- Author“James” occurs 42 times in the NT and refers to 4 different menActs 1:13 (ESV)And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James.Author: 4 OptionsJames, the father of Judasonly mentioned here and in Luke 6:16 to distinguish this Judas from the more known Judas Iscariot. We can rule out this James as the author of this epistle.James the son of Alphaeusobscure. Appears in the list of the other disciples. Unlikely that he was known enough to have written an authoritative letter. (Matt. 3:18; 10:3 & Luke 6:15)John & James (sons of Zebedee)This James was one of the more prominent apostles in the gospel narratives. But, this particular James was put to death by Herod Agrippa I around 44 AD.He killed James the brother of John with the sword,While James is among the earliest, if not the earliest NT books written, we probably should not date it before 44 AD.James the brother of our LordPerhaps the best-known James in the gospels, but we should note that James did not become one of Jesus’ followers until after His resurrectionFor not even his brothers believed in him.Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?But after Jesus rose, before he appeared to all the apostles, He appeared to His brother James.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.James became a leader in the churchObservation: We can’t assume genuine faith because of association and it’s never too late.But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
None of the other Jameses mentioned in the NT lived long enough or was prominent enough to write the letter we have before us without identifying himself any further than he does.DateConsider the timing of the martyrdom of James, the brother of our Lord.Since we are suggesting that James the brother of our Lord is the author of this epistle, we know he wrote it before his martyrdom, which took place in A.D. 62.Consider the timing of the Jerusalem CouncilWe think it was written well before his death because of another event that took place in A.D. 49. The Jerusalem Council:After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.Question: Why can we safely assume that James wrote this letter before the Jerusalem Council?If James had written this epistle after the Jerusalem Council meeting had taken place, we would have expected him to mention this meeting because he was writing to the 12 tribes in the dispersion. In other words, he would have mentioned a significant discussion about whether or not the Apostles would require gentile converts to get circumcised in order to have peace with God and be part of His people to a bunch of scattered Jews who are contending with significant hardship and trying to understand what’s happening with all these gentile Christians coming on the scene.There are some other factors we could mention to support our conclusion, but all this to suggest the date of writing this epistle is between 44-49 A.D.Recipients & OccasionThe RecipientsConsider the meeting place of the recipientsJewishThey meet in a synagogueFor if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in,the word assembly is the word synagogueConsider recipients’ conviction about God.their conviction that monotheism is foundationalYou believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!Consider the place the law possessed in the lives of the recipients.The law was central to lifeFor he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?Consider how James describes the recipients.They were dispersedforced to live away from their home countrylived in poverty and under oppressionIt was common for them to be taken advantage ofBehold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.They were accustomed to unjust treatment and ridicule because of their faith.But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?James aims to encourage these suffering Christians through this letterBe patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.But also to exhort them to remain faithful to God in the midst of their trials.Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.The OccasionDifficult to distillMaking the point that faith is activeWhat the poor and the rich have in common helps us to understand the occasion of this letter.Question: Let’s read James 1:9-10 and then consider what the poor and the rich have in common. More specifically, what need do the poor and rich have in common?For example, whether you are poor or rich, genuine faith is an active faithLet the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.Both poor and rich were part of the community of faith to which James was writing.But neither their poverty or their wealth are to be thought of as the defining factors of their identities.And faith must have an impact on our decisions, ambitions and reactionsSo for example, when it comes to the rich, considerCome now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.Question: In what ways are our ambitions, plans and reactions to the ups and downs of life impacted by a faith that is an active faith, that is, genuine faith?The ambitions, plans, reactions all should be impacted, in fact shaped by faith. Faith must be activeBut back to James 1 to consider the poorLet the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,Question: How does active or genuine faith help us to understand why it makes sense for James to encourage the lowly (poor) by claiming they are objects of God’s exaltation?To issue such a command (and boast is an imperative here), points to the thrust of the epistle’s message, that faith is active. Holiness is practical. It shapes how we respond to being in want. That even if we are without the comforts of this world, we are not defeated. We in fact are to boast in that we belong to Christ and therefore can know that we are in the upper class of heaven despite that we might be considered the lower class on earth.Faith, is active, and must therefore shape our perspective about everything. This, I suggest is at least a significant component of the occasion of this epistle.Theological ThemesTrialsThey are a cause for joy for God’s peoplefor you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.Question: What must be clear in our minds and hearts regarding the trials we face for them to be a cause of joy?They remind us of our dependence on GodIf any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.Question: What’s the connection between experiencing our trials in a God-honoring way and asking God for wisdom without doubt?They emphasize the temporal nature of this world.Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.Question: What’s important for us to remain steadfast during our trials?Trials reinforce our calling to a diligent pursuit of holinessLet no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.2. EschatologyFuture judgement as motivation to adopt right attitudes and behaviorLet the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.See also James 5:1-6, 9, 12Question: In what ways can we convey the sobriety with which we are to live in light if the law of liberty?Encouragement available to us because of the certain fulfillment of God’s promisesListen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?Question: The encouragement that exists in the knowledge of future relief and rescue upon the return of Jesus is clear enough, but what about these glorious promises provides us encouragement for today?A promise for the futureBut also a reality that applies to the present as well.If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.“royal” is a reference to the fact the the law is of or from the kingdom of Godbasilikos = royal & basilea = kingdomsuggests that the kingdom is not just a promised inheritance for the future, but a present inheritance of those who are chosen by God as they live according to the kingdom law now.3. WisdomInsight into God’s purposesIf any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.wisdom to understand and respond properly to the trials they are experiencing.Possessing it leads to spiritual maturity (1:4)Connected to behaviorWho is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.Question: What is the connection between wisdom and behavior?The wrong kind of wisdom leads to the wrong kind of behavior4. Poverty & Wealth
There is hardly a single element of the OT—late Jewish tradition about poverty and piety that is not also encountered in the letter of James.”O.T. doctrine on poverty & wealthGod has a particular concern for the poor, downtrodden & outcastsFather of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?Question: I think we will see that James does not intend that we understand “those who are poor” as exclusively people without physical means. It appears that God’s people are to be concerned about those who are in need physically, but more fundamentally about others’ spiritual needs. How do we keep these concerns in balance?God’s people should show this same concern for the same people.Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals— those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted; a man and his father go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned;Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.We will deal with what James means by poor & rich in 1:9-10 & 5:1-6 later, but we should be aware that, at least on the surface, James (and some OT authors) associate the poor with the righteous and the rich with the wicked. But is it that simple, or is there more to it?Theme: Practical HolinessWhat about what is often said of this book: James is a very practical book.It is often said that James is a practical book, and I agree.But I would also suggest that to assume that theology is not practical and that James is not theological.What James helps us to see however, that what we believe, that is, our theology shows up in everyday life.And to be more specific, Christian theology is meant to be practical. The doctrine of the Bible is for life. Holiness is not merely an intellectual and concept, but has profound implications for all of life (trials, end-times, money, wisdom and more).So yes, James is a practical book, and yes, it is a theological book. k
1 Corinthians 15:7ESV
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