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James 2:5 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:1 hr 5 mins 52 secs

The Doctrine of Inheritance
James 2:5

Verses 1-13 of this chapter deal with partiality, which is just one aspect of the application of unconditional love. Then there is a shift at verse 14 into a different subject, the relationship of faith which here is not only the operation of the faith-rest drill but what you believe, doctrine in your soul: "What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works [application]? Can that faith deliver him?" Then there is an illustration in vv. 15-17. That illustration of supplying a need of somebody in a situation of being financially destitute is similar to the illustration of the poor and wealthy in vv. 1-13. So he then goes vv.15-17 are back in an illustration related to the first part of the chapter. So we go from subject A to subject B, then back to subject A, and then to subject B. That shows us that this entire chapter has a literary unity. That is important because one of the reasons that most people screw up in interpreting this passage is that they just want to jump into the last section from v. 14-26 as an independent whole without relating it to its context of the entire chapter and relating that to the main theme which is hearing and doing.

James 2:5 NASB "Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world {to be} rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" This begins with the aorist active imperative of AKOUO [a)kouw]. Back in 1:19 we had the command "Be quick to hear," and the Greek word for hearing was AKOUO, and there we had the present active infinitive of purpose; that we are to make that a priority in our life. Here we have the aorist active imperative. This is pointed out to show that grammar has an important significance to our understanding of Scripture. This is something that very few people are aware of. There is an important going on here with imperatives. There are second person plural imperatives and there are third person singular imperatives. The second person plural is addressed as a whole, these are general mandates addressed to "you all." The third person singular has to do with a more specific mandate related to carrying our the general mandate emphasized in the second person singular. There is also a shift going on here between the present imperative and aorist imperative. The basic idea of the aorist imperative is that it is a command in which the action is viewed as a whole without regard for the internal makeup of that action. What that means is that it is not necessarily emphasizing a point in time or continuation or anything, it is just viewing the action as a whole. Most aorist imperatives are either ingressive (ingressive: to begin to do something) or they are constative aorists. The ingressive means to begin an action with the stress on the urgency of the action. That would be, "Start listening." There is a subtle implication there that you haven't been listening. Notice we are back with our key word here, being quick to hear, and what have we learned already? That real hearing means application. So James is bringing our attention back to this with this imperative, saying, "Listen up, concentrate on this." An ingressive would mean stress on the urgency of the action, start doing something you haven't been doing. The constative is a solemn or categorical mandate without stressing the beginning or continuation of the act, but on the solemn urgency of the act. It is to make this your highest priority. That is just what the grammar means. Whatever is in the aorist imperative is that you make this your highest priority, so this just feeds back into our [couldn't hear word] here that we are to make hearing the highest priority in our life. That means taking a little time and doing a little self-evaluation. We saw that we are supposed to look into the Word of God like a mirror and hold it up for a little self-evaluation.

The bottom line here is to begin and continue doing something. This is important, it is solemn, it is to make this the highest priority, to start doing it and to make it a continuation in your life. How does all this grammar relate to what James is telling us? One thing we need to remember is that there is an important stylistic shift in James' writing. Every time he shifts gears and uses a second person plural he is making a new point, and it grabs our attention. The oast time that James used an aorist imperative, second person plural, was in 1:21. We had "Therefore," and then an adverbial participle of attendant circumstance, which has the function of stating the prerequisite to the main verb. The main verb there was "receive." That was the aorist imperative there: receive the word. Remember, the aorist imperative states something that is supposed to be the highest priority. So James is consistent here. The highest priority in 1:21 is to receive the Word, next time he uses an aorist imperative he says, Listen up to the Word, concentrate on the Word.

In between 1:21 and 2:5 were two other imperatives, and these were present tense imperatives. There is one in 1:22 where it is poorly translated: "prove yourselves doers of the Word," and that is not the word in the Greek at all. The word in the Greek is GINOMAI [ginomai] which means to become something that wasn't there before. They were to become doers of the Word and not merely hearers. That is the transformation that takes place as a result of studying God's Word. So we have the general mandate stating the priority in 1:21, then the continuation that begins the continue concept in 1:22 with the present imperative, to begin becoming appliers of the Word. The next mandate is in 2:1—and remember these mandates are not options in the spiritual life, they are absolutes. If you are going to go anywhere in the spiritual life you have to fulfil the mandates under the filling of God the Holy Spirit—"do not hold your faith [doctrine in the soul]"… "with an attitude of prejudice." All of these imperatives in this section are emphasizing the priority of doctrine in our life. None of us will get anywhere in the spiritual life unless we make learning doctrine and applying doctrine the highest priority in our life.

So verse 5 begins with the mandate to concentrate, to listen; and we know that listening isn't just having our eardrums tickled but it includes the concept of application. Then he says, "my beloved brethren." This tells us that he is addressing them as believers here, not as unbelievers, so we are talking about phase two doctrine, spiritual life doctrine, not phase one salvation doctrine. "…did not God choose the poor of this world {to be} rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" What in the world is this talking about?

Who are the poor? What does he mean by the poor? There are only two options for defining the word poor. The first option is that we can define the word poor economically, in terms of pure economics. If we define it economically, then what that is really saying is that poverty in and of itself becomes a spiritual virtue. That is going to appeal to the ascetics but the implication of that, that being poor and giving away all your money and having nothing and living as a homeless person somehow impresses God and is necessary for acquiring divine blessing. That just goes against everything else in the Scriptures. So obviously we have excluded economics here as a definition because it would just lead to an absurd theology. The other option is that when we get into verse 5 James has shifted the nuance of poor from economic poverty to spiritual poverty or humility. "Did not God choose the humble of this word to be rich in faith?" In 1:21 James says that we are to receive the Word in humility, so there is a parallel there and there is a contextual parallel that is quite significant. But there is an even more significant parallel than that which goes back to the teaching of Jesus. Who was James' older brother? Our Lord. James was not a believer while our Lord was walking on the face of the earth, but he probably heard much of what the Lord taught, and there are a lot of similarities and parallels between what James says in this epistle and the sermon on the mount.

Luke 6:20 NASB "And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He {began} to say, "Blessed {are} you {who are} poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. [21] "Blessed {are} you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed {are} you who weep now, for you shall laugh.[22] Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. [23] Be glad in that day and leap {for joy,} for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. [24] But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. [25] Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe {to you} who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. [26] Woe {to you} when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way."

The thrust of all of this is dealing with spiritual issues and spiritual attitudes, and it is not dealing with physical or overt things. The hungering for righteousness, who are positive to doctrine, who are applying doctrine, who want to know the Word of God, who realize that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word received from the mouth of God; "who weep now," i.e. those who are sorrowful over sin and its consequences in their life, for sorrow over the world and its situation and the loss that can include a number of attitudes. Jesus wept when he looked on Jerusalem because of their negative volition, so it is not wrong to have a sense of sorrow, sadness over the lost and over those who are on negative volition; "when men hate you," i.e. for the gospel. And what do you get for all of that. There is reward, so we are not talking about salvation here, we are talking about position in heaven.

Matthew 5:3 NASB "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Luke said Blessed are the poor." So now we have a new phrase, and that is going to help us understand the concept of poor. We have this phrase EN PNEUMATI [e)n pneumati]. There are several problems we have to address here. First we have to understand what PNEUMA means. Does this refer to the human spirit, the Holy Spirit, or does it have another connotation? Then we have to look at the phrase. Is this an EN plus the dative of means or agency, indicating by means of the human sprit or by means of the Holy Spirit. Is it a locative dative, which would mean in the sphere of the spirit? The word PNEUMA has a number of different meanings. Its basic core meaning is breath or wind. It has come to be used for that which is unseen both in terms of the Holy Spirit and the human spirit. But it also has to do with thinking, and according to the lexicon it means an attitude or disposition reflecting the way in which a person thinks about or deals with some matter. In those passages where it talks about having the spirit of anger it is talking about having an attitude or disposition of anger, the way of thinking. Here we have an attitude or disposition that is related to poor, and the whole phrase here is an idiom for humility. Blessed are those who have a humble attitude, an attitude or way of thinking in terms of humility; "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." In other words, the arrogant one is not going to inherit the kingdom. The subject all through here in Matthew 5 is talking about inheritance.

What James says in 2:5 is almost a paraphrase of what Jesus said. God chose the poor of this world, and if we take poor as humble, God chose the humble of this world "to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" What we have seen in studying inheritance is that there are two categories of inheritance.

The doctrine of inheritance

1)  We need to look at the basic meaning of the word inheritance, KLERONOMOS [klhronomoj]. The core meaning is inheritance, possession or property. So to inherit the kingdom means to possess the kingdom. Sometimes this refers to a birthright which someone enters into by virtue of their physical descent or sonship. Galatians 4:30; Hebrews 1:4. It can refer to property as a gift in contrast to a reward. Hebrews 1:14; 6:12. It refers to property received on condition of obedience to certain conditions. 1 Peter 3:9.

2)  Jesus Christ is the heir of all things. Hebrews 1:2. We then enter into inheritance by virtue of our union with Christ.

3)  Inheritance is based on adoption. Adoption occurs at the moment of salvation, we are adopted into the family of God, we become sons of God and are viewed as adult sons [u(ioj] in Galatians 3:29; 4:1. So inheritance is related to our position in Christ, blessings related to positional truth. Romans 8:16, 17. "… heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ." So that passage tells us that there are two categories of inheritance. One is heirs of God, the second is joint heirs with Christ "if indeed we suffer with Him." What is James talking about? He is talking about perseverance, testing, suffering. 

4)  Inheritance is based on the grace promise of the Abrahamic covenant. Galatians 3:29, "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise."

5)  Inheritance, entering into the family of God, demands eternal life. Titus 3:5-7.   

6)  Inheritance means to share the destiny of Christ. Christ has an eternal destiny and we share it as we share His election. Ephesians 1:11; 1 Peter 1:3.

7)  Inheritance is both a present reality and a future possession. 1 Peter 1:4, 5; Ephesians 1:11, 13, 14. We have obtained is, that is part of it, but the rest is contingent. The contingency of that inheritance, those contingent blessings in eternity, are going to be determined by how we live our life today.

8)  Inheritance means eternal security. 1 Peter 1:4 "…an inheritance {which is} imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away…"

9)  God the Holy Spirit is a down payment on our inheritance. Ephesians 1:14.

10)  Some passage speak of inheritance as a permanent possession based on faith alone in Christ alone and other passages seem to make inheritance contingent upon certain behaviour. E.g. 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10 indicates that if you participate in certain kinds of carnal activity you will not inherit the kingdom of God. Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:24. There is a distinction.

11)  We either inherit the kingdom—Ephesians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, or there is inheriting salvation—Hebrews 1:14. This is what was indicated in Romans 8:17, an heir of God is one thing, a joint heir with Christ is a different category.

12)  Christ inherits the kingdom, Psalm 2:8, 9, due to His loyalty to God the Father. Hebrews 1:8, 9; Psalm 45:6, 7. The joint heirs with Christ will also inherit the kingdom. 

13)  Thus the kingdom has been promised to those who love God, and not all believers love God. John 14:21-24; James 2:5 "…did not God choose the poor [humble] of this world {to be} rich in faith [doctrine] and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?" What do the humble do? They take in the Word and make it a priority in their life to apply it. "heirs of the kingdom"—promise to whom? Those who love Him. Not all believers love Him. Those who are failures in the spiritual life, who do not advance spiritually, who do not make doctrine the priority in their life, they will operate in the sin nature producing sin, human good, and temporal death, leading to spiritual weakness, emotional instability, spiritual regression, a hardening of the heart. And at the judgment seat of Christ they will lose rewards and there will be shame at the judgment seat of Christ. They will be heirs of God but not joint heirs with Christ. Heirs of God means that they will have a resurrection body, that after the initial shame at the judgment seat of Christ there will be no more tears, no more pain, the old things are passed away. But they will not enter into all of the blessings that come as being joint heirs with Christ and being a possessor of the kingdom. They will live in the kingdom but they will not possess the kingdom.