A. One day, a couple of weeks before Christmas in the mid1980s, I was driving on the back roads of Arkansas from El Dorado, Arkansas to Memphis, TN.
1. I was on my way to take my graduate class finals and I was running late.
2. I set the cruise control about 8 miles over the speed limit and was holding the note cards I prepared for the exams in my fingers at the top of the steering wheel; reading them as I drove.
3. I glanced up from the cards just as a police car approached from the opposite direction and when we were about to pass by each other, the flashing lights on top of his car came on.
4. He immediately turned around to pursue me and I pulled over.
5. After taking my license and registration, he asked, “Where are you going in such a hurry?”
6. I replied, “I’m on my way to take my graduate school final exams and am running a little late.”
7. Then the officer asked, “And what subject are you studying in graduate school?”
8. I sheepishly replied, “Biblical studies.”
9. Then the police officer asked, “Do you know what Romans 13 says?”
10. “Yes, sir,” I replied, “It says to obey the governing authorities.”
11. I will never forget what he said next, “If you know what it says, then why aren’t you doing it?”
12. I said, “I am running late, but that is not a good excuse.”
13. He graciously gave me a warning, saying, “It’s almost Christmas, and my brother-in-law is a minister, and I know ministers don’t have much money, so just slow down a little.”
B. James, the writer of the New Testament book of James would have liked that police officer’s question: “If you know what it says, then why aren’t you doing it?”
1. That’s basically what James says in chapter 1, verse 22 (which was included in our Scripture Reading for today): “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
2. We will spend more time with that verse and that section of James 1 in a few sermons down the road, but for today, I want it to be the launching point for our new sermon series from James.
3. Perhaps with the exception of Proverbs, there is no more practical book in all the Bible than the letter of James.
4. As a tribute to the inspiration of God, it remains as practical for the 21st century as it was for the first century when it was written.
a. Do people still have trials and temptations to deal with?
b. Are the obstacles of prejudice and discrimination still present and active in our society and even in the church?
c. Do some people want only to profess faith without actually living it?
d. Is worldliness ever found among the people of God?
5. As long as there are human beings living on this planet, problems such as these will exist.
6. And for that reason the book of James will always be necessary because it addresses all of these hindrances to spiritual maturity and godliness.
C. I have titled this sermon series on the book of James “A Faith that Works.”
1. I chose that phrase because it is a play on words.
2. We need a faith that works, right?
a. We don’t want a faith that doesn’t work! We don’t want one that isn’t effective, do we?
3. James wants us to know that the only kind of faith that works is a faith that works – a faith that is active – a faith that is obedient to God’s word and puts God’s word into practice.
a. Any other kind of faith isn’t really a faith at all, and it certainly doesn’t work!
4. Ultimately, our faith must make a difference in the way we live each day.
5. Throughout this series from the book of James, we will see how James makes that clear.
6. As we begin this study of James, let’s ask two basic, yet important questions.
I. Question #1: Who Is the Author of this Letter?
A. The final author of every word in the Bible is the Holy Spirit. Right?
1. The communicating of the will of God in both the Old and New Testaments was accomplished as “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet.1:21).
2. Therefore, it is our responsibility to receive the Bible “not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).
B. Nevertheless, the fact remains that this inspired, complete, an authoritative revelation of truth was delivered to us through men.
1. These men were somehow supervised and enabled by the Spirit of God so that they could not change or spoil the message being given through them.
2. The fact that the Spirit is the ultimate author of Scripture does not mean that the men used for the task of communicating truth were incidental or unimportant.
3. On the contrary, God chose certain individuals and employed them in the writing of Scripture because of their background, their disposition and their training.
4. And he allowed their own individuality and personality to come through their writings.
5. Paul wrote using his unique vocabulary and style, and because Peter is different from Paul, he wrote with his own unique vocabulary and style, as did the rest of the writers of Scripture.
6. This makes the process of inspiration all the more amazing.
7. God respected and used the individuality of each man and yet so guided them that the result of their work would be God’s own production, not theirs.
C. With all that in mind, we come to the question of who wrote the letter of James.
1. Because the background and personality of the author are a part of the letter that the Holy Spirit produced through him, it is important that we try to identify who authored the book.
2. The author identifies himself in James 1:1 as, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
3. Yup, that’s all we have to work with, but we assume that the original recipients of this letter found that brief introduction to be sufficient to be able to recognize the identity of the author.
4. So that means he must have been a familiar figure in the early church.
D. Several men with the name of James are found in the New Testament.
1. There is James the son of Zebedee (Mk. 1:19), James the son of Alphaeus (Mk. 3:18), James the brother of Jesus (Mk. 6:3), James the younger (Mk. 15:40) and James the father of Jude (Lk 6:16).
2. Of that group, only James, the son of Zebedee, and James, the brother of Jesus, could be described as well-known figures.
3. Our first vote might be for James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John.
a. He was evidently very close to Jesus.
b. He was in the inner three (Peter, James and John), who frequently were with Jesus apart from the other apostles - like on the mountain when He was transfigured.
c. But we are almost sure that this James did not write this letter, because he died as a martyr around 44 A.D., and the book of James was almost certainly written later than this.
d. Acts 12:1-2 says that Herod had previously put James the brother of John to death by the sword and when he saw how much this pleased the Jews, he had Peter arrested also.
4. So, with James, the son of Zebedee eliminated, that leaves us with James, the brother of Jesus as the one most likely to be the author of this letter.
E. Although there has been considerable debate as to the authorship, the major weight of church tradition leans toward the author being James the brother of Jesus.
1. Scripture tells us that Jesus had four brothers – James, Joseph, Judas and Simon.
a. Actually they are only Jesus’ half-brothers since they have the same mother, but their father is Joseph, and Jesus’ conception was by a miracle so He had no earthly father.
2. In the two verses that name the brothers of Jesus (Mt. 13:55 and Mk. 6:3), the name of James is listed first, perhaps suggesting that he was the oldest of the four and closest in age to Jesus.
F. If James, the brother of Jesus, is in fact the author, and I believe he is, then we can marvel about this, because his pilgrimage to faith is a surprising and fascinating one.
1. In John 7:3-5, we learn that James, along with his other brothers, did not believe in Jesus’ claims about himself.
2. It even appears that James was among those who sought to put an end to Jesus’ public ministry.
3. Mark 3:20-21 reads: Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Jesus’ family thought He was crazy!)
4. So, that was James’ early opinion about Jesus, but it changed.
5. An altogether different picture of James is later painted in Acts and in the NT letters.
6. An event must have occurred in his life that thoroughly changed him.
7. That event transformed him from a doubter to a disciple.
8. And that event must have been the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus.
G. The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:7 that after Jesus was raised from the dead, He made a personal appearance to James.
1. This appearance must have dissolved away all his doubts and reservations about Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah, the Son of God.
2. So immediate was his change of heart that he was numbered among the believers in Jerusalem when the book of Acts begins – which was only a month after the resurrection.
3. Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
H. It is clear that from this point on James developed and become a leading figure in the church.
1. When Peter was released from prison by an angel and rejoined the brethren at the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, he told them the details of his miraculous deliverance and said, “Tell James and the brothers about this” (Acts 12:17)
2. When the apostles and elders met to discuss the question of Gentile admission to the church, it was James who made the final and definitive statement on this matter (Acts 15:13ff).
3. Paul reported his labors to James upon his return from his 3rd missionary journey (Acts 21:18ff)
4. Paul referred to James as one of the “pillars” of the church at Jerusalem in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 2:9).
I. Non-biblical history informs us that James was known as “the Just” because of his many virtues.
1. Eusebius says that James spent so much time on his knees in prayer that his knees “grew worn and hard, like those of a camel” – So James was called “old camel knees.” (good nickname!)
2. So, we can marvel at the amazing difference a living faith made in the life of James.
3. He had grown up in the same house with Jesus.
4. He had witnessed the sinless life of Jesus and had heard much of Jesus’ teachings, but he had been an unbeliever and a stumbling block to Jesus until he had witnessed the resurrected Lord.
5. When James identified himself in James 1:1 as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”, that statement is both evidence of his humility and a recognition that his spiritual relationship to Jesus is far more important than his physical one.
6. He could easily have identified himself as “James, the biological brother of Jesus,” but in many ways that’s beside the point.
J. In James’ mind, the most important thing in his life was that he is a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. James’ desire for his readers to see him as a simple servant of God and Jesus may be an attempt to downplay his authority, and be seen as a fellow-servant of God, just like the readers.
2. After all, unlike Paul or Peter or John, this James was not an official apostle of Jesus.
3. This is a good example for all who teach and lead God’s people – we must see ourselves as servant leaders.
4. This is certainly what Jesus taught by word (He said: “whoever wants to be great must be a servant”) and by example (He said: “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give himself as a ransom”) and that’s what Jesus did! (Mt. 20:26, 28).
K. Let me point out one other interesting thing about the way James introduced himself – he called himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
1. This is an odd construction and is only found here in the New Testament.
2. James’ intent here is most likely the same as what Paul was doing in Titus 1:1 – “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ…”
3. By those statements, both Paul and James, demonstrate that loyalty to Jesus Christ does not undermine loyalty to God; and that in fact, they are one and the same.
4. Balancing the divinity of Jesus with monotheism (the belief that there is only one God) was no small problem for early Christianity – especially as they tried to convert Jews to Christianity.
L. So, in summary, the answer to the first question: “Who is the author of this letter?” is: James the brother of Jesus is most surely the author of the book of James.
1. And although James had risen in the church to a position of authority, he wrote with humility, communicating that he was simply trying to serve God and serve others.
2. And James also wrote with a sensitivity to Jewish monotheism but wanted his readers to know that loyalty to Jesus as Lord does not endanger loyalty to God as the one true God.
3. Let’s move on to the second question, which won’t take us as long to answer.
II. Question #2: To Whom is the Letter Written?
A. All the NT letters were written to specific people with definite purposes in mind.
1. As we have already said, they are permanently valuable because their authors were guided by the Holy Spirit.
2. Surely when James sat down to pen this letter, he did not think that he was writing five chapters of the Bible.
3. James wrote this letter to people for whom he felt a sense of personal responsibility.
4. James exhorted them in very much the same way a father would exhort his children – with both authority and love.
B. So, who were the people to whom this letter was originally written?
1. Verse 1 says, “To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.”
2. Although some have suggested that this might be addressed to Christians in general – both Jews and Gentiles, it is more likely addressed to Jewish Christians who had been forced to flee Jerusalem and for whom James had a great personal concern.
3. The readers likely had been “scattered” because of an intense persecution that broke out against the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1 and 12:1ff).
4. When these Christians had lived in Jerusalem, they no doubt had looked to James as their teacher and counselor and spiritual leader.
5. Now they were separated from him and the distress over this situation was certainly mutual.
C. James knew of the severe trial these saints were undergoing (James 1:2) and he desired to help them by writing a letter that would strengthen their faith, increase their courage, and warn them against spiritual indifference.
1. We can only imagine the enthusiasm with which this letter must have been received.
2. Perhaps some had only recently been separated from him, while others may not have seen James or had any direct contact with him in 10 years or more.
3. How excited they all must have been to have a word from their beloved brother and teacher.
4. And how practical and challenging they would surely have found his counsel to be.
D. Today, we can read this letter from James with equal enthusiasm and interest, because this book is so down-to-earth and sensible.
1. It tells us how to conform our attitudes, our speech and our behavior to the will of God so that we can be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
2. This letters shows us how Christianity is a faith that works.
A. As we journey together through this book I want to ask you to join me in doing these two things:
1. First, read the entire letter of James at least once a week.
a. It only takes about 20 minutes to read all five chapters at once.
a. But like me, you might choose to read one chapter a day, Monday through Friday.
2. Second, join me in praying for God’s help to learn and to practice the great truths of this letter.
B. I trust that all of us really love the Word of God and that we are willing to put forth great effort to know it and to put it into practice, but let me inspire you by one man’s amazing desire and effort to know God’s Word.
1. In his book The Wonders of the Word of God, Robert L. Sumner tells about a man from Kansas City who was severely injured in an explosion.
2. The victim's face was badly disfigured, and he lost his eyesight as well as both hands.
3. The man had not been a Christian very long when the accident happened, and one of his greatest disappointments was that he could no longer read the Bible.
4. Then he heard about a lady in England who read braille with her lips.
5. Hoping to do the same, he sent for some books of the Bible in braille.
6. But then, much to his dismay, after the braille Bible arrive, he discovered that the nerve endings in his lips had been destroyed by the explosion and reading with his lips would not be possible.
7. Days after his disappointment, as he brought one of the braille pages to his lips, his tongue happened to touch a few of the raised characters and he could feel them.
8. Like a flash he thought, I can learn to read the Bible using my tongue!
9. At the time Robert Sumner published his book (Jan. 1969) the injured man had “read” through the entire Bible four times with his tongue. Wow! Now that’s real effort!
C. Let me conclude with these important three steps for handling God’s Word:
1. Let’s study it through – day by day, verse by verse – let’s fill our minds with the Bible.
2. Let’s pray it in – let’s bathe our reading and study with prayer for God’s assistance in understanding it and in putting it into practice.
3. Let’s work it out – let’s live out the truths of God in our daily lives.
a. Let’s keep in mind the question that police officer asked me: “if you know what the Bible says, then why aren’t you doing it?”
b. Let’s be both hearers and doers of God’s Word.
D. We truly need a faith that works and the book of James is the perfect book to help us learn to have a faith that works.
1. May God bless us as we study the book of James and allow it to shape our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
• Rubel Shelly, What Christian Living Is All About (20th Century Christian)
• Sermon Series by John Huffman, Jr., St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Newport Beach, CA
• Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Victor Books
• The NIV Application Commentary: James, by David Nystrom, Zondervan, 1997.