The tone of the letter changes in chapter two with a rebuke to the believers of their prejudices based on peoples outward appearances. It seems that they were giving more preferential treatment to someone who outwardly appeared wealthy than to someone who appeared poor.
There was a great danger here because it was the wealthy who could afford to oppress them, who tried to buy influence within the church and therefore risk making choices based on material desires rather than the word of God.
The poor demonstrated much greater faith because they were learning to trust God for their daily needs.
God chose the poor people of this world to be rich in faith and to possess the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him. (v 5)
I have gone from being in a very well paid job where we did not have to worry about money, to no job and no income. Although I always tried to be careful and not take it for granted by recognising that my income came from God; I had a responsibility to be wise with it and it took quite a mind shift to accept my change in circumstances.
Initially I was worried that being in a small fellowship, the loss of my giving would have a detrimental impact on the Church’s finances, but God showed me that was not my responsibility, it was His. My responsibility was to be a good steward with whatever he gave me be it little or much. I have been given the gift of time, which I did not have when working long hours to be more involved with the activities within the church. I have learned to notice and be thankful for the small blessings which before I probably would not have appreciated’ they have become much more significant (I could give a long list here of many of these).
We are commanded in James to obey the law of the Kingdom, to love our neighbour as ourselves. That if we break one part of the law then we break all of it. We are to:
Speak and act as people who will be judged by the law that sets us free (v12)
There are some who believe that the book of James is inconsistent with the rest of the New Testament’s teaching, particularly in comparison with some of Paul’s letters and the fact that there is very little mention of Christ. They were written however essentially to different audiences, but the same message is seen in both.
Paul’s letters were often aimed primarily to the Gentile Christians who were not familiar with the law and were struggling to understand that they were indeed saved and justified by faith, as some of the Jewish community were trying to make them live by the rules of a Jewish lifestyle which as we saw in Hebrews had been superseded by Christ’s work and we no longer need all the detailed regulations and rituals.
James’s letter, and the letter to Hebrews were aimed mainly at the Jewish Christians who were going to the other extreme thinking that they had absolute freedom to do as they wish (or nothing) because they were saved by God’s grace alone.
James is trying to demonstrate that we need to have a balance between the two. Yes, we receive our salvation through God’s grace but;
My brothers and sisters, what good is it for people to say that they have faith if their actions do not prove it (v14)
It was no good them professing faith but not caring about someone who was in need if they had the resources to do something about it. 1 Timothy 5 verse 8 shows that even the unbelievers know to do that.
In His book “Unlocking the Bible”, David Pawson shows that we need a balance between Legalism, License and Liberty.
Legalism says we are saved by works; “We are going to make sure that you are not free to sin, by making rules and regulations”
Licence says we are saved without works; “We are free to sin”
Liberty says we are saved FOR works, but they are good works, works of love.; “We are free NOT to sin”
Paul says in Romans 6;
Should we continue to live in sin so that God’s grace will increase? Certainly not! we have died to sin – how then can we go on living in it? V 1-2
And in Ephesians;
God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. (Ephesians 2 v 10
So Paul and James were both in agreement that there had to be a demonstration of our faith in the way that we live.
James uses the examples of Abraham and Rahab as we saw also in Hebrews 11. They were from completely different cultures and backgrounds of morality but both were rewarded by acting on their faith. Rahab would not have escaped and been allowed to share in the promised Kingdom if she had not acted on the instructions given to her.
So again we are reminded that our faith demands action – it is living and active.
Quotes from The Good News Bible.