Category Archives: James

James 2:21-26 (ESV): It’s true you can be justified by works.

 By Spencer D Gear PhD [1]

It’s true clip_image002

You can be justified by works clip_image004

Is James a preacher of falsehood?clip_image006

1. Introduction

It was early May 2015 and our backyard was flooding with water pouring onto it from the neighbour’s property. I needed sandbags to stop the water from coming into our house. To go to the Council’s works’ depot, I drove down Boundary Rd., North Lakes towards Deception Bay Rd. I came to the creek and the water was flooded over the causeway. Instead of trying to cross, not knowing the depth of the water, I turned around. Was I justified in not crossing the flooded causeway? Of course!

In my writing of this paragraph of my sermon, I have used the ‘justify’ format so that my writing is carefully aligned on the right and left margins. I have used the “justify” format function of MS Word for this paragraph.


Daniel morcombe.jpg(Daniel Morcombe photograph, courtesy Wikipedia)


DANIEL Morcombe, 13, went missing while waiting for a bus in 2003 [on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast]. It was almost eight years before his remains were found’. In 2014, Brett Peter Cowan faced trial charged with his murder’.[1a]

ABC News (Australia) reported on 15 March 2014 that

Brett Peter Cowan has been sentenced to life in jail with a minimum non-parole period of 20 years for the murder of Sunshine Coast teenager Daniel Morcombe.

Cowan was … found guilty of murder, indecent treatment of a child and interfering with a corpse.[2]

He was sentenced in Brisbane’s Supreme Court by Justice Roslyn Atkinson. Was the Justice justified in sentencing Cowan to life in prison?

Here I have used the English word, ‘justified’, to mean 3 different things:

Flower24 Justified in not crossing a flooded road;

Flower24 A paragraph of my typed sermon justified as part of its written format;

Flower24 A justice in court justified in inflicting punishment on a criminal, based on Australian law.

Please keep these examples in mind as we examine the language of this passage from James 2:21-26.

(a) Abraham justified by works (v. 21);

(b) Rahab, the prostitute, justified by works (v. 25);

(c) ‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’ (v. 24);

(d) Then Paul has the audacity to state this of believers: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom 5:1 ESV).

1.1 A quick review (James 2:14-20)

Since I preached on James 2:14-20 a month ago, you may have forgotten some of the content. James 2:17 gives a quick summary of this passage: ‘So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead’

1.1.1 Faith by itself isn’t enough.

1.1.2 Unless faith produces good deeds, it is not the real thing.

1.1.3 Faith without good deeds is dead or useless.

True faith is demonstrated by the good works that follow faith. James is not teaching that good works are need for you to obtain genuine faith. But if you have fair dinkum faith, we will see that unseen faith by the seen good works that you do. That’s the fundamental teaching in James 2:14-20.

Now to understand what James is saying that caused Luther so much heartache. It is not that difficult to understand if we keep this in mind the negative aspect in vv 14-20 – faith without works is useless. Now James turns to what a genuine, saving faith will look like.

He gives one example that we could expect – Abraham. But the other seems out in left field – Rahab, a prostitute. These 2 OT characters are as different as chalk and cheese by outward appearances. But when we get to the heart of the matter they are on the same page. You might say: What? Abraham the man of faith and Rahab the harlot. Those 2 examples seem such an unlikely couple to demonstrate justification by works.

To understand James 2:21, we must know the meaning of James 2:20. It reads, ‘Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?’ (ESV).

Now James sets out to demonstrate that genuine faith that is not followed by good works is useless. Look who he uses as his first example.

2. Abraham justified by works?

Faith & WorksNote the entire verse 21 (ESV): ‘Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?’ The NIV translates as: ‘Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?’

This verse refers to Abraham’s offering up Isaac, recorded in Genesis 22. When Abraham was obedient to God’s test and bound Isaac to the wood on the altar, took the knife to slaughter his son (Gen 22:10) but the angel of the Lord intervened to stop this sacrifice of Isaac. These are the works that James is speaking about.

2.1 Didn’t this happen when he offered Isaac on the altar? (v. 21)

What we are not told in verse 21 is about Abraham believing God and being justified by faith, or being counted as righteousness. We have to wait until James 2:23 to read about that.

However, it is critical for our understanding that we know that Abraham’s being justified by works in James 2:21 follows Abraham’s being justified by faith.

We are told about this justification by faith in Genesis 15 in God’s Covenant with Abram. God’s promise was his very own son to be Abram’s heir (Gen 15:4) and Abram’s descendants would be as many as the stars in the heaven (Gen 15:5). Then in Gen 15:6 we have these words from Abram, ‘And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness’. This is where Abram was justified by faith in God alone.

This is the verse to which Paul refers when he wrote to the Romans 4:3, ‘For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”’. To the Galatians 3:6, Paul wrote, ‘Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”’. In these 2 verses in Romans and Galatians, Paul is referring to Gen 15:6 when Abram was justified by faith.

However James 2:21 is referring to another incident in the life of Abraham when he offered up Isaac as a sacrifice, a demonstration of Abraham’s faith in God.

Commentator C. E. B. Cranfield summarised this very well:

For James, no less than for Paul, the words of Gen. 15.6 quoted in [James 2] verse 23 (“And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness”) are decisive. It was by his faith that Abraham was justified. His works (his readiness to offer up Isaac related to Gen. 22) did not earn his justification (about which we hear already in Gen. 15): they were simply the fruit and the outward evidence of his faith (Cranfield 1965:340).[3]

That’s an excellent statement and summary. Even though these verses got Luther tangled up, they are not all that difficult to understand if we consider the context in James 2 and the references to Genesis 15 and Gen 22. In James 2:21, Abraham is stated as being justified by works. This is an illustration of the true faith that Abraham already had. Abraham’s good works and his faith are inseparable, but the works DO NOT lead to Abraham’s faith and righteousness before God. Abraham’s work of offering up Isaac is a proof of genuine faith.

Again, Cranfield said it well, ‘Had there been no works, Abraham would not have been justified; but that would have been because the absence of works would have meant that he had no real faith’ (Cranfield 1965:340).[4]

So to answer the question, ‘Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac?’ We say, ‘Yes, Abraham the father of the Jews, including Jewish Christians, ‘was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar’ (that’s the NLT translation). However, this demonstration of works was based on Abraham’s being declared to be righteous by faith.

The same applies to all believers. Our good works demonstrate that we are already believers who have been justified by faith. This leads to the summary in James 2:22,

2.2 Faith active with works (v. 22)

This is what I’ve just explained and James 2:22 states, ‘You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works’. Or as the NLT puts it, ‘You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete’.

What could it possibly mean that Abraham’s

3. Faith completed by works (v.  22)

arrow-small NASB, ‘as a result of the works, faith was perfected’.

arrow-small CEV, ‘He proved that his faith was real by what he did’.

arrow-small NRSV, ‘faith was brought to completion by the works’.

‘Was completed or perfected’ is the aorist tense (point action) of the verb, teleiow, meaning ‘to carry to the end, to complete like love in 1 John 4:18’,[5] which reads, ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love’. The same verb is in James 1:4 with ergon teleion, ‘And let steadfastness have its full effect (or ‘must finish its work’ NIV), that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’ (ESV).

Faith is ‘brought to its intended goal’ by good works. Abraham was justified by faith (Gen 15) but his faith was made complete by his offering of Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen 22). Your works will demonstrate whether your faith is the real thing.

My wife, Desley, and I really enjoy custard apples. They are grown in different parts of the Queensland east coast and into northern NSW. A custard apple tree is made perfect, brought to its intended goal, by producing custard apple fruit. If you have faith that is genuine, you will have that faith perfected by your doing good works (Hiebert 1979:194).

Let’s use a down to earth analogy: This photo is an example of justification by works for the custard apple tree.



This is the justification by faith for the custard apple tree – flowers:


(photo courtesy

Wherever you have a genuine custard apple tree and flowers, it must blossom into the good works of custard apple fruit.

So, wherever people have genuine faith, it must blossom into good works – feeding the hungry, clothing those needing clothes, and meeting human need. It will also blossom into Christians proclaiming the Gospel. Timothy was a pastor who cared for people. However, what did Paul say to Timothy? ‘But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry’ (2 Tim 4:5 NIV). Primarily, he was not an evangelist, but God’s instruction still was, ‘Do the work of an evangelist’.

No matter what the gifts of people, we need to engage in practical good works among needy people. We may choose to do it locally or through international humanitarian groups such as Compassion, Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Mercy Ships, or many other ministries.

Notice the emphasis of James 2:23:

3.1 Scripture was fulfilled (v. 23)

‘and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God’.

This refers back to Gen 15:6, which I’ve already covered, when Abraham was justified by faith.

3.1.1 Abraham believed God (v. 23)

3.1.2 It was counted to him as righteousness (v. 23)

a. Abraham was called a friend of God (v. 23)

Where is Abraham called ‘a friend of God’? These words do not come from Gen 15 or Gen 22. So to what is James referring? Here are a few possibilities:

clip_image012A close relationship between God and Abraham is implied in Gen 18:17-18 (ESV): ‘7 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?’

clip_image012[1]We know from 2 Chron 20:7 that King Jehoshaphat while addressing God, spoke of Abraham as ‘Abraham your friend’ (ESV).

clip_image012[2]In Isa 41:8, God spoke of ‘Abraham, my friend’.

So there you have a few examples of Abraham’s intimate relationship with God so that Abraham could be called a ‘friend of God’.

Now James 2:24 gives a summary:

4. This means: A person is justified by works (v. 24)

‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’. How is that possible? As I’ve attempted to show in my last message and this one that being justified by works and not faith alone means that genuine faith, fair dinkum faith in Christ alone for salvation, is not the real thing unless it is shown by its good works. Good deeds follow salvation but they are a package. If there is no good works, there is no genuine faith. So it is biblically sound to say that a Christian is justified by works and not faith alone, as long as one remembers that faith and works are used interchangeably as a demonstration of genuine faith in Christ alone for salvation.

4.1 Not justified by faith alone (v. 24)

Miss Placed FaithNow, you won’t accuse me of preaching a false doctrine when I say that we are not justified by faith alone, will you? That’s exactly what James taught because of the compulsory combination of genuine faith expressed through good works. If you don’t have the good works, you don’t have real, saving faith. But the good works come after saving faith. They demonstrate that you already have faith.

Then we come to an unexpected example of justification by works. We can understand Abraham demonstrating his faith by moving to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. Abraham was a hero of the faith.

But then we have this provocative example in a Jewish culture that treated women as sub-standard. Bible History online has an article, ‘Jewish women and the Temple’, in which it says this about Jewish women in the first century AD:

Rabbinic literature was filled with contempt for women. The rabbis taught that women were not to be saluted, or spoken to in the street, and they were not to be instructed in the law or receive an inheritance. A woman walked six paces behind her husband and if she uncovered her hair in a public place she was considered a harlot.

In ancient Israel the Jewish culture was one of the most male dominant cultures in the whole world…. The Mishnah taught that a woman was like a gentile slave who could be obtained by intercourse, money or writ (m. Qidd 1:1).[6]

The Mishnah dealt with the debates on the Jewish oral law that were composed by the Jews between AD 70 and 200 and forms part of the Talmud. If you want to investigate any teaching (such as that on women) within the Mishnah, that is called a Midrash.[7]

Now to …

5. Rahab, the prostitute, justified by works (v. 25)

She is a very unexpected example. Not only was she a woman, but also she had been a prostitute. We read about Rahab in Joshua chs 2-6. Remember the story? Paul Cornford has been preaching about her in recent weeks. Just a few incidents from her life are mentioned here in James:

5.1 She was justified by works (v 25)

This verse from James 2:25 (ESV) states, ‘And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?’

Don’t miss the introductory words, ‘And in the same way’ (homoi?s). And in the same way as Abraham, but what a prominent contrast. James has taken 2 people of very different characters and demonstrated how their faith was followed by works, thus proving their justification by faith.

Remember the story?

5.1.1 When? Receiving messengers & sending out by another way (v. 25)

What were the works that justified her? We know from Joshua 2:1 and 6:17, 22 that Rahab received the spies (here in James they are called messengers). Joshua had sent 2 spies to check the land of Canaan, but especially Jericho. Rahab hid these spies in her house. The King of Jericho went to Rahab saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house for they have come to search out all the land’ (Josh 2:3).

To protect the spies, what did Rahab do? ‘She let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall’ (Josh 2:15). The spies departed by another way and Rahab ‘tied the scarlet cord in the window’ (Josh 2:21).

That’s all we have reference to here in James 2:25, but that’s enough to demonstrate she was justified by works. HOWEVER, where is Rahab’s faith that preceded her good works?

This we know:

clip_image014 Rahab has her name in Christ’s family tree, his genealogy, according to Matt 1:5 (ESV): ‘and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse….’

clip_image016 Here’s the BIG one regarding Rahab’s faith: ‘By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies’ (Heb 11:31 ESV).

In the great faith chapter of the Bible we have proof of Rahab’s faith and this meant she did not perish with the disobedient ones because of what she did for the spies.

When James asks, ‘Was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works?’ He is asking: What works did Rahab do to demonstrate she had faith in the living God? Her good works entailed what she did for the spies, the messengers.

Now James concluded his discussion:

6. Faith without works is dead (v 26)

James 2:26, ‘For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead’ (ESV).

6.1 Just as the body apart from the spirit is dead (v. 26)

What happens when your spirit leaves your body when you breathe your last breath? We have information about this in Eccl 12:6-7 (NLT):

‘Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. 7 For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it’.

The analogy is:

6.2 In a similar way, faith without works is dead (v. 26)

I hope you have gained the message in my expositions on James 2 that if you don’t have works that follow faith, then your faith is not genuine.

So to say that you are justified by your works is using justify to mean demonstrate to be righteous. Just as custard apples justify the existence of a living custard apple tree that blossoms and produces fruit, so a Christian’s works justify that he or she has genuine faith. Unless you have works accompanying faith, you do not have fair dinkum faith that saves.

7. Conclusion

Wayne Grudem, a Reformed Baptist theologian, summarised his interpretation of James 2, stating that

“show to be righteous” is an acceptable sense for the word justified, but also on the consideration that this sense fits well with the primary purpose of James in [James 2].[8] James is concerned to show that mere intellectual agreement with the gospel is a “faith” that is really no faith at all. He is concerned to argue against those who say they have faith but show no change in their lives. He says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith” (James 2:18) [Grudem 1999:322].

Now to some,

7.1 Applications of James 2:21-26 to your life and this church

Let me suggest a couple before I ask for your contributions:

  1. What does it mean to be justified by works? It means that you will SHOW you are righteous before God by your good deeds. What good works should we be doing as individuals and as a church?
  2. No matter how bad your past, Rahab is an example that demonstrates that justification by faith leads to justification by works – the practice of good works.
  3. Is the title of this sermon accurate? ‘It’s true! You can be justified by works!’ Dare I add, true Christians MUST be justified by works!
  4. Now it’s over to you. How can you apply this message to your life and this church’s ministry?

8. Works consulted

Cranfield, C E B 1965. The message of James. Scottish Journal of Theology 18 (3), September, 338-345.

Grudem, W 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

James 2:21-26 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

9.  Notes

[1] Preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld., Australia, Sunday 17 June 2016, PM Service..

[1a] The Courier-Mail 2013. 10 years later, the life and death of Daniel Morcombe (online), December 06. Available at: (Accessed 28 August 2016).

[2] ABC News, 2014. Daniel Morcombe’s killer sentenced to life in prison (online), 15 March. Available at: (Accessed 7 May 2016).

[3] This Cranfield citation is from Hiebert (1979:192).

[4] This citation is taken from Hiebert (1979:193).

[5] Robertson (1933:37).

[6] Bible History online n d. ‘Women in Jewish history’. Available at: (Accessed 10 May 2016).

[7] What is a midrash? (online), Got Questions? Available at: (Accessed 10 May 2016).

[8] The original said, ‘this section’.


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 August 2016.

James 2:14-20, Faith and works, a compulsory combination

Faith Train

(image courtesy ChristArt)

 By Spencer D Gear PhD [1]

James 2:14-20 (NIV):

Faith and deeds

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?

A. Introduction

If you want to prepare people for a potentially controversial piece of theology, what is a recommended approach? James is setting us up to understand his most divisive statement in James 2:24 (NIV) which reads, ‘So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone’. The ESV translates it as, ‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’.

Now, that is not how we learned the doctrine of salvation (Soteriology) from the Reformers. How is James going to prepare us for understanding this doctrine that seems contradictory to what Paul taught in,

3d-red-star Romans 3:28 (ESV), ‘For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law’.

3d-red-star Romans 5:1 (ESV), ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.

3d-red-star Titus 3:5 (ESV), ‘He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit’.

Lucas Cranach d.Ä. - Martin Luther, 1528 (Veste Coburg) (cropped).jpg(image of Martin Luther, courtesy Wikipedia)


This emphasis in James caused Martin Luther to have theological convulsions to the point where he called James ‘a right strawy epistle’.[1a] He questioned whether James should be in the canon of Scripture. It’s important to remember that Luther’s comment about ‘an epistle of straw’ only appeared in Luther’s original Preface to the New Testament in 1522. In all future editions it was dropped.[2]

This is what he stated in his Preface to James and Jude. Luther wrote in German and this is an English translation. He had these objections about James:[3]

1. It was ‘rejected by the ancients’ but he praised it as ‘a good book’. However, he did not ‘regard it as the writing of an apostle’ and these are his reasons:

2. Firstly, ‘it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works [in] 2:24’;

3. Secondly, its purpose was to teach Christians but in its teaching ‘it does not once mention the Passion, the resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ’.

4. James ‘wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but he wasn’t up ‘to the task in spirit, thought, and words’. Luther accused James: ‘He mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture’. Luther said, ‘Therefore I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases’.

Luther had a contextual issue with James and he saw Paul and James at loggerheads, contradicting each other on faith and works. He could not harmonise them. In fact, one of Luther’s famous biographers, Roland Bainton, wrote in Here I stand, ‘Once Luther remarked that he would give his doctor’s beret to anyone who could reconcile James and Paul…. “Faith,” he wrote, “is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith”’.[4]

Now to our passage:

B. Two questions we must answer and act on (v. 14)

Question 1: What good is it, brothers and sisters, if anyone says he/she claims to have faith but has no deeds? The KJV asked, ‘What doth it profit?’ NIV: ‘What good is it’? NASB, ‘What use is it’? What benefit is it if you have

1. Faith but no deeds

This is a question almost of impatience: What good is it? What on earth is the benefit if you have faith but don’t demonstrate that faith with deeds? This section of Scripture, vv. 14-26, is an example of how one word can be used in Scripture and mean different things. Here in v. 14 we have faith used in this context in the language, ‘claims to have faith but has no deeds’. What kind of faith is that? What is the meaning of faith in v. 14? Verse 17 has the same understanding of faith with language such as, ‘faith by itself … is dead. So does v. 18 have this interpretation of faith, with the statement, ‘Show me your faith without deeds’.

But we have a different understanding of faith also at the end of v. 18, ‘I will show you my faith by my deeds’ (NIV). We’ll get to that verse soon.

In James 2:14-26, ‘faith and works are mentioned together ten times in the thirteen verses of this paragraph, but the stress throughout is on their interrelationship’ (Hiebert 1979:173).

2. Can that faith save him or her?

That’s Question 2. The answer, according to the Greek construction, is: ‘No it can’t’.

That kind of faith is fake, spurious, a sham, invalid. So genuine faith, the fair-dinkum faith of salvation, will be demonstrated by the works you do as a result of salvation. Please note what I did not say. I did not say that you need these good works to earn salvation. It is quite the opposite.

Ephesians 2:8-9 is clear about no works can earn salvation:

‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast’ (NIV)

James is giving the flip side of the coin: Genuine faith that saves must be followed by good works. Works come AFTER salvation and not BEFORE.

Now to an

C. Example of faulty faith (v 15):

James is specific: ‘Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food’.

What kinds of works are we talking about? Ministering to the homeless in the Brisbane CBD, drug addicts in Fortitude Valley, next door neighbours who struggle with paying electricity bills? Which works could James be addressing?

James is dealing with good works for the Christians who are,

1. People without clothes and food

6pointblue-small ‘Without clothes’ (NIV). The KJV translates as, ‘naked’; the ESV as ‘poorly clothed’; and the NASB as, ‘without clothing’. The term need not be taken as absolutely naked and without clothes on, but is used of people who were ‘wearing only an undergarment (1 Sam. 19:24; John 21:7)’, or ‘those who were poorly clad (Job 22:6; 31:19; Isa 58:7; Matt 25:36)’. That’s why the ESV translation as ‘poorly clothed’, the RSV’s ‘is ill-clad’ and the NEB, ‘is in rags’ are probably closer to the meaning.[5]

6pointblue-small The other Christians who need good works performed for them are those needing ‘daily food’ (v. 15). This is the only time this statement appears in the NT and it probably suggests those who do not have ‘the day’s supply of food’, who didn’t have a supply of food even for a single day.[6]

starving children photo: starving children starvingchildren487tu57th85.jpg

(photo courtesy photobucket)

We in the Western world find it difficult to understand that there could be such poverty in the local church because of our elaborate welfare system. But that was very real and practical for first century believers. Try meeting up with Christians in

Top 10 Poorest Countries of the World (2015)

Rank Country Currency GDP Per Capita (2015)
1 Democratic Republic of the Congo Congolese Franc $348.00
2 Zimbabwe Zimbabwean dollar $456.00
3 Liberia Liberian Dollar $487.00
4 Nigeria Nigerian naira $600.00
5 Burundi Burundian franc $615.00
6 Central African Republic Central African CFA franc $768.00
7 Eritrea Eritrean nakfa $777.00
8 Sierra Leone Sierra Leonean Leone $849.00
9 Malawi Kwacha $860.00
10 Togo West African CFA franc $826.00


Where are these poorest of poor countries?


Are these the only believers who need help? Pastor Paul mentioned the breadth of good deeds that is encouraged by Westminster Confession of Faith last Sunday (WCF, ch 16, para 1). Ben Hoyt was teaching the catechism to 14-year-olds who didn’t understand the old language and some of the expressions of the WCF from the 17th century,[7] so he has prepared The Plain English Westminster (PEW) by Ben Hoyt. Here is his translation of the first two points of the WCF chapter on ‘Good Works’ (ch 16, para 1-2):

1. Works are only “good works” if they’re things God commands us to do in His word. They’re not works people make up without grounding in Scripture, even if they do so out of blind zeal or with outwardly good intentions.

2. Good works are the fruit of a lively and true faith. We do them to obey God’s commands, and by them we show our thankfulness to God. Our good works assure us that we’re saved, build up our brothers, make our profession of the gospel beautiful, shut the mouths of our enemies, and glorify God.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.” These works bear fruit that lead to holiness, so that in the end we may have eternal life.[8]

There is a precise example of the good works for Christians to do. These are the works that we will face at God’s final judgment, Matt 25:31-46. The sheep vs the goats will be chosen by what the sheep did with good works that were associated with their genuine faith. The Son of Man, the judge, will say to those on his right – Christian believers –

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matt 25:34-40 NIV).

That is a specific list of good works for Christians to do for other Christians. We will be judged on our good works done after salvation, as a result of genuine salvation.

We need to realise that this was the first century and in an under-developed part of the world. J C Moyer in his article on ‘Poverty’ stated that ‘By modern western standards, most [people] who lived in Biblical times would be classified as poor’ (Moyer 1976:830).

An Indian pastor is ministering in India. I read his statement on a Christian forum online on Saturday, 9 April 2016:

Every day i am unable to bare the matters:
1. ministers in fields are with minimum food.
2. villages are without single church to worship Lord
3. Many many villages are not with single minister for them
4. Many poor christians suffering.
5. Every day millions going to die (each 5 seconds 9 people going to die, six of them are not hear the gospel)[9]

I hope you can hear the Indian accent in the English used.

So are Christians only to do good to other believers and not perform good works for the unbelieving world? Not at all! We have an explicit command about this in

cubed-iron-sm Gal 6:10 (NIV), ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers’, AND

cubed-iron-sm Rom 12:20 (NIV), ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head’ (quoting Prov 25:21-22). The Proverbs passage adds that if you do this, ‘the Lord will reward you’.

For James, what were the responses given by these supposed Christians?

D. Christian old chestnut of responses (v. 16):

1. Cliches:

a. Go in peace: Bye, bye & have a good day

That was a warm and kind farewell among Jews (see it in 1 Sam 1:17; 20:42; 2 Sam 15:9; Mark 5:34; Acts 16:26). What’s the implication? That person in need is being given the front door treatment – dismissed with an alleged feeling of peace. These Jews were not mocking others – Jesus used the expression himself to dismiss those who came for help (see Luke 7:50; 8:48). Remember the sinful woman of the city with the alabaster flask of ointment who went to Jesus, wet his feet with her tears and washed his feet with her hair? Jesus forgave her and said, ‘Go in peace’ (Luke 7:50). That’s the phrase used here.

Then, what is done for these needy people?

b. Keep warm and be well fed

It could be the middle voice, ‘Keep yourself warm and get a good meal for yourself’, or it could be the passive voice, ‘Let somebody else get warm clothes for you and feed you’.[10]

But the issue is this:

2. Christians who refuse to meet physical needs: it is useless Christianity.

If you and I have that kind of faith, it is futile faith. It is not genuine faith and, thus, it is not saving faith because it is not demonstrated by works done for believers.

Now to fair dinkum, genuine faith:

E. Faith that is the real thing (v. 17)

1. Faith by itself isn’t enough.

Jesus Fish Chromatic by GDJThis must not be interpreted in opposition to Paul’s statement that we are justified by faith alone (Rom 5:1; Gal 3:24). Rom 5:1 reads, ‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.

James is not downgrading the importance of faith – never. The supreme principle of the Christian life is faith. A person cannot be a Christian without it. What James is doing is showing that if the faith you profess is not accompanied by works after salvation, then your faith is not the real thing. It is dead, useless, ineffective and worthless. Edmond Hiebert calls it ‘inoperative faith’,[11] ‘Inoperative’ means it is out of action, unworkable, faulty. It is not genuine Christian salvation.

Hiebert explains James’ teaching in v. 17 well:

It is assumed that faith can be rightly expected to have works, but each case must be tested on that point. But the illustration pictures a case where that which calls itself faith is indeed without works. This is the fatal defect in the “faith” that James is condemning. The illustration demanded that faith must produce acts of social beneficence. [i.e. social charity or gracious gifts] (Hiebert 1979:181).

James is not teaching that works is needed to bring you to the faith that provides salvation. James is teaching that really genuine faith, must lead to good works. The International Standard Version translates it as, ‘In the same way, faith by itself, if it does not prove itself with actions, is dead’.

If faith is not accompanied by good works, what is it according to v 17?

2. Unless faith produces good deeds, it is not the real thing.

Genuine faith is like a mango tree that is alive and well. It produces fruit. The fruit are the good works to be demonstrated by every genuine Christian with true faith in Christ alone for salvation.

3. Faith without good deeds is dead or useless.

Then comes

F. The contrast (v 18):

‘But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds”. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds’.

Most commentators are in agreement that verse 18 provides the words of an objector, ‘You have faith; I have deeds’, but there is no agreement on where the objector’s statement ends. Some think it is carried through until v. 26. I’m going with Hiebert as he seems to have built a solid case for it. Here’s the interaction:

1. A hypothetical argument:

James is giving us a proposal by someone. From an objector:

Verse 18a….

a. ‘You have faith: I have deeds’

Then comes James answer, his challenge to the objector, in v. 18b: ‘Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds’.

Question to you: Can anybody see your faith in Jesus? No, it’s invisible. But that invisible faith you have needs to be manifested in some way. According to James, how is it manifested? By good works that follow genuine salvation. If faith is not able to be demonstrated by good works, it is not true faith. We can say that ‘faith and works are inseparable’, not works that lead to faith, but good works that follow and demonstrate genuine faith.[12]

b. Faith without deeds vs showing faith by deeds

James has no disagreement with those who insist that faith is central to the Christian life. With whom does James have a dispute? It is with those who contradict him on faith that produces the outward results of conduct – good works.

Remember what Eph 2:10 states? We were ‘created in Christ Jesus to do good works’, so we should be doing them and we will be judged by our works (Matt 25:31-46, John 5:28-29 , and Rom 6:2-10). Our good works are the evidence that will identify us as members of the Body of Christ with authentic faith.[13]

What is the nature of fake faith?

G. You believe in one God (v. 19)

This seems a rather strange explanation. I thought that one of the demonstrations of being an orthodox, Bible-believing Christian is that you believe in one God. Notice how v. 19 begins: ‘You believe that there is one God. Good!’ (NIV) or as the ESV puts it, ‘You believe that God is one; you do well’. There are several variations in the MSS: (1) ‘There is one God’ and (2) ‘God is one’.

1. Some MSS say, ‘You believe that there is one God’. This agrees with the Jewish confession of faith, the Shema, in Deut 6:4-5: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ (NIV).

This is Jewish and Christian orthodoxy. There is only one God. Our faith is monotheistic.


2. ‘God is one’. This stresses that even though God is Trinity (three persons), he is one God; this emphasis is on the unity of God.

Then comes this strange statement, ‘Even the demons believe that – and shudder’. So the demons, evil spirits, have orthodox beliefs about the nature of God. The very same verb is used for ‘believe’ (pisteuw) in,

coil-gold-sm ‘You believe that there is one God’, and

coil-gold-sm ‘The demons believe that – and shudder’.

A. T. Robertson said, ‘Orthodoxy is better than heresy’,[14] but James is stressing that an orthodox, intellectual belief is tragically foolish, useless and not genuine faith. The demons can have it and it’s not genuine. Human beings can have it and it is inoperative faith.

Demon's Face by GDJRemember the story of Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac and his casting out the unclean spirit (Mark 5:1-10; Luke 8:26-33)? Here we have an excellent example of the demons who had faith. These supernatural evil spirits recognised Jesus’ existence and his omnipotence but their ‘faith’ did not change their character. They had orthodox belief but still had evil natures and actions.

H. What good is faith without actions? (v. 20)

v. 20: ‘You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?’

That’s for next month when we will deal with the example of Abraham who was ‘justified by works’ (That’s what v. 21 states). I’ll unpack that then.

Then we’ll deal with the verse that caused Luther to experience the theological shudders in 2:24, ‘You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone’. Judged by what I’ve preached tonight, that verse cannot mean what it sounds like on the surface. That’s for next month.

I. Conclusion

Let’s find some applications for James 2:14-20.

1. We know that faith is unseen by others. How will you know that you or a friend has genuine faith? Good works.

2. According to James 2, for whom do we need to perform these good works? Fellow believers.

3. What kinds of good works will they be?

design-gold-small Clothing, food (James 2:15) and those that show up at the last judgment (Matt 25:36-46).

design-gold-small Thirsty and drink;

design-gold-small Stanger and welcomed;

design-gold-small Sick;

design-gold-small In prison & visited;

4. Acts 20:25: Help the weak; Jesus’ words that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

5. Rom 15:1-2 (NIV): ‘We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up’.

6. 2 Thess 3:10-12 (NIV), ‘For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” 11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat’.

7. 1 Tim 5:4, 9-10 (NIV), ‘But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God…. No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

8. Prov 28:27 (NIV), ‘Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses’.

9. What other lessons have you learned tonight?

(a) What is the place of faith?

(b) What is the place of good works?

J. Works consulted

Adamson, J B 1976. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of James. F F Bruce gen ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[15] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Bainton, R L 1978. Here I stand: A life of Martin Luther. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

George, T 1986. “A Right Strawy Epistle”: Reformation Perspectives on James’. This article first appeared in Review and Expositor 83 (Summer 1986) 369-382. Used by permission. Available at: (Accessed 11 April 2016).[16]

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1966 Augsburg Publishing House).

Moyer, J C 1976. Poverty, in M C Tenney & S Barabas (eds), The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol 4, 830. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Swan, J 2007. ‘Six points on Luther’s “Epistle of Straw”’, Alpha & Omega Ministries (online), 3 April. Available at: (Accessed 7 April 2016).

K.  Notes

[1] Preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld., Australia, 10 June 2016, Sunday PM service.

[1a] Luther’s language was, ‘St. James’s epistle is really a right strawy epistle, compared to

these others [St John’s Gospel; Paul’s writings; 1 Peter], for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it’ (in George 1986:23).

[2] Swan (2007).

[3] These comments are from the translation of Luther’s Works, vol. 35. pages 395-398, available at Matt1618, (Accessed 7 April 2016).

[4] (Bainton1978:342).

[5] Suggested by Hiebert 1979:179)

[6] Ibid.

[7] It was written over the period, 1643-1647. See: (Accessed 12 April 2016).

[8] Available at: (Accessed 11 April 2016).

[9] Christian 2016. The Lounge, ‘Missionary needs help in India’, 9 April 2016, Natha#4. Available at: (Accessed 11 April 2016).

[10] Hiebert (1979:180).

[11] Hiebert (1979:179).

[12] Ideas from Hiebert (1979:185-186).

[13] Suggested by Jim Parker#8. Available at: (Accessed 8 April 2016).

[14] In Hiebert (1979:187).

[15] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

[16] The name of this journal for online availability is unknown as it is nowhere stated in the document.


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 August 2016.

James 2:10-13 (NIV): Break one law and you’ve broken the lot[1]

Image result for clipart James 2 public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

James 2:10-13 (NIV),

10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

A. Introduction

How do we play favourites in church? So far in James 2 we have learned that some churches do it by being partial to the rich and snubbing the poor.

In my last message, you responded to my question: How do we play favourites in this church? Two of you from the floor of the congregation said:

6pointMetal-small Some do it by not talking to one another, and

6pointMetal-small Not being involved in evangelism

I gave you an example of how some churches in Australia, like Corrie ten Boom, have offered sanctuary to asylum seekers. Should we be doing this? Do you think the ten Boom family was wrong in hiding people from the Nazis in Holland during World War 2? Do you think it would be wrong to offer sanctuary in our churches to asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution and are now on Manus Is., Nauru, and in Cambodia?

1. What was James’ first argument against favouritism?

Let’s review it briefly from James 2:5-7:

a. You have demonstrated disgusting favouritism or discrimination towards the poor and the rich (2:5).

You favour the rich and reject the poor.

2. The core reason why we shouldn’t play favourites (2:8)

a. The crux: Love your neighbour as yourself

‘If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right’.

This is God’s law of love of the unlovely, loving your neighbour with God’s kind of sacrificial love.

Now we examine the new verses (vv 10-13):

B. Commit one sin & you break all of the law (v 10).

The NIV reads, ‘For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it’. Simon Kistemaker explains James’ hypothetical, conditional sentence like this: ‘If anyone of you tries to keep the entire law of God, but stumbles in regard to one of the commandments, he is guilty because the whole law condemns him’ (Kistemaker1986:81).

Surely that’s unfair! How can the God of truth, love and compassion be so biased? I’m not making a statement, but asking a question.

Let’s pause a moment to consider which law we are talking about.

1. To which law could James be referring?

Done in Love

(image courtesy ChristArt)

I preached on this in the last sermon on James 2:1-7. It is the ‘royal law’ (v. 8), but there is another dimension to this law in v. 12, ‘the law of liberty’ (ESV, NASB), or ‘the law that gives freedom’ (NIV), ‘the law that sets you free’ (NLT).

We’ll get to the meaning of ‘the law of liberty’ soon. The royal law is ‘the law of love as sovereign over all others (cf. Mt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-9; Gal. 5:14)’. Gal 5:14 states it simply: ‘For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself”’ (NIV).

If this were the law against drink-driving in Qld, it would not make sense to say that if we break that one law then we are guilty of breaking all of Qld laws, including stealing, murder, lying in court, etc.

Is that how it happens with Australian law? What makes a Queenslander a criminal? Does breaking one criminal law mean a person breaks the whole of the criminal law? That doesn’t make sense for me as a Queenslander.

Remember that this is a hypothetical example in James 2:10, ‘whoever keeps … and yet stumbles’.

Notice the first two verbs in this verse, ‘For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point….’

‘Keeps’ and ‘stumbles’ are Greek aorist tenses, which means they happened at a point in time, but that person ‘has become’ (perfect tense) ‘guilty of breaking all of it’ (NIV), ‘accountable for all of it’ (ESV). The perfect tense refers to something that has happened but the person continues to experience the result of what that person has done. So, here the person who stumbles at one point of the law continues to be guilty or accountable for all points of the law. The continuing, abiding result is that that person continues to be guilty.

Remember that James is writing to a Jewish Christian audience and he has already exposed how they favoured the rich and were against the poor. However, he is pointing to this Jewish law that Jesus exposed in Matt 23:23 (NIV),

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin [i.e. small, flavouring herbs].[2] But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former’.

2. Let’s look at some background information

In the time of James, the Jews distinguished between the more important and the less important laws. They considered that the law of the Sabbath was more important to observe than the one against swearing.

Some Jewish rabbis (not all of them) took the view that ‘in many matters a sin was not a sin, or, in small matters, that a law was not a law, and that even when it was a sin or a law a [person] could run a sort of credit and debit account with God, of good deeds and bad, and so need not try to do more than keep the balance right’ (Adamson 1976:117).

Two leading rabbis were Akiba and Hillel and they believed that ‘to wear phylacteries was to observe the whole Torah’. The Torah consists of the first 5 books of the Bible. That meant for these rabbis that sometimes a law of God was not a law (in Adamson 1976:117).

‘Phylacteries, sometimes called tefillin, are small, square leather boxes containing portions of Scripture worn by Conservative and Orthodox Jews during prayer services. Phylacteries are worn in pairs—one phylactery is strapped on the left arm, and one is strapped to the forehead of Jewish men during weekday morning prayers. The word phylactery comes from a Greek word meaning “safeguard, protection, or amulet”’.[3]


[A set of tefillin (phylacteries) includes the arm-tefillin (left) and the head-tefillin, courtesy Wikipedia]


James is looking at an extreme case where a person claims to keep the whole law of God but stumbles on one point. James is not putting up the case that this actually occurs because if we read James 3:2 (ESV), it states, ‘For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body’.

If a person were ever able to keep the whole law and yet stumble at one point, this one case of stumbling (of sinning) makes this person guilty of transgressing the law in all of its points.

If a stone strikes your car windscreen or house window at one point, the window is shattered. God’s royal law, the law of liberty, is a unit. We’ve discussed this previously; it’s the law of loving your neighbour as yourself. If you violate this law of love at one point, you violate love, the whole of it (Lenski 1966:572).

Yes, there are many commandments in God’s law, but if we transgress one of them, we have sinned against God’s law. The law of God is a unity.

On the human level, we know how this works. Penny has broken her ankle. Has it only affected her ankle? Of course not! She will experience pain and discomfort in other parts of her body because every part of the body is related to the whole. I know this from 5 open heart surgeries and what that means to my inability to walk far without getting out of breath. Running is off my agenda. I have to keep my blood at a certain level of thinness through the use of that horrible drug, warfarin. But it helps to keep me alive.

This also applies to the body of Christ, ‘If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it’ (1 Cor 12:26 NIV).

God created the law; he enforces it; through his law God’s will is put into effect.

James reminds us of the seriousness of sin. We tend to minimise it. James shows us the condemnation of the whole law, the depth to which we need God’s repentance. If we break one of God’s commandments, we sin against the whole law of God.

James explains further, with two examples:

C. Examples (v 11)

In James 2:11, James gives 2 examples from the 10 commandments,

Law for the Lawless

(image courtesy ChristArt)

1. ‘Do not commit adultery’, and

2. ‘Do not murder’.

These are straight from the 10 commandments in Exodus 20:13-14 and Deut 5:17-18, although here they are the opposite way around to the Hebrew. Here James probably follows the LXX.

We can tend to look on the 10 commandments as negative, ‘Thou shalt not….’, but there is a positive aspect to them: When we live within the boundaries of the rules God has set for healthy Christian living, we experience God’s freedom, the law of liberty. We learn this from Psalm 19:7-8 (NIV):

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes

Do you get it? To submit to God’s law, the royal law, the law of liberty, we are submitting to this set of laws:

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The law of the Lord is perfect

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The precepts of the Lord are right

3d-shinnyblue-star-small The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes


So, are you an ill-informed evangelical Christian who submits blindly to the myths your parents told you?

Or, are you submitting to the royal law of perfection that is trustworthy, right, radiant and giving light to your eyes and worldview.

The secular world will not understand this light until their eyes are opened by the living God.

Why has James selected the commandments about adultery and murder? They are the first two of the 10 commandments that deal with how to treat one’s neighbour – the very topic James is addressing.

The logic is pretty simple: If a person keeps one commandment but breaks the other, he or she has …

3. Become a lawbreaker.

And God declares that person guilty.

In James 2:11-12, James presents an excellent summary of what he has been trying to say. It is like what he said in James 1:26-27 (NIV):

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

D. How to speak and act (v 12)

How should Christians speak and act? The Greek is ‘so speak and so act’. But, both ‘speak’ and ‘act’ are verbs that are both in the present tense. What does that mean? Continuous or continual action! This is speaking and action as a lifestyle. Keep speaking and keep doing!

We are to do this as people who will be….

1. Judged by the law that gives freedom (law of liberty)

I’m reminded of Heb 4:13 (NIV), ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account’.

We are going to be judged according to ‘the law of liberty’ (ESV), ‘the law that gives freedom’ (NIV), ‘the law that sets you free’ (NLT).

We have already encountered this law in James 1:25 (NIV), ‘But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it–not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it–they will be blessed in what they do’.

Our conclusion there is the same as here. The law of liberty, or the law that gives freedom, is:

snowflake-light-green-small It promotes the paradox of the law of liberty. How can a horrible thing called law be a promoter of liberty or freedom? The law of the boundaries of a football field surely does not promote freedom when you have to stay inside those boundaries.

I love the way Alfred Plummer, an expositor from over a century ago, put this:

It is when the law is seen to be perfect that it is found to be the law of liberty. So long as the law is not seen in the beauty of its perfection, it is not loved, and men [and women] either disobey it or obey it by constraint and unwillingly. It is then a law of bondage. But when its perfection is recognized men [and women] long to conform to it; and they obey, not because they must, but because they choose. To do what one likes is freedom, and they like to obey. It is in this way that the moral law of the Gospel becomes “the law of liberty,” not by imposing fewer obligations than the moral law of the Jew or of the Gentile, but by infusing into the hearts of those who welcome it a disposition and a desire to obey.[4]

So, it’s the law of liberty because you want to obey God’s word. You have been set free by redemption in Christ so you desire to obey God’s law. The Scriptures are not burdensome. You love to obey God’s perfect law. Is it easy? Never! Try writing a letter-to-the-editor of your local newspaper in support of traditional marriage and family and you watch the tirade of negativity, even abuse. But I urge you to continue to do it.

2. I thought laws are meant to bring restrictions and not liberty.

A high view of the perfect law is at risk in March 2016. Only this week I read these comments in an article in the Brisbane Times (online), Religious Instruction in Queensland schools is discriminatory (14 March 2016). This article was written by Hugh Harris. His points against religious instruction included:

golden foward button ‘Religious instruction [in public schools] is inherently discriminatory’.

golden foward button ‘I was reassured by the state government Religious Instruction policy statement pledging to “respect the background and beliefs of all students” and not to promote “any particular set of beliefs in preference to another”’.

golden foward button ‘My son came home singing songs about Jesus, and exclaimed how “amazing” it was that “God created the whole world”’.

golden foward button ‘Colouring-in books with pictures of Jesus. Fill in the gaps – “Jesus ___ you”. So much for not promoting “any particular set of beliefs” in “preference to others”.

golden foward button ‘So we opted-out of the program. As a result I joined the Rationalist Society of Australia so I could campaign against religion’s pernicious influence’.

golden foward button ‘The Queensland RI program fails to “respect background and beliefs of all students” because it fails to offer non-belief. This is discriminatory’.

golden foward button ‘Bible-thumpers not only proselytise kids, they organise outreach camps so our children can “meet God” and have “faith in Jesus”. It’s creepy.

golden foward button We need to put an end to the intolerable incursion of preaching in Queensland schools.

So, the Brisbane Times gave Hugh Harris, a member of the Rationalist Society of Australia, the opportunity to promote his Rationalist views. What does this society believe? Its website listed these beliefs:

It has a ‘10 Point Plan for a Secular Australia’ (The Rationalist Society of Australia):[5]

  1. A secular, pluralistic and democratic Australia
  2. Clear separation between religion and the State
  3. ‘One law for all’, with no recognition of parallel legal systems
  4. Religious organisations subject to the same laws as other organisations
  5. Children not to suffer because of the religious views of their parents
  6. Education to be strictly secular, not promoting any particular religion
  7. No discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex, sexuality or gender identity
  8. Freedom of reproductive choice, with no religious interference
  9. Healthcare available to all regardless of the religious views of the provider
  10. Guaranteed control over one’s own body, free from religious interference, when facing the end of life.

I ask you: Why is the 10 point plan of the Rationalist Society of Australia not a prescription of the law of liberty, the law that brings freedom? The answer is hinted at in the first line. This society requires that Australia be,

snowflake-rosewood-small Secular (‘Not connected with religious or spiritual matters’. Oxford dictionaries 2016. s v secular). So God and Jesus are automatically excluded.

snowflake-rosewood-small Pluralistic (two or more sources of authority);

snowflake-rosewood-small Democratic (Democracy: ‘A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives’ – Oxford dictionaries 2016. s v democracy).

The biggest issue is that the Christian law of liberty comes through a heart change where a person is redeemed and accepts that ‘The law of the Lord is perfect’. That is not the law of the Rationalist Society of Australia that alleges it can bring liberation through a secular, pluralistic, democratic society.

James makes one final emphasis in this passage:

E. Judgement with or without mercy (v 13)

‘Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment’ (James 1:13 NIV). There will be

1. Judgement without mercy if you have not treated others with mercy

The last judgment will be horrific for those who have not shown mercy. Jesus could not have been more specific. This is what he said according to Matt 25:41-45 (NET Bible):

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’

This commentary on the James 2:10-13 passage is so obvious. We can’t miss it. This is especially so when we compare this treating others with mercy an the other alternative which Jesus also will state, according to Matt 7:22-23,

22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’ (NET Bible).

What is mercy? It is ‘pity for those in distress’. This is what Hosea 6:6 (NIV) taught, ‘For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings’ (also quoted by Jesus in Matt 9:13; Matt 12:7).

How does James 2:13 conclude?


2. Mercy triumphs over judgement

Where does that leave you and me? Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy’ (Matt 5:17 NIV). In the OT, God spoke through Zechariah, the prophet (Zech 7:9 NIV): ‘This is what the LORD Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another”’. The Jews didn’t listen and hardened their hearts.

Let’s tease out a few applications of mercy. Remember the definition of mercy is to ‘show pity to those in distress.’ Since Jesus said we are blessed if we show mercy and then we will be shown mercy by God, how can we in Brisbane in 2016 show mercy to those in distress? Let me get you started:

snowflake-greenglass-small How many of you are visiting with those from our church who can no longer come to church?

snowflake-greenglass-small I used to work for Teen Challenge, a drug rehabilitation ministry. Here in Qld, the TC website has plenty of opportunity for volunteers.[6] Could you show mercy by becoming involved? Australian Senator Jacqui Lambi’s son, Dylan, who was addicted to the illicit drug ice, has been to this Qld Teen Challenge drug rehab near Toowoomba.[7]

snowflake-greenglass-small How many of us could become involved in showing mercy to those in prison?

snowflake-greenglass-small What about churches providing sanctuary for asylum seekers?

snowflake-greenglass-small How could you show mercy to those in distress? Any further suggestions?

F. Conclusion

Mercy and Truth(image courtesy ChristArt)


What’s the conclusion we reach? Any person who refuses to show mercy to people will experience God’s justice – but without mercy. That’s what Scripture says.

You and I know that no human being can ever claim to receive God’s mercy by doing any kinds of acts of mercy. That would be works. We can’t earn God’s mercy, but it is granted by God when we seek it. Commentator on Edmond Hiebert, put it this way,

‘Mercy does not triumph at the expense of justice; the triumph of mercy is based on the atonement wrought at Calvary…. The practice of mercy toward others is the evidence that God’s grace has produced a transformation in a person. Having himself received God’s mercy, he will be able to stand in the judgment that otherwise would overwhelm him’ (Hiebert 1979:172).

To show favouritism violates God’s royal law, the law that gives freedom, the law of liberty. What ungodly favouritism are we showing in this church?

G.  Works consulted

Adamson, J B 1976. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle of James. F F Bruce gen ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[8] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Getz, G 1984. Doing Your Part: When You’d Rather Let God Do It All (based on James 2-5). Ventura, California: Regal Books.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1943 The Wartburg Press; assigned 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1966 Augsburg Publishing House).

May, B 1979. Under His Wing. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Thayer, J H 1885/1962. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

H.  Notes

[1] This sermon was preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld, Australia, on Sunday PM service, 20 March 2016

[2] These 3 were ‘small flavouring herbs of which a family might grow a few…, the latter being like anise seed but larger and used to a greater extent’ (Lenski 1943:908). What is ‘anise seed’? ‘The humble anise plant is native to Middle-East and Mediterranean region; probably originated on the fertile plains of Nile delta in the Egypt.… Anise is a perennial herbal plant; generally, grows up to a height of about 2 feet. It bears white colored umbelliform flowers by July, and harvested by bringing down the whole plant once its seed-heads matured enough on the plant itself. Its seeds then separated from the flower heads by threshing. Anise seeds feature oblong or curved, comma shape, about 3-4 mm long, light brown color and fine stripes over its outer surface. The seeds feature delicately sweet and aromatic bouquet with a distinctive liquorice flavor. Their special fragrance is due to essential oil, anethole in them’. Available at: (Accessed 14 March 2016).

[3] ‘What are phylacteries?’ GotQuestions?org. Available at: (Accessed 16 March 2016).

[4] Plummer (1907:108).

[5] Available at: (Accessed 14 March 2016).

[6] See: (Accessed 16 March 2016).

[7] See, ‘Magistrate sends Jacqui Lambie’s son to rehabilitation program’. The Sydney Morning Herald (online), October 26, 2015. Available at: (Accessed 16 March 2016). A more lengthy article is in the Courier-Mail of October 27, 2015 at: (Accessed 16 March 2016).

[8] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 August 2016.

James 2:8-9 (NIV): Faith and playing favourites in church, Part 2[1]

By Spencer D Gear PhD

James 2:8-13 (NIV):

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

A.  Introduction

When I was attending Seminary in Ashland, Ohio, USA, in the early 1980s, one of my fellow students, Glen, told of how he visited this church in southern California a few times.

(Crystal Cathedral 2007, image courtesy Wikipedia)


When he attended that church, there were ushers at the front door who escorted all people to their seats in various parts of the cathedral. You couldn’t sit where-ever you wanted. People were led to certain areas. When he inquired after the service, he was told that if men came in suits and ties, they went to a place wherever they could be caught on the TV cameras. That’s also where the women went who were nicely dressed with hair styled, all for the benefit of the TV cameras.

However, if you were a commoner, without a tie and not as swishy in dress as the others, you were ushered to a place elsewhere in the cathedral where you were out of site of the TV.

Why was this? Glen was told that those who were captured on the TV cameras that were telecast in Robert Schuller’s ‘Hour of Power’ TV programme were the well dressed. This is a picture of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, southern California. What happened there was an example of favouritism, partiality shown towards a certain class of people by that church – those who were visual to the TV cameras. Schuller wanted his TV show to convey a message to the well-dressed middle to upper class. There was discrimination against others.

Sadly, the Crystal Cathedral went into voluntary administration (it was broke) in 2010 with the court settlement with creditors in 2012.[2] It has now been purchased by the Roman Catholic diocese of Orange County and is known as Christ Cathedral.[3] Schuller, a minister in the Reformed Church in America, died in April 2015 at the age of 88.[4]

My point is that here we had an example of partiality, favouritism, discrimination that was alive and well in the 20th century. I ask you to consider how the church in the 21st century could also show favouritism, partiality and discrimination which James condemns.

Could it be happening in this church? What would it look like here?

In my last message on James, I gave the

B. First argument against favouritism (vv 1-7)

1. What was that first argument?

Let’s review it briefly from James 2:5-7:

a. You have demonstrated disgusting favouritism or discrimination towards the poor and the rich (2:5).

3d-gold-star-small God has chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith, but you have dishonoured the poor (2:6)

3d-gold-star-small Instead, you have paid special attention to those who are rich, but they are the ones who oppress you and drag you into court.

3d-gold-star-small So, you Christians, says James, have played favourites in church by judging by outward appearances.

That’s the first argument against favouritism: Do not discriminate, based on external circumstances.

Now we get to the second argument against partiality in the church.

C. Crux of the problem (v. 8)

Here’s the core reason why we should not play favourites or discriminate in the church (v. 8).

Look at a few translations of the beginning of v. 8:

designRed-small ‘If you really keep (NIV)

designRed-small ‘Yes indeed, it is good when you’ (NLT)

designRed-small ‘If you really fulfill’ (ESV)

designRed-small ‘If, however, you are fulfilling’ (NASB)

designRed-small ‘If ye fulfil’ (KJV)

designRed-small ‘If you really fulfill’ (NKJV)

designRed-smallNevertheless, you are doing the right thing’ (ISV)

designRed-smallIndeed, if you keep’ (HCSB)

designRed-small ‘If you really fulfil’ (RSV)

designRed-small ‘You do well if you really fulfil’ (NRSV)

The KJV, even though the word is in the Textus Receptus, doesn’t translate it, possibly following Tyndale’s translation[5] which also left it out, but the earlier Wycliffe translation included it as, ‘Nevertheless if ye perform….’

What we have here at the beginning of verse 8 is the construction ei mentoi. Ei is a conjunction, meaning ‘if’, and it assumed that this statement in v. 8 is true,[6] ‘if you really keep the royal law found in Scripture’, which you will do.

Do that which is right by keeping the royal law in Scripture (v 8). The words I’ve underlined in those verses are probably the translation of the connective particle, mentoi. It’s called a connective because it is meant to connect back to the verses that have immediately preceded it. An old fashioned translation would be ‘howbeit’, which is an archaic word that means, ‘nevertheless, however’.[7]

The connection is with the first argument against favouritism by outward appearances. Mentoi appears 8 times in the NT (John 4:27; 7:13; 12:42; 20:5; 21:4; 2 Tim 2:19; James 2:8; Jude 8).[8] Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives the meaning in James 2:8 as ‘really, actually’ and in the NT is mostly adversative, i.e. in opposition to something.[9]

So if you really, actually do the right thing by dealing properly with the poor and rich, you are

D. Obeying the royal law (v. 8)

Verse 8 reads, ‘If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right’ (NIV).

1. What is the ‘royal law’?

Notice what it does not say. Even though James is written to Christian Jews, it does not say, ‘If you really keep the Mosaic law found in Scripture’ The word ‘royal’ is an old adjective for royal or regal. It is based on the Greek word for king, basileus, like addressing an officer. The word is used in John 4:46, ‘Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum’ (NIV).

Commentators have had theological heartburn over why James would use the term ‘royal law’ as this is the only time the term appears in the NT. The reasons for using this term seem to boil down to three meanings that have been suggested by commentator Desmond Hiebert:

(a) Firstly, It describes ‘the law of love as sovereign over all others (cf. Mt. 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-9; Gal. 5:14)’.[10] Gal 5:14 states it simply: ‘For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself’ (NIV).

(b) Secondly, it is ‘fitted for kings and not slaves (cf. vv. 5, 12)’;

(c) Thirdly, ‘as given by the King’.[11]

The most common suggestion is the first one: The ‘royal law’ refers to the law of love that is sovereign over all other laws of God. I’m supportive of that view as other Scriptures confirm it.

Now James gives a specific example of this ‘royal law’ and it points towards a prominent application:

a. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

We hear this so often in the church that it is easy to gloss over its practical application. It comes from Lev 19:18 in the Mosaic Law but it has now been endorsed by James for NT Christianity.

Do you remember what Jesus said in Matt 22:36-40 (NIV)?

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Let’s pause for a moment to consider its application. This is where I think that many evangelicals waver on how to be relevant for today. I’m going to raise a controversial example.

On 4 February 2016, The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

clip_image004 Sanctuary: The Anglican Dean of Brisbane, Dr Peter Catt. Photo: Glenn Hunt. Courtesy, The Sydney Morning Herald.


Churches have taken the extraordinary step of offering sanctuary to asylum seekers facing deportation in the wake of a High Court verdict, raising the prospect of police raids on places of worship and possible charges for clergy.

This is a hugely significant action for any Australian church to take.

Ten Anglican churches and cathedrals have invoked the ancient Christian tradition to offer protection to the 267 people – including 37 babies – facing imminent transfer to Nauru after the court on Wednesday [3 Feb 16] upheld the legality of the government’s offshore processing regime.

The movement is being led by the Anglican Dean of Brisbane, Dr Peter Catt, who has declared his St John’s Anglican Cathedral a place of sanctuary.

Dr Catt said if any asylum seekers sought sanctuary in his church he would do his best to keep the authorities out. He said he fully accepts that he and other clergy could be charged with obstruction and potentially even face possible jail time.

“We are aware it’s a high-risk strategy,” he told the ABC.

Dr Catt called it an extraordinary step that would attract the attention of church communities around the world.

The sanctuary principle has its roots in the Old Testament and was once enshrined in English common law but its legality has never been tested in Australia (Adam Gartrell, SMH, ‘Churches become potential flashpoint after offering sanctuary to asylum seekers in wake of High Court verdict’, Feb 4, 2016).

Is this an example of how the church can demonstrate the royal law in action, by showing impartiality, love in action through sanctuary, loving asylum seekers as themselves – especially when we know some of them are escaping persecution and end up on Manus Island and Nauru, which have been described as having conditions that are a ‘weeping sore’ of detention.[12]

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, September 25, 2015,

Liberal MP, Russell Broadbent has implored Mr Turnbull to act, in the first instance by removing children from Nauru. Mr Broadbent is the last MP from the group of Liberals who forced John Howard to soften his border protection policies in 2006.

“You know what happens to a weeping sore if you don’t deal with it. It becomes a raging ulcer,” he told Fairfax Media.

In The Brisbane Times, 7 February 2016, there is an article with the headline, ‘Queensland to join call for asylum seeker children to stay in Australia’. It states:

Queensland will join Victoria and New South Wales in calling for the federal government to stop asylum seeker children and their families being sent back to immigration detention centres (Cooper 2016).

What will we do to address this crying current need?

Where are the genuine Christians who are demonstrating the royal law of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ in this very contemporary situation? Should it be hands off? Or, is it: How dare you mention this example in an evangelical church? I’m raising this issue that has practical consequences for those of us who want to obey the royal law.

Do you remember this lady?


(image courtesy Wikipedia)

What did Corrie ten Boom and her family do during World War 2?

The Ten Boom family were devoted Christians [in Holland] who dedicated their lives in service to their fellow man. Their home was always an “open house” for anyone in need. Through the decades the Ten Booms were very active in social work in Haarlem, and their faith inspired them to serve the religious community and society at large.

During the Second World War, the Ten Boom home became a refuge, a hiding place, for fugitives and those hunted by the Nazis. By protecting these people, Casper and his daughters, Corrie and Betsie, risked their lives. This non-violent resistance against the Nazi-oppressors was the Ten Booms’ way of living out their Christian faith. This faith led them to hide Jews, students who refused to cooperate with the Nazis, and members of the Dutch underground resistance movement.

During 1943 and into 1944, there were usually 6-7 people illegally living in this home: 4 Jews and 2 or 3 members of the Dutch underground.  Additional refugees would stay with the Ten Booms for a few hours or a few days until another “safe house” could be located for them. Corrie became a ringleader within the network of the Haarlem underground. Corrie and “the Beje [pron. bay-yay] group” would search for courageous Dutch families who would take in refugees, and much of Corrie’s time was spent caring for these people once they were in hiding. Through these activities, the Ten Boom family and their many friends saved the lives of an estimated 800 Jews, and protected many Dutch underground workers (Corrie ten Boon House Foundation: History).


(This is a drawing of the Ten Boom family home, Barteljorisstraat 19, Haarlem, Holland)

Would you do that today? Should we be doing it for the asylum seekers? I raise it as a point for discussion.

However, there is a restriction on the meaning of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ in v. 8. What’s that restriction? It’s found in the parsing of ‘love’ in ‘love your neighbour’. ‘Love’ is future tense but used like a command, ‘You shall love’. In this verse, the verb love is in the singular (one person) future tense. It is referring to a single person and not to a plural group of people. So, love your neighbour as yourself is not referring to a group of Christians or churches doing it, but to a single believer loving his or her neighbour as himself or herself.

This kind of love is intelligent, sacrificial love with a purpose where you will voluntarily seek the welfare of your neighbour, just as you would look after yourself. This standard is impossible to achieve without the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling you. Remember what Jesus said?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

Here ‘Love one another’ has ‘love’ as a plural verb. It’s obvious: Christian brothers and sisters, love one another in this group with a sacrificial love. How is that possible when we don’t like some people? The command is still to sacrificially love them (plural).

One warning before I move on: Too often it has been the liberal church that has lost the Gospel, denigrates the authority of Scripture, that takes this royal law and claims that this is Christianity in action. Yes, it is Christianity in action, but it must not be separated from the Gospel of grace through Christ alone that the evangelical church proclaims. We must not fall for the Gospel-less liberal Christianity that only wants to see the love of God in action – but without the wrath of God associated with Gospel proclamation.

Now to verse 9:

E. If you show favouritism (v 9)

Verse 9, ‘ But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers’. That little particle, de, translated as, ‘but’, shows the sharp contrast James has just given. He has said, ‘Love your neighbour’, but now the contrast: If you don’t love your neighbour but show favouritism – you discriminate – what is the outcome?

The NIV translates the verb as ‘show favoritism’; ‘show partiality’ (ESV, NASB, NKJV); ‘you favor some people over others’ (NLT). The NLT is an excellent translation for everyday language. It’s a compound verb[13] that is found only this one time in the NT. This is what I love about the Greek NT. The verbs give much more precise information than English. It’s second person plural, so there is a group of these people favouring some people over others, but the verb is in the present tense. So it refers to continuous or continual action. This is not something that happened as a once off or occasional; it continued to happen.[14]

It means if you as a group deliberately have respect of persons. It is not an unfortunate action that you occasionally do. It is something that you deliberately practice – partiality, favouritism, and discrimination.[15]

The ‘if’ clause[16] recognises that there is a definite possibility of Christians violating the law of love. James said that if we are demonstrating acts of partiality which are not only incompatible with the royal law of love, then something terrible happens in the Christian community. This is very straight forward. If you do this,

1. You sin

That’s the NIV translation. The ESV translates as ‘you are committing sin’. The literal translation would be ‘you (plural) are working sin’. Again it’s the present tense, so this group of people who are continuing to deliberately disrespect people are continuing to sin.

Remember what God said about partiality in the OT, according to Lev 19:15, ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly’ (NIV).

What’s the solution for sin, deliberate sin that is continuing in the congregation where there is favouritism by way of discrimination? The one and only solution is repentance and forgiveness. But don’t gloss over this as though it doesn’t mean much. When this kind of continuing sin is in the camp of Christians, what happens?

2. You are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

These Jewish Christians were treating this favouritism as something that was ‘a trifling fault’.[17] No! No! says James. Present tense again. You (plural) are being convicted continually as transgressors (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:248).

Which law were they breaking? Not once or now and then, but continually. Which law have they transgressed?

It’s the royal law, the law of love that is sovereign over all other laws of action for the believer. This is ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. If you have continually broken this law, you are continually convicted as lawbreakers.

What’s the solution? Repentance and seeking forgiveness of the ones violated.

Let’s pause for some applications: How could continually breaking the royal law be taking place in this congregation? What could be some examples? I’ll wait for your responses:

Only 2 answers were given from the congregation:

coil-gold-sm Not sharing the Gospel;

coil-gold-sm Ignoring people, not including them in conversation.

coil-gold-sm I don’t think we have any problem with the way people dress; the Crystal Cathedral’s partiality is not happening here as I see it. There’s no discrimination in how you dress. What would happen if a bikie arrived dressed in his club’s gear?



‘Pastor Wurmbrand resisted the communists’ control of the church [in Romania] and went underground’. He founded Voice of the Martyrs.

flamin-arrow-small What about joining with other churches around the nation for churches to become sanctuaries for asylum seekers? Or do we think too highly of the Aust. Government law to step outside of that protection? Remember the example of Corrie ten Boom and Richard Wurmbrand.

flamin-arrow-small What about people in churches who are not talking with others; conversation with them is avoided?

flamin-arrow-small Do we show partiality to some people who have certain beliefs? [e.g. Eschatology, aspects of salvation, creation]

flamin-arrow-small I’m raising some possibilities. It may not be happening here, but it could be.

Next sermon, I’ll continue this series in James, ‘Faith & Playing Favourites, Part 3’, in verses 10-13:

pink-arow-small How can we stumble at one point of the royal law and be guilty of breaking all of the law? Sounds strange by Aussie standards.

pink-arow-small Christians are going to be judged by the ‘law of liberty’ or the ‘law that gives freedom’. How is it possible to have a law; law means having boundaries, yet this law is one of liberty. Sounds like strange logic for the natural person. We’ll unpack that next time.

F. Conclusion

This example deeply moved me when I read it. It’s a practical illustration of ‘faith and playing favourites’. It was told by

HomeBernie May, who served with Wycliffe Bible Translators and was formerly executive director of Wycliffe’s Jungle Aviation and Radio Services (called JAARS). He had been a missionary pilot for over twenty-five years. On one occasion a large church invited him to be a special guest so they could present an airplane as a gift to JAARS. “It was a Bible-believing church,” Bernie relates, “filled with scrubbed-faced fundamentalists – the kind I like to be around. I was the main speaker for the Sunday morning service – a real VIP.”

His story continues. “During Sunday School a friend introduced me to a beautiful black woman, who was visiting the church for the first time, because she learned I was to speak. I immediately recognized her, although we had never met. She was Josephine Makil, a Wycliffe translator home on furlough from Vietnam.

“Some months before, she and her family had been ambushed on a lonely Vietnam road. She and three of her children had watched in horror as her husband and the fourth child he was holding in his arms were murdered in cold blood. She is one of God’s special people.

“That morning, before I spoke, I introduced Josephine asking her and the children to stand. She gave a brief but powerful testimony, closing by saying, ‘I can testify that God’s ways are perfect and His grace is sufficient.’

“The words burned deep in my heart,” Bernie stated. “I wanted to remove my shoes, so hallowed was the ground as I stood beside her. It took me long moments before I could speak. I couldn’t get the lump out of my throat.

“After the service the people flocked around me shaking my hand and patting my back. During the adulation I happened to look to one side. There stood Josephine and the children. Alone. In fact, the people were deliberately avoiding her. She was black.

“I could hardly restrain my anger,” Bernie states. “I wanted to rush through that magnificent building, overturning the pews and shouting, ‘Keep you money. Keep your handshakes. Keep your airplane. It goes up as a stench before God.’

“But,” said Bernie, “I didn’t. Perhaps I was too much the coward. I did break from the group and go to Josephine. We chatted, but she said nothing about her rejection. She reacted to those church people the same way she reacted to those who murdered her husband – with love and forgiveness.

“These people found it strange that God could use a black person like Josephine. I, in turn, found it strange that God would use people like those in that church; yet their gift has been a blessing to the kingdom.

“But then, I’m sure some folks find it strange that God would use a fellow like me.

“Josephine is right. Love is the only way to react. For all our sakes, we must leave judgment to God”.[18]

Josephine’s obituary began:

MAKIL, JOSEPHINE YVONNE JOHNSON went home to be with the Lord on Friday, April 25, 2003. Born May 7, 1932, to Orville and Alberta Johnson of La Junta, Colorado, Josephine had a wonderful childhood-enjoyed her parents and five brothers, attending La Junta public schools, playing the piano, and her church family-the Mt. Zion Baptist Church  (Josephine Yvonne Johnson Makil, the Dallas Morning News, Obituaries, April 30 2003).

G.  Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[19] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Cooper, N 2016. Queensland to join call for asylum seeker children to stay in Australia. Brisbane Times, 7 February. Available at: (Accessed 7 February 2016).

Getz, G 1984. Doing Your Part: When You’d Rather Let God Do It All (based on James 2-5). Ventura, California: Regal Books.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The Epistle of James: Tests of a Living Faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Kistemaker, S J 1986. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

May, B 1979. Under His Wing. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Thayer, J H 1885/1962.Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, tr, rev, enl. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

H.  Notes

[1] Preached at North Pine Presbyterian Church, Petrie Qld, Australia, Sunday PM service, 21 February 2016.

[2] See ‘Crystal Cathedral: Schullers lose in court’, Orange County Register, August 21, 2012. Available at: (Accessed 4 February 2016). The Roman Catholic ‘Diocese of Orange escrow closed on the $57.5 million court-ordered sale during the Protestant ministry’s bankruptcy proceedings’ and it will now be known as Christ Cathedral (see: ‘Catholics: Crystal Cathedral to become Christ Cathedral’, Orange County Register, August 21, 2013. Available at:, accessed 7 February 2016).

[3] See ‘Catholics: Crystal Cathedral to become Christ Cathedral’, Orange County Register, August 21, 2013. Available at: (Accessed 4 February 2016).

[4] Reformed Church in America 2015. ‘Robert H. Schuller dies’ (online), April 2. Available at: (Accessed 4 February 2016).

[5] Hiebert (1979:162, n 55) wrote: ‘The King James Version, following the lead of Tyndale, left the particle untranslated, apparently regarding it simply as the equivalent of men to balance the de in verse 9’.

[6] It’s a first class condition with the present, active, indicative of the verb (Robertson 1933:31).

[7] Oxford dictionaries (2016. S v Howbeit).

[8] Hiebert (1979:162).

[9] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:504).

[10] Hiebert (1979:163).

[11] These 3 suggestions are in Hiebert (1979:163).

[12] ‘Malcolm Turnbull urged to fix “weeping sore” of Manus, Nauru asylum seeker detention’ (Michael Gordon, SMH, September 25, 2015. Available at: Accessed 5 January 2016).

[13] Pros?pol?mpteite .

[14] Hiebert (1979:165) alerted me to this.

[15] Hiebert (1979:165).

[16] It’s a ‘condition of first class by contrast with that in verse 8’ (Robertson 1933:31). In James 2:8, ‘the particle ?? introduces a simple fact condition that depicts reality’ (Kistemaker 1986:83).

[17] ‘Trifling fault’ was the language of Robertson (1933:31).

[18] Bernie May (1979:41-42). I was alerted to this quote in Getz (1984:15-16).

[19] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 27 August 2016.

Living with dementia: A wife’s first-hand account

red rose in sunlight

(courtesy shutterstock)

As told to Spencer D Gear

I know this Christian couple. This is a wife’s first-hand account of living with her husband’s recently diagnosed and developing dementia. The names have been changed, along with a few details, to protect their identity. Barbara is the wife and Doug is her husband.

I hope you don’t skip over the lead-in to this story because it shows how a person can move from normal living to experience dementia. For Doug, there was a small beginning of memory loss, then dementia began and it is accelerating.

The first person (I, me and my) is Barbara speaking.


Doug and Barbara’s previous lives

clip_image003Doug’s first wife, Kay, suffered for 7 years with ovarian cancer. This meant that little housework was done inside or outside the house as Doug supported Kay in his own way. Towards the end of her life, Doug did not cope well with the situation. He continued his regular job for 5 days a week, starting at 6am and until late. It was one of those jobs with unpredictable hours of finishing.

Doug was a Christian and the women from the church and neighbours brought meals for them, did ironing, house cleaning, and other jobs around the house. Kay passed away in 2008.

Doug has 3 children, a girl & 2 boys. Barbara has 2 girls to her first husband. They were together for 31years and Barbara was living alone for 20 years before marrying Doug.

Now let’s hear the story from Barbara’s point of view.

Doug’s new life

Doug made contact with me in January 2009. Although he was 72 years of age, he visited me on Monday weekly for morning tea. This eventually extended to lunch. If his work took him near my area, he would drop in for a cuppa. We went to the movies occasionally and he went to church with me on Sundays.

Barbara’s background

clip_image005Elvis helped promote polio vaccinations for the March of Dimes (MOD). He was photographed with the organisation’s poster girl, Joanne Wilson



Barbara said: I contracted poliomyelitis (polio) when I was 12 years old. This left me paralysed from the waist down. I was unable to walk for the next 2 years and then returned to school.

This has led to these consequences in recent years – rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis. In 2010, I had an operation on my left foot to have pins put in 3 of my toes and a plate inserted in the ball of my foot under the big toe. The consequence of this surgery was that I was unable to walk or put my foot on the ground for 8 weeks.

During this time, Doug was a great help to me. He mowed the lawns and the gardens were kept in order. He brought me fruit and took me shopping with a wheelie walker. I was now able to move about inside the house, doing the basics on an office chair.

Movement at the station

In January 2012, after we had been friends for 3 years, keeping company, attending church, going to family function, movies, plays and other things in working together in the houses and gardens, Doug popped the question to me on 3 occasions: Will you marry me? But I was not ready for that kind of commitment.

In March of that year, my arthritis had flared again and I found it difficult to cope with my driveway, terraced gardens, lawns and other things around the house. Doug and I discussed again the prospect of getting together on a permanent basis.

Up to this time Doug was very much of a sound mind.

Selling up

We thought at first that we could sell Doug’s house and live in mine. We considered Doug’s age, upkeep of my house, and decided to sell both houses and look into moving into a retirement village. This would give us opportunity of making a completely new start for friendship, security, companionship, and confidence for the future.

clip_image007 In May 2012, the decision was made to go ahead. It took us 3 months to clean up one of the houses for sale. This involved a lot of work; we had to scrub walls and clean until our hands bled. To give some idea of what we had to do to clean the house, Doug took 11 heaped trailer loads of goods to the dump. He had been a hoarder, worked on church properties and a large Christian camp facility. He kept everything he thought might come in handy in the future. This clean-up was a mammoth job for a not-so-young couple.

In August and September 2012, we had 2 monster open house garage sales. We did all of the preparation, pricing and presentation ourselves. This was a particularly difficult time for Doug as he had lived and worked in his house for over 50 years. He had built beds, cabinets, made house extensions, and did other things to improve the house.

Doug put his house on the market and it sold in 6 weeks. We had already spent time looking at retirement villages and decided to move to one in an outer, north side Brisbane suburb. Doug moved into this village in October 2012.

1. An incident

There was one situation when we were taking an old oval glass cabinet to his grand-daughter’s place that should have alerted me that something untoward was happening. She lived not far from Doug’s house. It was about 6pm and we had been working all day on sorting and other household things. He became confused about where he was going. I had lived in the area myself for 5 years, so I was aware he was going around in circles. We got back on track and I knew he was tired and worn out, so I put the incident down to stress.

The relationship moves along

We were engaged to be married on Christmas Day 2012. Meanwhile, I had further surgery on my right foot with pins placed in my 3 toes. I was able to walk with a special boot on that foot.

More selling

It was time for me to sell my house. We prepared for 2 mammoth garage sales in June and July 2013. Doug and I worked hand in hand, preparing so all would be ready for the sales.

This was a huge task as trailer loads of furniture were transferred to our unit at the retirement village.

We put my house on the market in August 2013 and it was sold in 2 days.

The wedding

We planned our wedding for 2013, inviting 160 guests. After a lot of work, we were married in September 2013, with my house sale being finalised 2 weeks before the wedding.

In the course of 16 months, we had sold 2 houses, bought a unit, and were married by November 2013.

Now it began: Memory problems

clip_image009I was aware that Doug was having some memory problems so I visited his doctor and then we took him to Prince Charles Hospital, Chermside, Brisbane where Doug had a head scan.

He had a minor stroke in 2000 when Kay became ill, but with no obvious side effects. His speech was slightly affected but it repaired quickly.

The result of this latest head scan showed a shaded area of the brain (the memory area) and it was spreading. After he was tested, he was discharged as having minimal dementia.

Six months later in May 2014, the damaged area was spreading and the deterioration of memory was accelerating.

In August 2014, Doug and I took a 6-week overseas trip. This did not help Doug’s condition as he had periods of disorientation and confusion when he felt lost. This was a difficult time for me.

Dementia begins

It was in November 2014 that Doug was diagnosed with dementia because of a cerebral episode (stroke) and no drugs are available for this type of dementia and its effects. The consequences are not only short term memory loss but also memory as a whole.

In February 2015, after a thorough medical examination, it was recorded that Doug was experiencing a marked deterioration since his last testing. He had not only lost 2kg in weight, but he had a very slow response to all cues and physical movement.

Dementia progresses

clip_image010Comparison of a normal aged brain (left) and the brain of a person with Alzheimer’s (right) (courtesy Wikipedia)


During 2015, from February to August, the dementia progressed. In August 2015, they took a river cruise which they had booked over 12 months prior. This trip of 13 days was a disaster for both Doug and me. He was so disoriented that did not know where he was or where he was going.

Any kind of change does not help a person with dementia. Change seems to accelerate the disease. Doug has had many changes since 2008. He lost his wife in 2008, sold his house in 2012, bought into a retirement village in 2012, finalised his employment in 2013 and married a second time in 2013.

Some days there seems to be a light at the end of a tunnel or a window will open. But there is no cure for dementia. Everyday the situation progresses to something worse.

Doug does not always know what day it is. He has no comprehension of what he is reading or watching. He is unable to communicate – finds it hard to choose adequate words to express himself. He has difficulty in speaking; he’s unable to name objects and is unable to do simple tasks. He cannot follow instructions or understand what is said.

He forgets some personal hygiene. All clothing items have to be laid out for him. He is unable to shop or handle finances. He does things in reverse, leaves doors open or unlocked; he switches off power points (e.g. for the deep freezer), leaves lights and TV on. He does not know where he and I are going or why or when to get out of the car. Everything has to be written down if I want him to do something.

Wife as carer

As a carer, I find my life is not on. I have to organise and prepare for 2 people. I have to follow up and check out every situation. I have to attend to all necessities in the house. This includes cooking, cleaning and finances. I am on duty all hours of the day and night.

I have no personal, social life or time to enjoy a social outing with a friend. There is no communication or understanding of another’s need from Doug.

The result

With this kind of burden, how does this affect me? I get tired, frustrated and stressed. I need a friend, a hug, someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on.

The person with dementia is unaware of most situations. They are not affected by their condition.

I spoke with John, another person with a spouse who has dementia, and John said that no-one really understands or realises what spouse carers have to cope with – unless they are in the same situation.

The challenge to Christians and the church

Barbara’s story is tragic in that here we find a lonely, tired and frustrated Christian woman who desperately needs a Christian friend – a female friend – to talk with and cry on her shoulder.

To enable this to happen, we need Christian women to be available and Christian men who will care for the man with dementia while his wife is taking a breather and being engaged socially with others.

Surely this is the time for Christians to put up their hands and put these Scriptures into action:

clip_image012 ‘But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds’ (James 2:18 NIV).

clip_image012[1]31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25: 31-40 NIV).

‘Faith without works is dead’


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 31 October 2017.


Turning trash into treasure (James 1:2-4)

Litter Disposal Clip Art

(image courtesy

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Pollster George Barna in the USA ‘was commissioned to inquire of people what one question they would ask of God if they had the opportunity. By an overwhelming margin, the most urgent question was: Why is there so much suffering in the world?’[1]

Amongst some Christians I’ve heard comments like: If you are an obedient, growing and sanctified Christian who seeks to do the will of God, you will not experience horrible suffering. But I ask: What happened to Job, John the Baptist, and the apostle Paul? If bad things happened to them, why can’t they happen to you and me? Ron Rhodes tells the story of a Christian leader who was sledding and ran into a barbed wire fence he didn’t see. He was decapitated. A pastor got into his car and backed over his infant son on the driveway, killing him instantly. A Christian woman saw her husband and child killed when hit by a car. Surely these examples tell us that Christians are experience some of the tragedies of the world around us.[2]

As I was finishing preparation of this message, I received an email from a friend in the UK. He didn’t know I was preparing a sermon on this topic and he said that he had had a disagreement with his wife a few days ago and asked, ‘Why are relationships so difficult?’[3]

Have you ever asked?


(image courtesy

Now let’s read for some answers.

James 1:1-4 (NASB)
Testing Your Faith

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

Consider it all joy, my brethren [brothers and sisters], when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

A. Sit up & take notice: This must sink in

We could miss this emphasis in the biblical text, because our English translations begin James 1:2 with something like this: ‘Consider it’ (NIV, NLT, NASB, NET); or ‘Count it’ (KJV, ESV).

This word is addressing these Christians as a group[4] (2nd person plural) with point action for themselves.[5] But what does it mean? Arndt and Gingrich’s Greek lexicon says that the verb[6] means to ‘think, consider, regard, deem it’.[7] Kittel’s Greek word study says it means ‘to regard as particularly important’.[8]

So, in down-to-earth Aussie lingo the Greek means: ‘Sit up & take notice. You must think about it to the point where it must sink in daily’. I ask you to sit up and take notice of what will bring you the greatest maturity in your Christian life now and in succeeding years.

What must we think about? The Greeks put the most important part of the sentence at the beginning.

The NASB starts, ‘Consider it all joy’. The Greek word order literally states, ‘All joy you consider (it)’.

B. Think on all the joy or the pure joy it brings

Is this saying you are to have all kinds of happiness when the Broncos beat the Bulldogs in footie or the Aussies beat the South Africans in cricket?

Is this happiness when the bank balance is comfortable and there are not too many bills to pay? Is James 1:2 talking about being happy when your health is good or manageable and the kids are behaving themselves?

What on earth is joy in a world of strife in Ukraine and Crimea? What about being a Christian in Syria or the South Sudan today? How can there be joy when a large aeroplane is lost on a flight and we don’t know its whereabouts?

What about being a Christian in the midst of the Holocaust, Soviet Gulag, the persecution of Nero? How about with a husband or wife who abuses you? Children who are rebels? Bullies on the job?

What does it mean to have ‘joy’ in the midst of those kinds of circumstance? This is chara in the Greek and related to the verb ‘to rejoice’.

Joy is more than a matter of mood because 1 Thess 3:9 asks: ‘How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?’ (NIV) We know that joy is one of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22. It is fruit that the Spirit grows in believers.

It’s a paradox: The idea of joy in suffering came from Judaism. Take a read of the Book of Job. See also 1 Peter 2:20-24 and 4:12-14 where suffering is given a Christological perspective. These latter verses read:

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV).

Paul regularly reminded his readers of the source of joy. Its source was beyond human happiness or human joy. It is ‘in the Lord, and therefore outside of ourselves’. That’s why Paul reminded his readers of the origin of joy and exhorted them to manifest it. In Phil 3:1 he said, ‘Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice [i.e. have joy] in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you’ (NIV).[9]

Happiness is based on good outward circumstances. Joy is based on your inner relationship with the Lord and He causes joy to grow in you in your contentment in your relationship with Jesus.

We need to make something clear before we proceed:

C. Ladies: You are not let off the hook

In many translations, James 1:2 in English is addressed to ‘brothers’ or ‘brethren’. Does this exempt the ladies? Is the Book of James sexist and only addressed to blokes and the women can tune out and nod off for the next half hour?

In the NT, ‘adelphos’ can refer to a male brother. But Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon gives examples of how the plural form ‘can also mean brothers and sisters’. In Matt 12:50, Jesus said, ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’. We have examples of the plural term ‘adelphoi’ (brothers) being ‘used by Christians in their relations with each other’ – see Acts 6:3; 9:30; 10:23; Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 5:11; Eph 6:23; 1 Tim 6:2; Rev 1:9; and 12:10.[10]

So for the book of James, you ladies are not left off the hook. James is addressed to ‘brothers’ who are male and female. That doesn’t sound too good in English. But in the Greek we can say that all Christians, male and female, can be addressed as adelphoi.

What happens to the Christian? You are living the daily Christian life and

D. Trash – the horrible stuff – comes into your life

Scrap YardThe ESV translates as ‘meet trials’, NIV as ‘face trials’, NKJV ‘fall into various trials’, and NASB ‘when you encounter various trials’. So you can ‘encounter’ trials.

Is this like joining an ‘encounter group’ from the 1960s, 70s to deal with the trials and tribulations of life? These groups were gatherings of about 10-20 people where there was an opportunity to open up and share the emotional side of what was going on in your life as you experienced it with other group members. There was open sharing – and some had very emotionally charged encounters. It was hoped people would get in touch with their feelings, receive support from others and become more aware of the feelings of others.[11]

Is this what James is talking about? Those groups were a place where many secular and some Christian people went to encounter others and try to gain healing for their emotional ills. Is that what James is dealing with? I hardly think so.

‘Encounter’ or ‘meet’ or ‘face’ or ‘fall into’ is from the verb, peripipt?[12] which means to ‘become involved in’[13] or ‘to come on something accidentally … to be innocently involved in something … In James 1:2, … we have the figurative … emphasis on the swift and unexpected way in which [people] can be involved in temptation’.[14]

Because it is the subjunctive mood, in general, according to Greek guru, John Wenham, it ‘is the mood of doubtful assertion. In nearly all its uses there is some element of indefiniteness in the sentence’.[15] This means that it may happen or may not. This is accentuated by the use of ‘when’ or ‘whenever’ (hotan), which is a conjunction of uncertainty. And because it is the aorist tense it may happen suddenly – point action.

Has this happened to you? Difficulties in your life have come with no notice. It is doubtful and not certain when they come and they can come on you suddenly? That’s what James is communicating to us with that simple verb, ‘encounter’ or ‘fall into’.

Would you agree with Job’s friend, Eliphaz?

Job 5:7 states, ‘Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward’ (NIV)

Job said in Job 14:1, ‘Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble” (NIV)

We have lots of examples of evil and suffering in the Bible.

  • Job lost his family & all of his possessions;
  • David was pursued and persecuted by the jealous and angry Saul for a long time (1 Sam. 20:33; 21:10; 23:8);
  • The wife of Hosea was unfaithful to him (Hosea 1:2; 2:2, 4);
  • Joseph in the OT was badly treated by his brothers and sold into slavery (Gen. 37:27-28);
  • Herod’s step-daughter asked for and got the head of John the Baptist on a plate (Matt. 14:6-10);
  • Paul, the apostle, was jailed several times, was shipwrecked, beaten and left for dead (2 Cor. 11:25).[16] According to 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, Paul wrote: ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed’ (ESV);

These examples show that those who obey God and seek to be faithful believers still may experience horrible suffering. This is suffering for God’s purpose in their lives!

But what are you encountering? The NASB calls them, ‘trials’.

1. Are you experiencing all kinds of life’s ‘garbage’?

I’ve heard Christians say to me, ‘I wish God wouldn’t send all of this junk into my life. It’s garbage and I want to get rid of it. I hate it’.

‘Trials of many kinds’ is the NIV translation. NKJV agrees with the NASB and calls them ‘various trials’. The ESV reads, ‘trials of various kinds’. Would you agree that the trials you experience in your life are just like that – many and varied? And they can come on you suddenly?

I was in the midst of preparing this message in November 2013 when I had another job to do and climbed a ladder in an attempt to clean the leaves from my house gutters, leaves from my neighbour’s trees. But the ladder collapsed and the back of my head slammed onto the concrete at our front door. I became concussed and ended up in Redcliffe hospital. Two weeks later I collapsed with a heart issue when taking a walk and landed head first into the gravel and into hospital and had an ICD implanted in my chest to regulate my heart rhythm. Two weeks later in the early morning while sleeping, I had a grand mal seizure and then into hospital. Talk about trials of various kinds happening suddenly.

J I Packer wrote a wonderful book, A Quest for Godliness, in it he stated: ‘Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle however do’.[17]

Many of you know what I’m talking about. God allows these various trials into our lives, but what’s the purpose of them?

Before we get to the purpose or reason for trials for the believer, we need to talk about what they are. Are they …

2. Trash, garbage or something else?

Many English translations call them ‘trials’ (NIV, NASB, ESV, NET, RSV, NRSV), ‘troubles’ (NLT, CEV), or ‘temptations’ (KJV, Douay-Rheims, ASV, RV).

But what are these trials, troubles or temptations? Peirasmos can mean a ‘test, trial’ or a ‘temptation, enticement to sin’.[18] All of them can be involved. I know that you and I can give examples of what seems like trash through trials and temptations coming into our lives.

In this passage from James 1, God has something special to teach us about the trials of trash in our lives. They are:

E. Horrible stuff with a BIG purpose

(image courtesy

James 1:3 tells us exactly why God allows the trials and temptations into our lives. It is for the ‘testing of your faith’. Of what kind of stuff is your faith in God made?

How are diamonds formed? I read an article online from which stated,

The formation of natural diamonds requires very high temperatures and pressures. These conditions occur in limited zones of Earth’s mantle about 90 miles (150 kilometers) below the surface where temperatures are at least 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (1050 degrees Celsius).[19]

Remember that precious diamonds are made through pressure and very high temperatures.

What about expensive pearls? Science from ‘How stuff works’ tells us that

the formation of a natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritate­s the mantle. It’s kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. The oyster’s natural reaction is to cover up that irritant to protect itself. The man­tle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl.[20]

Precious and expensive pearls are caused by an irritant.

God uses a similar process in helping Christians grow to maturity in Christ. Let’s

F. Get in step with God’s plan for you & me

(image courtesy Google, public domain)

How will the diamonds and pearls of sanctification come in our lives? Let’s follow these steps carefully to see how God brings you and me to maturity in the Christian life:

1. You need to know it (1:3)

Verse 3 begins, ‘for you know’ (ESV) or ‘knowing that’ (NASB). This is present continuing action of experiential knowledge.[21] You need to have this knowledge as a continuing experience in your Christian life. Knowledge of what? You will not be able to count it all joy when trials come into our lives unless you continually know by experience what God is up to with your life.

What is God up to? Stay tuned because the reasons are about to unfold.

This is what God is up to in every Christian’s life by allowing trials and temptations to come into your life at ANY time. God is engaged in the task of

2. Refining rubbish (1:3)

It is trash with a purpose in every Christian’s life.

The language in the English translations is that God uses trials in ‘the testing of your faith’ (ESV, NIV, NASB, NET, NKJV, RSV, NRSV), ‘trying of your faith’ (KJV), ‘proving of your faith’ (ASV).

We know from an examination of the papyri that this word, to dikimion, is a noun that means ‘testing’ or ‘means of testing’.[22]

How does that apply to trials as a ‘means of testing’ our faith? It is the …

3. Refining your faith (1:3)

How do you refine gold? Put it in a furnace. It is purified by the use of the fire of refining. To get purer gold, you put it through the fire of testing. This is the analogy James is using with this word. Your faith is like gold that stands the test of fire to examine its genuineness.

How genuine is your faith? You will know through the testing of the fire of trials.

Note God’s purpose for trials:

4. Trash that produces staying power (1:3)

The word ‘produces’[23] or ‘works’ is again continuing action in your life. It’s the middle voice, so it is referring to what happens for you. So trash is continuing to produce what?

Hupomon? is an old Greek noun that means ‘staying power’.[24] Our English translations will use language such as ‘steadfastness’ (ESV), ‘perseverance’ (NIV), ‘endurance’ (NLT, NASB), ‘patience’ (KJV). But the meaning is stickability, staying power. Oh for people in the church who have staying power, even through the most difficult times? Are trials going to make you or devastate you? Do you know God’s purpose in trials is to refine your faith and produce staying power in your Christian life?

Alister Begg wrote a book, Made for His pleasure. In it he stated something that resonates with James 1, ‘The truth is that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than success and laughter’.[25]

This staying power means, according to James 1:4, that

5. Trash brings the perfect result (1:4)

Notice how v. 4 puts it, ‘And let endurance [staying power] have its perfect result’. ‘Let’ is a present tense imperative – ‘let it keep on having’[26] what? It’s a ‘perfect result’ or ‘perfect work’. The thought is that trials, the trash in our lives, are to ‘carry on the work to the end or completion’, just like John 17:4, where Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven and said that he had ‘accomplished the work that you gave me to do’ (ESV).

Here’s the issue that we have to keep on knowing in experience and acknowledging: To get to the end of life and accomplish God’s perfect result or work for us, we need trials to refine our faith.

For what purpose?

6. Trash brings the ultimate result: Maturity & completeness (1:4)

Here we have a purpose clause in the Greek, which is the goal of trials in your life. Trials are for the ultimate purpose of refining us, through staying power, and bringing us to being ‘perfect [or mature] and complete’ (ESV). Greek exegete A T Robertson put it so well: we will be ‘perfected at the end of the task (telos) and complete in all parts…. “perfected all over”’.[27]

This will lead to …

7. Imagine it? Lacking in nothing (1:4)

What could this possibly mean that you are ‘lacking in nothing’ (1:4)? This is really a ‘negative statement of the preceding positive’ one.[28] James uses this kind of technique where he makes a positive statement and then gives the negative side of it. You can see it in 1:6. To lack nothing is another way of saying we are mature and complete.

G. Practical responses for trials

(image courtesy

For Christians who are going through trials, there is a special ministry of the body of Christ that I want to emphasise as I draw to a close. It’s a dynamic that is missing from many churches in this country:

6pointLight-small Romans 12:14-15 (ESV) puts it very clearly, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep’.

This ‘one another’ ministry is so critical for other believers who are experiencing trials of various kinds:

6pointLight-small ‘Bearing with one another in love’ (Eph. 4:2);

6pointLight-small Eph. 4:32 (ESV), ‘Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you’.

6pointLight-small Eph. 5:20-21 (ESV), ‘Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ’.

6pointLight-small Col. 3:13 (ESV), ‘bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive’.

6pointLight-small 1 Thess. 3:12 (ESV), ‘and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you’.

6pointLight-small 1 Thess. 5:11 (ESV),’Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing’.

6pointLight-small Heb. 3:13 (ESV), ‘But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin’.

There is much more to this ‘one another’ ministry but we must be there with it for those experiencing trials. Those who are going through trials desperately need this. That’s enough for now, but I do find it in short supply in today’s evangelical church in this country. But it’s also a challenge to me to be more vigilant in this ministry to others.

H. Conclusion

There are times when I’ve thought: Lord, why did you allow me to have three horrific bouts of rheumatic fever when I was aged 6, 10, and 12 that left me with lifelong leaking heart valves and now 5 open-heart surgeries. Why, oh why, Lord do you allow for such suffering?

How do Christians get to become mature and complete in the Christian life? These are the steps that James gives that we must know and practice daily. It is not a politically correct message. It is not a message that goes down well with the heal-wealth false theology. In fact, many evangelical Christians have lost this perspective on the Christian life. These are God’s steps to maturity and completeness in the Christian life.

Consider it pure joy


Trials with a BIG purpose


Trials for refining faith


Trials for staying power


Trials for the perfect result


Trials for maturity & completeness


Trials clip_image007 lacking in nothing


That’s the message of James 1:1-4. Will you receive it now and for the futuer?

  • Material prosperity will not do it.
  • Obedient, well-behaved children will not cause it to happen.
  • Even good health is no guarantee more joy will be in your life.
  • What will it be for you?

I read a story by Amy Anderson in Forbes magazine online that was titled, ‘Trials should make us better, not bitter’.[29] It began with this story:

I heard a speech given by a 20-something young woman who had grown up without her sight or hearing. She underwent surgery in high school to have a cochlear implant, which partially restored her hearing and helped her to more effectively communicate her story.  She is still totally blind. As she shared her life story with us, she asked us to close our eyes and to imagine a world where all we saw was darkness, no color, no light. She asked us to imagine how depressing that would feel. With eyes still closed, she asked that this time we imagine our world with color and light and joy. She then stated, “The second picture you imagined is what I choose to see every day.” Then she asked us to open our eyes. She proceeded to share with us that she had a choice in life, “to be sad and depressed and see only darkness, or to be happy and joyful and see color and light.” She stated that she was able to make the choice.

She acknowledged that many times it is easy in life to focus on our trials by saying, “I often think that many of us count our blessings on our fingers and toes, but count our trials with a calculator.” That statement is all too true. She shared that many of us spend our lives thinking “Why me? Why is my life hard? Why do I have to struggle? Why do I have to suffer loss? Why, why, why?”

I was totally caught off guard by the words that came out of her mouth next. “I too, wake up each day and ask ‘Why me? Why am I so lucky to have ten fingers and ten toes? Why am I so lucky to have people that love me? Why am I so lucky to be able to walk? Why am I so blessed?’” WOW!  That was all I could think in that moment. Just wow! She closed her talk by reminding us that “all of us are given trials to make us better, not to make us bitter.”

Will you

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Joy of the LORD

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Works consulted

Anderson, A R 2013. Trials should make us better, not bitter. Forbes, 10 April. Available at: (Accessed 11 March 2014).

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[30] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Begg, A 1998. What angels wish they knew. Chicago: Moody Publishers.
Begg, A 1996, 2005. Made for his pleasure: Ten benchmarks of a vital faith. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Bennett, W H n.d. The general epistles, James, Peter, John, and Jude (The Century Bible: A modern commentary). H H Rowley & M Black (eds). London: Blackwood, Le Bas.

Beyreuther, E & Finkenrath, G 1976. ?????, in C Brown (ed), The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 2, 356-361. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Brown, C (ed) 1976, The new international dictionary of New Testament theology,[31] vol 2. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Büchsel, O 1964. Egeomai, in Kittel, G (ed). Tr by G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 2, 907-908. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Hiebert, D E 1979. The epistle of James: Tests of a living faith. Chicago: Moody Press.

Michaelis, W 1968. Peripiptw, in Friedrich, G (ed). Tr G W Bromiley. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, vol 6, 173. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Packer, J I 1990. A quest for godliness: The puritan vision of the Christian life. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Rhodes, R. 2004. Why Do Bad Things Happen If God Is Good?  Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word pictures in the New Testament: The General Epistles and the Revelation of John, vol 6. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Ropes, J H 1916/1973. A critical and exegetical commentary on the Epistle of St. James. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Wenham, J W 1965. The elements of New Testament Greek. London/New York: Cambridge University Press.


[1] In Rhodes (2004:8). The footnote indicated: ‘Cited by Lee Strobel, “Why does God allow suffering?” Message delivered at Saddleback Valley Community Church, El Toro, California, February 26, 2000’ (Rhodes 2004:265, n. 1).

[2] Based on Rhodes (2004:12).

[3] Email received on 16 March 2014.

[4] 2nd person plural.

[5] Aorist, middle, indicative.

[6] Hegeomai.

[7] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:344).

[8] Büchsel (1964:907)

[9] This paragraph is based on information from Beyreuther & Finkenrath (1976:361).

[10] Arndt &Gingrich (1957:15-16).

[11] Based on ‘Psychology glossary’,, 1998-2014, available at: (Accessed 9 March 2014).

[12] Peripes?te, 2nd person pl, aorist active subjunctive.

[13] Arndt & Gingrich 1957:655.

[14] Peripiptw (Michaelis 1968:173).

[15] Wenham (1965:160).

[16] These scriptural illustrations were suggested by Rhodes (2004:12).

[17] Packer (1990:22).

[18] Peirasmos (A&G 1957: 646).

[19] ‘How diamonds form’ 2005-2014,, available at: (Accessed 10 March 2014).

[20] ‘How do oysters make pearls?’ 1998-2014. Science, How stuff works, available at: (Accessed 10 March 2014).

[21] ‘Knowing’ is ginwskontes, present active participle from ginwskw. For experiential knowledge, A T Robertson calls it ‘experimental knowledge’ (Robertson1933:12).

[22] Arndt & Gingrich (1957:202).

[23] Katergazetai, present middle indicative.

[24] Robertson (1933:12).

[25] Begg (1996:106).

[26] Robertson (1933:12).

[27] Robertson (1933:12).

[28] Ibid.

[29] Anderson (2013), emphasis added.

[30] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev and aug edn. 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

[31] This is translated with additions and revisions from the German, Theologisches Begriffenslexikon zum Neuen Testament, original German 1971 (Brown 1976:3-4).


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 12 January 2018.