James’ Urgent Message – #1
Introduction to the Book of James
James – the Man With a Message
I love this Epistle and view it as one of the most compelling and practical. I originally wrote this in 2005 and taught it as a Bible Study in our church. Since that time, I have used it over and over. Though James was written hundreds of years ago, the issue of faith and works is as relevant today as it was in James’ time. Balancing those two things – (1) living a life of faith without falling under the law of works vs. (2) believing that works are the most important thing and becoming a slave to them – was the essence of James message. He was giving balance. Once we have a life of true faith, the natural result will be works of faith.
1 James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, to the twelve tribes of Israel who are spread across the earth: I send you my warmest welcome! The Voice
There are really only two primary figures in this letter, James and the Jewish Christians who were being hunted down and killed. It was imperative to James that he deliver a pointed and practical message to these people. Their very lives were, quite literally, in the balance. James is the one who tells us that “faith without works is dead.” I’m sure he had no idea how controversial this statement would be!
What Was James Really Saying About Faith and Works?
The message we read is, of course, brought to our minds in a very different light. Most of us are not being persecuted because we are Christians, but the truth of James is just as important now as it was then. True faith produces things in our lives – life, compassion, purity, holiness, and love no matter who you are, where you are, or when you are on this earth. For James, ‘faith’ is an extremely active verb and noun. For James, faith is a living, breathing, dynamic force which can revolutionize our lives if we allow it.
Experts can’t seem to agree as to which ‘James’ (there are many mentioned in Scripture), so, my scholarly viewpoint is that this James is the brother of Jesus and the man who became the leader of the church. In the book of Galatians, Paul mentions going to the Apostles in Jerusalem and mentions, James, the brother of Jesus. It is widely accepted that James, the brother of Jesus, was the head of the church in Jerusalem because his name is mentioned separately from the others. Ancient texts, such as those written by Josephus, refer to James as being the brother of Jesus, and, Clement of Rome states that this same James was the, “bishop of bishops, who rules Jerusalem, the Holy Assembly of Hebrews, and all assemblies everywhere.” James, the brother of Jesus, is most likely the one who wrote this Epistle.
For many centuries, there was debate about whether or not this letter by James should be included as Holy Scripture. Luther felt that the epistle (letter) of James “is an epistle full of straw because it contains nothing evangelical.” At that time, Luther was fighting for the re-birth of the idea of salvation by grace, not works. In Luther’s time, the church had fallen into a system of works that included buying your way out of sin. So, it is easy to see that, in the context of his time, Luther might react negatively to this letter. This points out why it’s important that we also consider Scripture in the context of its time, not just ours. As you will see next week, James clearly states the importance of faith and writes as if he assumes that everyone knows this.
James – the Man of Faith
Luther was a great servant of the Lord who brought about astounding change, but I respectfully disagree! Although I agree that the epistle is not “evangelical,” I don’t believe it was intended to be, at least, not in the way Luther thought it should be. From the first verse, James makes it clear that he was writing to the “believers,” people who were already Christians. It is addressed to the “twelve tribes of Israel who are scattered abroad.” He sent it to believers who were being persecuted, killed and were running for their lives. Many of them had lost everything including loved ones and friends.
James is thought to be one of the earliest Epistles written and the persecution of the new believers was in full force. James himself was martyred in A.D. 62. These people were struggling to start something that had never existed before, the body of Christ, the church. They were in deep need of instruction and direction, and so, James wrote this letter to them, not to the unsaved. He was trying to help them survive, get back on the right path, and stay there.
James – the Man of Action
James message tells the new believers what faith does. His theme is faith, but it’s expressed in a somewhat different manner. Obviously, James agreed with the other Apostles that faith was all that was needed for salvation. If not, I’m positive Paul would have written about him and made their disagreement very clear! James doesn’t contradict Paul as some seem to think. Instead, his theme is practical; he looks at the lifestyle which is created by living a life of faith.
I invite you to join me in traveling through the book. The next lesson will cover James 1:1-8.