Summary: When we ask God for wisdom in the midst of painful trials, ee start discovering what really matters. We start discovering how God is working out His eternal purposes in all of the pain and all of the confusion of the here and now.
Let me begin by giving you a little bit of the background information to the book of James. The book of James is the first of what is known as “The General Epistles” in Scripture. The general epistles are seven in number. Besides James, they include 1st & 2nd Peter, 1st, 2nd & 3rd John and the book Jude. They are called general epistles because unlike most New Testaments letters, which are addressed either to specific individuals or to specific congregations, the general epistles are addressed more broadly to the Christian community. For that reason too, they are not named after the recipients of the letter, but they are rather named after the writers of the letters. And so, Romans, Philippians’, Titus, Timothy, those are all named after the people to whom the letters were addressed, but James, Peter, John and Jude are the authors of the letters. And so the book of James is not written to James—but by James.
James most likely, was the brother of Jesus. There are a number of James’ in the New Testament. The brother of Jesus didn’t originally believe in him, but after his resurrection, came to faith and then went on and became one of the significant leaders of the early New Testament church.
Now what’s really important for our consideration this morning is to understand the audience that this letter is addressed to, because it is addressed to Christians who are in exile. Listen carefully again to Verse 1. “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.”
The Greek literally says “the twelve tribes in the dispersion”, that is to say, they have been scattered all over the Roman Empire. Commentators are virtually unanimous in agreeing that this is a reference to Jewish Christians who were forced to flee Jerusalem and who were spread out all over the Roman Empire. We know from the book of Acts chapter seven that after Stephen, who was one of the first deacons, was martyred, the Bible says in Acts chapter eight, “a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and everybody except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”
And then a couple of chapters later on in Acts Chapter 11 we are told, “While those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch preaching the good news of the gospel.”
So, here’s the picture, you’ve got this comfortable Jerusalem church, God unleashes persecution on them or allows persecution to be unleashed upon them and it was part of God’s agenda to get them out of their holy huddle, I believe, to engage in world missions. Think of it as a big pond of water, you throw a big stone in it and the water scatters and splashes everywhere. These Christians are the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. In other words they are a displaced people. Now historically speaking, a displaced people are characterized by at least four qualities. Let me try to walk you through these as quickly as I can.
The first is they have typically experienced loss. Sometimes as you can see in the picture, it’s the loss of relationship or the loss of a loved one. More commonly it is the loss of possessions, typically when disaster strikes you have to make fast decisions about what you leave behind. Many times people escape only with the clothes on their back, highly traumatic. You lose what you’ve worked for.
Secondly they tend to confused and disoriented. Disaster as well as persecution often comes with relatively little notice and to be plucked up out of a safe environment, to be thrown into great uncertainty can snap even the strongest minds and can play very serious havoc with your emotional state.
I remember so very well back in 1953, I was five years old when our family went through a major flood in the Netherlands. Dykes broke and eventually we got eight feet of water in the place where we lived. By then we were gone – we ended up going to higher land, stayed there for five or six weeks while the lands were being pumped dry. I remember coming back to debris and junk and all kinds of things all over the place. But what was particularly traumatic about the experience for my father, in addition to the fact that a lot of his cattle drowned and all the usual disasters that you go through, one of my older brothers, just before the water hit, had been sent off with one of our horses to an Uncle of ours some distance away.
That’s when the water came, and for days my father had no information about the well being of my brother. And for days we wondered, “Is he dead or is he alive?” Well it turned out he was very much alive and lived to pester me for many years after that, but that is a whole other story. But you can imagine the disorientation, the confusion of people who wonder about loved ones or people who wonder, “Is anything going to be left that I’ve worked for, when I get back home?”