The book of James is an invaluable indictment against hypocrisy. James exhorts the children of God to have an active faith: this is, faith consistent with our actions. In other words, genuine faith is demonstrated in our actions and our actions reveal our faith. In fact, this is why our statement of Faith (Baptist Faith and Message 2000) says that we are to “seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle.” As the old saying goes: “Practice what you preach!” As we begin our study of the book of James, we will first learn about James, his audience, and his message. Consider:
- Who is James? James identifies himself as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1a). Of all the men named James in the New Testament, there are three likely candidates to be the author: 1) James, the son of Zebedee (Matt 10:2), 2) James, the son of Alphaeus (Matt 10:3), and 3) James, the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19). The author is unlikely to be James, the son of Zebedee, because King Herod had him put to death soon after Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 12). Also unlikely is James, the son of Alphaeus, because we have very little information about him. The author is most likely James, the brother of Jesus. This is the traditional view and the one I take. One of the main reasons for this is that James, the brother of Jesus, was an important leader in the early church (Acts 15).
- Not a Follower During Jesus’ Ministry. According to John 7:5, James did not initially believe his brother was the Messiah. We can only speculate what it must have been like for James to be the brother of Jesus. On one hand, he had a brother who loved him deeply and was always seeking to be a blessing to him. On the other hand, he must have had deep jealousy over Jesus. We can only imagine how many times he heard, “Why can’t you be more like your brother, Jesus?”
- Saw the Resurrected Christ. While James did not initially believe his brother was the Messiah, he became a follower after Jesus’ resurrection. How did this happen? 1 Corinthians 15:7 tells us that Jesus appeared to His brother James after His resurrection. This encounter was transformative for James because he soon became a Christian and then emerges as a key leader in the early church (Gal 2:9).
- Servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. James humbly identifies himself as a servant. In fact, this is one of the best arguments for James, the brother of Jesus, being the author. Edmond Hiebert wrote, “The fact that the author felt no need to identify himself, either by his ecclesiastical position or his human relations suggest that he was so prominent that his readers would know at once who he was.” James is a man who puts his faith in action through humble service to God. Being a servant meant that he swore complete allegiance to Jesus Christ. His desire was to be used by Christ for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
- To Whom is He writing? James says his audience is “the twelve tribes dispersed abroad” (1:1b). The “twelve tribes” is a Jewish way of speaking of the Jewish people as a whole. James uses this description to refer to Jewish Christians. When James speaks of them as “dispersed abroad” (literally “in the Dispersion”), he is speaking specifically to those who are living among the Gentiles (outside of Israel/Palestine). Therefore, the specific audience is Jewish Christians living outside of the Promised Land. In addition to the specific audience, there is a secondary audience that must read and study this book. The secondary audience is you and me. This book is included in the Holy Bible and is therefore Scripture. Paul wrote to Timothy that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16).
- Why did He Write? Chuck Swindoll said about James “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.” James’ focus in this letter is on genuine faith that is revealed in actions. Over the next few months we will study this book in detail. As we look forward to this study, here is a brief outline of how active faith manifests itself in the life of Christians.
- Active Faith Preserves in Trials and Tribulation. True faith reveals itself in trials. Christians are able to endure trials because they know that God uses trials to produce endurance that leads to spiritual maturity.
- Active Faith Shows no Favoritism. True faith reveals itself in love for others. Christians must refuse to show favoritism because all people are created in the image of God and are worthy of love and respect.
- Active Faith Guards the Tongue. True faith reveals itself in self-control. Christians must exercise self-control over their words because they know the power of words to hurt and/or heal. Knowing the love of God, Christians must be eager to share His love with others.
- Active Faith Produces Patience. True faith reveals itself in patience. Christians must be patient because we know that God is in control of all things. We also must be patient because we know that the Lord will return soon.
Genuine faith is active. Genuine faith is demonstrated in our works and our works reveal our faith. Let us be bold in our verbal witness and to back up our witness with a Christian lifestyle. If you are a Christian, practice what you preach. If you are not a Christian, admit that you are a sinner and repent. Believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died to forgive you of your sin. Confess your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.