Grace and peace to you beloved. God has given us another occasion to grow in grace and in the likeness of our Savior Jesus today. (2 Pt.3:18, Rom.8:29, Phil.1:6, Jn.17:17) Today we are going to embark on a new Bible study series in the book of James. I am excited. Even a bit nervous.
This book has been the source of much debate between Reformed Christians and Roman Catholics. Chapter two in James speaks about not being justified by faith alone but by faith and works. (Jas.2:14-24) Whereas the apostle Paul says no one is justified by the works of the law, only by faith in Christ. (Rom.3:28, 4:1-8, Gal.2:16, 3:6-9, Eph.2:1-9)
Because of Martin Luther’s belief that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the essence of the gospel (which is also my view because I believe it is Biblically true) some have maintained that Martin Luther called the letter of James an epistle of straw and therefore wanted to take James out of the cannon of Scripture. Luther did call this an epistle of straw. But he did not want to take it out of Scripture. (Luther’s Works, vol.35, p.362)
Lutheran theologians maintain that Luther was not questioning whether the letter was inspired by God, he believed it was. He says as much in the preface of his German New Testament, but that its focus was on the Law of God rather than the Gospel of God. I think his estimation of the focus is justified. Luther said because James “has little of the Gospel” in it, therefore it is ‘straw’ in comparison with the Pauline epistles which are rich in Gospel ‘gold’. (I Cor.3:12)
Hear Luther on James. I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God. (Luther’s Works, vol.35, pp.395-397)
However, I do not want to get ahead of myself. James is inspired by God. There is no debate on this, He puts this letter in His Book for our instruction. (Rom.15:4, I Cor.10:6-11) So, let’s be instructed.
Please take out your Bibles. I am going to read the first half of the chapter, James 1:1-11. But my purpose will be to unpack verse one. Today we will look at the human author of this book and then the recipients or the audience of James.
Here I will put my encouragement in for using a hard copy of the Bible in contrast with the Bible in electronic format, especially on our smartphones. The phone with a Bible app can be quite handy, but I do not believe they are the best choice for real concerted bible study. First, with the phone you can see about three inches by four inches of Bible text. This hinders us from seeing texts in context with nearby passages. Also, it is helpful to write your own notes in your Bibles, to create your own cross-references and mini commentary. In my opinion you will learn better. Remember we are trying to know God’s word better, to hide it in our hearts, to be changed by it, to be brought nearer to Christ by it. Let’s do all that we can to help ourselves obtain our goal.
Hear God’s spotless, holy, and error-less Word. (2 Tim.3:14-17, Jn.17:1-17, Rom.10:1-17, James 1:18, I Pt.1:23-25, Isa.55:11, Ps.19:7-10) Read James 1:1-11.
James 1:1. James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. 2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Now let’s pray to God and ask Him for assistance in studying His word. (Mt.7:7-12, I Jn.2:20-27, Mt.21:22-23)
James the human author.
The Divine author of this book, indeed of all 66 books of the Bible is God the Holy Spirit. (2 Tim.3:14-17) God the Holy Spirit inspired Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles to speak and write the very words of God. (Eph.2:20, Acts 4:31, I Thess.2:13)
This book of the Bible takes its name from the human author James. (1:1)
It is perhaps more accurate to say this letter or this epistle rather than this book. As I say that – 😊 there are 27 ‘books’ of the NT (and 39 in the OT).
There are 21 epistles or letters in the NT. Paul wrote 13 of the NT epistles, 14 if you consider him the author of Hebrews. One epistle by James, two by Peter, three by John. And Jude writes one letter.
Non-NT epistle ‘books’ are the four gospel accounts, Acts, and Revelation.
This letter is known as a general epistle, to distinguish it from the pastoral epistles to Timothy and to Titus. Likely this was written approximately A.D. 44-48. Jesus was crucified in AD. 33. So, 11 to 14 years after Christ rose from the dead.
There are four different men named James in the New Testament. The first two Jameses have not been considered to be the author. They are James the Less, the son of Alphaeus (Mt.10:3, Acts 1:13). And James the father of Judas (not Judas Iscariot). (Lk.6:16, Acts 1:13)
Some people believed that James the son of Zebedee who was also the brother of John wrote this letter. (Mt.4:21) But it appears as if that James was martyred before this book was written.
Acts 12:1. Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. 2 And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.
James the half-brother of Jesus.
The last choice, and by far the most widely accepted as this author is James the half-brother of Jesus Christ and the (full) brother of Jude (who wrote the letter of Jude).
Mark 6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.
Matthew 13:55. Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 “And His sisters, are they not all with us?
Isn’t this interesting? Imagining growing up in the same home as Jesus!
But we remember physical nearness to Christ is not saving. (Lk.11:27-28, Lk.8:19-21, Mt.12:46-50) After all Judas was spatially near to Jesus and he remained unsaved.
The English Puritan Thomas Goodwin wrote, Judas heard all Christ’s sermons. Yikes! Even given the physical nearness to Jesus Judas was a son of perdition and went to his own place. (Jn.17:12, 2 Thess.2:3, Acts 1:25)
What matters is a believing ‘sight’ of Jesus as the Christ. Oh beloved, how important true belief in Jesus is. Never be content with being near to the church or near to the Bible or near to the sacraments. Only faith in Jesus as Sin-Bearer is saving. (Rom.10:17)
James’ identity is important because he is an eyewitness of Christ. This is a firsthand account of Christ. He could say, I saw Christ, I heard Christ. Would we not listen to such a man with rapt attention? We should. By God’s grace we will.
James a previous unbeliever.
But even this eyewitness was not always a believing eyewitness.
When Christ began His preaching and teaching ministry declaring that He was the Messiah, that the King of Israel had come to save the lost sheep of the House of Israel initially James did not believe in Jesus. (Mk.1:14-15) James did not think his half-brother Jesus was the Promised Messiah. In fact, James thought Jesus had mental problems.
John 7:3. Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. 4 “For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” 5 For not even His brothers were believing in Him. 6 So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. 7 “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.
Mark 3:21 When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His sense.
This is part of Christ’s estate of humiliation. His own family thought He was mad! How hurtful is that? Jesus underwent this and much more for our sakes. Christ suffered here so that we would not have to suffer hereafter. (WLC 46-50, WSC 27, WCF 8.4)
As a practical aside Beloved, since this occurred to our Master why should we think it strange if our unbelieving family thinks that we as Believers are out of our minds? (Jn.15:18-27, Mt.5:10-12, Acts 14:22, 2 Tim.3:12)
Beloved, unbelief does not understand Christ nor can it understand those that love Christ. (I Cor.2:10-16, Rom.8:7, 2 Cor.2:14-17, Eph.2:1-3)
But God can make the spiritually dead alive and the spiritually blind believe. (Ezek.37:1-14, Jn.3:1-9, Eph.2:1-9)
James the believer.
We are not told when James came to have faith in Jesus Christ, or when the scales fell off his eyes and he realized that Jesus was not merely his half-brother but that He was the long awaited Son of David Messiah. But it did happen.
As an aside, some churches are very big on knowing exactly when you came to first believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, to my mind the larger issue is not knowing the precise moment but rather that we do in fact believe in Him as our Savior.
Remember the angel Gabriel told Mary that Jesus is the Savior Christ. (Lk.1:24-35)
I have no doubt she told her other sons and daughters. (Mk.6:3, Mt.13:55-56)
James is a believer in Christ as the writer of this epistle. He writes this epistle confessing Jesus is the Christ.
James 1:1. James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
James has just done what God said through the apostle Paul.
Romans 10:9. that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Mt.10:32-33)
James the eyewitness of the resurrection.
The Bible tells us that James was also an eyewitness of Christ resurrected from the dead. This, by the way, was one of the qualifications to be an apostle. (Acts 1:21-22)
1 Corinthians 15:3. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;
You see Biblical Christianity teaches a Christ that died for sins and then rose again. Believers believe in a living Christ. We are joined to living Jesus in a living union and communion. We preach a living Christ. He resides at the right hand of God where we will be soon. (I Cor.15:1-6)
Oh Beloved, Biblical (true) Christianity is a miraculous otherworldly faith. Biblical Christianity is not just moral maxims for this life. True Christianity is union with Christ taking us into the next life. We will rise from the dead as He has risen from the dead.
James the apostle.
James also became known as a pillar, an outstanding leader in the church at Jerusalem along with the apostle Peter. James was a converted Jew, a Jew that came to believe Jesus is the Christ and he ministered to primarily converted Jews to Christ in the church at Jerusalem. James was an apostle. (Gal.1:19) But he was not one of the original twelve apostles.
Beloved, God has distributed to each of us our respective places and callings and spheres of service. He is the Lord of the harvest. He saves one among the Jews and sends them to witness to Jews. Like James and Peter. To another He saves among the Jews and sends him to minister among the Gentiles. Like Paul. God uses Believers with all of our various differences to serve the Kingdom of Christ with all our differences for the one common good – the glory of God.
And this is good and right. We all occupy a God-given place in the Body of Christ and we fulfill our divinely appointed work. James could not do Paul’s work. And Paul could not do James’ work. Oh Beloved, how each member of the Body is so necessary for the well-working of Christ’s kingdom. Read Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12.
Listen to what the Bible says about James as a leader in the Jerusalem church.
Acts 12:16. But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” (Acts 15:13, 21:18, 21:18, Gal.2:12, Amos 9:11-12)
Acts 21:15. After these days we got ready and started on our way up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. 17 After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
Galatians 1:15. But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. 18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
Galatians 2:9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
James the servant-slave.
Notwithstanding the exalted position of James, he refers to himself as a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
James 1:1. James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
Beloved before we believed in Christ, we were the devil’s slaves, but we thought we were free. Now as Believers, we are God’s slaves which is real freedom. To know God and to serve God is true freedom. (Col.1:13)
Listen to how the OT and the NT refers to Believers as God’s servants.
Jeremiah 33:21 then My covenant may also be broken with David My servant so that he will not have a son to reign on his throne, and with the Levitical priests, My ministers. (Ezek.37:25) (Dt.34:5, Dan.9:11)
1 Corinthians 9:19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. (Acts 3:13)
Romans 14:3. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Beloved, we are no longer our own. We have been bought with a price. We belong to God, body and soul. And we have been saved to serve. Oh what a radical way to look at our life. How tremendously freeing. We no longer have to serve sin and Satan and self.
We have a far greater calling on our life. Ownership by God, service to God in Christ is our new life in Christ, this is our real calling in life. And we serve wherever God puts us, in the family, in the church, and in the larger society – we are always servants of Christ ministering His love, His word, His gospel.
James the martyr.
Lastly, I want us to see that James sealed his testimony of Jesus as the Christ with his own blood. I cannot speak as dogmatically on this as I would like. The Scripture does not tell us how James died.
Two ancient church fathers taught that James was martyred for his faith in Christ.
A lesser known man, Hegesippus (AD 110-180), wrote, the Scribes and Pharisees placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and threw down the just man, and they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall. And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head.
Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215) wrote that, James was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club.
If James did die as a martyr, then this is something that Jesus says is a possibility for those that love and serve Him in an anti-Christ world.
Sometimes in God’s providence it is His will for us to die for the cause of Christ.
Mark 10:29. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, 30 but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.
Acts 7:54. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.
Revelation 2:8. And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: 9 ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 ‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. (2 Tim.3:12, I Pt.4:14-16, Rev.6:9-11, Mt.10:28-33, Jn.15:18, 2 Cor.12:10, Rom.8:31-35, Rev.20:4-5, Rev.17:7, Jn.16:2)
Finally let’s spend a little bit of time looking at the audience to whom James writes.
We are told in verse one that James writes his epistle for the twelve tribes that are in the dispersion, the scattered.
James 1:1. James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.
The twelve tribes title was used for OT Israel, the people of God, the Household of faith. (Exod.24:4, Acts 26:7) The Greek word for scattered here had been something of a technical word used to refer to the Jews wandering in the world.
Accordingly, some Christians believe that James writes only for Jewish-Christians that have been scattered, and that is why he used Jewish phrases to refer to them.
Those that believe this think that he is not speaking to Gentile Christians. My sense is that these Christians are likely of the dispensational camp where they make a distinction between Israel and the Church.
My brief reply is of course these things refer to Gentile Christians as well, God the Holy Spirit put it into the NT canon for the use of the NT church. We remember in Christ, there is no longer a Jew & Gentile distinction. (Gal.3:26-29, Rom.2:28-29, 9:6-8)
So now James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit uses this word symbolically for the Christian Church wandering in the world, poor in the world’s goods, rich in Christ.
James 2:5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
All believers in Christ have Abraham as our father. (Gal.3:1-29)
James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father
The Glorified Church in heaven is depicted figuratively, symbolically, it had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. (Rev.21:12, Lk.22:30, Mt.19:28)
The NT church is called the Israel of God. (Gal.6:15-16)
The reason the Jewish Christians were scattered throughout the known world earthly speaking was persecution of them from unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem.
We think of Saul-Paul. Read Acts 7 to 9. And from unbelieving Gentiles in Jerusalem. beginning with Herod Agrippa. Read Acts 12.
Here are a few of the lessons we learn about Christians being referred to as the 12 tribes scattered in the world.
We are the people of God. He belongs to us and we belong to Him.
We are small in comparison with the numbers of those that do not believe. We are like small seeds in the larger mass of the world.
Like scattered seed God will grow His people in and through us. We will have an effect where we are scattered. We are like salt and light in a dark and dying world as Jesus says in the Beatitudes. (Mt.5:1-16)
God scatters us often through pain and suffering which will advance His kingdom in ways in which peace and prosperity likely would not. It has been granted to us to believe in Christ and also to suffer for His name sake. This testifies we are in an estate of grace and salvation.
So, we are the better for our being scattered. God is showing us that we are aliens and pilgrims in this world, passing through on our way to our heavenly homeland.
May God guard and guide us until we all arrive there at last.
- What are some attributes of the Bible? What are some effects the Bible can produce? What is the usefulness of the Bible? (2 Tim.3:14-17, Jn.17:1-17, Rom.10:1-17, James 1:18, I Pt.1:23-25, Isa.55:11, Ps.19:7-10)
- What is the total number of books in the Bible? How many books in the OT? How many books in the NT? How many epistles or letters in the NT? Name the epistles. How many non-epistle books in the NT? Name them.
- How many different men named James are in the NT? Who are they? Which James is the human author of the book of James? (Mt.10:3, Acts 1:13 and Lk.6:16, Acts 1:13 and Mt.4:21, Acts 12:1 and Mk.6:3, Mt.13:55-56)
- Would it be a great blessing to grow up in the same house with Jesus? Is being physically near to the physical Jesus saving? Was Judas near to Jesus? Was Judas saved? How do we receive Jesus savingly? (Lk.11:27-28, Lk.8:19-21, Mt.12:46-50, Jn.17:12, 2 Thess.2:3, Acts 1:25, Rom.10:1-17, Eph.2:1-9)
- Did James always believe Jesus was the Christ? What did he previously believe about Jesus? How was this an aspect of Christ’s humiliation for us? How should this inform us as disciples of Christ? (Mk.1:14-15, Jn.7:3-7, Mk.3:21, WLC 46-50, WSC 27, WCF 8.4, Jn.15:18-27, Mt.5:10-12, Acts 14:22, 2 Tim.3:12, I Cor.2:10-16, Rom.8:7, 2 Cor.2:14-17, Eph.2:1-3)
- Can unbelievers makes themselves believers in Christ? How does an unbeliever become a believer? (Jn.17:1-17, Rom.10:1-17, Ezek.37:1-14, Jn.3:1-9, Eph.2:1-9)
- What are some things that show James is a believer in Jesus? Is it likely Mary would have told him about Jesus? From whom did Timothy learn of Jesus? What are some practical lessons we learn here? (Lk.1:24-35, Mk.6:3, 2 Tim.3:14-17, 2 Tim.1:5, Mt.13:55-56, James 1:1, Rom.10:9-10, Mt.10:32-33)
- What did James learn by witnessing the resurrection of Jesus? Why would this make him an effective teacher of Jesus? What lessons do we learn from Christ’s resurrection? (Acts 1:21-22, I Cor.15:1-6, James 1:1)
- What are some things in the NT that show us James was a leader in the Jerusalem church? (Acts 12:16-17, Acts 15:13, 21:18, 21:18, Gal.2:12, Amos 9:11-12, Acts 21:15-19, Gal.1:15-19, Gal.2:9)
- James calls himself a servant or a slave of God in Christ, what do we learn about the life of a Believer by this? How should this affect us practically? (Jas.1:1, Col.1:13, Jer.33:21, Ezek.37:25, Dt.34:5, Dan.9:11, I Cor.9:19, Acts 3:13, Rom.14:3-4)
- How does church history say James died? If this is true what lessons do we learn as Believers in Jesus by this? (Mk.10:29-30, Acts 7:54-60, Rev.2:8-10, 2 Tim.3:12, I Pt.4:14-16, Rev.6:9-11, Mt.10:28-33, Jn.15:18, 2 Cor.12:10, Rom.8:31-35, Rev.20:4-5, Rev.17:7, Jn.16:2)
- The people of God in the OT where considered in their entirety as the twelve tribes? Who are the leaders of the OT twelve tribes? Who was their father? Who were their mothers? In the OT, if you were outside of the twelve tribes were you also considered God’s children? In the OT were the twelve tribes of Israel the minority or the majority of the earth’s population? What lessons do we learn by this? (Gen.29:28-35, Gen.30:1-24, Gen.49:28, Exod.39:14, Josh.4:5-8, Exod.24:4, Ezra 6:17, Ezek.47:13)
- What lessons do we learn by the NT church being referred symbolically as the scattered twelve tribes (of Israel)? What scattered or dispersed the Christians? What do we learn by this? (Jas.1:1, Jas.2:5-21, Gal.3:1-29, Rev.21:12, Lk.22:30, Mt.19:28, Gal.6:15-16, Acts 7)
- Interact with this quote by Thomas Goodwin, Judas heard all Christ’s sermons?