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Galatians 5:16-23 teaches that at any moment we are either walking by the Holy Spirit or according to the sin nature. Walking by the Spirit, enjoying fellowship with God, walking in the light are virtually synonymous. During these times, the Holy Spirit is working in us to illuminate our minds to the truth of Scripture and to challenge us to apply what we learn. But when we sin, we begin to live based on the sin nature. Our works do not count for eternity. The only way to recover is to confess (admit, acknowledge) our sin to God the Father and we are instantly forgiven, cleansed, and recover our spiritual walk (1 John 1:9). Please make sure you are walking by the Spirit before you begin your Bible study, so it will be spiritually profitable.

James 2:1-4 by Robert Dean
Duration:1 hr 4 mins 55 secs

The Prejudiced Usher, Doctrine of the Poor
James 2:1-4

Romans 4:5 NASB "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness." James 2:24 NASB "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." Therein lies what many perceive to be a major contradiction in the Bible. Many say that James is contradicting Paul. Paul says that we are saved by faith alone in Christ alone; James says, on the contrary we are justified by works and not by faith alone. What does that mean? That is the question we will be answering as we get into this chapter of James that is so crucial to understanding so many things about the unique spiritual life that God has provided for us in this church age, and the significance and importance of spiritual growth. As we get into this chapter we need to stop and take a bird's eye view.

Seven points of observation that we need to take into account if we are going to correctly interpret this chapter

1)  We need to remind ourselves of the purpose of the epistle. This is found in James 1:2-4 NASB "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have {its} perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." If you don't understand the relationship of that statement to the rest of the epistle you will screw up in the way you interpret this epistle. The rest of this epistle is designed to teach us all the mandates and principles we need in order to have real joy, surpassing happiness and stability in the midst of testing.

2)  We have to understand the meaning of faith. We have seen that it has an active and a passive sense. Furthermore, the word PISTIS [pistij] is used 16 times in the epistle. What is instructive is how that is spread out. It is used first in 1:3—the testing of your faith [doctrine]. There is has that objective sense. The next time it is used is in 1:6—but let him ask by means of faith. There it is the other sense, the faith-rest drill sense. It is used again at the end of chapter five. That leaves 13 other uses of the word faith, and they are all used in chapter two. So what is the purpose of chapter two to teach us something about this word? The important question is, how is PISTIS to be understood in chapter two? Is it to be understood as in the act of trusting in the sense of the faith-rest drill, or is it in the passive sense, the doctrine that is believed? This becomes clear when we look at how it is used in the first verse of chapter two: "My brethren, do not hold [e)xw = to have and to hold] your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with {an attitude of} personal favoritism." You are holding something; you are holding content, so the faith here is not faith-rest drill, it is doctrine. It is almost a sense of apply because, remember, the thrust of this section from 1:21-2:26 is the application of doctrine: "Demonstrate yourselves to be appliers of the word, and not merely hearers…"

3)  The meaning of the word SOZO [swzw], the verb which means to deliver, to save, to heal. SOTER [swthr] is the noun, which means savior. James 2:14 NASB "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save [deliver] him?" Is this talking about deliverance it eternity from the lake of fire, or are we talking about deliverance from temporal death. If we go back to the context we see that "save" is used earlier in 1:21 where it says, "Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and {all} that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls." We saw that that phrase refers to phase two salvation. The word SOZO is used in all three stages of God's plan. Its meaning in James chapter two has to do with phase two, how we are saved from the power of sin in our life.

4)  Failure to experience this in our life leads to judgment in the sense of divine discipline. So we have to also analyse the use of the term "judgment" in this passage. Verse 13 says, "For judgment {will be} merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment." Verses 12 & 13 draw the conclusion to the first part of the chapter. The chapter opens with an illustration about an usher who shows prejudice or favouritism toward the wealthy man who comes to church over the poor man. If this judgment in v. 13 has to do with salvation from eternity in the lake of fire then if you show a little favouritism to anybody you are going to spend eternity in the lake of fire. That is how this passage is almost always handled because of the mistake of thinking that SOZO relates to phase one instead of phase two. That can't be accepted on the basis of anything in the Scriptures. If this is not eternal judgment then the issue is divine discipline in the life of the believer, and that is really going to be a strong exhortation for all of us in this chapter.

5)  We have to look at the illustration that is right in the middle of this, which is drawn from Leviticus 19:8, the command, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself." That is the interpretive linchpin of this entire section. The failure to obey it in Leviticus was never penalized by the lake of fire and eternal condemnation, but divine discipline on Israel in the land. Which means that its application for us is not eternity in the lake of fire, but failure to apply it means divine discipline in time.

6)  We will have to look at impersonal love for all mankind or unconditional love because that is the core concept of doctrine in verse 8. But it is preceded in v. 5 by the phrase "…heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" So we will see the connection again as we saw back in chapter one between personal love for God the Father and impersonal love for all mankind. That is the connection between 2:5 and 1:12. In 2:5 the subject is inheritance but it is inheritance of the kingdom to those who love Him. That is not for all believers and we have to make the connection there to what James says in 1:12, "the crown of life which {the Lord} has promised to those who love Him." This is talking about rewards for success in the spiritual life, it is not talking about gaining eternal life and avoiding the lake of fire.

7)  Finally, we have to understand the consequences for materialistic, superficial believers, and by analogy what that is talking about is believers who refuse to have their thinking processes renovated by doctrine.

In James 2:1 we have a general mandate for the spiritual life. This is followed up in verses 2 & 3 by an illustration that is particularly tailored to their situation but has application to us today. Verse 4 explains the doctrines involved and the application, and verse 5 explains how it fits within the context of the spiritual life.

James 2:1 NASB "My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with {an attitude of} personal favoritism." It begins in the Greek with the phrase ADELPHOI MOU [a)delfoi mou], My brethren." It refers to other members of the royal family of God. Sixteen times this phrase, "my brethren," is used by James: 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1; 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12. He uses that to emphasize that he is talking to other believers. This is so important, if we are going to interpret this correctly we have to realize he is talking about spiritual life doctrine here. Almost every time James uses "my brethren," he follows it with a second personal plural imperative, which means he is giving a general mandate for the spiritual life. And every time he uses the phrase his topic has shifted, he is calling attention to the fact that he is introducing a new subject. "… do not hold" is a prohibition, a second person plural imperative plus the negative ME [mh] indicating a general prohibition. The nuance here in terms of the context is application: "do not apply your faith." We have seen that the word translated "faith" here is PISTIS and it is used in its passive sense of what is believed, i.e. Bible doctrine—"do not hold your doctrine with respect to our Lord Jesus Christ with personal favoritism." In the NASB the phrase "with an attitude" is added; it is not in the original. The word in the Greek is PROSOPOLEMPSIA [proswpolhmyia] which has to do with looking on the outer appearance. It came to refer to the exercise of partiality where you are using in a negative sense prejudice, basing decisions on the outer appearance of someone. The word is only used four times in the New Testament and three times it is used with reference to the character of God. It is used in Romans 2:11 where it says, "For there is no partiality with God." It is used again in Ephesians 6:9, "…and there is no partiality with Him." In Colossians 3:25, "For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality." So God does not exercise partiality at all, and since it is a characteristic quality that is completely antagonistic to God's holiness and antithetical to God we can therefore conclude that it has absolutely no place in the spiritual life. As part of God's gracious provision for every believer at the moment of salvation He has given us equal privilege and equal opportunity and it is not up to other believers to make snap judgments about us no matter what they have in their soul as holdovers from the human viewpoint they had before they were saved. That is the issue here. It's that we all come to the cross with whatever our backgrounds are, with whatever values, whatever norms and standards we have up to that point, and after we are saved we are not to use those in a negative way in our relationships with people. This is going to culminate now in showing how we are to exercise impersonal love or unconditional love toward all mankind.

James 2:2 NASB "For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes." We get an illustration of how this took place in this assembly. James starts off with a 3rd class condition (maybe it is true, maybe it is not) for a purely hypothetical situation. He begins with the epexegetical GAR [gar] which tells us that he is going to provide an explanation. Literally what this says is CHRUSODAKTULIOS [xrusodaktulioj], "goldfinger" (CHRUSO = gold; DAKTULIOS = finger). It is important to note the word "assembly" here. James was probably the first epistle written in the New Testament, so much of the mystery doctrine related to the church had not been revealed yet. James has not used the familiar word EKKLESIA [e)kklhsia]—called out ones or the church, the general word for assembly or church. James uses the word SUNGAGOGES [sunagwghj], synagogue, also which generally means assembly. We see the Jewish nature of the background here. [3] "and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool" And then he draws the conclusion, [4] "have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?" The word "judges" is KRISIS [krisij] from which we get our word "critic." He is drawing the issue here in terms of the application of impersonal love and unconditional love to all mankind in relationship to taking in the Word of God. We have a tendency to look on the outside rather than the inside but the Scripture says the Lord looks on the inside, not on the outside as man does. The usher here doesn't know either of these men. He is showing favouritism and prejudice in favour of the wealthy because of how he is dressed, because of his position in society. He is showing disdain and disregard for the street person, the beggar, because of how he looks and how he smells. He doesn't know anything about either one of them. What we learn in this situation is a lot about the lack of character and virtue and values of the usher. This is James' whole point, that when we operate on the basis of prejudice based on human viewpoint standards and the externals of a person then we are not applying doctrine. This usher is an illustration of someone who has not been transformed by the renovation of his thinking but is still thinking like an unsaved person.

James 2:5 NASB "Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world {to be} rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" This verse is going to drive home to us the doctrinal point. It begins in the English, "Listen, my beloved brethren." But that is not how it starts in the Greek. It begins with an aorist active imperative of AKOUO [a)kouw], second person plural. He is saying, "Listen, pay attention to this." Then the doctrinal principle: "did not God choose the poor of this world {to be} rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?"

The doctrine of the poor

1)  Economic status is not an indicator of spirituality. The presence of material possessions and wealth does not mean a person is less spiritual. On the contrary, some of the most spiritual believers in the Old Testament and the New Testament were materially well off, if not the wealthiest people in their generation. Abraham was exceedingly wealthy. Job was perhaps the wealthiest man in his generation. David as king of Israel has phenomenal wealth and material possessions.

2)  God can raise the poor out of the poverty of their circumstances. 1 Samuel 2:8; Psalm 113:7.

3)  There is a special happiness for those who help the poor. Psalm 41:1, 2; Proverbs 19:17; 22:9; 29:14. Note: It is not a special happiness for the rich to help the poor, it is a special happiness for any who help the poor.

4)  The poor are not only delivered by God from poverty but in the reality of their poverty they often see the need for salvation and respond to the gospel. God uses poverty to put people in a situation to destroy their arrogance and their self-absorption and self-reliance. They realize they don't have anything so they have to be dependent on God. Proverbs 14:10-31; 19:17; Galatians 2:10.

5)  It is possible for the poor to be generous and magnificent in the use of whatever money they have.

6)  The poor are not going to be taken advantage of in terms of friendship. Often those who are wealthy have to be very careful that they aren't used by "friends."

7)  There is a special curse for those who ignore helping the poor. Proverbs 21:13; 22:16; 28:3. There is also a special curse (divine discipline) for those who take advantage of the poor. Proverbs 22:22.

8)  Until the Lord comes back there will always be poverty in the human race and it will never be erased. That is not an excuse for some kind of callous attitude toward the poor. Remember, there are two categories of poor: deserving poor and undeserving poor. The deserving poor are those such as widows and those who have had incredible health problems and other adversities in life that make it impossible for them to work and earn a living and take care of themselves. What happens when socialism and government responsibility gets a hold of a culture is that poverty is increased. People become corrupted by dependence and irresponsibility, and that corrupts and spreads and creates a culture of irresponsible citizens who look to the government to provide their every need. It is not the role of the government to provide the needs of the citizens, it is the role of the government to protect the citizens from criminality and from external enemies. Socialism creates a demand syndrome and it destroys the work ethic.

9)  It is possible to be poor and have incredible happiness at the same time. Mark 12:43. Happiness is based on the eternal values of doctrine, not on our circumstances.

10)  The poor are often a target for hypocrisy and are the victims of hypocrisy. We see politicians who are demagogues who use the poor to emphasize their own compassion only to advance their own prestige and power. When you base your vote for politicians on what they do to improve your personal conditions, then you are contributing to the collapse of the nation.

11)  Poor believers have the same spiritual privileges—equal opportunity—as wealthy believers. There is to be no distinction between the poor and the wealthy in the body of Christ.