The New Testament book of James was written to give us God’s answers to the question: “What kind of thoughts, what kind of words, what kind of deeds should mark the life of one who walks with the living God?” The evidence strongly suggests that the author of this book is James, Jesus’ brother (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3, Galatians 1:19).
Imagine for just a moment the exceptional home environment in which James was raised. He had godly parents in Joseph and Mary, and he had God incarnate for a big brother! Can you imagine growing up in a home like that? Think about it. How many times do you think James heard from his parents, “Why can’t you be more like Jesus?” I suspect James and his siblings may have harbored some resentment toward Jesus. What do you think? After all, Jesus would be a pretty hard act to follow. Perhaps that’s why James and his siblings didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah during his earthly life. As Jesus grew up, and his public ministry got rolling, Jesus’ claims about himself became more and more fantastic. In John 7:5, we catch a glimpse of James and his siblings’ early posture toward Jesus: “For not even His brothers were believing in Him.” In fact, Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ siblings thought “had lost His senses” (Mark 3:21). It is unclear exactly when James’ attitude toward Jesus changed. But we find him gathered with a group of other believers on the day of Pentecost, just 50 days after Jesus’ death (Acts 1:14). We read about it in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth: “After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:6-7). Once James got on board, he quickly assumed a leadership role in the early church. When the Apostle Paul visited Jerusalem, he discovered that James, along with Peter and John, were the established pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9-12). In fact, when Peter fled Jerusalem because of persecution (Acts 12:17), James was his natural successor. He became, to use contemporary terminology, the senior pastor of the Jerusalem Community Church. James’ letter was written to Jewish Christians who had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire as a result of persecution, encouraging them to stand firm and live out their faith despite the negative consequences it may bring.
The book of James stands out because it was probably the first New Testament book written, even before the gospels, so it gives us our earliest snapshot of nascent Christianity. We see the church at a time when it was primarily composed of Jews who had embraced Jesus as their Messiah. Only later in its history did the church become primarily Gentile. The book of James is also unique because of its strong focus on personal application. You see this in the number of commands found in this book: 54 commands in 108 verses. That is one command for every two verses!
The basic message of James is that faith in God should result in behavior that is in harmony with God’s will. As Christians, we must ensure that we are not acting inconsistently with our beliefs (hypocritical). The book of James helps us to avoid that danger. James affirms that the life of faith in this world is a life of peril; but through our faith, we must challenge the spirit of the world. We are to live counter-culturally and not be conformed to the world’s value system. We must deny the “lusts of the flesh” and rather submit our wills to God’s. Finally, we must resist the devil. The Bible teaches that we live in a world inhabited by evil spirits called demons, led by the devil, Satan. He and his hosts are constantly tempting us to doubt God’s goodness and rebel against His authority. Walking with God means that we must learn to resist these temptations. The life of faith is a life of power which enables us to challenge the spirit of the world, deny the lusts of the flesh, and resist the devil.
Application / Challenge
Read the book of James through at least once this week, jotting down your impressions of the book. This week’s ”Digging Deeper in Your Daily Quiet Time” (open or download the pdf version of Talking Point Walking Points below) will help you do this.