“Overview of the Book of James”

We spent over a year reading the Gospel According to Matthew where we learned from Jesus about the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven. We learned that God’s Kingdom is here, right now, 

Matthew 4:17, The Message,

 “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

Granted, it’s not here in its completeness, but the Holy Spirit is here providing hope, joy, love, peace, the themes of Advent we will soon be reviewing. 

Just before ascending into heaven, Jesus gave His disciples this command, Matthew 28:18-20, The Message,  

“God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”

That commission is for everyone who follows Jesus, even today, 2000 years after Jesus said it. Which means us! 

Then we read how “NOT” to act. We read about the prophet Jonah. Unfortunately we are a lot like Jonah. We hear God’s calling and quickly find justifiable reasons to turn in the opposite direction. When truth be told, either we don’t agree with what God has told us to do, like we know better, or we are convinced there is no way we can actually do what God tells us. We of little faith. 

Now we will read through the Book of James. He wrote it like a letter, but it is actually a summary of wisdom, compiled to benefit every community of Jesus’ followers. As we read through this book we will discover that James doesn’t hold back. He steps right out there and challenges how we live. Which shouldn’t surprise us because James, the author of this book, was one of the first twelve disciples who followed Jesus. He was actually the half brother of Jesus and although this book is entitled James, in English, his Greek name was Iakobos, and Ya’akov in Hebrew, his real name was Jacob. The change was made when John Wycliffe made the first Bible translation into English. For whatever reason Mr. Wycliffe translated Iakobos in the New Testament to “James.” However, in the Old Testament Mr. Wycliffe translated the same name as “Jacob.” Both names come from similar Hebrew root words and both mean the same thing. It is assumed that Mr. Wycliffe chose the name “James” for the New Testament because at the time it was a popular name. From that time on, the names stuck. When King James I authorized the translation you can be sure, it wouldn’t change. 

The apostles began establishing messianic churches. When Peter went to other countries to establish churches, James became a prominent leader in the newly established Messianic mother church in Jerusalem. This would have been the first Christian church ever. In its first twenty years of existence while James was leading, the Messianic Christian Church went through many difficulties. For one thing, there was a famine that created great poverty for everyone. In addition, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem persecuted Christians and made it very difficult for them to live. James held strong and became a pillar and led as a peacemaker until he was tragically murdered. 

James had heard how other messianic churches were struggling so he compiled what he had learned into this letter that was sent around for encouragement. 

James reliesd on Jesus’ teaching at the Sermon on the Mount, which focused on what life should be like in the Kingdom of God. He also relied on the book of Proverbs, especially chapters 1-9. Combine this with literally growing up with Jesus and we have a book of short wisdom speeches which are full of metaphors and easy to memorize one liners. 

Overall, James was encouraging the early believers to live by true wisdom, which he boiled down to Jesus’ summary of the Torah, Mathew 22:37-40

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

James placed his wisdom into 12 short teachings in chapters 2-5. They don’t work together to form a uniformed idea but rather each teaching stands alone and ends with a catchy one liner. James does however make unique connections with key words and themes. 

We will be reading how our faith and our works need to exist together. James explains how our words have power. He points out how we tend to focus on wealth, poverty and social status, when what we need to focus on is wisdom and wholeness. 

Chapter 1 is an introduction used to prepare the reader for all of the themes James has placed in chapters 2-5. He opens by stating he knows from personal experience that life is hard. However, God never wastes anything. James begins the introduction with the explanation that our trials and struggles can be used as gifts that produce endurance and help us to become “perfect.” James likes this word because he manages to use it seven times throughout the whole book. The word in Greek, does not mean having no faults, but rather it means “wholeness.”  It means living an integrated life where your actions are consistent with the values you say you believe in from Jesus. James realized most of us live as fractured people. We often compromise more than we would like to admit and have inconsistencies between what we believe and what we do. It’s because of this fact that God sent Jesus on a mission to make us whole. 

James claims that matching our actions with our beliefs begins with wisdom, and that wisdom is only a request away. He goes on to say that true wisdom believes that God is good despite my circumstances. In fact, he tells us that when our circumstances are difficult, we are to turn to God, the Father, who is what we learned from the book of Jonah, 

God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and a God who relents from sending calamity.”

James encourages us not just to listen to God’s Word, but to do what it says. James calls it the “Perfect Torah of Freedom.” Going back to the Great Commandment Jesus gave us. James tells us exactly what this commandment looks like. It means talking to others in a kind and loving way, serving the poor, and living with a wholehearted devotion to God alone. 

James was immersed in the sayings of Jesus. He grew up with Him, followed Him and was eventually martyred because of His belief in Him as the Messiah. What better way for us to learn than to read what James has to say and then put it into practice. 

The first practice we will participate in is the Lord’s Supper. This is a place where we can come just as we are and remember we are forgiven, remember to forgive and when done, start anew. 

The Lord’s Supper.