Book 20 - JAMES LETTER TO JEWISH CHRISTIANS
With people, places, definitions, map ......
Writer: James, brother of Jesus, and a leader of the church in Jerusalem
Date: c AD45-50, before the Council at Jerusalem of c AD49. The Letter includes no hint of the important decisions made at that time
Where written: Possibly Jerusalem
Readers: Jewish Christians living outside Palestine as Jews of the "Dispersion"
Why: An early letter to Jewish Christians, encouraging them in times of trial, and teaching them how to respond in Godly ways. In language similar to the Sermon on the Mount, James instructs his readers on many aspects of practical Christian living. In doing so, he shows that the Christian life reveals itself through faith leading to good works, not by merely claiming to have faith and holiness.
According to Some Modern Scholarship: Most of the material was written by James in Judea before the Council at Jerusalem, and edited into its final form following his death in c AD62; OR written by an unknown Christian Jew around the end of the 1st century, using James' name to give the letter authority.
Map - Some of the Many Centres of Jewish Population Outside Israel: the 'Dispersion' or 'Diaspora'
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF REAL RELIGION
GREETING; THE TRIALS FACED BY JEWISH CHRISTIANS AND HOW THEY SHOULD RESPOND
James 1:1-8 - James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, sends greetings to the twelve dispersed tribes (the Jews living outside Palestine, and throughout the Roman and Parthian Empires and beyond. Some of the areas are shown in map above).
The Christian can even welcome trouble
When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don't resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God - who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty - and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him. But he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God's help or not. The man who trusts God, but with inward reservations, is like a wave of the sea, carried forward by the wind one moment and driven back the next. That sort of man cannot hope to receive anything from God, and the life of a man of divided loyalty will reveal instability at every turn.
James 1:9 - The brother who is poor may be glad because God has called him to the true riches.
James 1:10-11 - The rich may be glad that God has shown him his spiritual poverty. For the rich man, as such, will wither away as surely as summer flowers. One day the sunrise brings a scorching wind; the grass withers at once and so do all the flowers - all that lovely sight is destroyed. Just as surely will the rich man and all his extravagant ways fall into the blight of decay.
TRIALS OF LIFE
James 1:12 - The man who patiently endures the temptations and trials that come to him is the truly happy man. For once his testing is complete he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to all who love him.
James 1:13-16 - A man must not say when he is tempted, "God is tempting me." For God has no dealings with evil, and does not himself tempt anyone. No, a man's temptation is due to the pull of his own inward desires, which can be enormously attractive. His own desire takes hold of him, and that produces sin. And sin in the long run means death - make no mistake about that, brothers of mine!
GOD PROVIDES ALL OUR NEEDS
James 1:17-18 - ... every good endowment that we possess and every complete gift that we have received must come from above, from the Father of all lights (God), with whom there is never the slightest variation or shadow of inconsistency. By his own wish he made us his own sons through the Word of truth that we might be, so to speak, the first specimens of his new creation.
James 1:19-20 - In view of what he (God) has made us then, dear brothers, let every man be quick to listen but slow to use his tongue, and slow to lose his temper. For man's temper is never the means of achieving God's true goodness.
FREEDOM AS CHRISTIANS
James 1:21-25 - Have done .... with impurity and every other evil which touches the lives of others, and humbly accept the message that God has sown in your hearts, and which can save your souls. Don't I beg you, only hear the message, but put it into practice; otherwise you are merely deluding yourselves. The man who simply hears and does nothing about it is like a man catching the reflection of his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, it is true, but he goes on with whatever he was doing without the slightest recollection of what sort of person he saw in the mirror. But the man who looks into the perfect mirror of God's law, the law of liberty (or freedom), and makes a habit of so doing, is not the man who sees and forgets. He puts that law into practice and he wins true happiness.
James 1:26 - If anyone appears to be "religious" but cannot control his tongue, he deceives himself and we may be sure that his religion is useless.
James 1:27 - Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.
James 2:1-11 - Don't ever attempt, my brothers, to combine snobbery with faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ! Suppose one man comes into your meeting well-dressed and with a gold ring on his finger, and another man, obviously poor, arrives in shabby clothes. If you pay special attention to the well-dressed man by saying, "Please sit here - it's an excellent seat", and say to the poor man, "You stand over there, please, or if you must sit, sit on the floor", doesn't that prove that you are making class-distinctions in your mind, and setting yourselves up to assess a man's quality? - a very bad thing. For do notice, my brothers, that God chose poor men, whose only wealth was their faith, and made them heirs to the kingdom promised to those who love him. And if you behave as I have suggested, it is the poor man that you are insulting. Look around you. Isn't it the rich who are always trying to "boss" you, isn't it the rich who drag you into litigation? Isn't it usually the rich who blaspheme the glorious name by which you are known?
If you obey the royal law, expressed by the scripture, 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself', all is well. But once you allow any invidious distinctions to creep in, you are sinning, you have broken God's Law. Remember that a man who keeps the whole Law but for a single exception is none the less a law-breaker. The one who said, 'Do not commit adultery', also said, 'Do not murder'. If you were to keep clear of adultery but were to murder a man you would have become a breaker of God's whole Law.
James 2:12-13 - ...... you should speak and act as men who will be judged by the law of freedom. The man who makes no allowances for others will find none made for him. It is still true that "mercy smiles in the face of judgment."
FAITH WITHOUT CHRISTIAN ACTION IS USELESS
- Part of the way through this practical letter on such subjects as the Trials of life, Wealth, Temptation, Snobbery, the "Tongue" etc, James teaches the importance of demonstrating the reality of Christian faith by the way Christians live:
James 2:14-26 - ... what use is it, my brothers, for a man to say he "has faith" if his actions do not correspond with it? Could that sort of faith save anyone's soul? If a fellow man or woman has no clothes to wear and nothing to eat, and one of you say, "Good luck to you I hope you'll keep warm and find enough to eat", and yet give them nothing to meet their physical needs, what on earth is the good of that? Yet that is exactly what a bare faith without a corresponding life is like - useless and dead. If we only "have faith" a man could easily challenge us by saying, "you say that you have faith and I have merely good actions. Well, all you can do is to show me a faith without corresponding actions, but I can show you by my actions that I have faith as well."
To the man who thinks that faith by itself is enough I feel inclined to say, "So you believe that there is one God? That's fine. So do all the devils in hell and shudder in terror!" For, my dear short-sighted man, can't you see far enough to realise that faith without the right actions is dead and useless? Think of Abraham, our ancestor. Wasn't it his action which really justified him in God's sight when his faith led him to offer his son Isaac on the altar? (Genesis 22) Can't you see that his faith and his actions were, so to speak, partners - that his faith was implemented by his deed? That is what the scripture means when it says:
'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness' (Genesis 15:6).
And he was called the friend of God
A man is justified before God by what he does as well as by what he believes. Rahab who was a prostitute and a foreigner ....
Rahab - She has already been listed in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 as one of the four female ancestors of Jesus. She lived in Jericho, and helped Joshua's spies before the attack on the city in c 1,200BC (Joshua 2 and 6) at the start of his campaign to conquer "the promised land" of Canaan -
.... has been quoted as an example of faith, yet surely it was her action that pleased God, when she welcomed Joshua's reconnoitring party and got them safely back by a different route.
Yes, faith without action is as dead as a body without a soul.
CONTROLLING THE TONGUE
James 3:1 - Don't aim at adding to the number of teachers, my brothers, I beg you! Remember that we who are teachers will be judged by a much higher standard.
James 3:2-12 - We all make mistakes in all kinds of ways, but the man who can claim that he never says the wrong thing can consider himself perfect, for if he can control his tongue he can control every other part of his personality! Men control the movements of a large animal like the horse with a tiny bit placed in its mouth. Ships too, for all their size and the momentum they have with a strong wind behind them, are controlled by a very small rudder according to the course chosen by the helmsman. The human tongue is physically small, but what tremendous effects it can boast of! A whole forest can be set ablaze by a tiny spark of fire, and the tongue is as dangerous as any fire, with vast potentialities for evil. It can poison the whole body, it can make the whole of life a blazing hell.
Beasts, birds, reptiles and all kinds of sea-creatures can be, and in fact are, tamed by man, but no one can tame the human tongue. It is an evil always liable to break out, and the poison it spreads is deadly. We use the tongue to bless our Father, God, and we use the same tongue to curse our fellow-men, who are all created in God's likeness. Blessing and curses come out of the same mouth - surely, my brothers, this is the sort of thing that never ought to happen! Have you ever known a spring to give sweet and bitter water simultaneously? Have you ever seen a fig-tree with a crop of olives, or seen figs growing on a vine? It is just as impossible for a spring to give fresh and salt water at the same time.
James 3:13-16 - Are there some wise and understanding men among you? Then your lives will be an example of the humility that is born of true wisdom. But if your heart is full of rivalry and bitter jealousy, then do not boast of your wisdom - don't deny the truth that you must recognise in your inmost heart. You may acquire a certain superficial wisdom, but it does not come from God - it comes from this world, from your own lower nature, even from the devil. For wherever you find jealousy and rivalry you also find disharmony and all other kinds of evil.
WISDOM, also HEAVEN
James 3:17-18 - The wisdom that comes from God (in Heaven) is first utterly pure, then peace-loving, gentle, approachable, full of tolerant thoughts and kindly actions, with no breath of favouritism or hint of hypocrisy. And the wise are peace-makers who go on quietly sowing for a harvest of righteousness - in other people and in themselves.
THE WORLD'S WAYS
James 4:1-3 - .... about the feuds and struggles that exist among you - where do you suppose they come from? Can't you see that they arise from conflicting passions within yourselves? You crave for something and don't get it, you are jealous and envious of what others have got and you don't possess it yourselves. Consequently in your exasperated frustration you struggle and fight with one another. You don't get what you want because you don't ask God for it. And when you do ask he doesn't give it to you, for you ask in quite the wrong spirit - you only want to satisfy your own desires.
James 4:4-6 - You are like unfaithful wives, flirting with the glamour of this world, and never realising that to be the world's lover means becoming the enemy of God! Anyone who deliberately chooses to love the world is thereby making himself God's enemy. Do you think what the scriptures have to say about this is a mere formality? Or do you imagine that this spirit of passionate jealousy is the Spirit he has caused to live in us? No, he gives us grace potent enough to meet this and every other evil spirit, if we are humble enough to receive it. That is why he says: 'God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'
James 4:7 - Be humble then before God. but resist the devil and you'll find he'll run away from you.
James 4:8-10 - Come close to God and he will come close to you. Realise that you have sinned and get your hands clean again. Realise that you have been disloyal and get your hearts made true once more. As you come close to God you should be deeply sorry, you should be grieved, you should even be in tears. Your laughter will have to become mourning, your high spirits will have to become heartfelt dejection. You will have to feel very small in the sight of God before he will set you on your feet once more.
James 4:11-12 - Never pull each other to pieces, my brothers. If you do you are judging your brother and setting yourself up in the place of God's Law; you have become in fact a critic of the Law. Yet if you start to criticise the Law instead of obeying it you are setting yourself up as judge, and there is only one judge, the one who gave the Law, to whom belongs absolute power of life and death. How can you then be so silly as to imagine that you are your neighbour's judge?
James 4:13-17 - Just a moment, now, you who say, "We are going to such-and-such a city today or tomorrow. We shall stay there a year doing business and make a profit"! How do you know what will happen even tomorrow? What, after all, is your life? It is like a puff of smoke visible for a little while and then dissolving into thin air. Your remarks should be prefaced with, "If it is the Lord's will, we shall be alive and will do so-and-so." As it is, you get a certain pride in yourself in planning your future with such confidence. That sort of pride is all wrong. No doubt you agree with the above in theory. Well, remember that if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin.
James 5:1-6 - ... now, you plutocrats (tycoons), is the time for you to weep and moan because of the miseries in store for you!! Your richest goods are ruined, your hoard of clothes is moth-eaten, your gold and silver are tarnished. Yes, their very tarnish will be the evidence of your wicked hoarding and you will shrink from them as if they were red-hot. You have made a fine pile in these last days, haven't you? But look, here is the pay of the reaper you hired and whom you cheated, and it is shouting against you! And the cries of the other labourers you swindled are heard by the Lord of Hosts himself. Yes, you have had a magnificent time on this earth, and have indulged yourselves to the full. You have picked out just what you wanted like soldiers looting after battle. You have condemned and ruined innocent men in your career, and they have been powerless to stop you.
PATIENCE AND PRAYER
James 5:7-8 - ... be patient, my brothers, as you wait for the Lord to come. Look at the farmer quietly awaiting his precious harvest. See how he has to possess his soul in patience till the land has had the early and late rains. So must you be patient, resting your hearts on the ultimate certainty. The Lord's coming is very near.
James 5:9 - Don't make complaints against each other in the meantime my brothers (as you wait for Christ's return) - you may be the one at fault yourself. The judge himself is already at the door.
James 5:10-11 - For our example of the patient endurance of suffering we can take the prophets who have spoken in the Lord's name. Remember that it is usually those who have patiently endured to whom we accord the word "blessed!" You have heard of Job's patient endurance (in the Old Testament Book of Job) and how God dealt with him in the end, and therefore you have seen that the Lord is merciful and full of understanding pity for us men.
SWEARING AND OATHS
James 5:12 - It is of the highest importance, my brothers, that your speech should be free from oaths (whether they are "by" heaven or earth or anything else). Your yes should be a plain yes, and your no a plain no, and then you cannot go wrong in the matter.
PROBLEMS, also PRAYER
James 5:13a - If any of you is in trouble let him pray.
James 5:13b - If anyone is flourishing (or happy) let him sing praises to God.
James 5:14-16a - If anyone is ill he should send for the Church elders. They should pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Lord's name. Believing prayer will save the sick man; the Lord will restore him and any sins that he has committed will be forgiven. You should get into the habit of admitting your sins to each other, and praying for each other, so that if sickness comes to you, you may be healed.
James 5:16b-18 - Tremendous power is made available through a good man's earnest prayer. Do you remember Elijah? (in 1 Kings 17-18). He was a man like us but he prayed earnestly that it should not rain. In fact, not a drop fell on the land for three and a half years. Then he prayed again, the heavens gave the rain and the earth sprouted with vegetation as usual.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR OTHERS
James 5:19-20 - My brothers, if any of you should wander away from the truth and another should turn him back on to the right path, then the latter may be sure that in turning a man back from his wandering course he has rescued a soul from death, and his loving action will "cover a multitude of sins".
to top of page
on to First Peter with "people, places etc ..." OR back to J B Phillips with Notes