The theme which runs throughout the Epistle is the evidence of faith. In chapter 1 the proof of faith is the ability to continue steadfast during temptations. Now, in chapter 2, it is impartial benevolence. For convenience, one may sectionalize the passage as follows:
- The Person. The “Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory”, v. 1. James shows us the Divine Persons as the Source of everything. In the previous chapter, “the Father of lights” as the Giver of every good and perfect gift is brought to our notice, v. 17. Here it is the Son in His Lordship and glory; and further down, reference is made to the Spirit as having taken up His abode in us. Despite the problem of translation regarding the above title, the idea seems to be this — as the Divine glory was manifested in the midst of poverty and shame, such a usage of the appellation would be apt in this context where respect for the rich at the expense of the poor is so strongly denounced.
- The Place. “Your synagogue”, v. 2a Newberry, indicates that the readers were still in the transition period, from the age of law to that of grace, which is seen more clearly in the Book of Acts. Here the believers were still attending the synagogues, so that the appeal of Hebrews 13. 13, “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach”, was not yet valid. The synagogue was a “gathering together” whereas the assembly is a “called out” company, cf. James 5. 14. This makes evident that James’ Epistle must have been written early in the first century, and the letter to the Hebrews later, and so they are not placed in the Canon chronologically — this is true of other writings of Scripture also.
- The People, vv. 2-4. Three classes are mentioned:
- The class marked by prosperity.
- The class marked by poverty.
- The class marked by partiality.
- The Position, v. 3, was this: the recipients of the letter were tried by manifold trials, 1. 2. Their congregations were composed of rich and poor alike. They were persecuted by the rich, vv. 6-7, which persecutions they did not endure with that patience and humbleness expected of them as believers, nor did they in faith seek wisdom from above, 1. 5. Rather, they regarded God as their tempter and their lowliness as shame, 1. 9f, paying court to the rich and setting the poor at nought.
- The Providence, v. 5. Those who belong to the lower orders of this world always have a prominent place in the Divine plan; see Ephesians 1. 4.
- Who chooses? “He” (God the Father) — Prerogative.
- Who are chosen? “Us” (We are) — Persons.
- How are we chosen? “In Him” (In Christ) — Position.
- When were we chosen? “Before the foundation of the world” — Period.
In James 2. 5 we are chosen by the Father for salvation; in John 15. 16 we are chosen by the Son for service. “Rich in faith” does not mean the quality of faith but its sphere. Much wealth is bestowed on us: for example, in James 1. 12 “blessed” can be understood as “spiritually prosperous”.
Notice how suffering and heirship are related: this is quite common in Scripture (e.g. Joseph). Heirship here is associated with the kingdom, which has various characteristics. For instance:
- Prosperity, Gen. 49. 11-12
- Peace, Psa. 72.
- Power, 1 Cor. 4. 20.
- The Principle, v. 5, i.e. of faith. In this verse we see faith’s sphere, but since it appears more significantly in verses 14f, it will be dealt with more thoroughly in the next article.
- The Promise, v. 5. “The kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him”. All God’s promises stand firm in Christ, 2 Cor. 1. 20.
- The Practice, v. 5. “Them that love him” is a common expression in Scripture, cf. Deut. 7. 9.
- The Persecution, nv. 6-7. It is strange, as Calvin has indicated, to exalt one’s executioners and in the meantime to oppress one’s friends! The upper class often played a part in the trials of believers: for instance, in Acts 4. 1-3, the wealthy Sadducees “laid hands on” Peter and John. Their greatest sin was that of blasphemy against the Name “which was called upon you”, v. 7, lit. Possibly this refers to the occasion when the readers were baptized. The Name was the Name of Christ. It was customary for the names of ancestors to be “called over” a person’s offspring, cf. Gen. 48. 16.
- The Predicament, vv. 8-13, i.e., their relationship to the law. Verse 8a could be rendered, “If you really fulfil”, the idea being that they were not fulfilling the law so long as they were partial. They were to love their neighbours. The lawyer in Luke 10. 29 asked “And who is my neighbour?”. He was either subtle or forgetful, for being a lawyer, he should have known the answer, Deut. 10. 19. The quotation comes from Leviticus 19. 18 and constitutes the royal law, the second of three laws which are referred to in the Epistle of James, the other two being “the perfect law of liberty”, 1. 25; 2. 12, and the law of Moses, 2. 8f. Indeed, it is part of the Mosaic law. Interesting to see is the truth that God always has first place, as He has here, for verse 5 tells us that we must love God, and verse 8, our fellow men. These are the two greatest commandments, Mark 12. 28-34. The second of these sums up the whole law; cf. James 2. 10 for the reverse effect.
Partiality, v. 9, was prohibited by the law, Lev. 19. 15, for such behaviour one was committing transgression, this being violation of the Divine law. Furthermore, the Mosaic law shows up people as transgressors.
Verse 10 teaches that we cannot be selective in our attitude towards the law. As Calvin puts it, “God will not be honoured by exceptions”. Our failure to carry out the whole law makes it essential for our salvation to depend on the righteousness of God and not our own. Verse 11 gives a hypothetical case — the law is presented as basically a unity, and an illustration of the undivided will of a single Lawgiver.
True love is to be manifested by both lip and life, v. 12. If the readers remain partial and so pass judgment upon the apparent importance of the different strata of the community, they will probably forget the judgment that awaits them. In 1. 19 we had hearing and speaking — now we have speaking and doing. What is more, the character of the law by which they are to be judged should make them merciful towards others, cf. 1. 25.
The believer need not fear any serious judgment because he is now saved and is under the law of Liberty, v. 12; yet he must always remember the requirements laid down by the Lord Himself as crucial if the prospect of that judgment is to be met calmly. Here is an example of James’ use of the Sermon on the Mount. The truth stated is put out negatively and positively. If “and” is omitted, see R.V., the statement becomes an axiom capable of wider application, v. 13.