Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 3 * PART 2 * BOOK 53
The Legalist Viewpoint of James – Part 2
James 1:24 – 3:6
We’re just an informal Bible study. I don’t try to pick arguments or attack anybody, we’re just going to simply teach The Book verse-by-verse and let the chips fall where they may. You don’t always have to agree with me. I don’t expect that. There can be points of disagreement as long as we don’t disagree on the basics and the fundamentals. In other words, the Deity of Christ, His finished work and atoning blood for our salvation, and so forth. But, I don’t mind if someone disagrees on some technicality here and there.
Okay, let’s get back to where we left off in the little epistle of James and we still have one verse left in chapter one but it doesn’t make that much difference because the chapters weren’t in the original anyway. All right, the last verse of James chapter 1, which is verse 27, and I might as well read verse 26 with it:
“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” And remember I pointed out their religion is what mankind can ‘do’ and the next verse points it up.
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” What’s missing? What keeps us as believers on the straight and narrow? Well, not our own energy, I’ll guarantee you, but Who? The Spirit! See? The Holy Spirit. That’s almost absent here in the Book of James. I have to say ‘almost’ because I think we’re going to run across one verse in here someplace where the Spirit is alluded to, but it’s not that constant driving home of the fact that it’s the Spirit, now, that controls you and I in this Age of Grace as Paul tells us – and not the Law.
People encourage me to keep repeating and I appreciate that because I know it’s the only way folks can get these things straight. Come back with me again to Romans because, in order to understand what I’m saying concerning these little Jewish epistles, it is important to make the comparisons. Just compare with me how that James and Peter and John are not refuting Paul. They’re not condemning him – it’s just like he isn’t there. It’s just like they had nothing to do with him. Remember we’re comparing with what James says which is, listen, if you’ve got true pure religion, then get out there and go to work. Visit the fatherless, the widows and the orphans and ‘do’ these things. Do them. Do them. Do them. But look what Paul says.
“For when we were in the flesh, (before we were saved) the motions (or the acts) of sins, which were by the law,…” What does that mean? Those things that we did contrary to the Law. In other words, the Law said, “Thou shalt not gossip.” But we spoke evil of somebody. So what were we? Guilty. The Law said, “Thou shalt not steal.” But we took advantage of a situation. And we stole. We were actively in opposition with what the Law taught. Now finishing the verse.
“…which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” In other words, that’s why the lost person just continues to pile up his debt load that will face him at the Great White Throne Judgment. Can’t be any other way. Now for the flipside in the next verse.
“But (on this side of the cross. On this side of our salvation experience) now we are delivered from the law, (now you can’t make it any plainer than that. We’re delivered from the Law) that being dead wherein we were held;…” In other words, when we died the death with Christ, that death separated us from the control of the Law, so our identification in death at the cross, has now set us free. Now finishing the verse.
“…that we should serve in newness of (what?) spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Law). What’s the spirit? The Holy Spirit. The indwelling, and that instead of trying to keep the Law through our own efforts, now we’ve been severed from the Law, we’re dead to it and now we “serve in the newness of the spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” See the difference. All right, let’s look at a couple more in II Corinthians, chapter 3. And let’s start at verse 3. As you know, I don’t like to just jump on one verse, you’ve got to sort of let it flow. Paul is now writing to these Gentile believers in Corinth – there may have been a few Jews in the congregation but it’s primarily Gentile, and he says:
II Corinthians 3:3a
“Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the (what?) Spirit of the living God;…” What’s he saying? You and I, as we move about in that unsaved world, they see Christ in us and they read us like a typewritten page. That’s what we are. We’re living epistles. And that’s how we have to behave ourselves. All right, so read it again, “That you are the epistle of Christ ministered by us.” In other words, Paul was the one responsible for bringing them to this salvation experience. “Written not with ink (as his epistles are) but with the Spirit of the Living God.” Now finish the verse.
II Corinthians 3:3b
“…not in tables of stone, (now what’s that a reference to? The Ten Commandments. This isn’t like those Ten Commandments written up there on the Mount Sinai in stone.) but in fleshy tables of the heart.” That’s the response that salvation is supposed to bring to the believer.
II Corinthians 3:4
“And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward.” This is because of what God has accomplished in us. That we now have a relationship with God Himself. Now verse 5.
II Corinthians 3:5
“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; (why? Next part) but our sufficiency is of God;” Does James say that? No. James says go out and visit the fatherless, and the widows and the orphans. Pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and go do it. But Paul says, you can’t. You can’t – because you need the Spirit’s unction. The Spirit’s driving us. Now verse 6.
II Corinthians 4:6
“Who also (that is God up in verse 5) hath made us able ministers of the new testament; (this whole new relationship because of the cross) not of the letter, (now there again, remember, what’s Paul referring to? The Law) but of the spirit:…” You see that big comparison? James is speaking of the letter without the Spirit; Paul says you can’t do it by the letter without the Spirit. Now I really like this next part of the verse. And you know I’m always amazed, even in my classes in Oklahoma. I think I’ve been in McAlester, how long? Thirty years? Twenty years! Twenty years, I think we started in McAlester in 1980 and yet a while back I was pointing this out and people were just flabbergasted. They just can’t comprehend that this is what the Bible says.
II Corinthians 4:6b-7a
“…for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. 7. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones,…” What’s he talking about? The Ten Commandments. “Ministration of death?” That’s what it says. What does most of Christendom think the Ten Commandments are? Hey, that’s their highway to Heaven. I’ll keep the Commandments and I’ll make it. The Commandments are nothing but condemnation, they’re a ministration of death. That’s a tough pill to swallow for most people. But, The Word is true. All right, let’s continue on with verses 7 and 8:
II Corinthians 3:7-8
“But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: 8. How shall not the ministration of the sprit be rather glorious?”
Glorious! See? And that’s what we’ve been seeing in the book of Hebrews over the last year and a half, how that, yes, the Law was good in its own time and for Israel under the circumstances – but today, oh, the Law is nothing compared to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
All right, back to James again. Now we’ll go on into chapter 2, and verse 1, but we won’t stay here very long, because if I were to stay here, yeah, then I could tell Iris we’ll finish James before we leave because I could just go right straight down through, but I can’t do that. I’ve got to keep showing you where it is, compared to where it’s been. All right, verse 1.
“My brethren, (so who is James writing to? Jewish believers) have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.” What was James’ concept of the faith of their Lord Jesus Christ? Let’s go back – Matthew, chapter 16. Now some of you know that almost from memory, we’ve used it so often. At least you should be able to tell me, what’s it’s going to be about? Peter’s confession of faith! Now this is all for sake of comparison. I want you to see now what James is talking about when he speaks of their Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 16 verse 13. Here they are at the end of the three years of His ministry. They are shortly going to be going up to Jerusalem and the crucifixion.
“When Jesus came into the coasts (or borders) of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” (simple question isn’t it? Who am I?) 14. And they said,…” And every time I read this verse, I’m flabbergasted. I can’t help it. I am utterly flabbergasted to think that after three years of miracle, after miracle, after miracle – I mean real miracles, not the fake kind. The real ones. And what was their answer?
“And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: (my goodness, they all knew, what happened to John the Baptist; he got beheaded a long time ago) some, Elias; (Elijah lived a long time ago) and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” What in the world is the matter with these people? Unbelief! It’s just unbelievable such unbelief. All right, but Jesus in His compassion and His goodness, comes back in verse 15.
“He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?” Now remember He’s talking to the Twelve, so I could without endangering the Scriptures, I could just say, “But who do you twelve men think I am?”
“And Simon Peter (the spokesman) answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Notice there’s a period there at the end of that statement. Do you see any reference to His death, burial and resurrection that we must use for our profession of faith? Not a word. They don’t even know He’s going to die. Was Jesus satisfied? Absolutely. This is all they were supposed to know and believe that Jesus was Who He claimed to be, He was the Messiah of Israel in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.
All right, you go on into the book of Acts and Peter is going to be doing the same thing, but I’m not going to stop there or we’ll never get through James. So let’s come on back to James, and I just want you to see that when he speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ in verse 2, it was in regard to His Messiahship. They understood that He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. But not a word about the finished work of the cross, not a word. All right, now then, to these religious Jews who had embraced Jesus as the Messiah, but who are still keeping the Law, James says, “Now let’s be practical.” If you’re going to be a good religious Jew, this is how you have to live.
“For if there come unto your assembly…” (Synagogue). Now this is interesting. Here’s where sometimes I think even the translators have thrown us a curve. Do you know what the Greek word here for assembly really is? Synagogue! That’s what it should have been, the Greek is Synagogue. Not spelled exactly like we do, but it’s certainly close enough that this should have been translated “if any come into your synagogue.” They were Jews.- now reading on.
“For if there come unto your assembly (synagogue) a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; (wow, that gets pretty close to home, now doesn’t it?) 3. And ye have respect to him that has weareth the gay (or good) clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there or sit here under my footstool:” What are they doing? Well they’re favoring the man who’s wealthy and up and coming and they’re putting the poor fellow down. And what does James say? “Hey, that’s bad religion.” Now verse 4.
“Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts.” Now that’s a good place to stop. What do most of us think evil thoughts are always connected with? Immorality. That’s where we, most of us, just put evil thoughts. Hey, that’s just a small part of it. To think favorably about this well-to-do person and put the poor fellow down in the gutter, is just as evil as having immoral thoughts. It’s all evil. It’s all in the same bailiwick. All right, so James now says, “And you’ve become judges (or practitioners) of evil thoughts.” Now verse 5.
“Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith,…” Well now here’s where you can take a good tidbit from James and say, “Yeah.” All through Christian history, for the most part, what class of people have been Christians? The poor and the downtrodden. It’s only in the last hundred years where Christianity has enjoyed the wealth and the prosperity that you and I are acquainted with.
All the way up through the last 2,000 years it was the downtrodden, it was the persecuted, it was the hated who were the Christians of the world. And so James is saying the same thing. What did the Lord Himself say about poor people? “Hey, you’ll always have them with you.” That’s never going to change. The welfare system hasn’t changed it. Europe has tried it and what has it done? Bankrupted them. So you can’t remove the poor from the world situation, it’s always been that way and always will until the Lord comes. All right, so James says, you’re missing the point, poor people are really the gemstones of the operations of God because those are the kinds of people that he finds in faith. Now verse 6.
“But ye have despised the poor….” Why? Because, they had bad religion. I can’t get over that. Because that’s exactly what we’re driving at here, religion just won’t cut it.
“But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?”
Now let me come back to my introduction of all this (the historical scenario again). Here these Jews have been scattered out of the area of Jerusalem and Judaea under Saul’s persecution and a lot of them have already been out there throughout the Roman Empire – ever since 606 BC when they went into the Babylonian captivity. This wasn’t recent. So some of these Jews that had become involved with these Jewish congregations up there in the land of Turkey, some of them have been out there long enough that they became successful businessmen and had become wealthy. And we know that the Jews have a knack for it. They have a talent. And so even though there are a lot of poor Jews down through history, there have been some wealthy ones.
And so, evidently, in these congregations there were, again, a mix of wealthy and intensely poor Jewish people. So he says, “Don’t the rich men oppress you?” Well, of course they do. They always have. And they always will. They take advantage. You know, I’ve got a real smart economic precept, or whatever you want to call it. You know why poor people stay poor? Because they always have to buy the cheapest, poorest product in order to afford it. Now when you buy the cheapest product in Wal-mart, how long is it going to last compared to the good one? About one-fourth as long. So how have they programmed it? The poor man has to buy, and buy, and buy and buy. The rich man can buy once and it’ll last a lifetime. That’s the difference. And it’s always been that way. So, the wealthy element takes advantage of the poor and once they get in there, it’s almost impossible to get out.
All right, read on, I mean this is practical. You can take a lot of this to heart. Verse 7.
“Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?”
What’s he talking about? You’ve got to remember history. I think a lot of people realize that I’m a history buff. Well, I could just read history twenty-four hours a day. Now at this point in time in the Roman Empire, the Roman political officials had no problem with the Jewish religion and the Temple worship. They had no problem with the Jews. In fact, I’ve put it on the program years back. I read one time that the Romans made sure that whenever these offerings for the Temple were being transported from one end of the Empire or the other, the Roman authorities guaranteed that every dollar as we would call it today, got to Jerusalem. They didn’t persecute the Jewish religion. They recognized it as an ancient religion and they embellished it really.
But, it was these Jews now who had withdrawn from the mainstream of Judaism and had embraced Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah – they were outcast to the mainstream of Judaism. Now, what’s my best example? Saul of Tarsus. Perfect example. What was Saul? He was the typical practitioner of Judaism. Pharisee of the Pharisees. Wealthy. And what did he think of these Jews who had embraced Jesus of Nazareth? He wanted them put to death! Throw them in the dungeon. They’re nothing but the off-scouring of humanity. Well, that’s the mentality as you come into even these little epistles now – that the Roman Empire had no problem with the Judaism of the Temple worship but they consorted with those Jews to persecute these Jews who had come apart as believers in the Messiah. See that? And Saul is my perfect example of all this. Okay, we’ve got a little bit of time left. So verse 7 again.
“Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” Well, what was that name? Jesus of Nazareth. They were followers of Jesus. Now verse 8.
“If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well:”
Now goodness sakes, who promoted that Golden Rule more than anybody else? Jesus did – in His earthly ministry. What did He tell, I think it was one of the rich young rulers that came to Him, and He said, “After you’ve given your all to the poor, then do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, which is the Law that fulfills all the rest of the Law.” And James is repeating it. See? See how legalistic all this is? And it’s right in perfect accord with the Jews who’d become followers of Jesus during His earthly ministry and in those early years of Acts.