3:1. Let not many of you become teachers

3:1. My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgement. – Leadership imposes responsibility and James’ warning here of a ‘stricter judgement’ is also applied to himself. He takes on no higher position than those he is writing to, and by the use of the word ‘we’ he includes himself in this statement.

My brethren – see notes for 1:2 and 2:1

let not many of you become teachers – The King James reads ‘be not many masters’. The Greek word given here is didaskalos (Strongs G # 1320). It simply means instructors or teachers – those who have ‘mastered’ the knowledge of a topic. Teaching brings about a huge responsibility. It is a role that needs accountability. James may have been writing this warning because people may have been presumptuous in assuming the role of teacher and shepherd without the express gifting of such. Some expositors believe that James may have been addressing pastoral problems that were occurring in the churches. These included;

  1. The Upholding of Jewish Traditions

Many Jewish parents ambitions were to have their children become teachers or Rabbis – the highest position of Jewish culture. This may have crossed into their new Christian faith. They may have wanted their children or youths to become teachers. James would be warning the church of placing people who are unprepared and uncalled for in such leadership positions. It is dangerous for anybody to take on a position of responsibility through presumption.

  1. The Coveting of a Prominent Position

The responsibilities of teaching bring about a prominence through necessity, not choice. That person takes on a public front that comes with such a position. It is not something that is chosen but comes with the mantle of teaching. People may well have been giving themselves to teaching based purely because of the fact that the position makes them a well-known and prominent figure within the community.

We know that often the teachers were causing the problems through their lack of knowledge and qualifications. The teachers in the New Testament times (and even extending into today’s day and age) were guilty of the following;

  • Compromising Christianity with Judaism

Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised and keep the law” – to whom we gave no such commandment (Acts 15:24).

  • Living lives that were in contradiction of what they taught

Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonour God through breaking the law? For the “name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written. For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfils the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:17 –19)

  • Teaching things that they themselves knew nothing about.

Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm. (1 Timothy 1:6,7)

  • Pleasing the crowd with false doctrines

For the time will come when they (the crowd) will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 4:3 – 5)

The whole aspect of teaching is a highly responsible profession, and teachers of the Word are to be judged according to its own strict standards.

2:26. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

2:26. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. – When a body and a spirit unite there is life. When a body and spirit separate there is no life. Whether a body is alive or dead it is still a body. If a body doesn’t have a spirit then it is a dead body – a corpse that is useless. Likewise a person may be able to describe his faith and profess that he has faith but without actions it is dead and useless – a corpse.

Faith is the body. Works is the spirit. Without the two operating together there is no life. How can we check that there is life in the body of faith? As in a natural body where one checks the pulse to determine whether there is life or death, so too by checking the pulse of the works of the Spirit one can check the life in the faith. If there are no works, there is no life that can be attributed to the faith professed.

We are all to have a faith that projects works – a dynamic faith.

2:25. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?

2:25. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? – James now gives another example of this justifying of faith through works, by using an Old Testament example from a non-Jewish background.

Rahab

If Abraham was the one who would have been considered righteous in man’s eyes then Rahab would have been completely the opposite.

Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute who lived in a house that formed part of the wall at Jericho. Joshua’s two spies lodged with her and she protected them by hiding them in her roof when the King’s soldiers pursued the spies. She knew that Jericho was about to be overtaken by the Israelites and so she asked for protection for herself and her family.

Rahab had both faith and actions. She had faith in the one true God. “The Lord your God, He is God in heaven about and on earth beneath.” She is recorded in the famed Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11:30 as one who was saved because of her faith. Her faith was real because it resulted in good works. Faith was the cause of her actions.

The principle of faith and works combining is again demonstrated in this passage. As a result of her true faith she was included in the royal line of Christ, being David’s great, great grandmother (Matt 1:5).


No matter whether Jew or Gentile, the principle of combining faith with works is important for all. It is a requirement to show that a true faith in God is outworked through actions that glorify Him.

2:24 – You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

2:24. – You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. – With the background behind us of James’ appreciation and acceptance of the doctrine of justification by faith, we can now study this passage in its correct context.

Many people have interpreted this verse as James’ belief that works is what matters and as such is in direct opposition to the teaching of Paul. Both Paul and James worked together to keep the unity of the church (Acts 21:18). There is no reason to believe that these two writers were in disagreement over doctrine.


1. Pauline Writings

The writings of Paul in Romans 3:28 and Ephesians 2:8 – 9 are directed to new Christians or even those who have yet to make a decision for Christ. Paul is talking about justification before God, that faith is a gift. Paul asserts that justification (salvation) cannot be earned by doing good works. It is by accepting, through faith, the work that Christ did on the cross. No one can earn or win favour with God’s forgiveness. It is only by God’s grace that it can be offered. Any who tries to work for salvation by obeying the Law will only fail and become more convinced that he is a sinner. It would be an insult to Christ and his work on the cross. No one is able to make himself right. Only God can help him do that.

Paul is writing to warn people about working to achieve a relationship with Christ. Only faith can be the tool that will bring that.

2. James’ Writings

James is coming from a different pastoral position. He is writing to those who are already Christians and are becoming complacent in their walk. James is writing about justification before men, and that faith should be genuine. James is asserting that when one is justified by faith, that his new life will be a complete change and will result in an outpouring of works, worthy of Christ. It is a life of love and serving that should be molded. If a man is justified by his relationship with Christ then he must show that it is a true faith by demonstrating Christ’s love to other people.

James is writing to libertines who are content to just profess a faith in Christ without backing that faith up with action. The genuine faith of Christians combines the belief in Christ with an obedience of good works.


Paul majors on Abraham’s justification by faith and faith alone. James is agreeing with Paul and further proposes that the proof of Abraham’s justification was seen in the obedient life that he led, and in the offering up of his son Isaac.

Paul James
Concerned with legalists who were striving for sanctification through the law – not through faith Concerned with libertines who were content with sanctification through belief without action
A person who is justified before God through faith A person is justified before men through his actions
Eternally justified through faith by grace Justified through a daily walk by works reflecting Christ.

Working together both Paul and James are bringing out the harmony of the Word of God.

We are saved by faith that then, if genuine should lead to the demonstration of that faith through good works.      

Chapter 2:23 – And he was called a friend of God.

2:23 – And he was called a friend of God. – Abraham received God’s approval. He was mightily blessed and became a great nation. His actions corresponded to what he believed about his God. Abraham was able to become intimate with his Creator because he did what was asked of him. Genesis 22 is an account of Abraham’s faith and actions working together to exercise a living faith.

James 2:20-22 — Dynamic Faith

Dynamic Faith

2:20. But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? For further explanation see comments on 2:17, 18.

2:21. Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?

2:22. Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? – James now gives two examples of faith combining with works. This is his teaching on dynamic faith. He keeps in mind his audience of both Jews and Gentiles and gives one example of the Jewish race, and one with a non-Jewish background.

Abraham

Abraham is the father of all who believe. Abraham had to have faith before he could be justified by his works. Abraham was justified twice. Once by his faith, which Paul talks about in Romans, and the other by works, which James speaks of.

The Genesis 15 account of Abram being considered ‘righteous’ was not because of the actions of his works. God had asked him to believe the promise concerning his descendents. This Abram did. His faith was counted to him as righteousness. This is the situation that Paul describes in Romans 4. Abram did not do anything except to believe. His faith needed to be established before his works could be accounted for.

At a later point in time, God required Abraham to sacrifice his son. We read in Genesis 22 that Abraham took his only son Isaac to the mountain in order to follow God’s command of offering his son to the Lord. This must have required great faith because of the details of the first promise that Abraham had received concerning his numerous descendents. Abraham’s confidence in God was so strong that he even prepared Isaac by tying him to the altar and raising the knife to kill him. This is the reality of Abraham’s faith. His faith combined with his actions, and therefore his faith in God was made perfect. Abraham’s faith was complete and whole.

Abraham’s faith partnered with his works, and by his works his faith was made complete. The Message translation reads, “Isn’t it obvious that faith and works are yoked partners, that faith expresses itself in works? That the works are ‘works of faith’?”

2:23. And the Scripture was fulfilled – The original Greek here reads that ‘the Scripture was completed’. Other words and ideas that can be transposed here are; made whole, accomplished, achieved, and consummated. The Scripture was fulfilled, not Abraham’s justification.

2:23. which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” – James is quoting Genesis 15:6. Abraham had been justified at this time, which teaches us that justification is by faith and not by works. Abraham only had to believe God at that particular time – there had been no works accounted to him at that point. After he had declared a faith in God, and his ‘faith tree’ had been planted, the fruit of works were to blossom. Abraham’s true faith resulted in obedience to the things that the Father had required of him. It was the combination of faith and works that resulted in his justification. Works alone will not justify a man (Rom 3:28, Gal 3:11; 5:14). Faith alone will not justify a man. Faith by itself can be considered to be an opinion or speculation – a mere act of the mind to believe.

Genuine living faith is the act of combining beliefs with actions


By faith Abraham was justified before God and his righteousness declared

By works, Abraham was justified before man, and his righteousness demonstrated


Chapter 2:19 – Demonic Faith

2:19. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble! – In an age of polytheistic belief (that is a belief of many gods), the Jews and the Christian were different from most by having a monotheistic belief (the belief of one God). James is now saying that the belief by itself, though excellent, is not enough.

Even the demons believe – and tremble! – James recognises, as did Christ, that demons exist. (Matt 17:18). There is no question as to them being mythical beings or imagined creatures. Demons are real, and from this verse we learn that they are intelligent beings and also have a belief system. James teaches that demons have faith. Is this the faith of salvation? No. It is the faith of belief. The word for ‘believe’ that is used here is pisteuo (G #4100). This same word is used to describe the believer’s belief in Jesus.

The lesson is that both Christians and demons profess a belief in Christ. However, it is what we do with that belief that will determine our salvation.

Many people today believe that they are Christians because they say they have a belief of God. However, the belief is not backed up by a lifestyle, speech or actions. Likewise, the demons have a belief of God, but they do not do the works of God and consequently they are not ‘saved.’ Their faith is a dead faith, much like the people who have a belief of God but do nothing about it.

Born again Christians believe that there is a God, who saves through Christ. That is the faith that they have. They then take this faith and live it out in their lifestyle. This is a saving faith – a faith that is alive with good works bringing about a right relationship with God.

Dead Faith – James 2:14-18

Dead Faith

2:14. What does it profit my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? – James begins to now introduce the issue of faith-works. The word ‘faith’ appears here in this passage some 11 times, while the word ‘works or working’ appears 13 times. While we must have faith the true outworking of that will be in our works.

What does it profit – What does a person gain? Why is it beneficial?

my brethren, – See comments on Chapter 1:2.

if someone says he has faith but does not have works? – The Amplified version of this verse is put forward as this;

What is the use (profit), my brethren, for anyone to profess to have faith if he has not [good] works [to show for it]?

The key word brought out in this passage is ‘profess.’ The people James is writing to claim they have faith. He is dealing with people who claim to already be forgiven and in a relationship with Christ. James (and the church) has a cause for concern when these people that claim and profess to have a relationship with God do not display their faith through good works.

A tree will only bear the fruit that it has been created to bear. Apple trees will not product lemons, and an unhealthy tree will not produce any fruit of quality, if at all.

Likewise Christ considered the human soul to be a tree of faith. A healthy tree of faith will bear fruit of good works. An unhealthy tree of faith will produce either superficial works, or none at all. The quality and appearance of fruit will either confirm or deny the reality of faith in a person. See Matt 7:15 – 20; John 15:1 – 8; and Romans 7:4.

Can faith save him? – James has connected the two ideas of faith and works together. One cannot be without the other. The question posed here can simply be put; “Can dead faith save him?” The King James Bible Commentary has this to say concerning this verse;

James does not state that the hypothetical person “has” faith, but merely a man say he hath faith. It distinguishes the one who “possesses” from the one who merely “professes.” Secondly, conclusions are based on the question, can faith save him? The AV unfortunately gives a wrong impression, for he is not asking about faith in general, but that type of faith which one has who makes claims without producing fruit. This is affirmed by the presence of the definite article in Greek meaning “the faith.” “Can faith save him?” would be a proper translation. Which faith? That which the man claims to have.

So, is it possible for that faith to exist without the support of works? The answer is no. Jesus himself said that works would be required for those that have a living faith. If faith is without works then it is dead faith. If a person professes that he is a new person in Christ, then he must live a new life dictated by doing works for Christ. James’ theme of being ‘swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath’ (1:19), being a do-er of the Word by looking after the poor of the world and bridling his tongue (1:21 – 27), and not showing favouritism (2:8) is all tied up in the aspect of the law of faith-works. To have true faith, one must show true works.

2:15. If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,

2:16. and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? –James, as the ever-resourceful teacher now brings his teaching into a point of a practical daily experience. James has given an example of ‘actionless Christianity.’ There is no joy in his serving and his faith is dead.

2:17. Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – True saving faith is something that will motivate a life into action. If faith is only talked about then it is a weak faith, however, if faith is talked about and acted upon it will be a motivator toward thinking of others and serving them. Faith without action is useless and dead.

2:18. 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. – The objector that James is writing about is trying to cut the law of faith-works into two. In essence he is arguing that one person may be good at having faith, while James himself is good at deeds and works. James’ point is that the two cannot be separated. A profession of faith is no good without the action of works. They are both crucial to salvation. James’ next verse shows the importance of the crucial combination in the picture of salvation.

A Preceding Comment on James 2:14 – 26

straw_fieldA Preceding Comment on James 2:14 – 26

Faith and Works

The great debate of faith verses works is often a very misunderstood principle of scripture and some people often get this doctrine confused. They take the writings of James and Paul and then side with one of them. Quite often what James has to say about the faith-works equation is pushed to the side in favour of the more preferred approach by Paul; “A man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28), whereas James wrote that faith without the deeds of the law is dead faith. Martin Luther even went so far as to dismiss the book of James by placing it in the appendix of his 1522 edition calling it an ‘epistle of straw’.

James and Paul were writing of the same doctrine and they were in agreement. Both however were writing to different audiences and different cultures. This is where mistakes of interpretation occur. We will find that it should no longer be a question of faith verses works but a joining together of faith and works.

James takes this next passage in his letter to explore faith. He dissects it and provides the reader with examples of three types of faith.

  1. Dead faith vs. 14-17
  2. Demonic faith vs. 19
  3. Dynamic faith vs. 20 — 26

2:13. For judgement is without mercy to the one who has shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.

2:13. For judgement is without mercy to the one who has shown mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.

We are now to be as ones who love. We are to love our neighbour. Our words are to reflect our faith and our walk before Christ. We are no longer slaves to the law, but find freedom in fulfilling it through the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling within us. (See comments on Chapter 1:25). We now delight to fulfil Christ’s teaching and commands because love is the new law, (See John 14:15; John 15:17; 1 Cor 13:5-7).

Mercy is the evidence of unconditional love. It always triumphs over judgement. It overlooks faults and deals graciously with people. The Word of God speaks highly of mercy, and implores believers to exercise it liberally.

Mercy Speaking From the Word

 

Proverbs 3:3

 

Bind mercy to your heart and your neck and find favour and high esteem in the sight of men and God.
Proverbs 16:6

 

Mercy provides atonement for iniquity
Proverbs 20:28

 

Mercy and truth preserve the king and his throne
Matthew 23:23

 

It is a weighty matter in the eyes of the law

Our God is merciful, and therefore wants us to be merciful. Christ implored us to show mercy. (See Matt 9:13; 12:7; 23:23; Luke 10:37). A principle of the kingdom is if we show mercy, then mercy will be shown to us. Our measure of mercy will have a bearing on the judgement that we will receive before Christ’s throne. (Proverbs 21:13).

When we live in obedience to God’s word we are able to live a life that reflects mercy and shows no favouritism whether in word, action or attitude. We need to continually be basing the outworking of our faith on love and reflecting the grace and mercy given to us by Christ, the One who shows no partiality.

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