Summary: 1st in a series on James dealing with our response to trials.
Before we examine one of the magnificent “trees” (passage) in this forest (letter), I will first provide a brief overview of the “forest”. Our task in Bible study is to first understand what God intended to communicate to the original readers. How did they understand the letter? Only then can we explore how it might apply to us today some 2,000 years removed from the original context. The core question is NOT “What does this mean to me?” but “What did God actually say to them that might apply to us today?”
The Writer and readers are plainly and succinctly identified in the first verse.
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. James 1:1
The consensus through time seems to identify the writer as James, the half-brother of Jesus out of a possibility of six others named James. James did not actually believe in Jesus until after the resurrection. Luke listed him as present in the upper room at Pentecost. Paul mentioned James as one individually visited by the resurrected Christ. In Galatians, Paul identified James as one of the pillars of the early church. Many believe that James was the leader of the Jerusalem church. James offered only one essential credential. The lack of further credentials points to the fact this must have been someone well known and deemed authoritative by the readers.
“A bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”
Paul frequently embraced this term in his writings regarding himself. The term “bondservant” referenced one who voluntary offered their devoted service and absolute submission to the master. On the one hand it points to the humility of the servant. On the other hand, it points to the significance of the servant in who he served. None other than a bondservant of Almighty God, the Master and Messiah Jesus. It is one thing to be a bondservant to a stable owner. It is quite another to be a bondservant to the God of the universe. James could have pulled the “brother of Jesus” card but preferred bond-servant.
James addressed his letter to the twelve tribes scattered everywhere.
To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad James 1:1
It is clear James wrote to a Jewish audience. It is also clear from verse two that he wrote to a Christian Jewish audience. He called them “brothers” in Christ 14 times in this short letter. His use of brethren emphasizes a pastor’s heart and a loving connection despite a straight forward hard-hitting message. He focused on Jewish followers of Jesus scattered throughout the Roman Empire. By the time of this writing, tracing specific tribal connections had become impossible. The term become symbolic of any Jew living outside of their homeland.
Many consider this one of the first recorded writings of the New Testament books.
Purpose and Theme
Behavior of Belief
Ten Tests True Trust (Faith)
Faith that Works
The Practice of Righteousness
Faith that is real
Faith in Action
One commentator called James “a handful of pearls dropped one by one into the hearer’s mind. Some view it as a Reader’s Digest version of James’ sermons or writings. James referred to the Word of God as a mirror exposing flaws requiring attention. His whole book is a mirror that exposes areas in our life that could use some attention. Paul calls us to TEST ourselves to see if we be in the faith. (2 Cor 15:3)
James serves as a test of whether we are really trusting God or not. How does genuine faith/trust act in everyday life situations? James cites numerous circumstances that test our trust in in God and instruct us on how true faith should respond. He includes behavior concerning trials, prejudice, control of our tongue, response to the Word, suffering, persecution, temptation, anger, genuine faith, relational conflict, spiritual warfare, sin, prosperity and poverty, patience, weakness, prayer.
James serves as mirror to expose areas requiring attention as well as a mandate to make the necessary adjustments. His purpose is to urge us to improve our walk of faith not to condemn us. Christians are like raw diamonds submitted to the Master gem cutter who carefully cuts, and polishes surfaces to beautifully reflect our regenerated core. James centers on godly behavior that manifests because of our genuine faith. Not behavior driven by a desire to secure salvation but a Spirit-motivated desire to express a salvation already received apart from personal behavior or works.
Paul emphasized faith alone but did not ignore the new behavior that stems from it. James emphasized the behavior that stems from genuine faith. In keeping with his purpose, James included fifty-four life instructions (commands/imperatives) in this letter. Along with instructions for godly living, James included corresponding divine insights to help us follow those instructions.