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Bible: What Does James 2 Teach Us About Partiality and A Working Faith?

Updated on July 21, 2016

Do Not Show Partiality Toward The Rich

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James 2: Show No Partiality/The Proper Understanding of the Relationship Between Faith and Works

James 2

Do Not Be Partial Toward the Rich

Addressing his Hebrew Christian friends again as “my brethren”—a designation sometimes indicating that the author is changing the topic—, James commands them not to show partiality when they assemble to worship their “glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). He reasons that if they accord special privileges to people of wealth and position while denigrating people of little means (vv. 2-3), then they are obviously demonstrating that they value the rich worshiper over the poor (v. 4). [One who caters to the rich does so to obtain some favor in return; this attitude constitutes an “evil motive.”]

Seeking diplomatically and graciously to make a critical point, James first addresses his readers as “my beloved brethren” (v. 5a), and then argues that God has chosen (more?) poor people to receive salvation (“to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him”) than He has rich ones [v. 5b]. [Why has God chosen more poor sinners than He has rich ones? Was it simply because He wanted to do so?] The writer then states baldly that the latter treat shabbily those whom God has chosen to favor with eternal life (v. 6a). Afterwards, James attempts to reason with his Jewish brethren using rhetorical questions, suggesting the incongruity of showing respect to those who would not only confiscate their last denarii if they could, but who would also show contempt for Jesus (vv. 6b-7).

James appears to leave open the possibility that his “brethren” truly are fulfilling God’s commandment by loving their neighbor as themselves (v. 8; cf. Lev. 19:18). However, it seems that he mentions this scenario only to make his point more strongly that they were, in fact, transgressing the Law by showing partiality (v. 9). He further substantiates his case by asserting that this one sin makes them liable to God’s punishment (v. 10).

The Law of God

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Faith and Works


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Living and Dead Faith

One Sin, and You're "Done"

Even though they may not transgress against a certain commandment—for example, adultery—, they still break the whole Law if they commit one breach against another word of God (v. 11).

James exhorts them to live like people whom God will judge with the Law that would bring them liberty if they would obey it (v. 12).

The Law shows no mercy to the unmerciful, but God will not punish those who have extended mercy toward others (v. 13).

Discussing Faith and Works

Moving to the crucial issue concerning faith and works, James next asks his brethren if people whose “walk” (way of life) does not support their profession of faith (“if someone says he has faith but does not have works”) profit spiritually in any way simply because they say that they believe in Christ (v. 14).

To clarify his point, he provides an example of this type of professing Christian who merely wishes a destitute brother well, but does nothing to meet his needs.

The apostle again asks rhetorically if that person’s faith profits him spiritually (vv. 15-16).

He concludes that mere profession of faith without works cannot save him (v. 17).

James examines the case of an individual who promises to show a mere professing Christian his belief through his good works if the latter would show him his faith without works—something that is impossible to do (v. 18).

Monotheistic trinitarianism is the true belief system; however, without the support of goodness, it counts for nothing.

Demons possess this belief, yet they fear God’s judgment (v. 19).

Addressing this “foolish man,” James asks if he is willing to admit to the uselessness of a non-working faith (v. 20).

The apostle next cites Abraham as another example of someone whose work of sacrificing Isaac demonstrated the righteousness of the saving faith he exercised many years earlier (v. 21; cf. Gen. 15:6; 22:1ff).

[Ryrie distinguishes between Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith and James’ teaching here that Abraham’s work “justified” him, neatly showing that no contradiction exists between the two perspectives (New Testament Study Bible, 22).]

He wishes his readers to understand the synergy between Abraham’s faith and his works, the latter completing the former (v. 22).

In other words, Abraham’s Genesis 22 work brought to completion (“fulfilled”) his Genesis 15 faith, and earned him the title “the friend of God” (v. 23; cf. II Chron. 20:7; Is. 41:8).

Works Demonstrate Saving Faith


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Saving Faith

Saving Faith Always Produces Good Works

James then answers his original argument by showing that justification (being declared righteous) is based upon a saving faith that produces works, and that faith without works is invalid (v. 24).

Almost as an afterthought, he adds Rahab’s protection of the spies as another instance of someone who demonstrated her faith in Yahweh by her actions (v. 25; cf. Josh. 2:1-21).

Finally, the apostle draws a comparison between the deadness of the body without the spirit and the deadness of one’s faith without works (v. 26).

© 2013 glynch1

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