The simplest way to study an epistle is to ask the questions,
who? why? what? where? when?
So first we ask who was James? and to whom was he writing?
James' epistle is written to the twelve tribes scattered
beyond Jerusalem, and from his many references to tests, trials, strifes, fights and
arguments, one gets the picture that the scattered Jews were in
some kind of disarray, if not turmoil. Much of the turmoil could be attributed to the
Apostle Paul, preaching the gospel of Justification by faith alone and not by
works of the Law. So we would be
justified in thinking that his epistle goes someway to balance the message, to
ease the anxieties of the Jews, by emphasising the need for works and action to
be seen in those who believe.
To understand this hard hitting epistle of James , one might
take note of what we know about Him.
It is good to remind ourselves that James lived in the same house as Jesus for at least 25-28 years. Without question it would have been a very "law"ful, God-fearing home. The Old Testament would have been very familiar to James, especially Isaiah & Amos., from which he quotes. How interesting it would be to know what James experienced while growing up with Jesus, eating at the same table, sharing the family chores and no doubt sleeping in the same house, not to mention playing childhood games. It is amazing what little we know of Jesus, but as Paul says “we do not know Christ after the flesh”. There is more of this in our study on the Life of Christ
We know also that Jesus made a special appearance to James after his resurrection. (How interesting it would be to know what he said)
Also we know that James was the head of the early church, contrary to the Roman Catholic belief that Peter was the first Pope.
There are a few references to James in the Acts of the apostles which provide a slight glimpse into some of the problems he had on his hands.
In the Acts ch. 15 when Paul reported how the Gentiles were being converted, that a special letter was written by James to these Gentiles and the churches involved. Acts 15:19-20 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
Also in Galatians 2 we see something of the respect that he had gained from the other Apostles. Whether “respect” is the right word or not, perhaps you can judge. For while Paul was with Peter. At one time, all the Gentiles and Jews were eating together, but when two men arrived who had come from James, then immediately the Jews, including Peter, left off eating with the Gentiles and joined the Jews. Paul spotted it right away and took some spiritual umbrage, for no doubt to him, he reckoned they were practicing the old traditions when the Jews had no dealings with the Gentiles. They regarded the Gentiles as “dogs- kept outside” of God’s purposes. But the mighty revelation given to Paul, who was commissioned directly by the Lord to go to preach the Gospel of righteousness by faith, (and not works of the Law,) to the Gentiles, revealed that under the new Covenant, the Gentiles were being welcomed into God’s Kingdom.
Being a deep-dyed Jew and Pharisee, the gospel he received directly from God, was as revolutionary to him, , as it was to any of the thousands of Jews that Paul came across as he went fulfilling his commission to take this Gospel to the Gentiles. Unfortunately, the majority of Jews he encountered on his journeys were vehemently opposed to Paul, as it seemed to them, that he was preaching the same message to the Jews as to the Gentiles. A message that stated they did not need to be circumcised in the flesh, or engage in any ceremonies of the Laws of Moses, to please God.
In Romans 2:28, Paul is very dogmatic in what he affirms about who the “real” Jews are now..
Rom 2:28-29 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
Further on, in Romans he asserts that not all Israelites are part of the New Israel.
Rom 9:6-7: 6 Not as though the word of God has taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. (you may need to read the rest of the chapter to fully understand0
Little wonder that the Jews were in turmoil over their religion. It would seem that James thought it best to appease the Jews who were opposed to Paul, especially those who had come to believe in Jesus and were under his authority in the church.
Paul tells us that wherever he went his greatest opposition came from his fellow Jews. He contended with them continually, in the hope that they would believe in Jesus. But even those who did believe such as the Pharisees mentioned in Acts 15:1-5, were very reluctant to accept that their 4000 year old religion was redundant. (Heb. 8:13)
In Acts 21 v 17 onwards we read of what happened when Paul went back to Jerusalem, to report to James and the church council. James had been informed that Paul was teaching that Jews and Gentiles should stop practicing their religion and circumcising their children. He feared that when the Jews in Jerusalem heard that Paul was in the city, there would be trouble. Although James and the council did not rebuke Paul for the gospel he preached, they did try to patronise or calm the angry Jews, by asking Paul to join others who were celebrating a purification ritual vow, under the Law- just to appease them. Acts 21:21-24 21 And they have been informed of you, that you teach all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. 22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that you are come. 23 Do therefore this that we say to you: We have four men which have a vow on them; 24 Them take, and purify yourself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning you, are nothing; but that you yourself also walk orderly, and keep the law. So Paul, in his role as one who confessed he is "all things to all men that I may win some" duly obliged. But even after the days of purification were over the Jews found another cause to riot and wanted to kill Paul. He had to be rescued by soldiers.
So taking all this into consideration about James and his problems with the young church, we can understand what he writes- For he writes to Jews who are scattered, and finding the Christian life hard. Amongst themselves there was much conflict (Ch 5) They were acting like worldlings, with uncontrollable tongues arguing and fighting over what is right. Every-one seemed to be teaching, right and wrong to everyone else. James exhorts them to pray for grace and wisdom. Grace to endure the trials of their faith and wisdom to choose the right path of knowledge and belief.
Also, and probably most controversially, James fires, what to many seems like a broadside at Paul’s teaching, which we read in Romans, Galatians and Hebrews. In fact he makes what seem like categorical statements to the effect that we are justified by works rather than faith.
So one has to consider if Martin Luther was right, to make such a hard statement. Certainly when you consider what tremendous revelation came to him when he understood the true gospel for the first time, one can understand, how he felt that James can be misinterpreted by the well-meaning, but unrepentant, non-believing sinner.
Perhaps this is the reason, this epistle did not come to light until the fourth century A.D. having been suppressed by the early church … perhaps.. I don’t know.
Even though one might sense two opposite viewpoints from Paul & James, we can certainly say there is no contradiction. For what the Holy Spirit has brought to us in these two epistles is the much emphasised scriptural truth, that the Gospel is in two parts, namely Belief and Behaviour. There is an inward work done in the believer by the blood of Christ in bringing forgiveness and justification by faith. The other is the outer working of the Holy Spirit which is a witness to those who watch us.
Paul is writing, that there is no justification before God, by works of the Law, and James is writing about Justification by works of faith. For we all live according to what we believe. Our lifestyle reveals our true faith. What Paul refers to constantly as the need for obedience being added to our faith, so James speaks in terms of works, must accompany our faith for our justification to be perfect and complete - A righteousness that involves both God and our fellow man
There is an old adage which may help in understanding this
Lightning alone will not kill you, but lightning alone kills you.
This sounds like a contradiction but it is not. For lightning which is not accompanied by thunder will not kill you, but the thunder won’t kill you it is only the lightning that does that.
Faith alone will save you, but faith alone will not save you. It must be accompanied by works, but it is not the “worksW that save.
Finally, It may be worth noting that we have two epistles addressed primarily to the Jews, Paul wrote to Hebrews and James to the scattered twelve tribes. (1 Peter could very well be viewed as a third addressed to Jews)
How did James die? There are various accounts.
The Epistle of James "In my own words"
CHAPTER 1. From James, a servant of God and of his Son Jesus Christ. To my fellow Jews scattered from Jerusalem.
I know many of you are finding things a bit difficult and that your faith is being tested. At times no doubt you will wonder if the God of Israel is with you anymore, and what is the world comingto, not knowing where to turn. Well, firstly don’t think it strange that your faith is being tested.
Did not the Lord say that in this world we would have tribulation. God allows it because it actually works to our benefit and the fulfilment of his purposes. So you can be happy in knowing that such is the Christian life. “Ah! Such is life” sighs the unbelievers, “such is the christian life” says the believer.
Romans 5 says that “tribulation works”- in other words, it does a job. It produces patience, (which means endurance) God desires that our faith gets stronger and the only way he can make us stronger is by allowing it to go through the fire, like gold, and be tested.
So let patience finish the work it is able to do. Endure to the end. Because after that patience (Rom 5) produces “experience”, which means it has been tested, approved – you’ve “done it - been there -got the tee shirt”
In such trials you will experience perplexity, perhaps not knowing which way to turn. If there is a way out which you can take, then you should ask God for wisdom to know what is God’s will in such circumstances. He gives wisdom freely to all who ask which is his way and willing to walk such a path. But pray with earnestness and single eyed determination. Don’t be half hearted, with ifs and buts or with more reservations than the Indians in North America. God deals with those who are single minded, who desire only to do his perfect will. God can see reservations deep in the heart . He can see the ulterior motives for our asking. But he gives to those who desire his will and his kingdom to come. Nor does it matter what circumstances we are in. Good deals with all on the same level- whether rich or poor, wise or not so wise. If your rich- rejoice that you are experiencing what it’s like to be poorer, if you’re poor rejoice that you can be lifted up from despair, for you have placed it in the hands of your heavenly father. Like the Duke of Yorks ten thousand men, when you are up, the only way is down, and when you are at the borttom, the only way is up.
He is no respecter of persons, he is the same to all of us. Some might think that they are tempted or tested more than others. Well if you are then, you can be sure, it is not God making it harder for some more than others. Our fleshly temptations come from the desires of our own hearts. Tests are only as strong as our own flesh will want to reject it. So it’s a matter of our own will that needs to be surrendered.
Some whose hearts are not perfect towards God leave themselves open to temptation while others make straight paths for their feet and deliberately order their lives to avoid being led astray.
We are God’s children, and indeed, we are the first generation being born of God under the New Covenant. So God desires his children to be like their father. God never changes- so he wants us to grow in faith so that we are as stable in our thoughts, hearts and actions. There are no areas of shadow or grey with God. All things are pure and white. If it’s a good thing, it comes from God, if not, it’s from beneath. Being tempted to sin or doubt comes from beneath. So be alert not to be impulsive, jumping to conclusions, we must first know what God says in his word, which was the means of our becoming children of God. This is the word of Truth. We should be more eager to hear what the word says, than speaking or arguing about “truth” or the things of God. Arguing and losing your temper over what is right is certainly not righteousness.
God’s word has been given to us to obey- not merely to discuss and argue about. It’s more important to do what is written, that to hear.
Otherwise you are like a man or woman who looks in a mirror- sees that they need a wash but go away and forget completely about what they have just seen and so do not wash- they are not changed one iota, are they? The word is a path for our feet. If we don’t walk it, we will walk in darkness. The Christian life is a matter of belief and behaviour. If he died for us, we should live for him. He gave his life so that we might live His life- not our own, that should have died at the cross.
Now do not think of the word of God as another set of rules and laws which God expects us to keep before he accepts us. For God accepts us all as his children on the same level that we are all in Christ and we all have his righteousness. But the word is for our guidance and we should accept it as such. We could in fact say that now that the Holy Spirit is opening the word to us then it is a perfect law, in that it is not a legalistic law to condemn but a free-will law, a law of liberty. As God’s children we should be happy to do our father’s will. I am a servant of God and of Jesus Christ. We owe all to God’s grace and all to Jesus who paid God our debt so that we could receive His grace.
So we need to differentiate between talking and doing. It is very easy to talk a good religion, but to be one who practices is far more acceptable to God. The real true path we should walk regularly, is a life where we look after the deprived and poorer people in our society, and keep oneself pure and free from worldly thoughts, practices and ambitions.
CHAPTER 2. As we have said God our father wants us to be like him
He has no favourites, and counts all men equal in his judgements. So we should not show favour or respect to some more than others. Such as looking up to the rich and well clothed and looking down, or feeling less need to respect those who are poor and clothed in rags.
God, does not judge, and is not impressed with such things as you are. In fact he would rather make people rich spiritually, and he can do that better and more easily with the poor than with the rich. So don’t despise people because they are poor, the ones you should more despise are the rich who exploit you and indeed often blaspheme the Lord you love and serve, in thinking they can look after themselves, and have no need for God
The scriptures say we should love our neighbours as ourselves. To look down on anyone is a breaking of that law. It may seem trivial in that you are not really harming them but if you break one commandment in the Law you are in fact guilty of breaking it all.
However though we are not judged by the Law of Moses we are in fact under what can be termed the Law of liberty; which really goes beyond the standard of the Law. This law says “you don’t have to do it, but if you want to please Christ – you should do it. Better to have mercy on someone in bad circumstances than to condemn them.
We may boast that we have faith, but what is the benefit of faith if it makes no difference to our behaviour or lifestyle? if that faith has no practical outcome, what value is it? Just repeating a creed or saying "God bless you" to a starving man will not help him. So words are not enough to show your faith. Our faith becomes more obvious when accompanied by works, rather than just by words.
Just repeating a creed that says I believe in God the father almighty, means nothing really because the devils believe the same.
Gen. 15 ch 6 tells us that God counted Abraham's faith as righteousness because he believed the promise that he was to be the father of many nations. Then later the outcome of that faith, he showed by offering Isaac his son at God’s command. His obedience crowned his faith. For his son was the one through whom it appeared that God was to fulfil the promises. Likewise our own justification by faith is perfected when we show our faith in the way we live. For example, if one believes that God is their "father" and "almighty" then the person who worries about the future is hardly expressing such faith.
Also Rahab, totally outside God’s realm of blessing it would seem, was justified by what she did, for it showed that she believed in the God of the Israelites, who was about to destroy their city.
(When Paul wrote of being justified, (made righteous) by faith and not works, he was referring to the works of the Law. I am speaking of the works of faith- The apostle Paul called this “obedience”. Faith without obedience is like lightning without thunder- There is an old saying “Lightning alone will not kill you, but lightning alone does kill you”. Which means that lightning that is not accompanied by thunder will not be fatal. But though it does kill when with thunder it is not the thunder that kills you. So finally know this: We know that God made the universe by His faith, so we should ask ourselves, what has our faith produced? Ed.)
It is a good thing that we have teachers, who minister to us by talking. But it is not a good thing if we all go about teaching, for it will all develop into arguments about who has the greater wisdom. For though talking is a natural means of communication, in general, a vast amount of evil is spread by the tongue, in contrast, as we have said, to actions. We can all tell others how to act but better that we all do more acting than talking. Let’s remember that we will be held responsible for what we teach to others. Jesus said we would be judged by our words as well as our works.
Anyone who never says anything wrong or teaches anything wrong is surely a perfect person. Everyone has an opinion, and most are happy to make it known. Consider, the world of communication. The media, radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, internet, books, dvds, films theatre, schools homes, etc & etc. everyone it seems has something to say to everyone else. The world is full of philosophers and philosophies, all spread through the tongue. So the whole world is like a ball on fire , - tongues of fire. Millions all expressing their opinions and teaching others what they should do and how they should think. and many willing to fight and kill over what they believe.
Yet God says all men are liars by nature so we can surmise that all the philosophies, opinions and teachings of men will be corrupted. The amount of evil in the world would be minimal were it not for the tongue. The tongue is only a small part of the body but seems to control the world the world. Like the small rudder can move a massive ship, or a small bit in the mouth of a horse can make a mighty strong creature go in a specific path. Millions have hung on the words of politicians and leaders. Billions have been inspired into action throughout the centuries merely by orators who have coined phrases, which have been passed down through the generations as words of wisdom. Every scholar of necessity is obliged to quote the words of some predecessor or peer. The tongue is surely a mighty weapon and anyone who can control it or tame is would be a rare human being. We can tame every wild animal under the sun, but the tongue is untameable. Words spread like wildfire, and mainly as the fire of hell.
So it behoves us all to watch what we say, for Jesus said, we must give account of every idle word we speak.
On the other side of the coin of course, the tongue can bring great blessings. Far better to say things in the hope or belief that things will get better for someone, than to hope or think that things will go really worse. Better to say “I pray the lord will forgive you” than “you will pay for this some day”. The tongue can say truth as well as lies, it can bless as well as curse, but for us, our tongues should be always blessing. Who wants to drink at a fountain that pours out pure water one minute and poison the next. So as children of God, lets show our love to those who are our equals and leave any judgment to God. Not that we should condone evil, but when we do shine the light of God’s truth on others we should do so in love. But even that, will not always lead to popularity or self exultation, for we should remember that Jesus was crucified for what he said, not for what he did. But he prayed for his persecutors’ forgiveness.
So a truly wise person who has words of wisdom to spread around, will not only spread God’s word but will lead such a life that is commensurate with God’s word. His wisdom will then be truth.
So avoid strife and arguments, which cause confusion. This wisdom does not come from above, but is of the earth, sensual, devilish. Don’t teach or argue with others in anger or devoid of peace and a gentle spirit.
The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be accepted, full of mercy, without partiality and without hypocrisy. So just as fruit has the seed within it, so in such a manner if we sow God’s truth in peace then it will produce righteousness, which means things will be right before God and with man. The fruit of the spirit in our speaking and teaching will produce both peace and righteousness. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink but peace and righteousness.
Note the verses of scripture that link righteousness and peace in the Kingdom of God;
James 3:18: And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
Heb 12:11 Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.
Rom 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Rom 5:11 Therefore being justified (made righteous) by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
James 2:16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? (Is that righteousness?)
CHAPTER 4. .
So then, we know how the tongue can cause so much argument and strife. No doubt you can now see that the untamed tongue has resulted in much fighting and conflicts that go on among you. But this should not be so. I don’t know what you are trying to gain from such things. If it is for your own gratification you are fighting for, then that is wrong. You are obviously fighting for something.
Surely if you require anything you can pray about it. But then if you have already asked and not received it has been because you were praying selfishly for your own will, glory and gratification, rather than for God’s will and purpose.
If you are just seeking after worldly things then in God’s eyes you are like an adulterer or an adulteress. For do you not realise that God is a jealous God, he wants you for himself. If you sell yourself to the world for its pleasures and its idols, you make yourself an enemy of God. Whose side are you on? Can God not satisfy you?
To those who seek after God in this world, (and let’s face it, we do live in the world and we have to fight our way through it at times,) then God will give all the grace we need to survive and grow spiritually in this world. His grace can supply all your needs both physical and emotional. So don’t fight to be the top dog. Submit your self first to God’s will. He promises that if you draw near to Him he will draw near to you. Likewise he says that if you resist the devil then the devil will flee from you.
So if you want things to go right then you gave to get right with God. Come to God in repentance. Ask him to cleanse your hands and your heart that causes your hands to sin.
Recognise the awfulness of your state before God, weep over it, mourn over it and God will comfort you.
Lower yourself and God will lift you up. He will turn your mourning into laughter and your heaviness into joy.
Put away speaking evil of one another. It is not for you to judge someone else. There is only one judge and one law giver. It is not for us to administer the law, merely to keep it. If we put ourselves as an administer of the law then surely we are breaking the law, by playing God.
Acknowledge God in all things even in your plans and hopes. When you plan something for the future be careful to remember that God may stop those plans. It may not be his will. So always qualify your words when you say “tomorrow I will do this or that” by saying “If it is God’s will, I will do this and that.” For then you would be constantly aware and submissive to God, in that He has the right to exercise his will in your life.
This may seem a minor point but any boasting in our own strength or ability is wrong. Every breath we take, we take because of God's will and grace.
So you could not only define sin as doing evil but by not doing what we know to be right and good. For God’s will is that we do good. If we know that and don’t do it, that is a sin of omission, rather than the usual and easily recognised sin of Commission which we do something, opposed to Gods will. In Romans ch 7, Paul writes about such things. - Things we shouldn’t do, that we do and things we should do, which we don’t do.
But we should aim to be led and obedient to the Spirit of God in us. Let this be what we would hope to boast about. Not doing our will but doing God’s will.
Go to now - Get a move on you rich men, start howling NOW, because of your riches. Stop standing there, looking on them as something to be proud of, look at them as things which one day will be rusty junk before your eyes. In fact, the time will come when being caught red-handed in possession of these things will be like blood on your hands. They will witness against you, they will be the very fire of judgement that consumes you. Repent now before it is too late. For where did you get such riches, surely at the expense of others. You exploited your fellow human beings- your equals before God. Things are hard enough for them as it is, yet you have taken advantage of their need and poverty to store up these riches. Know this, that you have stored up judgement against yourselves. Take note of the prophet Amos.
To those of you who have been exploited and are finding things hard,, comfort yourselves with this thought that the Lord will soon return and put things right. So be patient. The farmer who sows his seed has to wait patiently for the harvest. He can’t just go and pull up the early shoots, they need the rainy periods to come first to bring them ready to harvest. In the meantime, while you are waiting, just ensure that your own heart is right, ready for the Lord’s coming. Don’t start finding fault and blaming your fellow brethren and fellow workers for your problems. Remember that the judge who will settle all injustices, is just “outside the door”, ready to come in.
Be willing to suffer for a while, think of the prophets of old, how they suffered. Do we not now consider them to be blessed because they suffered. The Lord was well aware of their suffering. He is a loving and understanding God. He will not allow injustice to triumph. Remember Job- consider how he finished. So wait till God sorts everything out. You will not be disappointed with the judgment.
So don’t go making rash judgments and coming to rash conclusions trying to bring justice on this earth; and make sure you don’t start making oaths by swearing by heaven or earth. Just say yes or no. anything more than that is putting too much weight on your opinion. Refrain from thinking that other peoples’ sins are the cause of your hardships
Remember brethren you have an amazing facility in prayer in all situations.
If there is anyone sick then he or she should call for the elders of the church to pray for them. The elders should anoint them with oil and pray in faith for them. Such prayers of faith will not only bring healing to the sick ones, but also I will take away the sin as well as the sickness. Jesus bore, (carried away) our sicknesses as well as our sins.
Another way of dealing with sin among you, is to confess it to one another and so pray for each other.
We shouldn’t condemn each other or kick those who fall. One day we might be the one who falls. So lift them up in prayer. There is great power in prayer, In fact earnest fervent prayer can be very effective. Remember Elijah, he prayed that it wouldn’t rain for three years and it didn’t. Then he prayed for the rain to come back and it came. So if you can change the weather by prayer how more wonderful to change one another. Whenever we help or heal a brother of sister who has fallen , then just think of the multitude of sins that will be covered, not just the past but all those they would have committed, if you had just condemned them, rather than restore them by praying for them.