James 2:8-13 The Royal Law, And “Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment.”
Jesus reiterated ‘the royal law’ to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Cf. Lev. 19:18b; Mk. 12:31). It is also meant to take the place of vengeance on our part (Cf. Lev. 19:18a; Dt. 32:35). James also reiterates this law, as did Paul (v. 8 Cf. Rom. 13:9). To show partiality, as he has been saying, goes contrary to this law (Cf. vv. 1-7). To do so is a sin, and thus those who show partiality “are convicted by the law as transgressors” (v. 9 Cf. Dt. 1:17). On this point James laid down a principle which Moses and Paul also laid down that, “whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (v. 10 Cf. Dt. 27:26; Gal. 3:10), whether that is murder or adultery (v. 11 Cf. Ex. 20:13-14; Dt. 5:17-18). The law is a law of liberty by showing us our true condition, and laying down for us the perfect standard, both of which should drive us to the Lord of glory (v. 12). In the Lord alone there is mercy, and if we are truly in Him, we too must show mercy. “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (v. 13 Cf. Pr. 21:13; Mic. 7:18).
James 2:1-7 The Lord Of Glory, Sovereign Grace, And Equality.
James again addresses his readers as ‘brethren’. He hopes the best for them, as those who “hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory,” without partiality (v. 1). So, our faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ specifically, and He is the Lord of glory (Cf. I Cor. 2:7). Calling Jesus ‘the Lord of glory,’ echoes Psalm 24, a psalm extolling the character and majesty of the Creator God, the King who also acts in history on behalf of His people as ‘the Lord of hosts’. The law describes righteousness as the opposite of partiality, which refers to regarding people according to their station in life (Cf. Lev, 19:15). This is one example of why James regarded the law as a “perfect law of liberty,” because as law it enforced the equality of persons, in particular in regard to one’s wealth or lack thereof. The man who entered their assembly with gold rings and fine apparel, should not be treated any differently than a poor man and his clothes (vv. 2-3). To treat these people differently, is to judge them “with evil thoughts” (v. 4). “Though God calls us to discern and to discriminate between good and evil, discrimination based on mere externals such as economic status, racial or ethnic differences, and the like is considered an evil form of judgment” (NGSB p.1960).
James now asks his readers or hearers to ‘listen’, and calls them “beloved brethren” (v. 5a). So he is urging them as fellow believers, and not as those who are outside the faith. However, their behaviour has been contrary to that which the Lord required of them. He reminds them that God has “chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith” (v. 5b). So it is not the wise or rich or anyone else who choose God, but it is God who chooses, and some of those whom He chooses are “the poor of this world.” His readers were presuming to make a judgement which was not theirs to make. The fact of the matter is that God does choose some of the poor of this world to be rich in faith, “and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him” (v. 5cd). “We love Him because He first loved us” (I Jn. 4:19). Having thus been chosen by Him out of shear grace, He shows the extent of that love by also making us heirs of the kingdom-the promise of the covenants. By and large, it was the rich who oppressed them and took them before the courts, and blasphemed the name of the Lord (vv. 6-7). “Inheritance in the kingdom is based on God’s sovereign election. The standards of this world have no influence on God’s gracious election (1 Cor. 1:28, 29; Eph. 1:4)” (NGSB p. 1960).
James 1:21-27 Doers Of The Word.
People are only saved if they receive the implanted word with meekness (v. 21b). Meekness speaks to the need for humility, because we also know that it is through God’s sovereign will that “He brought us forth by the word of truth” (v. 18a). The proof that someone has received the implanted word is that one is a doer and not a hearer only. To think that hearing is enough is to deceive oneself into believing that a changed life is not the intended result (v. 22 Cf. Mt. 7:7:21-29; Col. 3:10). It is also true that with faith there must also always be repentance, the laying “aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness” (v. 21a Cf. Col. 3:8-9). James uses the image of a mirror because like a mirror, the scriptures alone give us a true picture of ourselves (v. 23 Cf. Lk. 6:46-49). If we are true converts, it reminds us of who we were (v. 24). Just as one who looks at themselves in a mirror and forgets what they look like, so is the person who looks at or hears the word, and does not accept its verdict of their condition. Without the sovereign will of God, sinful people will inevitably deceive themselves.
“But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (v. 25 Cf. 2:12). When people look at or hear sources other than the word, they do not get a true image of themselves. For those whom God has brought forth, the whole of scripture is a “perfect law of liberty,” because it does give us a true picture of ourselves. James also makes the point that one is truly brought forth by God if one continues in the word. The word stipulates the need to change both one’s thought and actions. To not be a doer is to forget what is read or heard. But to be a doer of the word, is to be blessed in what one does (Cf. Ps. 34:12-13; Jn. 13:17). One should not imagine that words aren’t as important as deeds, for one’s words are a form of deeds. To fail to “bridle” the tongue, is to deceive the heart, or the core of who we are. Such religion is useless-it accomplishes nothing (v. 26). Pure and undefiled religion is that which shows itself in visiting those in need, and keeping “oneself unspotted from the world” (v. 27 Cf. Is. 1:17; Mt. 25:34-36).
James 1:19 Hear Before Speaking And Acting.
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (v. 19). With the words “so then” at the start of this verse, James refers back to what he said about believers being the “firstfruits of His creation.” James also makes clear that he regards his readers as “beloved brethren,” and three things are noted as to what should mark out the beloved. First of all we should be “swift to hear.” The word for ‘swift’ is ‘tachus’, which means to be prompt or ready. So our first instinct when someone speaks should be to be prompt and ready to hear what someone has to say, and by what follows, to hear before we act. Secondly, we must be slow to speak. If we are truly ready to hear, we will not presume to speak until we have heard the person out who is speaking. To begin speaking before having listened attentively, is to not really hear what someone is saying. It is also true that the more we say, the more there is an opportunity to sin. “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Pr. 10:19 Cf. Pr.17:27). Jesus said, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Mt. 5:37). Finally, just as it is important to delay speaking until one has let another to fully speak, by the same measure it is equally important to fully discuss a matter before one acts. Our goal must be “the righteousness of God,” and not “the wrath of man.” “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Pr. 16:32).
James 1:9-18 Enduring Temptation.
James appears to be comparing a “brother” of modest means, with the rich outside the faith (vv. 9-10. The “rich” here are not referred to as brothers, rather, they are those who seek to be rich through their many pursuits (v. 11). James then enters upon the subject of temptations, which one might regard as a species of trials. Blessing comes to those who endure temptation (v. 12). It is a sign that one is in covenant with the Lord, wherein the Lord promises life to those who love Him. The temptation which James is referring to is the temptation to sin, this is why he says that “God cannot be tempted by evil” (v. 13). Fallen human beings are drawn away by sinful desires which gives birth to sin and death (vv. 14-15). James said all this in order to warn his “beloved brethren” (v. 16). God does not change, He cannot sin, and therefore He only gives that which is good (v. 17). Finally James states categorically how one comes to be in covenant with God-it is by God’s “own will,” and not our own, and through His word alone (v. 18ab). It is through these that we are His planting, “a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (v. 18c).
James 1:1-8 Trials, Wisdom, Faith, And Patience.
James, the Lord’s brother, seems to have taken the lead among the Jewish converts, but even though he greets “the twelve tribes” which were scattered abroad, his contact with Peter would have guarded him against thinking there was a division between them and the Gentiles (v. 1b Cf. Acts 10-12). Like Paul and Peter, James regarded himself as “a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1a Cf. Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; II Pet. 1:1). Also like Peter and Paul, James knew something about trials. It seems counterintuitive to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (v. 2). The only reason why one would and can do this, is because these trials are associated with being in Christ (Cf. Acts 5:41; I Pet. 1:6). There really is no joy in the trials in and of themselves. The point is that they test our faith, which produces in us patience (v. 3 Cf. Rom. 5:3). Patience is essential for one to grow into maturity in the faith (v. 4). Closely associated with this is the need for wisdom, therefore James says, “if anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (v. 5 Cf. I Kgs. 3:9; Prov. 2:3-5; Mt. 7:7). However, the asking must be done in faith, without doubting (v. 6 Cf. Mk. 11:23-24). To doubt here means to be of two minds, or not convinced that what is asked for will be received (vv. 7-8 Cf. 4:8).