James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Today I begin an exploration of the highly charged and challenging book of James. I will present the study as a series of six sermon transcripts, covering the key themes from each of the five short chapters.
May 8 - Introducing the context of James 1:27
Social Justice and Radical Resistance Throughout the Bible
May 14 - James 1 Sermon Transcript
Integrity and True Religion - Believe. Speak. Act.
May 15 - James 2:1-9 Sermon Transcript
Discrimination Against the Poor Perverts True Faith
May 21 - James 3:15-4:4 Sermon Transcript
2 Tales of Kings, War & Peace, Greed & Righteousness
May 22 - James 4:4-10 Sermon Transcript
Jesus Follower's Radical Resistance
May 29 - James 5:12-20 Sermon Transcript
Pain, Perseverance, and the Prayer of Faith
June 12 - James 5:1-11 Sermon Transcript
The Vengeance of the Lord of Hosts
on Behalf of the Poor and the Oppressed
6 Things to Know Before Reading James
To best understand any passage in the Bible, we should read it from its context. The following are some points of context for the book of James, its author, its readers, and their culture and worldview. Six important perspectives are outlined for understanding James' context and intention, followed by a list of every mention of James in the New Testament. The context points aren't necessarily in any particular order of importance, but I've numbered them anyway, and backwards, to give a false sense of anticipation that will manipulate you into continuing to read. I learned that from Cracked.com.
6 - James, the Book
James is probably the oldest book of the New Testament in the Bible. It was likely written close to the same time as Galatians. It was probably written around AD 60.
James is widely considered to be comparable to the wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. This means that it is intentionally practical and applicable. It is the only example of this genre in the New Testament.
This book is more similar to the teachings of Jesus, especially as recorded in Matthew 5 (The Sermon on the Mount), than any other portion of scripture.
The earliest manuscripts of James are written in Greek.
This book is written by a very Jewish man (James, the brother of Jesus), to a Jewish audience before the dispersion of AD 75, the destruction of the temple, and the major changes in the Jewish faith toward worship without the temple.
Compared to many other books in the New Testament, James is writing to people who are well-versed in their faith and doctrine. He isn't primarily interested in telling people what to believe, but how to put into practice what they believe. For religious people long on word and short on action today, I think this is very applicable.
5 - James, the Author
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
James was the brother of Jesus (see Mat 15:33 and Jude 1), younger son of Mary and Joseph. Besides Jesus, he also had at least three other brothers, and likely sisters as well. One of his brothers, Jude (Judas), also wrote a book in the New testament.
James and his family grew up in Galilee, a rural community. Galilee was left alone by the Roman rule of the time compared to more urban centres like Jerusalem. Galileans had an accent that set them apart, and some people held a prejudice that they were backward or dumb.
Being the son of Joseph, a carpenter, he probably grew up in the family trade. He was probably a blue collar, simple-living, tool-belt-and-hammer-swinging man.
James was not a follower of his older brother Jesus during Jesus' ministry. In fact, he didn't seem to appreciate Jesus much at all. (See John 7:3-10)
After Jesus' ascension, James became Pastor and overseer of the Jewish/Christian church in Jerusalem. This is evident in the New Testament, and also by the importance given him by the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 20:200), who mentions only James, John the Baptist, and Jesus as significant in the early church.
James is a middle aged/senior man when he writes this book. He had probably been pastoring for a few decades already. Soon after this book was written, he was executed by the Romans.
4 - James, A Servant
James' identity and authority are derived from his relationship with God, and with "the Lord Jesus". The word servant literally means a bondservant, or slave who has willingly given themselves up for the service of someone else.
James could have tried to claim some authority by his familial relationship with Jesus. As Jesus had no children, he could have perhaps tried to claim some inherited authority. Had he identified himself as “James, brother of Jesus”, it could sound nearly like he was a peer to Jesus. But he does not. He could point to some accomplishment on his part, or some title he is known by, such as his pastoral role in Jerusalem. But he does not.
On the contrary, he chooses to identify himself with the word slave (doulos, Greek, Strongs 1401), and seems to demote himself while promoting Jesus. However, to identify himself as a slave of the Lord Jesus first, he places himself within the life and identity of the Messiah and Son of God, rather than his own accomplishments, which is greater by far than anything he could point to in himself.
We see the same word for slave (doulos) in Philippians 2:
Philippians 2:5-11Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant (doulos), being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
James chooses to recognize God’s authority before his own, and submits his life and being to Lord Jesus, leaving it to God to exalt him:
Matthew 23:8-12 (Jesus’ words)
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
(In the verse above, servant is the same word as waiter or deacon. Master is similar to the word teacher, as is Rabbi.)
3 - James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ
God in this verse is a title implying authority, rather than a name such as El or I AM.
Lord and Christ both describe who Jesus is. Lord means that Jesus is Master, and Christ means that he is the Messiah, the anointed one promised to the Jews.
Though James knew Jesus personally, living and playing and growing up with him, he does not speak of him in the familiar, and affirms that he is Christ.
In Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3, we see Jesus being identified with his brother James, and in this context it is due to offence and unbelief. In these verses, by being identified as James’ brother, Jesus becomes common. James honours Jesus instead, identifying him with God rather than himself.
2 - James' Readers: The twelve tribes scattered in the Dispersion
At this point in Christian history, followers of Jesus are Jewish sect of people called followers of "The Way" or people "of the Way". It's a very Jewish religion, and James is sending this letter from Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish religion, where he is overseeing his Christian church.
Around BC 670, there was a "scattering" of the Jewish people from Palestine to the surrounding regions. This is known as the diaspora, and is literally what the verse refers to. In 75ish AD, after this book is written, there was a second diaspora. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and very few Jewish people were left in Jerusalem.
At this time the Jewish people have lived for hundreds of years scattered and separated from one another in the neighbouring countries. They've been experiencing escalating persecution and political pressure from the occupying states. Life as a Jewish person is very hard.
Although he's clearly writing to followers of the Way, as he calls Jesus "Lord" and "Christ", we can see his love and care for all his Jewish brothers and sisters as he identifies followers of the way with them.
1 - James' Greetings
Literally, “Cheers” (chairo, pronounced khah’ee-roh).
This is a friendly, common, informal greeting.
This is by far the shortest salutation of any New Testament Epistle. Compare Paul’s greeting at the beginning of Galatians, written around the same time:
Paul, an apostle— not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
By comparison, I think we see some of James’ personality in his greeting.
James begins his letter humbly, honestly, boldly, and kindly.
James is not high-minded. He is practical, down-to-earth, and real. There is no pretension to James. Though he speaks with great authority, he appeals to us as a brother. Though the brothers he writes to are suffering, he offers neither special sympathy nor condescension, and therefore identifies himself with them in their suffering.
Every mention of James in the New Testament:
Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3
(cynical and unbelieving townspeople invoke Jesus’ relationship to James to make him common.)
(vv3-10 context - speaking of Jesus - his brothers, probably including James, didn't follow him.)
(vv11-15 context – James is present in the upper room with Jesus’ disciples after his ascension.)
(vv13-18 context – Peter recognizes James’ authority. James is pastoring the Jerusalem church.)
(Acts 15:1-31 context – an important passage showing James’ authority in the early church.
This passage is very significant in understanding James, because it shows James' relationship to Paul, with whom his writings are often compared. Notice that it is James who sends Paul to preach to the Gentiles, and specifically with the permission to say that they do not need to convert to Judaism or follow the Mosaic law to follow Jesus.
The church leaders discuss together what a Gentile must do to be converted to Christ. Some think they should be circumcised and convert to Judaism first. Peter says that this would be requiring them to follow the law, which no one can do, and that they are saved by grace alone, just as the Jews are (v11). Finally, James addresses everyone, and affirms Peter’s statement, saying that they should not require Gentile believer’s to follow the law, but only that they should repent of idol worship and its’ practices, and believe in Jesus.)
(vv17-20 context- Paul and his leaders report to James of their missionary endeavors among the Gentiles. James and his elders report to Paul of their evangelism and teaching among the Jews.)
1 Corinthians 15:7
(Paul is giving evidence of the resurrection of Jesus, using James as a witness.)
(Paul describes the beginning of his calling and ministry, and mentions having seen James, pastor of the church in Jerusalem.)
(Paul references James’ and Peter’s authority in Acts 15 to send him to preach to Gentiles.)
(Paul rebukes Peter for acting differently toward Gentiles when James’ representatives are present. James and the elders are of the Jewish church.)
Jude 1:1(Jude, another brother of Jesus listed in Matthew 15:33, identifies himself as James’ brother, but a servant of Jesus.)
|Click the image above to read the whole series from James.|