James 2

The Word Made Fresh

1My friends, if you really believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. 2If someone wearing gold rings and fine clothes comes into your gathering, and then a poor man in dirty clothes comes in, 3don’t favor the first man and say, “Have a seat here, please,” and then tell the poor man to stand on the side or sit in the corner. 4If you do that you have played the judge with one another and do so for bad reasons. 5Listen, friends, hasn’t God chosen the poor among us to be wealthy in faith, and to be heirs of the kingdom God has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor while the rich are the ones who oppress you. Aren’t they the ones who will drag you into court? 7Aren’t they the ones who curse the noble name of the one to whom you belong?

8You do well if you live by the law according to scripture, that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you play favorites you are sinful and are convicted by that law as lawbreakers. 10If you keep the whole law except for one point, you have broken the law. 11The one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you don’t commit adultery but do commit murder, you are a lawbreaker. 12Therefore, speak and act as one who will be judged by the law that insures freedom. 13Mercy is greater than judgment, and those who show no mercy will be judged without mercy.

14What good is it, friends, to say you have faith if you have no good deeds? Can faith save you? 15If a neighbor is naked and hungry, 16and someone tells them to “go in peace; stay warm and eat your fill,” and then refuses to provide for their needs, what good would that be? 17Faith without good works is dead.

18So, if someone says, “You have faith. I have good deeds,” show me your faith without good deeds, and I will show you my faith by my good deeds. 19Do you believe that God is one? That’s good. But even demons believe, and shudder. 20Do you need to be shown, fool, that faith without good works is empty? 21Wasn’t our father Abraham justified by his deeds when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see, his faith informed his actions, and his faith was demonstrated by what he did. 23That is why the scripture says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” And that is why he was called God’s friend. 24You see, then, that a person is justified by what he does and not just by what he believes. 25In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute justified by her deeds when she welcomed the spies and sent them out by another way?

26The body without the spirit is dead, and faith without works is also dead.


1-7: A curious but undeniable logic is at work here. The tendency for most people is to treat the rich with special favor because they are powerful, and to ignore the poor because they are weak. But it is precisely the weakness of the poor that prevents them from ever being the oppressor, and the wealth and power of the rich that encourages them to oppress others. Therefore, it is foolish to treat the rich as if they are more important than the poor.

8-13: It follows that you should love your neighbor as yourself; not higher than or lower than yourself but as yourself. “Mercy is more important than judgment” is another way of saying “don’t judge your neighbors; just love them.”

14-17: Faith without works is dead, says James. Martin Luther had problems with this saying, for we are justified by our faith and not by our works. But James’ point is still valid. If we have faith in Christ we ought to behave like Christ and do good works.

18-26: It is interesting to compare James’ understanding of Abraham’s faith with Paul’s. Paul makes a big deal of Abraham’s faith apart from works (Romans 4:2-5). James points out that Abraham did actually put Isaac on the altar and raise the knife, and thus “his faith was demonstrated by his actions.” He put his money where his mouth was, we might say. To add to his argument James points to the harlot Rahab who saved Joshua’s spies at the risk of her own life: her faith was demonstrated by her actions, in other words (see Joshua 2:1-3 and 6:17).


Our behavior should always display our faithfulness.