James: Everyday Christianity
Lesson One: James, The Man and His Message
Someone has said that Christians need to be natural in their spiritual lives, and spiritual in their natural lives. This book of the New Testament addresses the second half of that statement – the need to let our Christian faith be visible in the ordinary, everyday events of our lives. Too often, Christianity is viewed as a faith that only operates in a sterile environment. It looks good in a Sunday morning worship service, but it doesn’t hold up well when the refrigerator goes out, and the car needs repair, and the boss is breathing down your neck, and all the family is coming to your house for the reunion – all in the same week! Too often in such situations, Christians act and react just like the unbeliever. Anxiety keeps them awake at night. Their temper gets the better of them. They gripe and complain, bicker and argue, become critical and sarcastic.
James informs us that these things ought not to be. A relationship to Christ should make a visible difference to the way we respond to the twists and turns of life. It should bring peace when we are persecuted. In times of conflict, it should be a source of self-control. One who belongs to Christ should demonstrate His compassion, confidence, honesty, humility, and integrity.
James is practical, but hard-hitting. It challenges us to rise above a level of mediocrity and strive for excellence in our Christian lives. Boldly, forcefully, it tells us how our Christian faith should be practiced in the rough and tumble reality of our everyday living. However, if we are to understand its message, we need to know the author and try to get an overall view of his book.
I. It’s Author
- The Candidates for authorship
- James, one of the twelve original apostles – Matthew 10:2
- He was the son of Zebedee, brother of John, one of the most prominent of the apostles.
- He had been a fisherman before Christ called him to be a disciple. Matthew 4:21-22
- He could not have been the author of this epistle because Herod killed him early in the church’s history. Acts 12:1-2
- James, the son of Alphaeus, another of the original apostles – Matthew 10:3
- Like Bartholomew and Thaddeus, he was one of the more obscure apostles.
- His mother’s name was Mary. He was also called "James the less", which may have been a reference to either his youthfulness or his stature. Mark 15:40
- There is nothing to indicate that he is the author.
- James, the brother of Judas (the apostle, not Iscariot) – Luke 6:16
- These were common names, not to be confused with James and Judas, the half-brothers of Jesus.
- We know absolutely nothing of this man, and it is doubtful that he is the author.
- James, the half-brother of Jesus – Matthew 13:55
- He was not a believer in Christ during the years of our Lord’s ministry. John 7:2-5
- Christ visited him after the resurrection, an event that apparently led to his conversion. 1 Corinthians 15:7
- He became the pastor of the Jerusalem church. Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18
- We believe that he is the author of this epistle.
- The Credentials of the author
- He was a pious man.
- He simply calls himself "a servant of God," although he was a prominent leader in the Jerusalem church.
- Since he makes no defense of his office and no reference to his blood-ties to Christ, we can assume that his authority and position were universally accepted.
- According to tradition, he was affectionately known as "James the Just"
- He was a pillar of the church. Galatians 2:9
- It was James who moderated the dispute concerning circumcision in Acts 15 and suggested that the Gentile believers respect the Jewish traditions. Acts 15:13-21
- When Paul visited Jerusalem, James heads the list of leaders to whom he reported. Acts 21:18
II. It’s Audience
- A Particular Group of Believers
- James addresses his epistle to "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad."
- The reference to the twelve tribes identifies the Jewish background of his readers.
- He calls them "brethren" (1:2), states that they have been begotten with the word of truth (1:18), and refers to their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (2:1).
- James was writing to those who had come to Christ out of Judaism.
- A Persecuted Group of Believers
- James was writing to Jewish believers living outside Jerusalem. They were "scattered abroad."
- They may have been from among those who fled during the persecution that followed the death of Stephen. Acts 8:1, 11:19
- This epistle begins with instruction concerning the believer’s response to trials and difficulties. See 1:2-12
- It is likely that James was writing to those who had once been a part of his ministry in Jerusalem and who were suffering for their faith in Christ.
III. It’s Attributes
- It’s Style
- It reads like a sermon.
- There are nearly 60 imperatives in the letter. Their use indicates that James was writing with authority, demanding a response from his readers.
- James frequently uses common illustrations from life and nature to help his readers understand the point he is making.
- In 1:6, he draws an illustration from the sea.
- In 1:11, he draws an illustration from the heat of summer.
- In 1:23, he makes a comparison to looking in a mirror.
- In 3:2-7, he refers to the bit in a horse’s mouth, the rudder of a ship, a raging grass fire, and the domestication of animals.
- In 4:14, he compares life to a vapor (mist or fog).
- He employs rhetorical questions and imaginary dialogue that captures and holds the attention of his audience. (See 1:13, 2:14-19; 3:11-12; 4:15)
- It reveals the Jewish background of its author.
- He refers to the stories of Job, Abraham, Isaac, Rahab, and Elijah as one thoroughly familiar with them.
- In 2:2, he uses the term sunagoge (synagogue - translated assembly), instead of the more common New Testament term for the church, ecclesia.
- In 4:4, he calls the readers "adulterers and adulteresses," a common term from the Old Testament to describe the unfaithfulness of God’s people.
- In 5:4, he uses the Old Testament title "Lord of Sabaoth," which would only be familiar to those from a Jewish heritage.
- He consistently uses the term "save" in the Old Testament sense of deliverance from trials or judgment and not in the New Testament sense of eternal salvation.
James was writing at a time when virtually all believers were saved Jews. The Gospel had not yet been carried to the Gentiles to any great extent. (See James 11:19, "preaching the Word to none but the Jews only.") It would be many years before Christianity would make a clean break with Judaism. This fact explains the strongly Jewish content of this epistle.
The Jewish "flavor" of James is very important to understanding its message, particularly the section in chapter 2 concerning faith and works. Only when studied in this light will we correctly apply the truths of this meaty book.
- It’s Substance
- It emphasizes Christian ethics, not Christian doctrine
- James confronts no doctrinal errors as, for example, is found in Galatians.
- He doesn’t defend or develop any theological truths as Paul does in Romans.
- He simply addresses practical issues of Christian living, telling us how to put faith to work in the ordinary events of our lives.
- It emphasizes the practical results of faith, not the spiritual realities that make a distinctively Christian lifestyle possible.
- This is the one "weakness" of James. It appears to make Christian character dependent upon the self-effort of the Believer – an earnest exercise of duty.
- There is no mention of our identification with Christ in death and resurrection.
- There is no mention of the indwelling Holy Spirit who bears fruit in our lives as we walk in dependence upon Him.
- This is easily understood if we keep in mind that James was probably written at about the same time as the events recorded in Acts 9-11.
- This means that James would have written his epistle before any other New Testament writing.
- God would use the apostle Paul to reveal the dynamics of the Christian life. He used James to give us a basic description of what a life of faith looks like.
James deals with practical issues that confront us everyday. But it doesn’t just dispense information. It demands a response. It holds up a standard and makes us ask how we measure up. When balanced with the complete New Testament revelation, it brings a powerful message about Christian character and behavior that is desperately needed in our churches today.