Summary: First message on James. James’ letter is more a practical paper on corrrect conduct, than a doctrinal discourse. He assumes a knowledge of doctrine (dangerous assumption today!) and urges us to live out the truth.
“It is a bewildering paradox that one-third of all American adults claim to be born again and yet fail to impact our society which becomes sicker and more corrupt by the day. Religion is up but morality is down,” says Chuck Colson. George Gallup reached the same conclusion when he polled the nation in 1984. He said, “Religion is growing in importance among Americans but morality is losing ground.” [Colson and Gallup quoted by John D. Woodbridge in Renewing Your Mind in a Secular World (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), vii]. Ken Blue says there has been a drastic shift in our worldview. We still believe in God but “He has become nonessential to the way we live our lives. We...may be theists in our heads, but we tend to act like secularists in our daily activities.” [Authority to Heal Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1987) 55f].l
The book of James may be the earliest of New Testament writings. Perhaps before any of Paul’s letters or the Gospels were written he was concerned about a Christian worldview. A growing dichotomy between belief and behavior troubled him most.
James’ letter is not primarily a doctrinal discourse, but a practical paper on correct conduct. The name of Jesus appears only twice, and the cross or the resurrection is never mentioned in the epistle. James just assumes that you know doctrine and he concentrates on the importance of living the truth. If you really believe as you should, then you will not behave as you shouldn’t?
I. MEET THE AUTHOR ... v. 1
The author introduces himself simply as “James, a servant of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He makes no reference to his position or his family relationships. This probably means that he was so prominent the readers would immediately know his identity. At least five New Testament men were named James, though only two of these were well known in the early church —James the son of Zebedee and James the Lord’s brother. James the apostle, brother of John, was beheaded by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12) in 44 AD, probably too early to have written this letter.
Most conservative New Testament scholars believe the author was the half-brother of Jesus, born and raised in the same family. In his younger years he joined his family in thinking his elder brother was a mental case. He was still an unbeliever at the cross because Jesus assigned the care of his mother to a spiritual brother, John. James came to faith when the risen Christ appeared to him personally.
This letter is probably the first piece of literature in the New Testament. James may have introduced himself in such a humble way because he was sick of name-dropping and self-promotion. He refused to indulge in the practice. He attacks phoniness with a vengeance. A fraudulent attitude won’t last long in a study of this book, because James essentially says, “be genuine, or be gone!”
James knew that his more important relation to Jesus was spiritual rather than physical. They shared a physical relationship because they both came from Mary’s womb. Their spiritual relationship was a result of a kinship with the same Father, God.