But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
The above verses have been our focus for the last two installments of this series. We looked first at Abraham, and how his obedience to God’s revealed Word demonstrated his faith. Then we turned to Rahab and noted how her faith was seen in her identification with the people of God.
Now, as we close out this section, I want to draw your attention to what I believe is a subtle point James is making – a subtext, if you will – in choosing these two specific Old Testament characters.
So let’s back up and re-examine some of the previous passages we have looked at over the last few weeks and months.
First up, James 1:9-11
Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.
Next, James 2:1-4
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
Notice that in the two passages above, a contrast has been made, between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the exalted and the humbled. And the point throughout is that there is no room in the family of God for any distinction between the two.
Now, in this section, James picks two well-known figures from the Old Testament – Abraham and Rahab. Take a look at the passage above and see the descriptors he employs for each of them (they are in bold text). We have the same contrast. Abraham, patriarch, revered father of the Jewish race, and Rahab, a Canaanite woman of ill repute. But here they are, unified in this one all-important truth: both had faith that was demonstrated by their works.
So here’s the message James is hammering, Thor-like, into our thick skulls: there are no class distinctions in the church. Rich/poor, black/white, noble/common…none of these matter in the assembly of believers. We are all saved by the same blood, by way of the same faith, and are servants of the same Master. Do you remember the very first words of the book?
“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…”
Even James, half-brother of the Messiah, would only refer to himself as Christ’s bondservant, his δοῦλος, his slave.
There are at least two very practical applications we can draw from this. The first is aimed at anybody who would exalt himself or his position within the local church. Be it the pastor or the janitor, a Sunday School teacher or a nursery worker, part of the praise team or part of the grounds crew – at the end of the day all are the bondservants of Christ. Abraham and Rahab have vastly different titles and stories, but both share the same faith and the same obedience.
The second application is a warning to those who would try to cause divisions within the church based on class, race, national background, etc. This is sin, it is an offense to God, and it needs to be weeded out wherever it may be found, and from whichever side of the political spectrum it has its origin.
Abraham and Rahab. Different in almost every way…united at the foot of the cross.
Header image: Poverty and Wealth by William Powell Frith
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