James Study 1: Introduction
We are going to look at this very challenging and practical book from the point of view of: what is the real church in the world today; how we should be behaving; what attitudes we should have; how we should talk and how we can really make an impact in the world around us.
Who wrote it?
This letter was written by James, Jesus’ brother (Galatians 1:19). He had been a great sceptic of Jesus when he was younger, but now he had become a strong and popular leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18). He had seen at first hand the life-changing power of Jesus. He had finally accepted this power in his own life and had been changed from the son of a carpenter into a joint heir with Jesus, a child of the living God. He was translated from death to life, transformed from mediocrity to a dynamic witness, transferred from ritual to reality, from scepticism to servant-hood by the mighty Holy Spirit. He was appointed the first “bishop” of Jerusalem and was given the title “the righteous” or “the just” because of his faithfulness to the law and constancy in prayer. He must have had a dramatic change to his character because he was stoned to death in AD 62 by the scribes and pharisees for refusing to renounce his commitment to Jesus.
Who was it written to?
This book was written to Jewish Christians scattered everywhere throughout the Mediterranean world (James 1:1), probably by the persecution in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). The people did not have the support of an established Christian church, so James, as a concerned shepherd, wrote to encourage them in their faith. He reminded them that it was by grace that they were saved through faith – not good works. This is something we need a constant reminder about today so that we do not become “religious”, just doing activities when the Christian journey is all about relationship.
When was it written?
It is probably dated around 45-47 AD, before the Jerusalem Council, when the problems between Jewish and Gentile Christians first surfaced with the argument over circumcision (Acts 15:1). It addresses problems they were having in their church lives and in their personal faith and relationships with each other. James had seen the explosive growth of the church from Pentecost to the time when the letter was written – perhaps no more than fifteen or twenty years after the death of Christ. He had seen believers persecuted for their faith, Stephen martyred and the Christians (many of them “young in the faith”) dispersed.
Why was it written?
It was also written to destroy any apathy or mediocrity in Christians and, through faith in action, to bring Jesus into every situation, showing His relevance to each person on this planet. James shows the marks of love, joy, patience and victory that we see in Christians who walk by faith. He also points out the marks of a “false profession of faith” and the disastrous effects this has on churches and families.
The problems that James addresses were problems then and are problems for us today. The root cause of their problems and ours is spiritual immaturity and not allowing God’s word to have first place in our lives. James describes so well the battle between “the flesh” and “the spirit” in so many areas and gives us timeless wisdom on dealing with these problems, all whilst encouraging us to leave behind an unstable and inconsistent “halfway faith” and to progress towards a wholehearted devotion to God in thought, word and deed.
In James’ day, the people only had the Old Testament and his letter to help them.
We have so much: their example, the precious Holy Spirit and God’s amazing word in the Old and New Testaments.
Today there is every means possible to study God’s word:
*Bible study books
*Christian TV and radio
*Joy for Life downloads
Growing has to be a choice and something we work at. It is not automatic. Children have to choose to feed on the right food in order to grow. They have to exercise their muscles in order to learn to move and spend time in school in order to train their minds and become mature. James emphasises that, knowing scripture is not enough; it has to be put into practice. This is a real action-packed book, so be prepared to be a “daily doer”. Whatever subject comes up, allow the Holy Spirit to enlarge your spirit and just “do it”. He will give you the power to obey if you are willing.
As we look at the book of James from the aspect of the Real Church, we must be prepared to change our concept of what we think a church should be; how we want it to be and how God has laid down in His word for it to be. So many of our thoughts on this subject come from our traditions, experiences, or from watching others to see how it is or is not going to be for us. We need to approach this subject with an open mind and promise God that we will apply anything that He shows us in our spirit, to our lives.
The Christian church in the world today is in a sorry state and even in wonderful, Christ-centred churches, where people are being saved and healed daily and where the praise and worship are uplifting, there are problems. God is shaking every organisation where the name of Jesus is lifted up. God is calling the church of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:22) – His body – to live holy lives.
There is no more room for behaviour “behind closed doors”. God is exposing it for all to see and people are being brought to their knees. But we must remember that, at any time, we too could be deceived at our weakest point. We must be careful what we fill our minds with (Colossians 3:2). We cannot afford to be critical, but at all times we must keep a right spirit so that, when God puts His light on our hearts, He will be pleased with what He sees (Psalm 139:2,4).
This book is difficult to divide into tidy themes because James keeps returning to the same theme, again and again. However, the Life Application notes divide the chapters like this:
|Chapter 1||Confident Stand||What a Christian has.|
|Chapter 2||Compassionate Service||What a Christian does.|
|Chapter 3||Careful Speech||What a Christian says.|
|Chapter 4||Contrite Submission||What a Christian feels.|
|Chapter 5||Concerned Sharing||What a Christian gives.|
So as we step into the pages of this exceptionally challenging book, let us start the journey by turning all our old preconceived ideas over to the Lord and deciding to step out and walk only on the word of God. Be wise and obey what God shows you from His word, rather than from the opinions of others. Matthew 7:24–27.
The Real Church 1 – Home Challenges
Read the notes about the background to James.
1. What do you think about the man who wrote this book?
2. What had happened to the Christians to whom James wrote?
3. As you start this study, what commitment are you going to make to your own spiritual growth?
4. What do you believe “church” is according to the Bible? How important is “church” to you today?
Read James 1:1-12.
5. What advice did James have for persecuted believers? James 1:2
6. What character attribute is developed through the testing of your faith? Give an example.
7. What happens to you when perseverance has completed its work?
8. Have you had any trial that has worked for your good, where as a result you have become a more mature person? Write about it.
9. What will God give to those who ask Him?
10. What should be your attitude when you ask?
11. List some problems in your life.
Write down your requests to God alongside each one, together with the date you asked and the promise from the Word you believe God has given you.
Now expect the answer. Do not doubt. Keep His word in front of your eyes and thank God for it. When it comes, record it alongside the problem and date it.
You will be amazed to see the changes in your life that God brings about.
12. If you don’t ask in faith, what can you expect? What example does James use to illustrate this?
13. What is meant by “the brother in humble circumstances”? (James 1:9) How does God see him or her?
14. How might getting rich or becoming poor test your faith?
15. What is the condition upon which we get a crown of Life? (James 1:12)
16. Keeping in mind the trial that you are going through, how can these few verses rearrange your priorities and show you how your loving Father wants you to react?
17. Sum up the content of these twelve verses of James in a short sentence. Make a note of any verse that really spoke to you and memorise it.