Gems From James - Chapter 2

Which Favored Few?

Selfishness and desire for acceptance by a peer group are powerful but destructive motivators. Selfishness is so inimical to the plan and purpose of Christ that Jesus had to speak strongly on that topic: “If anyone wishes to come after Me,” He averred, “let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). Self is to be put aside, and all that remains for the pure in heart is the salvation of souls and increase for the King. Peer pressure likewise is a strong enemy of following truth. This pressure was so intense that even the rulers of Jerusalem’s synagogues, even though they had come to believe that Jesus was the Christ, “were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God” (John 12:42,43). The desire for Christianity to be acceptable to men was a powerful force in the first century church; the pressure was so strong that the churches of Galatia were in danger of being pulled back into Judaism, for example. Thus it was necessary for James to write: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (James 2:1). Some were wanting to use the church for their own purposes and others wanted to be a group acceptable to the community around them, but the exhortation was to refuse to sink to those levels.

“Do not,” the Holy Spirit had said through James, “do not hold your faith with an attitude of personal favoritism!” While man looks on the outside, God is the one who looks on the inside; God loves all the people of the world and has set up a system of proclamation of truth so that those of honest heart can respond. Man gets in the way when he shows favoritism. When those artificial delineations are established, then the judgment of God kicks in: “Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:4). The divine analysis is that anyone who plays the game of public relations image using the rich and famous because of their poster boy or poster girl appeal has “evil motives.” The favored few are those who love truth and are obedient to God, not necessarily those who would win the smiles of Caesar or the regard of the rich.

 

 

Of Synagogues and Glory

“How can you believe,” asked Jesus, “when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” (John 5:44). Glory from man, however fickle or fleeting it may be, is in direct competition with glory from God. Most of the human race, sadly, seek the acceptance and approval of their earthly peers rather than desiring accolades of heaven. But the few who have decided to be chosen “seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life” (Romans 2:7).

In the midst of this conflict is the built in need for a sense of community. God did not design the individual as a stand alone unit, nor did he design the family as a stand alone unit; He designed the housing of the new creature to be a part of a congregation of believers, a working part in the team or body of Christ. Men, in the absence of commitment to the local congregation, tend to set up all sorts of “church substitutes,” wherein these built in social needs are to some degree met. In consequence, there is the opportunity for earthly glory, the possibility of being the biggest fish in a small pool, and this results in the obscuring of the humble servanthood that is characteristic of team effort inside the church of Christ.

The need for community is supplied in the New Testament “synagogue.” The positive desire for God’s glory is met in the building up of this kingdom through caring for the eternity of lost souls and conservation of the saved. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). May all His disciples follow in His steps!

 

 

Rich and Poor

When a man with money and influence walks through the doorway of the church meeting place, there are those types who salivate at the prospects. Preachers who are interested in the numbers game make special mention of the “guest,” he is seated in a place of prominence, and he is to be greeted by all with respect and honor. Others look forward to serving alongside a man of such distinction as he is groomed for rapid advancement to the eldership. His name on the left hand column of the official church stationery certainly helps to establish the congregation as respectable in the community, and a place where other nobility can assemble without blemishing — even enhancing, perhaps — their reputations.

But what does the poor man who has just darkened the door of the meeting house have to offer, in an earthly sense? No money, no reputation, no prospects; all he can do is add to the body count, and such as he are a dime a dozen. Thus he can be shifted off to one side, out of the way, not visible so as to be any further blight on the church’s PR image for the more desirable members of the local community.

Those who make such distinctions, and engage in such behavior, are described by the holy writ as those who have “become judges with evil motives” (James 1:4). This is not particularly complimentary language coming from the courts of heaven, and all saints need to consider the consequences of sinking to such despicable judgment and behavior.

The concern of James can be capsulized thusly: Why do you brethren in your congregations shunt the poor aside and give undue honor to the rich, when, generally speaking, the poor are the ones truly interested in the faith, and the rich will be the ones to mock you? “But you have dishonored the poor man,” was the elder’s comment. “Honor all men,” is Peter’s injunction (I Peter 2:17). Treat all men fairly, and give each an equal opportunity to hear and obey the gospel.

 

 

The Oppression by the Rich

There are certain earthly advantages which accrue to those who are wealthy. Money not only buys pleasures and comforts, but it also purchases power and prestige. Hence, for those who have such ambitions, there is a mad dash for riches, and a dog-eat-dog scrambling for influence and leverage. All this comes under the general heading of “mammon,” and is equated to a form of idolatry. “You cannot serve God and mammon,” said Jesus. If mammon is the master, then God is gone as the object of worship in Spirit and in truth. The saint, of course, is warned accordingly: “Greed,” affirmed Paul, “amounts to idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).

The wisdom of Proverbs gives us a clue as to how the rich operate. “The rich rules over the poor,” stated Solomon, “and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Proverbs 22:7). The wealthy desire to oppress the common man, and advance their agenda through banking and credit schemes. The modern saint will do well to pay attention.

Mammon is a heady substitute for submission to King Jesus. Those who have inserted the letter “l” in the English word God and made it their focus end up totally ruthless in their quest for one more dollar. Using their power, influence, and propaganda organs, they have been able, in modern times, to put all peoples in position as debtors (and therefore slaves) to their banking houses. Make no mistake about it: their war against Christianity is about ready really to crank up, and they will use their push for “democracy” as a cover for imposing tyranny, and “peace and security” terminology for establishing perpetual war against God.

 

 

The Poor and Partiality

In matters of business, it is important to talk to people who have investment capital. Hence it is that there is always a scramble to get an audience with men of influence and women of position. The poor, by contrast, have no investment capital and are not worth the time of those seeking someone to partner up with them in the realm of “buying and selling.” Where mammon is still god, there is a hush of excitement and a thrill of possibility when someone of position and power walks through the church building door. But scarcely an eyebrow would raise were someone from the ranks of common men to come into the assembly. The world is in rebellion against God, and consequently always has the wrong analysis of what is important and how to carry out His will. It behooves the saints to consider carefully the perspective of the Father and to govern themselves accordingly.

The brethren are exhorted not to regard anyone according to the flesh; the value of the individual is in his immortal soul. The divine analysis is that the poor of the world are more likely than the rich to be interested in the affairs of the kingdom of God, and therefore worthy of at least equal love and attention. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9).

 

 

Love Thy Neighbor

The Father in heaven is concerned about how guests in the assembly are treated. He is quite concerned that His children recognize the value of each immortal soul and are not swayed by the casual trappings of earthly station. The rich are not to be slobbered over, nor are the poor to be shoved off into a corner. In fact the motives of the brethren are exposed as less than pure if this scenario occurs. “Have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” was the rhetorical question.

The Jewish synagogue, the providential precursor to the assembly of the saints, welcomed guests. In Antioch of Pisidia, for example, the apostle Paul was conscious of the distinction of those in the audience: “Brethren, sons of Abraham’s family,” he addressed the Jews in his audience, “and those among you who fear God,” was his inclusion of the Gentiles (Acts 13:26). But in the congregations of Christians, arbitrary distinctions among people are abolished. Gone is the division of Jew and Gentile, gone is the superiority of value of the male over the female, gone is the elevation of master over the slave. At the Lord’s Table, then, all children of the Father are of equal station, and none is to have pre-eminence. “So then, my brethren,” was the injunction of Paul, “when you come together to eat, wait for one another” (I Corinthians 11:33).

God really loves the lost, the lost of all ranks and stations among the sons of men. But the All Wise knows that the poor man is more likely to become a Christian than “the rich man in the midst of his pursuits” (James 1:11). So saints are to show no partiality; they are to love all their neighbors equally, and accept with open arms “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord.”

 

 

The Triumph of Mercy

Man has an innate sense of justice. It gets twisted a bit by bias and personal agendas, but every man knows what is fair and right. One of the great challenges to man, however, is that this world is not fair; in a realm where everything is bent and tortured by sin, justice is rare. Hence the offended cry out to God for justice, and plead for justice to be done to their enemies and oppressors. What they fail to recognize is that in the process of appealing that justice be meted out to others, they are also pleading for justice to be done to them. And what they also fail to recognize is that if justice is executed in their cases, it will not be pretty. What all need before the throne of God is mercy.

The Lord is serious about the trials His Son went through in order to bring mercy to the lost. In the language of the apostle Paul, He “did not spare His own Son” (Romans 8:32). He does not, then, intend for the intensity of His outreach to be thwarted by a few snooty brethren who are more interested in making sure that “only the right kind of people” attend their assemblies. “Blessed are the merciful,” was one of the beatitudes of Jesus, “for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Those who cannot extend the Lord’s mercy to the poor as well as the rich will not be able to plead for mercy at the judgment throne of Jesus. God is committed to the extension of His mercy; His mercy triumphs over His judgment, as well as over the petty judgments of men.

 

 

So Speak and So Act

The only true God is quite interested in performance from His children. His mercy is great; He is willing to separate the saint from his past sins as far as the east is separated from the west (Psalm 103:12). But His goal is not the mere forgiveness of sins granted to the objects of His mercy. His earnest desire is that His character be reproduced in His spiritual offspring, as illustrated by Jesus: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). The Father then works His infinitely complex plan, so that while man still exercises his own free will, the events still fit to discipline the saint perfectly, and that all things work together for good to those who love God and to those who are called according to His purpose. “For whom He foreknew,” affirmed the apostle Paul, “He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:28,29). Don’t “just believe” in Jesus, is the exordium from James. “So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (James 2:12).

There is to be no partiality toward guests in the assembly, or with those who are to be studied with. The speech and action of Christians is to regard all men of equal value to the Creator, and earnestly desire their salvation. The mercy of God on His terms is extended to “whoever will call” on His name.

 

 

Faith, but no Works?

Wherever the sons of men roam, there is a lot of empty boasting. Great swelling words emanate from mouths of those who have accomplished little or nothing in comparison to what their claims are. “ ‘Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,’ declares the Lord, ‘and related them, and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:32). Those who claim they have wrestled with the devil in the darkest of midnights, or have caused someone’s crippled leg to grow four inches and be fully restored, are some of these empty boasters. Denominationalists who talk about the miraculous ways in which God answers their prayers are empty boasters. And some who just plain run their mouths inside the church of the living God are empty boasters.

What God is looking for is a vibrant, forward-moving faith. This is the faith that moves mountains, conquers kingdoms, shuts the mouth of the roaring lion, and resurrects the dead from the waters of immersion. This the faith of those who are willing to go about in mountains, caves, and holes in the ground, carrying the torch of spiritual revolution into the recesses of a very dark world. This is the faith of those who have undergone the first resurrection, who are priests of God and of Christ, over whom the second death has no power, and who live and reign with Christ now! “Be faithful until death,” is the Lord’s own exordium, “and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

 

 

Practical Illustrations

The realm of faith is the realm of the unseen. “We look,” said the apostle Paul, “not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18). The brethren occasionally need some illustration from the physical realm, however, in order to be able to discern what is happening in the realm of faith. That’s when, the brethren say, the scripture gets “practical.”

A problem, in the realm of faith, is that some of the brethren say they have faith, but there is no fruit or evidence of that faith in their behavior. Such a faith is not only useless, but it cannot save the professor of said faith. Hence James brings in an illustration from the physical realm in an attempt to communicate the uselessness of an inactive pretense of faith.

The theme of self-deception runs thread-like through the early portion of Jamesmy ’ epistle. “Do not be deceived, beloved brethren,yourselves ” he had written in a previous section, talking about the baleful effects of sin. “Prove doers of the word, not merely hearers who delude themselves,person who pretends ” he had also written. Likewise, a to have faith but has no works is deceiving himself, refusing to recognize that uselessness of his profession. May each examine his works to see if there is any self-deception involved, and may each real faith increase.

 

 

Faith of Abraham

In the gospel, Paul had said, the righteousness of God was revealed “from faith to faith.” This was in accordance with what had been written by the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, “But the righteous shall live by faith.” Each of the Old Testament greats was justified by his faith, not by perfectly performing good deeds. Issues of faith are first concerned with “why” the person does what he does, then “what” he does as a second consideration. The apostle Paul thus stated, “Whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

Issues of attempts at justification by works of the law are not concerned with “why,” only with “what.” The Pharisee, according to Jesus, gave alms, prayed, and fasted. Those actions, which in and of themselves cannot be faulted, can be carried out without the proper heart; and a person who attempts to justify himself by law would simply point to those actions, saying, “See, I did these things; therefore I am holy and righteous.” Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, laying the foundation for the faith which was to come, affirmed that the Pharisees and hypocrites gave alms, prayed and fasted to be honored and seen by men. “Truly I say to you,” He iterated, “they have their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5). “This people honors Me with their lips,” was His quotation from Isaiah, “but their heart is far away from Me” (Matthew 15:8). Right action, wrong motive.

The fleshly tendency of man is to try, as did Martin Luther and as have done all his Protestant descendants, to maintain that man is saved by mere mental assent, and that this is God’s definition of faith. And they hate James 2:24, because it affirms that faith requires action and that without the God-determined action, there is no faith. The question for all, then, is this: If a man is justified by works, where are the works of faith that justify?

 

 

Justified by Works

The God of glory knows the motives of man. From the time that Eve saw that the forbidden fruit was a delight to the eyes and that it was desirable to make her “wise,” man has been driven by “I want!” Hence he tends to maneuver and manipulate so that he can get his way and accomplish his selfish goals. Conspiracies — large and small — develop, body counts mount, and truth is trashed just so that ruthless and driven men and women might grasp their “I want’s.” “Their inner thought is, that their houses are forever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they have called their lands after their own names. But man in his pomp will not endure; he is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:11,12).

Into this foray God has injected Himself in producing something He calls “faith” for anyone willing to follow His lead. The All Wise has put the consciousness of right and wrong into the heart of man, but that is not sufficient to provide solid movement toward faith. God, through Israel, introduced the Law as the next step in the preparation of mankind. “But before faith came,” stated Paul, “we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed” (Galatians 3:23). God even brings the Gentiles under the Law through the preaching of the gospel, that they might be moved to the faith of the gospel. “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). The entrance of God personally into the world through the incarnation of Jesus Christ brought the love of God for each person to the fore, and through this process the Father has the opportunity to upgrade the motives of men. “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory so that your faith and hope are in God” (I Peter 1:20,21). Man is now moved from total selfishness to an upward desire to please God. What a difference, and what wisdom!

A “faith without works” is dead, useless, and cannot save. Without the works of faith the individual is not justified, and if he is not justified, his eternity will be in the outer darkness away from the presence of God. Are the saints listening?