Summary: An introduction to the book of James
“Show me what you got!” is a phrase that we often hear in both fun and all seriousness when a challenge is laid down by one person or group to another person or group to back up their claims of some kind of prowess or ability with action. A well-known church version of “show me what you got” is “walk the walk don’t just talk the talk.”
The book of James in the New Testament is a book about “showing me what you got” when it comes to “walking the Christian walk and not just talking the Christian talk.” We are going to spend four of the next of eight Sundays walking through this important book.
We begin this morning with an overview of the book as well as a study of our main text.
One of the ways that scholars have helped us to better study the Bible is by classifying the books into literary categories. For example, there are the historical books of the Old Testament such as 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. The Psalms are classified as poetry. In the New Testament, Acts is considered an historical book and Romans as a doctrinal book. What kind of a book is James?
James has traditionally been placed in the category of “general epistle.” Another name for ‘epistle’ is letter. ‘General’ refers to the fact that the audience to whom the book is written is a wider and more ‘general’ audience that compared to the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, and such that were written to specific audiences (namely, the churches in the cities from which the books got their name.)
It is also interesting to note that Martin Luther felt that the book of James along with the books of Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation lacked what has been called ‘apostolic authority’ and were doctrinally of “secondary value.” Luther placed these four books at the end of his Bible in 1522 “to form,” wrote RVG Tasker, “a kind of supplement” to the rest of his version. However, later versions of the Bible placed James within the ‘canon’ or ‘accepted books’ of scripture and placed it as it appears in our Bibles today. (Luther did not forbid the reading of the book and said, “There is many a good saying in it.”)
Now the reason that Luther, and others, struggled with the ‘canonicity’ of James was due to what our main text speaks of: the relationship of works and faith. Luther felt that it went against the Biblical truth of ‘justification’ (or being made right with God) by faith’ and instead promoted ‘justification by works.’ Given Luther’s views that led him to start what we now call the Protestant Reformation this concern is understandable because the Reformation focused on being made right with God by faith in Christ alone and anything or anyone that said or spoke of the need for ‘good works’ was viewed with suspicion.
One of the things about James you notice as you read is that it jumps around from topic to topic, which can make reading it a challenge. It is a practical book and it forces the reader to reflect on whether or not one’s faith is being expressed in some important and practical ways.
In the introduction to his commentary on James, Tasker recalled a sermon with James 1:27 as the text and a memorable line that he never forgot, “The Epistle (or letter),” said the preacher, “of James is a collection of sermon notes.” I think seeing this Epistle, as a ‘collection of sermon notes’ is a great way to navigate this book in a meaningful way. For example, in any given week, a pastor (yours truly included) will deal with a variety of issues and situations that people bring via the phone, e-mail, or through face-to-face conversations.
They are situations in which a large theological discourse will not necessarily help the situation. What is called for is a practical application of the faith.
This book has that practical application. It cuts through the ‘red tape’ and ‘churchy words’ and gets to the heart of ‘showing what you’ve got’ that our text illustrates.
There are also other important questions to ask when we study scripture that will help us to understand better what is said. One question, that is important but can be overemphasized is, ‘Who is the author of the book?’
Again, there has been much discussion over the centuries about who ‘James’ is. Common consensus indicates that it was the half-brother of Christ.
In his sermon “Jet Tour Through James,” Pastor Travis Moore points out some important facts about James. (OVERHEAD 1)
1. The oldest of Jesus’ brothers. (Mark 6:3)
2. An unbeliever prior to the resurrection. (John 7:3-10)
3. Among those Jesus appeared to after the resurrection, resulting in his conversion. (1 Cor 15:7)