To do the whole chapter in one study is a fairly tall order; it would more naturally split into two, but needs must in order to cover the letter in seven studies. That perhaps means you will need to sit looser to the details, and simply make sure the main points are clear and that you apply them.
The essential point of these verses is clear enough: don’t show favouritism. A number of reasons are given for why what they were doing is wrong. The mention of “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” reminds that it is not for us to “become judges” for that is His responsibility. Secondly, verses 5-7 show that the way they were judging / discriminating was perverse: pouring scorn on those whom God has chosen to honour, and honouring those who pour scorn on Christ and his church. Thirdly, such favouritism is a clear violation of the “royal law” to love our neighbour. That law is the measure by which we will be judged, not our relative wealth, and of course the law is a great leveller, showing us all to be lawbreakers in need of mercy. Verses 12,13 bring us back in a sense to where James began in v.1, with a reminder that we will be judged, and if our lives have not been characterized by mercy, then nor should we expect to receive mercy. In the Gospel “mercy triumphs over judgment”, and if that Word has truly been implanted in us then it must show in our lives.
Our world is in this respect little different from the world of James’s first readers: we are prone to favour the wealthy and powerful in society, to be concerned to seek their approval, and to show a worldly disdain and disregard for the poor and weak. James makes it clear he considers that no small matter, and we must be careful in the language of 1:23-25 to look intently in the mirror and take on board how it challenges us.
Again, the main point is clear enough: real faith, saving faith, will always be accompanied by deeds. It’s proved and demonstrated by what we do. Faith that is merely a profession of faith, and that does not issue in a life consistent with that profession, is dead and useless – as useless as the empty well-wishing of v.16 to the brother in need. As the reformers said: whilst it is faith alone that justifies, the faith that justifies is never alone. He is not saying that we are saved by our deeds; he has made it clear earlier that we are saved by the Gospel (1:18), but the proof that that Word has truly been implanted in our hearts will be seen in what we do. (NB James is not contradicting Paul here, rather he is arguing against a misunderstanding of Paul’s teaching, much as Paul himself has to do in some of his letters.)
He makes his point by giving two examples of dead faith: the empty talk of the well-wisher in vv.15-16, and the orthodox belief of the demons in v.19. And then he gives two positive examples of genuine faith: Abraham, whose profession of faith years earlier was “made complete” by his obedience to God in offering up Isaac, and Rahab, whose faith in coming victory of God’s people was demonstrated in her willingness to align herself clearly with them. For both faith comes first but is then demonstrated by what they did. Notice that the kinds of deeds James seems to suggest will characterize true faith include practical concern for the needy within the church and costly sacrifice.