That’s the title of the new series of lessons on the Book of James we’ll be studying on Sunday mornings in Imperial and Monday evenings in Holyoke.
Who was James?
James was a common name among first-century Jews so it is not surprising that there are several men named James in the New Testament:
- James the son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve, who was killed by Herod Agrippa I in AD 44 (Mark 1.19; 3.17; Acts 12.2);
- James the son of Alphaeus, another of the twelve apostles (Mark 3.18; Matthew 10.3; Luke 6.15; Acts 1.13);
- James, the Lord’s brother, and a “pillar” in the Jerusalem church (Mark 6.3; Matthew 13.55; 1 Corinthians 15.7; Galatians 1.19; 2.9, 12; Acts 12.17; 15.13-31; 21.18; Jude 1);
- James the younger, the son of Mary, one of the women at the foot of the cross (Mark 15.40; Matthew 27.56);
- James, the father of the apostle Jude (Luke 6.16; Acts 1.13).
As just noted, James Zebedee, the apostle and brother of John, was killed by Herod in AD 44. Three of the remaining four men named James are obscure figures who are seldom mentioned and of whose activity we have no knowledge.
The Brother of Jesus
The author of this book was probably the eldest of the four brothers of Jesus named in Mark 6.3. While Jesus was wandering throughout Galilee and Judea proclaiming the Kingdom of God, most of His family thought He was a bit crazy (Mark 3.20-21). John 7.5 states plainly that “not even His brothers were believing in Him.” That all changed with the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15.7). Though not specifically named, Luke records that Jesus’ mother and brothers were among the believers waiting in Jerusalem prior to Pentecost (Acts 1.14). Later, Paul refers to him as one of the “pillars” of the church in Jerusalem. And it is James who takes a leading role in diffusing the Gentile controversy in Acts 15.
Date of Writing
Most scholars set the date of James’s writing around AD 45 prior to Paul’s missionary journeys and before many Gentiles had become Christians. If that date is correct, then James is possibly the earliest New Testament book to have been written.
Nature of the Book
Though named the “epistle of James,” except for the opening greeting, the book bears little resemblance to a letter; there is no personal information about the recipients and no farewell message or salutation. Instead, the book has more of the characteristics of a sermon or a collection of brief exhortations collected from several sermons. The major emphases of the book are:
Faith and action
For James, faith is more than an expressed belief, it is something practical to be lived and demonstrated in acts of obedience and mercy (2.22-25), endurance (5.11), and prayer (5.17-18).
Wisdom and prayer
“Wisdom” is the essential theme of the book. It’s not speculative wisdom, but wisdom for practical living. It addresses a person’s ability to discern right from wrong, giving moral and spiritual insight in dealing with the issues and challenges of daily living. James encourages Christians to pray for wisdom because that’s what is needed to remain steadfast in times of trial and testing (1.2-8).
Rich and poor
James was concerned about the careless attitude of some wealthy Christians toward poor Christians. These two classes are first mentioned in 1.9-11, where he maintains that God lifts up the poor but brings down the rich. As the letter progresses he becomes more critical of the rich – he deplores their prejudice toward those less fortunate (2.4) and their oppression of the poor (2.6). The essence of “true religion,” as he sees it, is taking care of “widows and orphans in their distress.”
Controlling the tongue
James is exceedingly concerned about the use and abuse of speech. Emphatically, he declares that Christians “must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry (1.19). They are to keep their tongues under control, otherwise their “religion is worthless” (1.26). In his view, the tongue is as destructive as fire. He calls upon brethren to put their words into practice (1.22-24; 2.12) and not to speak evil of one another (4.11-12). And he encourages them to be people of their word – a simple, consistent, truthful “yes” when they mean yes and “no” when they mean no (5.12).
In this short book of five chapters, James outlines a practical approach to Christianity, giving us vigorous and vital instructions on how to put our faith into action – pure and undefiled religion is…