by Donnie V. Rader
Synopsis: In the second chapter of James, the reader is admonished to avoid partiality, double-standards, and selective obedience; dedicated disciples adopt a radically different mindset, embracing a full, active, and obedient faith.
James introduces chapter two by presenting a problem of showing partiality (vv. 1-4). If a rich man and a poor man come into the assembly, and favoritism is shown to the rich, there is indeed a problem with partiality.
James implores his readers to listen. "Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to those who love him?" (v. 5, emphasis mine, DVR). The CEV translates it, "pay attention," and Phillips renders it, "notice." It means to pay very close attention. It is a call for his readers to develop a different mindset. Let us notice five areas in this chapter wherein a different mindset is needed.
Partiality (vv. 2-4). Partiality is showing favoritism based upon external or worldly grounds. When that is done we "make distinctions" (v.4, ASV, cf. ESV) among people. The NCV says, "you are making some people more important than others" (v. 4).
What is the problem with partiality? First, it is contrary to the faith (v. 1). One cannot hold to "the faith," i.e., the word of God, and at the same time show favoritism. Second, it makes distinctions from wrong motives (v. 4). The TEV renders verse 4, "…make judgments based on wrong motives…" Such judgment is not fair or impartial. Third, it disregards the poor (vv. 5-7). "But you show no respect for the poor" (v. 6, NCV). The treatment the poor received in the illustration (vv. 2-4) is insulting! Fourth, it is contrary to love (v. 8). Fifth, it is a sin (v. 9). It honors the very ones who oppose the righteous (vv. 6-7).
We may need a different mindset. We could be showing favoritism to the rich over the lowly. We could be showing favoritism to the educated over the unlearned. We could be showing partiality to one race over another. We could be treating family and friends different than others.
Double standards. When we use one standard to judge one person, and a different standard for another, it is unfair. The problem James is addressing uses one standard for the rich and another for the poor.
What is the problem with using double standards? First, it doesn't follow the one standard, the faith (v. 1). Second, it is selfish (v. 4). Third, it is unloving (v. 8). Fourth, it fails to treat one's neighbor as he expects to be treated (v. 8).
It is possible that we need a different mindset. When we treat others one way but expect different for ourselves (Matt. 7:12), we are using a double standard. When we have one rule for our family and another for others, we are using a double standard. When we criticize something in one, and accept or tolerate it in another, we are using a double standard. The hypocrite who holds others to a higher standard than he holds himself is using a double standard.
Material priority. In the situations described in our text, emphasis is given to the external, not the spiritual (vv. 1-9). Importance is placed upon the material when one is impressed with the gold ring, the fine apparel, and the riches.
What is the problem with a material emphasis? Such priority is all backward. God gives emphasis to a rich faith (v. 5), being heirs of the kingdom (v. 5), and loving God (v. 8). Obviously, that is a different priority.
It could be that we need a different mindset. When we judge whether someone is "successful" based on his money, we are giving priority to the material (cf. Josh. 1:8). When we determine someone's "worth" based upon his possessions, we are giving priority to the material. When we spend most of our time focused on the money we make or the things it buys, we are giving precedence to the material world. When we think of the work of the church in terms of what we spend on the physical building (rather than the spread of the gospel), we are indeed in need of a different mindset.
Piecemealing. This is where one takes one part of the law as important and binding, yet disregards another part as minor or insignificant. In our text, it seems that those who show partiality (ignoring part of the law) would be strict with some other section of the law (murder or stealing, etc., v. 11).
What is the problem with piecemealing? We must take the whole law. First, the law is a package deal. "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all" (v. 10). "It is not as if he has broken a law, rather he has broken the law. Since he has chosen to breach it in this one particular, he has broken the whole of it" (King 210). Second, the author of one part of the law is the author of the rest. "For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law" (v. 11). Third, we will be judged by the whole law (vv. 12-13), not just the part we like to emphasize.
It may be that we need a different mindset. It is not uncommon to hear one who is questioned about his sin say, "If that is all I ever do wrong, I don't have much to worry about." The idea is, "I have kept most of the word, so I should be okay." Such a person needs a different mindset. When we redefine the law so that what I am doing is not sin, we need a different mindset. When we make distinction between laws that we think are important and those that are not, we need a change of mindset. We often emphasize one part of the word (wherein we do well) and ignore much of the rest. One may give great attention to attendance, yet ignore instruction about the discipline of children. One may focus on being a keeper at home yet disregard teaching on modesty. One may keep his marriage together (for it is for life) while ignoring the direction of the Lord on leadership and submission.
An inactive faith. An inactive faith can't save (v. 14). It is dead (vv. 17, 20). It does not profit (vv. 14-16). True faith is more than an acknowledgment or verbalization. One whose faith is not working is no better than that of the devils' (v. 19).
A working faith. Obedient works show our faith. "But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (v. 18). James gives two examples of works showing faith: Abraham had faith, but he offered Isaac on the altar (vv. 21, 23). Rahab was justified by works when she "received the messengers and sent them out another way" (v. 25).
We may need a different mindset. When we cease working and acting upon our faith, we are dead. When we no longer read our Bibles or pray every day, we are dead. When we no longer worship and praise God, we are dead. When we are no longer charitable toward others or active in serving, we are dead. When there is little evidence of our spiritual life, we are dead.
James called his readers to a different mindset. Listen, my beloved brethren!
King, Sr., Daniel H. Truth Commentaries: The Book of James. Edited by Mike Willis. Athens, AL: Truth Publications, Inc., 2017.
Author Bio: Donnie V. Rader has worked with the El Bethel congregation in Shelbyville, TN for twenty-four years. He and his wife, Joan, have two children. The church website is elbethelchurchofchrist.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.