James Abbreviated: Chapter 2

This is the second post in our series, James Abbreviated!

This one shouldn’t be as lengthy as the first one, but you will need to read the first post in the series because it sets us up for every chapter to come. The summary of chapter one went something like this: God desires for his people to grow to a mature faith, birthed in the kiln of our trials, and shown by the right way we treat one another; all of which is the Christ-like balance between immersion in the world to love our neighbor, and the setting apart for holiness unto God—something we need the wisdom of God to help us navigate.

Before we move on, I want you to take special notice of the underlined sections of that summary towards the end. I got these two ideas from James 1:27,

“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

The first half of James’s sentence (“to look after orphans and widows”) suggests the immersion in the world to love our neighbor, while the second half (“keep oneself unstained by the world”) is where I got the setting apart for holiness unto God. I’m bringing this up, because I think James chapter 2 and chapter 3 are a thoughtful unfolding of these two concepts. James chapter 2 unpacks the imperative to look after orphans, widows, and more broadly, those who are in distress. What is interesting is that as the chapter progresses, it focuses our call to show mercy specifically on the family of God.

Here are the two main points that stand out in James chapter two (in bold), followed by what I think is the supporting passage, with key verses in italics.

Christians must look after their own poor

vv.1-8 “My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. 2 For example, a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and a poor man dressed in dirty clothes also comes in. 3 If you look with favor on the man wearing the fine clothes and say, “Sit here in a good place,” and yet you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or, “Sit here on the floor by my footstool,” 4 haven’t you discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him? 6 Yet you dishonored that poor man. Don’t the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Don’t they blaspheme the noble name that was pronounced over you at your baptism? 8 Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself , you are doing well. “

This lengthy paragraph suggests three things:

  1. James addresses a church of believers (not just anyone). He uses Mediterranean strong-family terminology: “My brothers” (v 1, 14); “my dear brothers” (v 5); “a brother or sister” (v 15).
  2. James brings up a specific discrimination in the church. He points out that certain believers were giving preference to other believers based on their affluence; and points out the irony of the act, accusing the discriminate believer of “dishonoring that poor man” (v 6).
  3. James condemns discrimination in the church. We see this in his quotation of the Great Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (v 8), and roundly exposes favoritism as the antithesis of the Law (v 9).
  • These three points show us that favoritism in the church, especially in relation to those who are poor, lowly, or discriminated against, is a shameful transgression of God’s heart.

But watch how James connects this ongoing thought to the rest of the chapter…

Generosity within the family of God is evidence of genuine faith

vv. 14-17 “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him ? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.”

James is not just suggesting that we come to the aid of the less fortunate in our church; he claims that the gospel demands it! In fact, your faith is dead unless you prove it by the way you treat your brothers and sisters in your local church, especially those who are less fortunate.

Here is how I’m seeing the flow…

  1. James starts the chapter by condemning favoritism. Before we move on, I should explain James’s definition of “favoritism”: it is the giving of preferential treatment to those in the church who can return the favor, while neglecting the needs of those who cannot give you anything in return.
  2. James ties favoritism to dead faith!! Dead faith is another way of describing a false conversion: you aren’t really saved!
  3. (This is so brutal, I don’t even need a third point)

This is James’s essential argument in chapter two; but remember: it stems from James 1:27a (“to look after orphans and widows”)

Just to jog our memory, James has all along been telling us that when we trust God as He takes us through trials, he will bring us to completion as followers of Christ, part of which involves our immersion in the world to love our neighbor. And this is most beautifully exemplified by loving those who are the most inconvenient to love in our own church family.

If James were to condense chapter two into a tweet, I think he would say this:

“If you are a Christ follower, you will love all of Christ’s people”

So how does this overarching theme affects our reading of a single verse within that same chapter? Take this verse, for example:

Verse 5: “Listen, my dear brothers: Didn’t God choose the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?”

After our traverse through James 1, we can make a connection between the faith given to the poor in 2:5 with the faith required to navigate hardships in 1:3. You know what both of these have in common? They are the property of that person whose salvation and completeness is beyond them; whose hair is about to be pulled out; who’s about to scream from utter despair: they must place their faith and trust in God alone. You know who is often in that place of despair? The poor. The downcast. The neglected. The oppressed. It’s usually those who have nothing that consider the gospel to be of incomparable value. Perhaps that’s why James follows up the beginning of chapter two with this exhortation: “The brother of humble circumstances should boast in his exaltation” (1:9).

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB. He is committed to spreading the worth of Jesus in Santa Barbara, through the expository preaching of God's Word, and an emphasis on our Union with Christ. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting People, Daisy Love and the Magic Eraser, or Impulsive Callings: The "What" may not include the "When"

Posted on July 2, 2013, in doctrine, personal, reading, Scripture, spiritual formation, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off.

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