Summary: Part 1 of 7 in our teaching series, "TRUE RELIGION", a section by section study through the letter from James to the early church.
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**NOTE: THIS IS A CONCEPT OUTLINE FOR THIS MESSAGE. GRAPHICS AND MULTIMEDIA ARE AVAILABLE TO SUPPORT THIS SERIES.
:: James the Author
There is some debate within religious circles as to who James actually was. There were two amongst the disciples with the name: James the son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus, brother of Matthew the tax collector. Neither satisfactorily fits the historical evidence for the authorship of this letter.
Tradition identifies James by the writings of Paul, who, in his letter to the church in Galatia, refers to James as the “brother of our Lord.” He is probably the eldest brother referred to in Mark 6, part of Jesus’ family who disbelieved and doubted that Jesus was who he claimed.
James and the rest of his family thought Jesus to be crazy and refused to hear his teaching about the Kingdom of God.
But something changed for James; Paul records in his first letter to the Corinthians that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to James. This would appear to have been a pivotal moment in James’ life, for he undergoes a transformation that changes his destiny forever.
We do not have much record of the life of James, but after that moment, the next time we run into James, he is a leader of the Early Church; in fact, Paul refers to him as one of the “pillars” of the Church. Backed by some ancient documents and writings, tradition holds that James served as the Bishop of Jerusalem, overseeing the growth and structure of the early church communities until his martyrdom. The historian Josephus recorded that James was stoned to death in 62 AD by angry Jewish religious leaders who claimed he had violated the Law.
One thing is for certain: James was deeply concerned about the church community.
The Early Church historian, Eusebius, wrote the following account of James:
“James was often in the habit of entering the temple alone and was often found on bent knees interceding for the people, so much so that his knees became as hard as a camel’s knees in consequence of his habitual kneeling before God.”
One has only to read through his letter to know that he was passionate about helping people experience the power of God fully in their lives through faith in Christ. His challenge is for believers to put faith to work. To James, “faith is not about believing in spite of the evidence; faith is obeying in spite of the consequences.”
:: The Early Church
Imagine yourself to be a leader in the very early days of the Church:
• fighting oppression from the religious and political leaders who are labeling you as a cult, as heretics, as a dangerous religious sect
• confronting people from within your culture who are attempting to distort your Gospel by mixing in their own preferences and beliefs
• and if that weren’t enough, new people are joining the faith every day, bringing with them their baggage, their sins, their messed up lives, their dysfunctions... and looking to you to show them a new way to live
• What would you say to this early group of Christ-followers?
• What, in your opinion, is the “core” of the Christian faith?
• Specifically, what is the most important aspect of the Church community?
:: The Letter from James
James is the letter to those who want to answer those questions and get a grasp on how to experience real faith in their everyday lives.
• It is considered the earliest of the New Testament writings [45 AD] and one of the most practical when it comes to instructing believers in the Christian faith
• It is addressed to the “twelve tribes scattered abroad” referring to Jewish believers that had been dispersed throughout the known world
• This address includes Gentile believers who were joining into these communities
James’ desire was to see the early church christians be united in their faith and grow in their spiritual maturity.
• Maturity is one of the greatest challenges facing many believers today
• In our consumer-based culture, the motivation to mature is often low
• The process of spiritual maturity is often uncomfortable, filled with failure, and frankly, humbling – not a process that we naturally want to embrace
• But in the eyes of James – and the majority of the New Testament writers – it is a process that is crucial for the believer who desires to live out their faith in a real way
• In this letter of James we have a manual on how to become spiritually mature.
:: The Process of Spiritual Maturity
Spiritual maturity is a matter of ATTITUDE and CHARACTER.
D. L. Moody said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”