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Background

We are going to look at the very challenging and practical book of James from the point of view of:

  1. What is the real church in the world today?
  2. How should we be behaving?
  3. What attitudes should we have?
  4. How should we talk and how can we make an impact in the world around us?

Who wrote it?

What we now call the "book of James" was actually a letter written by James, the brother of Jesus. (Galatians 1:19) James had been sceptical about the claims made by his older brother 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 being simply the son of a carpenter (Joseph) to being a joint heir with Jesus in the kingdom of God - a child of the living God. He had been "translated" from death to life; transformed from mediocrity to being a dynamic witness; transferred from ritual to reality and from scepticism to servant-hood by the mighty, Holy Spirit. He was appointed the first "bishop" of Jerusalem and given the title: "the righteous" (or "the just") because of his faithfulness to the law and constancy in prayer. The final sign of the dramatic change in his character during his lifetime, was his refusal to renounce his commitment to Jesus which culminated in him being stoned to death in AD 62 by the Jewish authorities.

To whom was it written?

James' open letter was written to Jewish Christians scattered everywhere throughout the Mediterranean world, probably following the persecution in Jerusalem that is described in the book of the "Acts of the Apostles". (James 1:1; Acts 8:1) (See also "The Acts of the Holy Spirit".) These believers did not have the support of an established, Christian church, so James, as a concerned leader, 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 that we need a constant reminder about today so that we do not become "religious", giving our time to endless activities instead of seeing the Christian journey as being primarily about our relationship with Jesus.

When was it written?

It is dated by most biblical scholars to the period between 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 that they were having in their church lives, in personal faith and their relationships with one another. 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" (stoned to death) and Christians (many of them "young in the faith") dispersed.

Why was it written?

It was written to disperse any apathy or mediocrity in believers and to bring Jesus into every situation by putting faith into action and showing His relevance to every living person. James talks about 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 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. He 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.

Growing as believers

In James’ day, believers had only the biblical scriptures that we know as the "Old Testament" and his letter to help them. By contrast, today we have so much: their example, the precious Holy Spirit and God's amazing word in both the "Old" and "New" testaments. Today we have every means possible to study God's word:

  • Bible guides
  • Bible commentaries
  • Study books about the Bible
  • Teaching in churches
  • Online teaching through podcasts and websites
  • Recorded teaching on DVDs
  • Christian television and radio broadcasts
  • Joy for Life downloads

Growing has to be a choice and something we work at. It is not automatic. Children need to be fed on the right food in order to develop properly. They have to learn how to use their muscles in order to walk, run, swim and use different tools and equipment; they have to spend time in school in order to acquire information and train their minds, learning to think for themselves and becoming 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.

Growing together in the church

As we look at the book of James from the perspective of "Real Church", we must be prepared to change our concept of what we think a church should be. We may need to adjust our views in the light of what God has laid down in His word for it to be. So many of our thoughts on this subject come from our traditions and 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 to how we live our lives in practice.

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. He is calling the church of Jesus Christ - His body - to live holy lives. (Ephesians 2:22)

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. We must remember, too, that - at any time - we could also be deceived at our weakest point. We must be careful about what we allow to fill our minds. (Colossians 3:2) We cannot afford to be critical but, at all times, we must keep a "right spirit" so that, when God shines His light on our hearts, He will be pleased with what He sees. (Psalm 139:2,4)

The structure of James' letter

This book is difficult to divide into tidy themes, because James keeps returning to the same theme, again and again. However, the notes in the Life Application Study Bible are helpful in setting out the following headings:

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.

 

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 make the word of God itself our firm foundation. Be wise and obey what God shows you from His word, rather than just following the opinions of others. (Matthew 7:24–27)


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QUESTIONS

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