Who wrote the book?
While James did not specifically identify himself as to which “James” he was (James 1:1), the author is widely thought to be James the half-brother of Jesus. James was not a follower of Jesus during the Savior’s time on earth (Mark 3:21–35; John 7:5) but eventually became an apostle in the vein of Paul, as one who had seen and believed the Lord post-resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19). After witnessing the Lord’s resurrected body, James became one of the leaders of the church at Jerusalem. Peter singled him out among the other Christians there following Peter’s miraculous release from prison (Acts 12:17). James made the deciding speech at the Jerusalem Council (15:13–22), and Paul called James one of the pillars of the church (Galatians 2:9).
Where are we?
As one of the chief leaders in the church at Jerusalem, James wrote from that city prior to the meeting of the Jerusalem Council, which Luke recorded in Acts 15. At that council, James, along with Peter and Paul, affirmed the decision to take the gospel message to the Gentiles. This council met in AD 49, meaning James likely wrote his letter in AD 45–48. Such a significant event as the Jerusalem Council warranted comment from James, as he was writing to a Jewish Christian audience. But James made no mention of Gentile Christians at all, making an early date for the letter most likely. In fact, it was likely the first New Testament book written.
Why is James so important?
The book of James looks a bit like the Old Testament book of Proverbs dressed up in New Testament clothes. Its consistent focus on practical action in the life of faith is reminiscent of the Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament, encouraging God’s people to act like God’s people. The pages of James are filled with direct commands to pursue a life of holiness. He makes no excuses for those who do not measure up. In the mind of this early church leader, Christians evidence their faith by walking in certain ways and not others. For James, a faith that does not produce real life change is a faith that is worthless (James 2:17).
What's the big idea?
In the opening of his letter, James called himself a bond-servant of God, an appropriate name given the practical, servant-oriented emphasis of the book. Throughout the book, James contended that faith produces authentic deeds. In other words, if those who call themselves God’s people truly belong to Him, their lives will produce deeds or fruit. In language and themes that sound similar to Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, James rails against the hypocritical believer who says one thing but does another.
For James, faith was no abstract proposition but had effects in the real world. James offered numerous practical examples to illustrate his point: faith endures in the midst of trials, calls on God for wisdom, bridles the tongue, sets aside wickedness, visits orphans and widows, and does not play favorites. He stressed that the life of faith is comprehensive, impacting every area of our lives and driving us to truly engage in the lives of other people in the world. While James recognized that even believers stumble (James 3:2), he also knew that faith should not coexist with people who roll their eyes at the less fortunate, ignore the plight of others, or curse those in their paths.
How do I apply this?
More than any other book in the New Testament, James places the spotlight on the necessity for believers to act in accordance with our faith. How well do your actions mirror the faith that you proclaim? This is a question that we all struggle to answer well. We would like to point to all the ways our faith and works overlap but too often see only gaps and crevices.
As you read the letter from James, focus on those areas that he mentioned: your actions during trials, your treatment of those less fortunate, the way you speak and relate to others, and the role that money plays in how you live your life. Allow James to encourage you to do good, according to the faith you proclaim.
Recently, my son Jonathan began asking a particular question after almost everything I said. He asks his question, then follows my answer by asking, “Are you sure?” “Mom, can I go outside?” “Sure.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” “Mom, can I eat breakfast?” “Absolutely; dive in.” “Are you sure?” “I’m sure.” “Mom, can I play X-Box?” […]Read More
This article is designed to help you better understand how to handle fear. For the next 30 days read the questions and allow them to spark deeper personal reflection and life change. Fear is an instinctive and even healthy response to keep you safe, sometimes prompting you to necessary action. In that sense fear is […]Read More
Joy—it makes people wonder at your secret. Yet joy is no secret to the trusting Christian. When we choose to grow closer to God, resting in His character and provision, joy spills over into our lives so that others can’t help but notice. Do you want to be a person of joy? Silly question, isn’t […]Read More
I had lunch recently with a businessman who runs his own company. As we talked, the subject of wisdom kept popping up in our conversation. We were agreeing on the value of certain qualities that cannot be learned in school—things like intuition, diligence, integrity, perception, consistency, loyalty—when he, again, mentioned wisdom. So I asked, “How […]Read More
“Remember,” Smokey the Bear warned millions of television viewers, “only YOU can prevent forest fires.” But what if Smokey had faced the inferno we carry around with us daily—in our mouths? Maybe his warning wouldn’t have centered on misused matches but on combustible conversations. In fact, his public-service announcement may have sounded a bit like […]Read More
For most of us, asking for help is difficult. I really don’t prefer it; some of you may not as well. Yet, God lets us know time and time again that we need help. After all, He refers to us most often as sheep—the most difficult and demanding of any livestock on earth. Admitting need […]Read More
I don’t often recommend a volume without reservation, but I think every man should read Temptations Men Face by Tom Eisenman. I’m not saying I agree with everything in it, or that you will, but it’s one of those works that deserves being read . . . especially by men. I appreciate Tom’s candour and […]Read More
Think about your typical morning. After you roll out of bed, it probably isn’t long before you’re staring into a mirror. If you’re like me, most days your hair looks like an explosion from a mattress factory, your face resembles one of the Seven Dwarfs, and your breath is . . . well, let’s just […]Read More
“We were just platonic friends when he added me as a friend on Facebook. A month later, I decided to leave my husband and children for him. After all, I was so unhappy in my marriage. Shouldn’t I be with someone who makes me happy?” Sound familiar? If not, it will, as more and more […]Read More
Question: I’ve been struggling with anger lately. I feel like a smoldering volcano ready to explode at any moment. When I erupt, I say the cruelest things, and then I feel so guilty afterward. I don’t know what’s causing me to be so grouchy, but this seething anger is hurting the people I care about. […]Read More