Setting the scene

This letter was written by James, the half-brother of Jesus. He did not believe in Jesus nor understand His ministry until later on in his life. James is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, and became a leader in the Jerusalem church.

The letter is addressed to “the twelve tribes scattered…” This suggests a strong Jewish leaning in the issues addressed in this letter. The issue of the position of individuals in the kingdom and the inclusive attitude of Jews and Gentiles, does not seem to be prevalent at the time of this writing. The issue of Jewish and Gentile Christians will later be dealt with by Paul and Peter in their letters. For us, what applies to Jewish Christians also applies to Gentile believers too. The Word of God has no favourites or sects to address separately.

This text is full of doctrine and active activity in the Christian’s life. It is not dead orthodoxy, but the outworking is a true and living faith in the risen Saviour.

James is addressing the problem of actual oppression against the Christians he is familiar with, and has consolation and encouragement for those being hurt in this way. Perhaps it is the Christians who fled after the death of Stephen, as fear spread across the church. James seeks to steady the spirit of the Christian believers and teach the whole council of God.

James relates his teaching with the teaching of Jesus and was obviously a man who took note of what he heard and saw. The Greek text is of a good quality which suggests someone who studied and paid close attention to details in what he read and saw. He presents God in Christ as Lord of all things and the comforter of the persecuted. He teaches that suffering is part of God’s plan for His people and He provides a way through it. The destiny of all people is in their Father in heaven’s hand.

James teaches the primacy of faith and the practical outworking of it in the life of God’s people. It is addressed to a wide audience and deals with the basic and foundational truths of the Christian life. James addressed the very earliest Christians and probably people who had little of this worlds goods. His teaching, from God, gives us deep insight into the daily life and conflicts of the Christian, and how we overcome by the power of God.

James is concerned about thoughts, words and deeds, and how they impinge on each other and impact on our spiritual lives. This is introspection on a grand scale. We must be honest and we must be thorough. As time goes by, we become further refined and increasingly like the Lord we serve and to whom we belong. This is living, as the Word Himself is living and we die daily to self, and put on righteousness. This will make the Christian different, and therefore a target for ungodly persecutions. We must be prepared and stay close to our Saviour, Jesus.

The doctrine of God in this book, dispels all mystical and hyper-spiritual thoughts or ideas, and grounds our faith in actual life, deeds, works, speech, thoughts and motivations. James shows us how to anchor our life in God Himself and the requirement that we live holy lives and not just carrying out religious duties.

The key phrase…

“Faith without works is dead…”

The Christian must bear fruit to God in a practical and sacrificial way. As we read this book of God’s Word, let us pay close attention and obey the Lord our God.