This chapter begins with the warning about showing favoritism to the wealthy, or more to the point, less partiality to those of lesser means. God has always made it abundantly clear how much He cares for the poor. Besides idolatry, oppression of the poor was one of the main reasons for God’s judgment of destruction and captivity on His people in the Old Testament (Amos 2:6-7). If we are the most Christ-like in all things, but show favor to some over others because of their station in life, we become accountable for all sin (verse 10).
James continues the same point in verses 10-13. God’s word is to be followed in all things. Christians do not have the luxury of ignoring part of God’s word. The example of one person abstaining from adultery but committing murder makes the point in the extreme.
Verses 14-26 are often misquoted and more often misunderstood. Paul says that we are justified by faith – James says by works. The problem, as is often the case, is that people tend to “section off” passages of God’s word and either pretend that supplementary passages do not exist, or that they are in conflict. Coffman summarized these verses best:
“This paragraph is perhaps the most disputed and misunderstood passage in the New Testament; but the interpretation presented here flows out of deep convictions: (1) that here indeed we have the inspired word of God; (2) that this portion of the New Testament is as easily understood as any other; (3) that the simple answers are the true ones; (4) that there is not the slightest contradiction between Paul and James; (5) that Paul’s affirmation that we are justified “by faith” and James’ declaration that we are justified “by works” mean simply that we are indeed justified “by both,” and that it is a sin to assert that men are justified either (a) “by faith alone,” or (b) “by works alone”; (6) that all of the alleged contradiction between the sacred writers James and Paul derives not from what either of them said, but from the false allegations of theologians concerning what they meant…”
The point, as expressed in verse 17 is that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Abraham’s works referred to in verses 21-23 did not occur without faith, but rather they occurred because of his faith.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog. All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility. When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com. For questions and help, please see the “FAQ” and “Summaries” pages there.