This chapter can be broken down into two (2) distinct topics or ideas; verses one through thirteen and verses fourteen through twenty six. Believers are to be impartial and judge other Christians based on such things as wealth or prominence. Believers demonstrate their true and living faith by the good works such faith produces.
Verses 1-13: The Command to be Impartial
James has already touched on the “division” of believers as being “rich” or “poor” in chapter one, verses 9-11 and in verse 27. In this section of the chapter, James decides to highlight the problems connected with this realization by exhorting his readers not to discriminate. He mainly exhorts that believers do not discriminate against poorer believers in favor of those who may be wealthier.
Verses 1-7 is used to show us that to love and attend to the more wealthy believers in the congregation is actually incompatible with true Christianity. James makes it clear that there is no place for prejudice or partiality in the bosom of the Christian faith or congregation. James gives an illustration reflective of how churches and believers can be guilty of this sin. James asks a couple of hard hitting and soul searching questions as he drives his point home.
Verses 8-11 is used by James to show his readers how favoritism or partiality as he calls it is really a violation of God’s law to love others as God loves us. James warns his readers that if they break one portion of the law then the whole law is violated and sin is present.
Verses 12-13 is used by James to exhort his readers to speak and act as true believers. He encourages his readers to remember there is coming a time of judgment where they will be examined on how they lived out these commands.
Verses 14-26: The Comment to be Implemented
In this section James continues to hammer at the idea that hearing God’s word and faith must lead to obedience. Christianity is not just something that is “believed,” or stored up in our heads. Even though salvation is by grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone, true salvation will lead to the production of “good works.” True faith will give evidence of itself by the production of fruit visible in various good works in the body.
Verses 14-17 are used by James to demonstrate that faith unaccompanied by any fruit or good works is really a dead faith. James purpose is to show that a faith that is merely a mental assent or acquiescence to facts is not a living faith and therefore does not save.
Verses 18-20 is used by James to further develop his point by the use of an “imaginary” objector. James responds preemptory to some who might argue that faith and fruit are separate issues. James ensures his readers that faith can only be shown to be living through various acts or works. Again James uses an illustration to show that mere believing is not the issue since the demons believe and as a result tremble.
Verses 21-26 is used by James as a means of further illustrating his point by the use of Abraham and Rahab. It was their faith that was evidenced by their works or fruit. The works did not save them nor produce righteousness, but their righteousness was observed by the actions that it produced.
James is very careful not to contradict the fact that faith in the atoning work of Christ is what saves an individual. He is also very careful to show that a true and living faith will be visible by the fruit it produces. Some fruit will be what faith does not do [discriminate] and some fruit will be evidenced by what fruit does [good works.]