Subjects of ch.1 developed further: low and high degree come to the same place, and faith results in practical walk.
The Sin of Partiality (2:1-13)
v.1 Respect of Persons. Consider Who He was, the Lord of Glory, and a place He took. associated with the poor, outcast Galileans, the Nazarean, No respect of persons with Him! Not possible to rightly have the faith of Him with respect of persons. Partiality destructive to foundation; there is no difference (Rom. 3:22; 10:12).
vv.2-4 Partiality in Practice: Judges Having Evil Thoughts. A practical example of partiality, preference to wealthy. “Synagogues” here, in transition from Judaism. It exposed a worldly mind; looked on the outward appearance according to worldly standards, superficial criteria. setting up as “judges” with biased judgment.
vv.5-7 Two Arguments. Seeks to reason “beloved brethren”. The higher argument first. God’s values not man’s. He has chosen to save the poor, who are “rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom” (1 Cor. 1:26-29). By actions showed their values were not God’s. He chose the poor, but they had despised the poor. Second reason, from their experience persecution camea from the rich. They blasphemed the name of Christ – “the excellent name”. the religious and political elite in Israel were to blame. Partiality is so deeply ingrained, that we show preference to those we know have no care for our soul.
vv.8-11 The Royal Law. “the royal law” was a commandment Christ referenced numerous times (e.g. Matt. 22:39) as summary of whole law (Lev. 19:18). The law demanded a man love his neighbor as himself, yet did not give power to fulfill it. James does not say the believer is under law, Paul expressly decries (Rom. 6-7), but shows partiality is breaking the law, thus wrong before Christ. A legal man boasts in keeping external commands, but cannot separate one from another. The royal law was inseparably linked from the whole law! See Rom. 13:9. The Law is all or nothing. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. The law, weak through the flesh, breaks at the issue of love.
vv.12-13 The Law of Liberty. Called to live, not under commandments governing external behavior, but the heart. In ch.1 the perfect law of Liberty is introduced. The commandment is perfect liberty to that soul, far higher law than law of commandments, summed up in that Royal Law. Judged by a much higher standard than the law. Not putting saints under law, just showing our standard far higher, therefore partiality has no place. Our lives reviewed at judgment seat, not by external standard, but the inside. A present governmental aspect to this judgment. If we don’t show mercy, cannot expect governmental forgiveness. God delights in mercy over judgment (Mic. 7:18).
The Reality of Faith Proved By Works (2:14-26)
vv.14-17 Profession of Faith Without Works: Dead. faith, if without works, is not true. That kind of “faith” is dead, no life in a dead person. “Can faith save him?” … not speaking of reality, but of the profession. The key is “if any one say”, and “show me” (v.18). The profession of faith will not save the soul. An example in vv.16-17, of emptiness of mere words. Who is so heartless to say those words without follow through. No profit in mere words, and no profit the profession of faith (1 John 2:4-5). Justification in James: no conflict with justification in Romans.
vv.18-20 The Reality of Faith: Provable by Works Only. reality of faith can only be proved by works. A hypothetical supposition. Faith and works cannot be separated. Faith alone is invisible, but has outward manifestations. Not possible to prove one’s faith without works. In v.19 another thing. There is a kind of belief in facts about God – mere intellectual assent – that is still dead (John 2:23-25). One can believer in the unity of the godhead, and still have no more faith than the demons who believe the same, with fear and trembling (Matt. 8:29). There is no vital link with God. Faith in the sense of a natural belief, but without a relationship with God through the implanted word. Contrast this with the Divine gift (Eph. 2:8). True faith from God will manifest itself by acting.
Two Examples of Faith. Two examples show faith will always be accompanied by works as the outward proof. Both found in Heb 11.
vv.21-24 Faith Perfected By Works: The Example of Abraham. Same verse that Paul quotes in Romans and Galatians different purpose. Abraham did no works Rom. 4:1-4, and God reckoned him righteous. Years later God tested his faith. James switches the order. Offering Isaac was outward manifestation that Abraham believed God. The faith God saw in Gen. 15 was seen visibly in Gen. 22. An extreme test: only-begotten, heir of promises, concentrated affection. Trust is the foundation of relationship; called “the Friend of God”. Abraham’s work “derived all its virtue from absolute trust in God” (W. Kelly, adapted). Not that God looks for works in exchange for justification in judicial sense; but an outward demonstration of righteousness before man made when faith works in a believer’s life.
v.25 The Example of Rahab. Total contrast to Abraham in terms of background; “the harlot”. Inhabitants heard the report. Two men “spies” in Jos. 2, called “messengers”. In contrast to countrymen, Rahab believed these were messengers, the Lord would give Israel the land (Jos. 2:9-11). Turned against her own people and king, not world’s definition of “good works”. Murder and treason apart from faith; faith-works. Justify, in this outward, moral sense.
v.26 Conclusion. Another illustration. A dead body is not only useless, a mere outward form; it is revolting to natural sensibilities. So with the profession of faith without reality.