Introducing James & James 1:1-18. What strikes readers in Melbourne today about the letter is how disciplined he expects the Christian life will be. There is no room for sentimentality but there is lots of room for grace in acting. There is no room for persistent wrong, but there is a requirement to depend upon forgiveness both from God and each other as we strive to grow in Christ. James is like an in demand personal trainer who demands we either get serious or get out of the Christian life – and he expects results. He expects all our sufferings to be used as fuel for joy, he expects our prayers for wisdom, indeed, for most things, to be answered. He expects genuinue faith to be lived. James is a shock to our insipid, therapeutic, self-serving, consumer oriented ideas about God and Christianity. A shock we desperately need. [Audio | Notes]
There are three men called James in the New Testament: James the son of Zebedee (Mk1:19, Acts 12:2; etc.) who was one of the inner circle of apostles; James the son of Alphaeus, likely to be James the younger or ‘little James’ (Mk 3:18; 15:40) and James, son of Joseph and Mary, the Lord’s brother (Mt 13:55; Acts 12:17; 15:13ff; 1 Cor 15:7; Gal 1:19; 2:9).
As you can see from the references, James, the son of Joseph and Mary was a significant leader in the early church and was well acquainted with Paul’s work, which we see reflected in this letter. James the son of Zebedee was martyred in 44AD, James the son of Joseph and Mary was martyred in Jerusalem between 62-67AD. There were not many, after Paul had written his major letters, who could write a letter to the church everywhere (the twelve tribes of the dispersion 1:1) and simply sign it ‘James, a servant (lit. ‘Slave’) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.’
James’ letter sometimes reads like preaching notes, seeming to change topic quickly only to return to an earlier theme. In this way it reads like the wisdom literature of the Old Testament (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, some of the Psalms, Job and sections of other books) where the abrupt change in direction and the abrupt language is a foil designed to make us think hard and link the concepts that otherwise appear to be separate.
For further thought
- Why does James give his title, and thus his qualification for writing, as: ‘a servant/slave of God?’
- What does it mean for the church that we are part of the exiled people of God scattered amongst the nations? Where is our true homeland?
- What is significant about the way James, as a Jew, describes Jesus?
- Does our suffering threaten the meaning and happiness of our lives?
- The word for trial/test is the same word as temptation – in what way has your faith been tested recently?
- How would persistence/endurance/constancy in your trials produce maturity in you?
- How does a test become a temptation?
- The strength to get through our trials is based in our prayer life. We ask God for the wisdom to keep our trials from becoming temptations so that our suffering will mature us rather than destroy us (VV14-15). James’ teaching on prayer is straight forward, ask for wisdom to know how to endure, then do the wisdom you receive.
- What stops us from praying like this when we are suffering?
- What stops us from acting on the wisdom we receive?
- The word James uses for doubt in verse 6 means literally two-souled as If we are a walking civil war when it comes to our will to obey God. Why does God not hear these prayers?
- In wisdom style James inserts an example of the cause of doubt – the love of wealth (vv9-11). Do our prayers reflect this ambivalence?
- There are two wills, two natures, two creations, two possibilities (trial or temptation) at work in us and they are highlighted when we undergo times of trial. How do we experience those two wills?