comes along who has that billions of dollars and pays it for Tim simply out of his love for Tim (no strings attached). He gives Tim a check in the full amount and even writes it out to Bill. He just wants Tim to trust that he indeed has that money in the bank and to bring it to Bill. Tim could never pay off his debt by what he earned. Yet by trusting the person who wrote the check and bringing it to Bill, Tim’s debt gets paid off!
Now, how does what Paul says relate to what James is saying about the importance of works when it comes to our justification before God? Notice how James doesn’t talk about works apart from faith, he is talking about works being a product of real faith. When James says that were justified by works and not faith only (James 2:24), notice the phrase “and not faith only”. He is basically saying throughout this passage that a faith that doesn’t produce works (actions) is not faith at all. So of course a person who has a fake faith will not have real justification before God.
As for real faith producing good works, Paul also mentions this fact in Romans 6, 2 Corinthians 5:17, and Ephesians 2– where we find out that if we indeed put our trust (faith) in Yeshua and His work of salvation for us, God will do a transformation in us that will make us new and will produce good works out of us! So- it is very true that if people say they have faith in Jesus and are living in as much darkness as they ever had, it’s safe to say that those people never put their faith in Yeshua or His Salvation. Often, Paul would mention the importance of living that transformed holy life before God. He would base it on that mighty transformation that comes out of truly receiving Yeshua’s Salvation by faith. (This is demonstrated in Ephesians 4:17-32.) Paul also shows that if we truly have the Holy Spirit in operation in our lives and we are truly in relationship with Him, our characters would be transformed showing God’s character in our lives. (Galatians 5:22-25– The Fruit of The Spirit and Life in The Spirit)
Notice what James is actually saying in this passage. He is not saying that we can earn our salvation through works (our actions). He’s saying that if someone has a real faith in Yeshua, it will produce good works. This is inline with Paul’s writings as we saw earlier. We can also see it demonstrated throughout 1 John.
To sum it up, there is no contradiction here. This passage of James fits in with the totality of Scripture where we find that true faith will produce definite action. This is further demonstrated in Hebrews 11 which is known as “The Faith Chapter”. Here we see repeated over and over: “By faith…” and then some sort of action.
- Verse 16– The statement- “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled” (NKJV) could look like a declaration of faith being said over a brother or sister who is destitute. When looking into the Greek text, we see it’s not quite so. Actually, it’s more of an empty statement like saying to a brother or sister who is destitute- “Cheer up, Bucko! Go get yourself warm and go get yourself something to eat.” when that person doesn’t have the means to obtain warmth or food. It’s almost like seeing a brother or sister who is homeless and tersely saying, “Get yourself a job.” although this statement in James 2:16 is a bit kinder than that!
- Verse 16 – 17– Notice the example James gave about saying to a brother or sister who is destitute “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled” (NKJV) while leaving that brother or sister cold and hungry. We can see words that are empty with no action at all. It’s just words. That’s the way it is when we say we have faith, but have no actions to show our faith. We are just mouthing empty words. It makes perfect sense that James would call that kind of “faith”- dead (lifeless).
- Verse 19– James was referring to an integral part of the Jewish creed, if you will. Regularly, for centuries, Jews have recited what is called The Sh’ma (Shǝ-mä – which means to hear/give heed and is the first word in that declaration). It’s a reciting of Deuteronomy 6:4 which states- “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (NKJV). In other words, it’s like James stating to them- “You declare that “God is one” as your faith’s decree. That’s a good thing, but even demons believe that- and it terrifies them [Greek: terrifies them with a horror that makes one’s hair stand on end]”
Of interesting note. Many Jewish people back then and even today do what is called “Laying Tefillin”. Tefillin (pronounced tǝ-fē-lēn; American Jews usually pronounce it tǝ-fĭl-ĭn) are called Phylacteries in The New Covenant Scriptures. They contain a box with straps. The box has passages of Scriptures containing the command to “wear” God’s Word on our foreheads in them. This box is strapped to the forehead and the straps are wound around each arm up to the hands. One of the passages in this box is:
4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NKJV)
Jewish people would put this on (Lay Tefillin) in the morning while reciting the Scripture passages that are in the box. I bring this up because if we look at what follows the declaration of how God is one God- we see a statement of loving God with all that we are, having God’s Word in our hearts, having God’s word in our mouths, passing God’s Word onto the next generation, and totally immersing ourselves in His Word! If someone was really following that passage of Scripture, it would be very evident in his actions.
- Verse 21– This verse refers to a passage of Scripture (Genesis 22) that traditionally is recited regularly among Jewish people. It was a very important event in our history before God.
- Verse 23– This passage is referring to Genesis 15:6; 2 Chronicles 20:7; and Isaiah 41:8.
- Verse 21 – 24– As mentioned previously- if we were to glance at Romans 4 and then glance here at this passage, we might wonder how they fit together. Yet, when reading Genesis 15, Genesis 22, and Hebrews 11:17-19– it makes a lot more sense! Through these passages of Scripture- we find that Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of innumerable descendants through his son Isaac was so firm that when God said “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2 NKJV), Abraham set out to do exactly that convinced that God would raise his son Isaac from the dead in order to keep His promise! (Hebrews 11:17-19) Wow! That truly is living faith! It was this type of faith God accounted to Abraham for righteousness! (Genesis 15:6)
- Verse 25– This Scripture is referring to Joshua chapter 2. For deeper insight, you can read Joshua 2; Joshua 6; and Hebrews 11:31.