THE LETTER OF JAMES.
Which James wrote the Book?
1. James the Disciple – the son of Zebedee. He was put to death in 44 A. D. by Herod Agrippa – Acts ch 12 v 2. He is ruled out.
2. James the Younger. – Mark ch 15 v 40. He is James the son of Alphaeus in Mark ch 3 v 18. There is little known about him and it is unlikely to be him.
3. James the brother of Jesus. Mark ch 6 v 3. Gal ch 11 v 19. Jesus had 4 brothers, including Jude. They were all born to Mary and Joseph. Mat ch 13 v 55. Paul met James in Jerusalem Gal ch 1 v 19. So it is almost certainly him. Jesus appeared to James. 1 Cor ch 15 v 7. This was probably when James was converted. James became a leader in the Church after his conversion. Gal ch 2 v 9-12. As a brother of Jesus he must have watched Jesus at work and preaching. The Book was probably written about 60 A. D. There was a time when the family of Jesus was less convinced about what He was saying. In Mark ch 3 v 21 it confirms that James had opposed Jesus during His earthly ministry. The family was ashamed of Jesus. Are there times when believers are ashamed of the words of Jesus? Even His brothers did not believe Him. John ch 7 v 5. But Jesus later appeared to James. James played an important part in the Council of Jerusalem. Acts ch 15 v 13-21. He is open-minded and anxious not to offend Jewish converts. Josephus tells that he was brought to court on a charge of the High Priest and stoned to death in 61 A. D. He is referred to as James the Just. He was righteous in observing the law.
The Letter teaches on such matters as prayer, persecution, humility, brotherly love, patience and self-restraint. What a man really believes is seen in what he does rather than in what he says. “So you tell me that you are now a Christian. Prove it. Let me see you in action.” James is well placed after Hebrews. Hebrews explains theology. James deals with the response. How should a man change? Let him obey James’ teaching. The Letter is an exhortation to believers. “Live it out!” A slave is someone who belongs to another. Christ is the one James serves. The letter is written to the 12 tribes of the Dispersion. Many stayed on in Babylon after the Exile. There were Jews in Antioch, Alexandria, Athens, Rome and Babylon. James was a Jewish convert but still very Jewish. He is writing to other Jews who have links with Judaism. What mattered to the Jews was the keeping of the Law. Legalism is not concerned with an attitude of mind. James explains the sort of person a believer should be. James divides the Letter into three aspects of the life of a believer:
1. A man’s attitude towards God in prayer, speech and trust.
2. A man’s attitude towards others in speech, forgiveness, equality, and the poor.
3. A man’s attitude to himself in wisdom, teaching, life style and holiness.
CHAPTER 1. Essentially it is about practical Christianity – how to behave. It contains ethics rather than doctrine. In it there are many echoes of the Gospels, especially the Sermon on the Mount. If a man is saved, does it matter how he lives? Believers are free. It is very easy for the World to squeeze a believer into its mould and it is hard for a believer to be the sort of person God wants him to be. James is labelled as nobody. He met the risen Jesus personally and called Jesus “master”. He describes himself as a servant. Being a servant keeps a believer humble. He was converted when he met his brother after the resurrection. That was the central fact of his life. There is no substitute for first hand experience of the Lord. James went on to become a leader of the early Church at Jerusalem. James became a leading member of the Church. Acts ch 15 v 13-22. The letter is written by a Jew to Jewish believers. The early Church was exclusively Jewish for the first 15 years. James was stern and severe, rather like a prophet. It was written before Paul wrote Romans. Acts ch 21 v 18ff. James met with Paul after 3 years of meditation following Paul’s conversion. James gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul in Gal ch 2 v 9. Great things are possible for the followers of Jesus.
The believers were passing through trials and temptations and this letter was written to comfort and encourage them. There were grave disorders amongst believers in that day. This was written to correct them. There was a danger of divorcing faith and works. Where was the evidence of a changed spiritual person, born of the Spirit of God? “Prove it”, was the common taunt. It can be the same today. “He is all talk and no action.” Believers are to be living members of the body of Christ. Daniel is very interesting, but, without works, people will not be convinced. It is a letter for holy living. Faith always leads to works. Abraham left home. Noah built an ark. David defeated Goliath.
Deeds not words. Be a doer and not a talker. People will not be interested how much a man knows until they know how much he cares. The believer should have a positive attitude to the difficulties of life. The believer does not blame God when they go wrong. He knows where to turn to for help and guidance. He has control of his tongue and his temper. He sets out to discover what are God’s standards and to live by them. The 12 tribes in dispersion symbolise all God’s people. True Christianity is real religion and all the others are false. All religions cannot be true. There is a danger of familiarity breeding contempt. The way believers handle the Bible shows their regard for the Word of God. Muslims would never leave the Quran on the floor but place it up on high. It is symbolic of their respect for the holy book. It is easy to be a believer on Sunday and a heathen on Monday. James addressed the major events of his day and the major events of every day.
Faith and wisdom. C. S. Lewis. “It is when you tread on the toes of a man, you find out what sort of person he is.” Is he humble or proud? There is a blessing when a man conquers temptation. Wisdom is available for the asking. Solomon asked for it. 1 Kin ch 3 v 9. Jesus said that a man does not receive because he does not ask and He challenges a man to ask for anything in His name and His Father will give it. Mal ch 3 v 6. Difficulties bring about character formation. Those who have lived a sheltered life are often not very resolute. Mat ch 5 v 12. Believers should rejoice when the World persecutes them, because it has recognised something it hates in their lives.
God does not send temptation but allows it. God is in control and is responsible for the life of a believer. He allows testing in order for the believer to grow in maturity. Parents allow children to leave home and go to school. It is for the good of the child in the long run. God could never do this since He is sovereign and transcendent. He allowed Jesus to be tempted but had a purpose in it. Satan is the one who tempts. Temptation is like training in the army of God. The source of evil starts with lust and desire. Lust conceives and gives birth to sin. The pull of a man’s own desire is fanned into life by Satan. Sin brings forth death. It is the only thing it can produce. Rom ch 6 v 23. Temptation will appeal to a man’s weaknesses. For one it will be drink – for another money. Satan always aims for the Achilles heel of a man. The sinful area, which convicted the man of sin and led him to seek salvation is the danger area for him. In the first temptation in Eden Eve was alone. Gen ch 3. Temptation usually comes when a man is alone. Satan distorted the Word of God and caused doubt as to whether what God had said was really true. Satan appealed to Eve’s senses. It looked good. He also appealed to her pride. Yield not to temptation. It is not the temptation, which is sinful but the yielding to it. Even Jesus was tempted. But He did not yield. Recognise it and refute it with the Word of God.
God is the source of every good gift. He is single-minded and changeless. God fixed the order in the Universe. He is reliable and trustworthy. James is arguing against any idea of dualism, which says that there is good and evil in the godhead and the two are always in conflict. James argues that this is not so. ch 1 v 5. There is no darkness in God at all. God is good, while man is not. God gives man a new birth. It is always good to go back to basics. God created each man out of nothing. Every good thing comes from Him. Listen rather than speak.
Wealth tempts and does not bring lasting satisfaction. Ch 1 v 12. James is more occupied with questions of riches and poverty than most of the New Testament writers. He criticises them as a group. Kingdoms pass away but a man’s attitudes to riches remains the same. Those who acquire their riches by exploitation of the poor find the Bible diametrically opposed to them. Deuteronomy urges the people to look after the poor. The rich are accountable for their wealth and how they have used it. The poor people in Israel were often abused by the rich. Amos ch 4 v 1. Ruth ch 2 v 2. James says of the rich:
1. Their treasure will not last.
2. They have caused hurt to innocent people.
3. God has heard the cries of the poor people.
4. The rich will be consumed with fire.
The rich are not condemned for their riches but for how they acquire them and how they use them.
Jesus had many friends who were rich and who used their riches to support Him. Poverty can also produce sin – theft and greed. Justice does not depend on circumstances or wealth.
CHAPTER 2. In the Church it is pride when the rich are courted and the poor are ignored. The rich are not trusting in God. There is no difference in God’s Kingdom between rich and poor. Riches will not last and so there is no point in trusting in them. Ecc ch 2 v 1-11. There is the same theme in James as in Ecclesiastes – trying to find the meaning to life. What brings true satisfaction? The Church contained predominantly poor people. v 10. How should the Church deal with them? In due course others joined who claimed a special position in the community because of their riches and possessions. They wanted the best place in the congregation as well. James rebukes them for it. Partiality is one of the ways of the World. A believer is to show no impartiality and should treat all people equally with dignity and respect. This is not limited to fellow believers. While Scripture differentiates between certain sins as to their quality and quantity all sins make the sinner a sinner. Do unto others. Lev ch 19 v 18. A man should rejoice and be glad when he encounters trials and tribulations. It is part of the process of sanctification. Testing produces endurance and character. A man grows as a result of experiences in life. It is a test of his faith, designed to strengthen it. It helps make believers more perfect, complete and rounded. Change is inevitable. Growth is optional. Rom ch 5 v 3-4. There is always pressure to conform to the ways of the World. Believers are to be in the World but not of it. That is the great challenge for the believer.
Faith and works. 2 Cor ch 5 v 17. There is no contradiction. It is like two sides of the same coin. Works without faith are of no avail so far as righteousness is concerned. But if there is a profession of faith without actions in response, it throws into question the very matter of the new birth. People should expect to see a difference in the life style of the person. Even the demons shudder before God. James mentions some who had faith in God and acted accordingly. What are “works”? Salvation is not earned by works. It is not doing what a man likes e.g. visiting. It seems to be doing what God wants, when it is against what a man wants. v 22. Abraham was doing what God told him to do. Acts ch 9 v 36. Works of the flesh are described in Gal ch 5 v 19. John ch 9 v 3. Eph ch 2 v 9. A man is obliged to do unto others what he wants them to do for him. Conscience dictates that. A man is then only doing what he ought to do.
James contrasts faith with faith and works. He is not setting faith against works but showing the contrast between the two. Nor is he tackling the question as to how a person becomes right with God. Faith needs works. It is not enough that a man believes in God if he does not show it by what he does in response. A life, which shows love and mercy, is proof that there is faith there as well. There are two kinds of faith. 1. A head belief that God exists. v 19. Demons are monotheists, but they do not worship God. His existence does not make any difference to their lives. 2. Saving faith. The change in the style of life is evidence that the faith is there. A faith, which does not require what God requires, is useless. Micah ch 6 v 8 shows what God does require of a man. James is warning against an empty faith. He is not saying that works can save. James ch 2 v 21 – Rom ch 3 v 8. The verses seem to be saying the opposite thing but this is not so. Faith without works is dead. James and Paul are looking at the problem from a different angle. Rom ch 5 v 1. Paul was not teaching anyone as such, James is. Mat ch 5 v 20. Man’s righteousness should exceed that of the Pharisees. They were very devout. Total dedication is called for by Jesus. The effect of a man’s faith is seen in his actions.
“Be doers and not just hearers of the Word.” Hearing by itself is not enough. Obedience is essential. The commands, which James gives, are all doing words, leading to action. Mark ch 4 v 9 & 23. Luke ch 8 v 8. Luke ch 11 v 28. Mat ch 11 v 15. Mat ch 13 v 9 & 43. There is no point in words unless a man puts them into practice. It is like a man looking in a mirror and seeing what he is like and not doing anything about it. It is like having medicine and not taking it. Listening to the Gospel and not doing anything about it is just the same.
Real faith must be seen in action, looking after the widows and orphans. Ch 1 v 27. No one else will look after them effectively. There is always a delicate balance between walking with God and enjoying life. There is the risk of a negative religious attitude creeping into a man’s life. There is righteous anger but even so it is not wise to act in anger. Sleep on a decision prompted by an angry response. A believer should not let the World mould him into its ways.
1 Kings ch 3 v 9-12. Wisdom is an important aspect of the Christian life. Without it a man is a fool, double-minded and unstable. Man tends to alter between two different opinions – God and Baal. The believer must be sure about God in whom he believes or he will lack assurance. Jesus made it clear that a man does not receive because he does not ask. Children are forever asking questions. Believers should be doing the same.
Man should not to prefer one person to another, especially the rich against the poor. Ch 2 v 13. It is not for a man to judge which person is worthy of respect because of the clothes he wears. A man looks at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart. 1 Sam ch 16 v 7. Mat ch 7 v 15 talks about knowing people by their fruit and warning about wolves in sheep’s clothing. Mark ch 7 v 21. It is what comes out of a man, which determines his character. God turns human values upside down. There is no condemnation of riches as such. It is the abuse of wealth, which is condemned. Rich people have a special responsibility in the Church. The Old Testament law is fulfilled in mercy. Favouritism leads to rejection. Favouritism and jealousy lead to rejection and murder.
Teachers will be judged more strictly. They have to meet higher standards. It is more serious for a teacher to be departing from the truth. Teachers in the ancient World were highly regarded. They pass moral judgement. If they fail to live up to it themselves, they are hypocritical. They are more enlightened and children look to them for more than intellectual knowledge. Their lives should be lived to reflect the truth, which they proclaim. They are always prone to sin. There will be judgement for believers after this life. How has a man used the talents he has been given? Much is expected of those to whom much is given. Mat ch 23 v 8. A mistake by one teacher could lead many astray with serious consequences. Test all teaching against Scripture. 1 Thes ch 5 v 21.
Tongues stir up anger, if not kept in check. Religion, which does not keep a man from causing harm with his tongue, is useless. One aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Control of the tongue is evidence of the fruit of the Spirit. Gal ch 5 v 22. The tongue is difficult to control. Out of the heart the mouth speaks. A man’s words reveal his thoughts and his thoughts reveal his attitudes. The Amorite spirit. Like all gifts speech can be used for good or evil – as a blessing or a curse. God is not finished with His children yet. Gossip must end. A careless word can cause such hurt. Everything a man says has consequences and he ought to be very careful of what he says and especially what he says about others. Prov ch 12 v 18. He should not brag about what He has done. What place does testimony have? To brag about what God has done. Jer ch 9 v 23-4. Mat ch 15 v 11. Mat ch 7 v 15-20. Tongues need to be sanctified. Rom ch 3 v 23. A man tends to criticise others for the very faults, which he has himself. All are born in sin and so cannot criticise others for that fact. A man must not speak evil of others, even though it is true, unless there is some necessary occasion for it, e.g. to warn another of danger. A small thing can produce a large effect e.g. a rudder or a flame. The same tongue curses men and blesses God. If a man criticizes he sets himself up as judge – in the place of God. A man should never say anything about another person behind his back, which he would not say in the presence of that person. It is very hard to do and needs to be trained into positive speech. Romans ch 14 v 4. When a man gossips he is seeking to place the person about whom he speaks a little lower in the eyes of others and in so doing is doing down the grace of God. A man also steals the reputation of that person. Defamation of character judges a man in his absence. God as the lawgiver has reserved the power of passing sentence on man. Assuming grace without acknowledging God’s grace is self-righteousness.
A good man ought not to be critical but ought to see the best in others. Each person is a mixture of grace and sin. A lovely man reveals God’s grace. Yet all fall short of the glory of God.
Divine wisdom is required by all men. It is an attribute of God. ch 3 v 15. 2 closely related to God. Prov ch 22 v 31 and 3 Christ personifies wisdom. It becomes personal in Christ. Col ch 2 v 3. Paul asked for it. False teaching leads to a corrupt life. It will produce greed and selfishness. e. g. look after self. Anything leading to sin must be false. True wisdom produces meekness, moral integrity, peacefulness and gentleness. The gifts of the Spirit produce the same effect. The first believers lived in a wholly pagan society and their lives were quite different. Others should notice the difference in the life style of believers. The lives of believers must match their words. Life style evangelism is a central theme in James. Some things may seem good. There may be a desire to do something for God but it is not in response to what God has commanded be done. It is worldly and is not blessed by God. Selfish ambition leads to disaster. If God is in it, there will be an openness to discuss and a spirit of unity. Rom ch 2 v 5- 11. Isaiah ch 32 v 17.
Worldly wisdom leads to selfish ambition, factions, arrogance, lying to get round the truth, jealousy, quarrels, etc. There is a continual war as long as a man does not obey God. Lust produces murder. Desire can lead to such a craving as to lead to murder. David and Bathsheba. Cain and Abel. The inward sins are just as serious to God. Pride means that a man is full of his own importance. Some are trying to satisfy their own desires as well as trying to serve God. Their motives are therefore not pure. It is impossible to serve God and Mammon. A man is called to make a choice. Moses set the choice before the people in Deut ch 30 v 15-19.
CHAPTER 4. Man has fought from the very beginning. Cain and Abel. “You want but cannot have and so you take.” Men fight over possessions, a wife, money and land. Coveteousness lies at the root of the problem. Wars, fights, quarrels and disputes are common. Selfish desire is at the root of the problem. This covers everything from squabbles between children and court actions to World War II. The World revolves round “me” and when a man cannot have what he wants he takes. There is little submission to God. It is easy to pray: “My will be done.” It is important to remember that James is writing to believers. Controversies are often to prove a point and get one over the other person. It may stem from a sense of inferiority. Titus ch 3 v 9. Romans ch 7 v 23. Sin lies within a man and wars with his mind. Man often asks for the wrong motives. He wants a blessing so that he might appear well in the eyes of others. It should be in order to give glory to God. Basically each man is a ruined sinner. There is a choice to be made. Is a man sufficiently concerned to be God’s friend or is he prepared to be on friendly terms with the World? “The World” is the organisation of men without reference to God. In other words they will do it their way, without consulting God or doing the work subjected to God. Deut ch 30 v 15-20. Choose this day whom to serve.
v 11-12. Slander. It comes so naturally.
v 13 – 17. In matters of importance a man should not make decisions without consulting God. God wants to be involved in the life of a man and wants that man to fit in with His plan for his life. Self-confidence does not please God. Faith does please Him. The two are opposites. Prov ch 27 v 1. Luke ch 12 v 13-21.
Is it right to plan ahead. It is good to have short-term goals and long-term goals. Alternatively should a man live one day at a time? God planned ahead in sending Jesus.
v 17. John ch 9 v 41. No excuse. Luke ch 12 v 41-48. It is dangerous to listen to what God says. Luke ch 16 v 20. By saying “No” to Jesus, the rich man sent himself to Hell.
A man tends to boast about what he is going to achieve and to leave God out of his plans. To slander a brother is to steal his reputation. A man can cut someone down with his tongue. Gossip does just that. Believers should not do this for three reasons: 1. It disturbs the unity of the body. 2. To speak against another is to speak against the Law. 3. A man has no right to judge. This applies to all people and not just believers. Life is short and all must give an account of what they have done with it. In making decisions a man should seek the will of God.
CHAPTER 5. v 1-6. Wealth is a dangerous thing. There is nothing wrong in having wealth. Wealth is not a sin in itself but brings with it great responsibility. The real question is how did a man come by it and how has he used it. God has given the raw materials in the World e.g. timber, livestock, minerals, fish and the Holy Spirit to enable a man to develop his skills to harness the resources. It is good that man does not live in poverty. Yet riches choke the dependence of man on God. There is a paradox. The poor complain to God about their poverty. The rich ignore God. Much of the poverty in the World is due to laziness or war or bad stewardship of the resources God has given man. Injustice is one of the things God hates. Some are rich because they have paid low wages to their employees. The riches could have been used to help poor people. Amos ch 6 v 1. Watch out for corruption by material possessions. They can steal affection for God.
v 7-11. Patience. It is part of the fruit of the Spirit. When a man is controlled by the Holy Spirit, he should display patience. God wants each man to be perfect or complete. God is not finished with any man yet. All Believers are at a different stage of knowledge and experience. The prophets are an excellent example for man. They often waited for their prophecies to come to pass and often they did not come to pass in their lifetime. Do not give up. Jesus is coming. Job ch 1 v 21 and ch 42 v 10.
Those who are impatient tend to be critical of others. There is only one judge. A man can still correct others lovingly from time to time. To turn a sinner from his errors is different from criticising him. Jeremiah was long suffering and patient, despite the fact that there were several attempts on his life. Job was patient. Trust God despite the circumstances. For a believer all relationships should be harmonious.
v 12. No oaths. Mat ch 5 v 33-37. Believers swear politely. Goodness is another name for God, who is goodness. Do not swear by Heaven. Otherwise a man comes under God’s judgement.
v 13-19 is like the finale to a symphony. So far James has dealt with temptation and testing by God. He has challenged man by asking what he is doing for God in light of the wonderful gift of eternal life. He warns a man to watch his attitude towards others in his inner thoughts. In particular he must be most careful in what he says. Believers ought to keep apart from ungodly activity and seek holiness. Be patient and remember to lay up treasure in Heaven.
James turns his attention to suffering and sickness. How more practical could he be? Sickness and sin go hand in hand. Psalm 50 v 15. Mark ch 6 v 7-13. Prayer to God is effective. God makes oaths so it is not wrong to make an oath. But do not make a false promise. Avoid a glib reply. “Yes” or “no” is enough. The key to healing is faith. Healing will not happen unless God has spoken and His word is met with faith. How can God answer, if a man does not believe in Him or what He can do? How does he pray and not doubt? He must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. It must be in accordance with the Word of God and be in line with the character of God. If prayer is made in unbelief, there will be no answer. A man should ask God for wisdom and a discerning and understanding mind.
Healing. Who does the healing? God is the source of all health. Prayers have a part to play. Oil is a symbol of the blessing of God and of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Prophets, Priests and Kings were anointed. Oil is not essential but is symbolic. Sins are not necessarily a direct cause of sickness but are closely connected with it. Mat ch 9 v 1-8. When sins were forgiven physical healing occurred. The prayer of faith will bring healing.
v 14. What about those not in a Church? What about those in a Church, which does not recognise elders? What about those, whose elders do not believe that they should fulfil this purpose? Elders were to be righteous men. The requirements are stated in 1 Timothy ch 3 and Titus. As such they should know what sins may have contributed to the sickness. There is a sin profile for each disease. “Confess your sins to one another.” Confession of sins to one another brings releases from darkness as light floods into the life of the one who confesses his sin. Mat ch 3 v 6. 1 Pet ch 2 v 24. What if the person to whom sins are confessed tells others? John ch 9 v 31.
Elijah was a mere man. John. Acts ch 14 v 15. 1 Kin ch 17 v 1. 1 Kin ch 18 v 1. 1 Kin ch 18 v 42.
v 19. Keep in contact with people of faith. Those bound in tradition will erode confidence in the Word of God. Negative spirits take control. A lack of need leads to a lack of faith. Faith feeds on facts. What is God doing in the World. Sharing with others is essential to stimulate and encourage them. The death is not physical death nor is it eternal death but temporary spiritual death. “I am dead spiritually” means that a man is not in touch with God. He is not exercising faith. He is still physically alive and he is still in receipt of the gift of eternal life. Yet he may give the appearance of being dead spiritually. Believers should encourage other believers in that situation to join them in fellowship. Only faith pleases God.