James 2: 8 – 13
James continues to speak to his fellow Jews in diaspora as they were going through tough times, numerous temptations and tribulations giving rise to enormous and excruciating pain. He began the letter by encouraging them to hang on because at the end of it all was glory and eventually they would get to their place of rest in God.
His presentation bordered on the fact that the tribulations his fellow Jews suffered from was more of a self-induced one rather than think the tribulation came from God. He began to pick on some of the things he felt they were doing wrong. He highlighted on the fact that the people were involved in favoritism amongst themselves, he mentioned the problem between the rich and the poor, and he also mentioned that some of the people were quick to speak, slow to hear/listen and quick to getting angry.
As a human being that James was, many of the things he said in this book were probably not his words but became a symbol of the interpretation of the written Word of God. He had finally become one of the disciples, having been accepted by the remaining eleven disciples. The presentation made in this book by James, was the cause of a lot of brouhaha that made Apostle Paul travel to Jerusalem so that they could have a debate on the content of his letter. The brawl that ensued was such that many who were not Jews, (Gentiles) were already responding to the message of the Gospel but were hindered as they were told to also keep the injunctions spelt out in the Law of Moses. In other words, one could not be saved unless they kept the order of circumcision and the Torah.
The outcome of the debate held at Jerusalem was such that they all had to agree with Apostle Paul that the Gentiles could be saved without the Law and the practice of circumcision. They concluded that Paul was allowed to minister the Gospel to the Gentiles while disciples like Peter, James and others restricted themselves to the ministry of the Gospel to the Jews alone.
Like I’ve written in previous posts, there is a lot we can glean from this book as we read and interpret from it, having the story of the New Testament in hindsight.
Now we know there was no New Testament letters or books that was written at that time, so James had no choice but to look back to what he knew about God and that meant looking back at the Old Testament and the Torah. His book was one of the earliest books written before the New Testament books written and presented by the great Apostle Paul. James could only write based on what he knew. The story of the New Testament became crystal clear as we read from the books of Apostle Paul.
The idea that James presented in this part of the book was that when you break one part of the Law, you would have succeeded in breaking all of the Law. What this means is that no one can keep the Law and in his words, he said, “Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the rule that sets us free, for if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time”.
Apostle Paul’s disposition and presentation of the Law of Moses was different because he concluded that the Law had come to condemn everyone, which would eventually help us embrace the New Testament teachings of the Grace of God. Paul said, I wouldn’t have known for example, what stealing was until the Law spelt it out. He said, where there is no Law, there is no transgression – associating the Law with the Old Sin Nature (OSN). By this, Paul concluded that because of the Law, all have sin and have come short of the glory of God, meaning we would (as mankind) need our sins to be atoned for or taking away.
He presented that just as sin came into the world through one man, therefore life has and would also come through one man, Jesus – who became the ransom for the sin of the whole world, which was made up of the Jews and the Gentiles. In his words he said, “For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. Yes, the one sin by Adam brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.”
Paul’s idea was that just as the Old Testament was a standalone covenant, so is the New Testament and we can’t be saved by adding any other thing to FAITH. That was the bottom-line of the debate they had in Acts 15 that earned him the title of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Without Paul, we wouldn’t have known or understood what it means to be saved by the finished work at Calvary. It was Paul who spelt out the fact that it was resurrection from the dead that helps us know and understand that we are saved and not by the good things that we do. Again, there is nothing wrong in doing well towards humanity but our goodness can never be a substitute for what Jesus did when he died, was buried and after three days was raised from the dead.
Jesus made an analogy about the old wine, new wine, old wineskin and the new wineskin. According to Jesus, new wine should be kept in the right container (new wineskin) and the same for the old wine. If one makes the mistake of swapping the containers, there would be a consequence of losing both: the wine and the wineskin. In plain terms, the Old Testament remains the Old while the New Testament remains the New. It is therefore not possible to mix the two.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “ Even Moses could not carry those tables in his hand without breaking them, nor can I do any better than he did. Do you think that Christ would have come all the way from heaven to keep the law for you if you couldn’t keep it for thyself? Terrible is the plight of the man who has to depend upon what Sinai can give him; he is wretched in life, he shall be troubled in death, he shall be lost forever in eternity.”