Lesson 1 From the Book of James – Introduction
I love the Book of James 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 because of the timeless Lessons From the Book of James. One of the most famous verses from the Book of James is – faith without works is dead. Yet, the book is filled with many practical steps of action which are born of faith in Christ. James was tone was one of love combined with correction that might have seemed harsh if you did not consider it in conjunction with the situation the Christians were living in.
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.
James 1:1-5 The Voice
“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! Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure.
And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line – mature, complete, and wanting nothing.
If you don’t have all the wisdom needed for this journey, then all you have to do is ask God for it; and God will grant all that you need, He gives lavishly and never scolds you for asking.”
Practical Admonishment and Guidance
This letter was written to just one group – Jewish believers who had recently accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior – the twelve tribes of Israel who are spread across the earth. James loved these people and had heard of their hardships as well as the fact that they were in need of guidance and help. They were being hunted down and killed so it was imperative to James that he deliver a pointed and practical message to them.
Their very lives were, quite literally, in the balance. One of the great Lessons From the Book of James has to do with the balance of faith and works. For the Jews, works and adhering to the law was at the center of their lives. Now, as Christians, they had to learn about salvation by faith and grace, making it part of their daily lives so James writes a letter addressing things like how to face trials and hardships; how to remain humble; handling temptations and lust. They were honoring the rich and ignoring the poor. He told them they had to have more than just words about faith. Instead, their very lives had to show their faith. He talked to them about their uncontrolled tongues and what true wisdom looks like. How to pray. This is the book of James.
The History of the Book of James
Experts can’t seem to agree as to which ‘James’ (there are many mentioned in Scripture), so, my scholarly view 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.
Faith Without Works is Dead
James is thought to be one of the earliest Epistles written. The persecution of the new believers was in full force and 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 believed that 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’ was an extremely active verb and noun. It is a living, breathing, dynamic force which can revolutionize our lives if we allow it.
James Was Teaching A Lesson on Faith to New Believers
Lessons from Book 1 of James delivers a message to new believers about 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; and he looks at the lifestyle which is created by living a life of faith. He sees faith as the foundation of our lives. James, the brother of Jesus, was a Jew who had come to the realization that his own brother was the Savior of the World! How incredible. The struggles of these new converts had to be very familiar to James who was also reconciling the Law with grace.
While his message might be quite blunt in some places, it is an unwavering statement of complete faith and trust in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ. The man who grew up with Jesus, stayed in Jerusalem and became the leader of the church there. A compatriot of Paul and the other disciples who gave direction which solidified and strengthened that which has become the church spread throughout the world. This is James and this is his message.
Keep reading! There are Study Guides for lessons 1-4 and 5-8 with more to come as we continue this great Bible Study in the Book of James.
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