James’ Letter to Christian Jews Scattered Throughout the Ancient World
Author: James, the half-brother of Jesus
James had not believed that Jesus, his older half-brother, was the Messiah until after the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to him. After witnessing the Lord’s resurrected body, James became one of the leaders of the church at Jerusalem.
James was martyred after 30 years of ministry.
The epistle of James was written to Christian Jews who were scattered abroad throughout the ancient world. From Babylon to Rome, wherever any community of Hebrews might be gathered for commercial or social reasons, these exhortations of James were likely to be read. Most of James’s readers were poor and had become even poorer through the persecution leveled against them.
The book of James concentrates primarily on questions of daily living as a Christian. The practical issues he considers include concern for the poor, the responsible use of wealth, control of the tongue, purity of life, unity within the community of Jesus-followers, and above all patience and endurance during times of trial.
The main purposes for James’ letter include:
To encourage Christians who were facing persecution to persevere.
To motivate them to hold on to the law of God.
To explain that faith without obedience to God is useless.
To instruct them in Christian living, even under duress and persecution.
Good Works are the Evidence of Genuine Faith
This book focuses on the importance of good works as the evidence of genuine faith.
The book of James urge Christians to “be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.”
James emphasizes that good actions will naturally flow from those who are filled with the Spirit and questions whether someone may or may not have a saving faith if the fruits of the Spirit cannot be seen.
James conveys that faith without works is dead and insists that works, not words, are the mark of a disciple.
Martin Luther, who detested this letter, failed to recognize that James’s teaching on works complemented—not contradicted—Paul’s teaching on faith.
Lessons from James 1
Count It All Joy (James 1:2-18)
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.
James reminds his suffering brothers and sisters that they should not be surprised when they experience intense periods of testing.
God was allowing these experiences to strengthen and mature their faith.
James does not say if you encounter trials, but when you encounter trials.
12God blesses those who patiently endure testing
19Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
22But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
26If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.
Lessons from James 2
James makes it very clear in his epistle that keeping the law of God is something that all true believers, all Christians, are required to do (James 2:10-12).
Works always accompany true saving faith. Good works are not the cause of salvation, but they are the result of it.
A Warning against Showing Favoritism
1My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
9But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.
13There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others.
Faith without Works Is Dead (James 2:14-26)
14What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions?
17So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
18Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
20Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
21Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? + 22You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.
24So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
25Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road.
26Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2:26
Lessons from James 3
Controlling the Tongue
Proper control of the tongue is important for spiritual growth.
15For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
James makes a distinction between worldly and godly wisdom.
17But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. + 18And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
Lessons from James 4
1What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 2You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them.
Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. + 3And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
4 Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7So humble yourselves before God.
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. + 8Come close to God, and God will come close to you.
Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. + 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
Warning against Judging Others
11Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. + 12God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
Warning about Self-Confidence
13Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” + 14How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” 16Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil. 17Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
Lessons from James 5
Solidarity with the Poor
God loves the poor—and the rich ought to love them, too.
If the community addressed by James is called to be doers who act, a key character of this action is to be in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Love of the neighbor is specifically contrasted with a partiality shown to the rich at the expense of the poor.
4For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. + 5You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. + 6You have condemned and killed innocent people,* who do not resist you.
Patience and Endurance
7Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. + 8You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.
9Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged.
10For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
11We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.
The Power of Prayer
13Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. + 14Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. 16Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
17Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! 18Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.
Restore Wandering Believers
19My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.