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An Introduction to the Book of James
The Book of James
An Introduction to James, Part 1
James 1:1
 
Tonight I want to begin with you a several week study of the book of James.  And in particular, I want to give you some introductory material that I think you will find helpful in understanding the book.  Bythe way, that is always our goal, to understand the writing, not just for the sake of increasing our knowledge, but changing our life. 
 
I don’t know that any book is better equipped to help us effect change at a practical level than is the book of James.  It is written from a very practical point of view. 
 
1. The Aim
 
Now of utmost importance to James is that our faith expresses itself in very practical ways.  And before our faith can express it’s self, we have to be certain that we possess it.  And in the mind of James, and I think consistent with the teaching of Scripture, once we are saved, then our faith cannot help but express it’s self. 
 
And what sets out to do is help his hearers test their salvation and faith for its validity.  The genuineness of something valuable, whether is a precious metal or a diamond or crystal, is always affirmed by testing. 
 
 
 
Now we would agree that the most valuable commodity in all the world is the commodity of eternal salvation. It is priceless. It is of highest value.
 
To have a right relationship with the living God is to possess the most valuable thing in existence. And if we possess it, we ought to be able to prove we’ve got the real thing.  And if it is the real thing, then it should stand up to the test. 
 
So the whole epistle of James is really nothing but a series of tests for the genuineness of salvation.  He is out to reveal the character of genuine faith. 
 
That’s why you will hear James saying, in chapter 1, verse 22, "But be doers of the Word and not just hearers because if you're a hearer only you're deceiving yourselves.”
 
Listen to chapter 2 verse 13
 
In other words, you're going to be judged without mercy if in your life you demonstrated no mercy.  Why?  Because showing mercy is characteristic of a believer.  If you don’t show it, you ain’t got it! 
 
Chapter 2, verse 17, 20, 26
 
Three times he says, “It doesn't matter what you claim. It doesn't matter what you perform on the outside.  The absence of works reveals an unsaved  heart.
 
Chapter 3 verse 13
 
What’s on the inside always comes to the surface.  There is a demonstration of wisdom.  It shows! 
 
Chapter 4 verse 4
 
That’s a test!
And then in verse 8, he extends an invitation to those who fail the test. 
 
Verse 8
 
I think it obvious that James wants the reader to put his faith to the test.
 
Now it's curious to me that James doesn’t deal with the essence of salvation. There's nothing in here about the crucifixion of Christ or His resurrection, nothing about the deity of Christ, nothing about justification, nothing about regeneration.
 
Why is that?  I think it is because those things are assumed.  It’s very clear that he is writing to people who say they believe. In verse 2 he calls them "my brethren." He uses the same greeting at the beginning of chapter 3 and several other times. 
 
He even calls them "my beloved brethren." So the assumption here is that he’s writing to people who claim to have faith in Christ. He doesn't explain what it is to be a Christian because that is assumed that these are the people who claim that. The readers already have that knowledge.
 
What James is stressing is if you are saved, there will be clear evidence that your salvation is the real thing. So James emphasizes the character of a believer.
Now for that reason, many believe the writing of James is in conflict with Paul.  That’s not true.  To Paul the question was, "How is salvation received?" And the answer is always by faith alone.
But to James the question is, "How is salvation verified?" And his answer always is, "By works alone." It is received by faith, no doubt about it.  But it is just as true that it is always verified by works. There's no conflict between the two.  Instead there is perfect harmony. 
 
Now with that understanding of the overall intent of the book, let's look at verse 1 and meet
 
2.  The Author 
 
Verse 1
 
Now since James is a popular nme in the New Testament, we need to identify which one this is an we have four possibilities. 
 
There is James the son of Alphaeus, who was one of the Twelve. We know nothing about him.  There is the possibility he was the brother of Matthew since Matthew’s father was named Alphaeus also, but we can’t be sure about that. 
 
He was there. He was one of the apostles. He went out to preach the gospel and served Christ and he'll reign over the twelve tribes of Israel and he'll have a wonderful place in eternity and it will be nice to find out about him when we get there, but there really is no reason to believe that he wrote this epistle.
 
 
We have no evidence for that and there doesn't seem to be any reason to credit him as the author of the epistle. It's not an impossibility that he wrote it, but there is no reason to assume that he did.
 
The second James is James the father of Judas who is mentioned in Luke 6:16 it mentions James the father of Judas, not Iscariot, the other apostle named Judas. But he's a very obscure James and there's no reason to credit him with writing this epistle either. We know absolutely nothing about him.
 
The third James, and the one perhaps most familiar to all of us, is James the son of Zebedee and the older brother of the Apostle John. James and John we know about. He was also one of the Twelve, very close to Jesus, along with Peter and John. 
 
He was called by our Lord from fishing in Matthew 4:17 to 22, and he was told that he would be made into a fisher of men. He was the first apostle to be martyred. He is a very exciting and visible character in the New Testament.
 
But Acts 12 records that Herod had him beheaded, and because of the time frame and how early he was killed, it would have been impossible for him to have written this epistle.
 
So that leaves us with one other James who is the best candidate for authorship, and that is James the brother of our Lord.
 
 
 
When our Lord Jesus came into this world, His mother was a virgin. But after the birth of Christ, she went on with her husband Joseph to bear children, male and female, and one of those, most likely the oldest son, was named James.
 
And even though he was not a believer in the early years of the life of Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 15:7, Jesus made a personal appearance to him after His resurrection, he is present in the upper room when Jesus shows up, he is instrumental in the founding of the church. 
 
In fact, by the middle of Acts, he has become a very prominent leader in the early church, even leading the Jerusalem council, as we see in Acts 15.  He leads in the decision about Gentile evangelism, about avoiding legalism. He helps compose a letter to the Gentile churches to tell them to be very cautious in the way they exercise their freedom so they don't offend the Jews and thus lose the opportunity to reach them for Christ.
 
And his last appearance is found in Acts 21 where Paul is coming back from his missionary journey with an offering for the church in Jerusalem and it is James who is there, representing the church, to receive and welcome Paul. 
 
Now I think it would be safe to assume that James knew Jesus better than anybody on earth, outside fo Mary.  He had wonderful insights into the ministry and teaching of the Lord.  And it shows in this letter. 
 
It is full of theology and practicality and wisdom as he ministers primarily to those early Jews who have left Judaism and embraced Christianity. 
He is black and white; cut and dried.  And yet he is marked by remarkable tenderness and compassion.   
 
He’s one of my heroes because we never see James leaving Jerusalem. He's not an apostle.  He's never sent out.  He stayed there and in my estimation, he is a model pastor. 
 
And notice how he introduces himself in
 
verse 1
 
He doesn't say, "I'm the leader of the church. I’m James the leader of the church, the pastor of the first church, the brother of the Messiah.”
 
He doesn't say that. He is just a humble man who says nothing about his human relationship to Christ, only about his spiritual service rendered.
 
And notice, he says, “I’m a man with two masters, God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
 
James is giving us in a very deep and sensitive way a statement about the unity of the trinity; only in my service to God can I serve two masters, God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. James could not
 
Now Jesus said no man can serve two masters, so if James says he has two masters, he’s either disagreeing with Jesus or both of the two masters are one and the same. 
 
 
 
 
And that’s exactly what James is saying.  In a very simple, yet theologically complex statement, he is acknowledging the deity of Christ and His right to be Lord.  He had come to understand what Jesus meant when He said, "I and My Father are one."
 
And I think it's so important that he refers to Jesus as "the Lord Jesus Christ." He grew up with Him knowing Him as Jesus. He grew up with no clue he was living with God.  He grew up with this other brother in the family, never believing Him to be supernatural, never believing Him to be the Messiah.
 
But all of a sudden He isn't just my brother, Jesus, He is the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was His human name, Christ the indication of His Messiahship and Lord refers to His sovereign deity, and by the way, he refers to Jesus as Lord fourteen times in this epistle.
 
So this is James, the servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, writing to . . .
 
3.  The Audience 
 
verse 1
 
He wrote to the twelve tribes. Now it's obvious who that is.  The twelve tribes is a common title for the Jews.  But notice, he adds, “which are scattered abroad”. 
 
So in particular, he’s writing to Jews who are outside of the homeland.  And notice, he calls them “my brethren” in verse 2 and again in verse 9.  We’ll see that again throughout the letter.   
 
It's very clear from the references that he makes that he is speaking to Christian Jews who were scattered.  These are Jews who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, just as he had done. 
 
So why were they scattered? 
The short answer is persecution.  We read about that in the book of Acts.  And that is a critical point to understand if we will understand the book of James and the reason for his writing. 
 
They had come to believe the gospel. Some of them may very well have been converted on the day of Pentecost. By the time you get to Acts, chapter 4,  there were at least 20,000 men in the church and that means there were probably that many women or more. And so there could have been upwards of 50,000 believers.
 
The gospel is just exploding in proportions that are very difficult for us to imagine.  The accusation against the Christians is they have “filled Jerusalem with their doctrine."  And that’s what we see for the first six chapters of Acts. 
 
And when you come to chapter 7 you come to the first martyr, Stephen. He dies for the faith of Christ. You come into chapter 8 and off of the death of Stephen comes a wave of persecution under a man named Saul. In chapter 8 verse 1, Saul was consenting to Stephen's death and at that time there was a great persecution. And notice this, "And they were all scattered abroad, throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles."
 
It was persecution then that scattered these Christian Jews who were a part of the church of Jerusalem. And it is these scattered Jewish Christians who are James' audience.  He’s writing to people who had left Jerusalem for their faith in Christ under persecution.  
 
And knowing what they are going through, notice the very first thing James says to them in this letter.
 
4.  The Analysis
 
verse 1
 
“Greetings”
 
You know what that means? Be glad, rejoice  It was a very common secular greeting designed to express joy and gladness. 
 
Obviously, they aren’t in the best of circumstances and yet James expresses his greetings, not because of what they are enduring, but because of the message he’s delivering. 
 
What he is going to give them should gladden their hearts because it should verify the genuineness of their salvation.
 
I find it very interesting that the first thing James says is not, “Poor pitiful little ol’ you!  I’m so sorry you’re going through all of this and you don’t deserve it and God should treat you better!” 
 
When James takes his first shot at his scattered flock, what he is concerned about is the genuineness of their faith.
 
Things are bad and not getting any better, but the primary concern is that you don’t embarrass the cause of Christ and the way to avoid that is to be certain you are saved.  And so he gives them tests to measure it.
 
We’ll look at these in detail in coming studies, but for tonight, let’s look at them briefly in the time remaining.
 
Test #1 is
 
- the test of perseverance in suffering
 
verses 2-11
 
In other words, don’t base your salvation on circumstances.  It’s not on whether you have money or don’t have money.  It’s not true faith if it is wavering faith. Don't think you have true faith if you're double minded.
 
verse 12 is the key.
 
For the person who has genuine faith, trials don't blow him away. 
 
You will notice several parallels between the book of James and the Sermon on the Mount.  Here we are taking back to the Lord’s lesson about seed falling on rocky soil. 
 
When the sun came out, the seed dried up and died because there was no root. What happens to a person during trials in life is a test whether they have living faith. Put someone through a test, and if he's a believer he counts it all joy. He perseveres.  He comes out strong and victorious.  He doesn’t doubt God.  If he wavers and wanders and abandons, mark it, if he withers and dies, he did not have true faith. Perseverance in trials is a sign of saving faith.
 
Trials are a test. And if you have faith, it will perfect your faith. If you don't have saving faith, it will reveal it.
 
Test #2 is
 
- the test of blame in temptation
 
verse 13-17
 
Now why would anybody ever say they are tempted by God?  I'll tell you why they'd say that.  It is because they don’t want to accept responsibility for their sin.  Here we have a person who has false faith demonstrated by the fact that they will not accept the responsibility for their sin.
 
What did Adam say when confronted with his sin? He said to God, "The woman You gave me." Who did he blame? God!  I just woke up from my nap and I was  married. You could have created anything You wanted!  Why did you make something like her?
 
That is the typical temptation of false faith and it's where it reveals itself.  True faith accepts the responsibility for sin.
 
And it sees sin foro what it is.  It says, "My sin is not God's fault, it's not my circumstances, it's not my parents or my spouse.  It's not because God made me a certain wa.  God didn’t create my problem.”
The only thing that comes down from God is every good and perfect gift." Sin doesn't come down from God.  It comes up from me and the test of blame in temptation is a good test of true faith.
 
The third test is
 
- the test of response to the Word of God.
 
Verses 19-2
 
How a person responds to the Word is an indicator of the genuineness of their faith and the discussion of that actually continues down through verse 27. 
 
In verse 19 he says, "Brethren, be swift to hear and slow to speak and slow to wrath," and he talks about the wrath of God and putting away filthiness and overflowing wickedness.
 
Then he says, "Receive with meekness the engrafted Word which is able to save your soul." How you receive the Word is an indicator of whether you are genuine.
 
Verse 22, "Be doers of the Word and not hearers only because if you're a hearer only you're deceiving yourself."
 
A doer is one who really understands. He's not forgetful, verse 25 says. He looks and he sees and he does and he's blessed. And his religion is demonstrated in purity in an undefiled way and in loving kindness to the fatherless and widows in their affliction and he keeps himself unspotted from the world because that's what the Bible calls him to.
 
Listen:  God is not looking for random, isolated acts of goodness. He's looking for obedience as a pattern of life and how you and I respond to the instruction of God’s Word is how you measure living faith.
 
There's a fourth test found in chapter 2 and that's
 
- the test of impartial love
 
2:1-13
 
Hear what hes’ saying?  If you're not a merciful person, you're not going to receive mercy from God. That’s tough stuff!  How I treat other people is a mark of my love which is a mark of my salvation.
 
And remember, he’s not talking about occasionally being aggravated.  He’s talking about the bent and direction of our life.  Every so often, we all fail a test.  Sometimes I might blame God for a sin. Sometimes I might not respond to the Word. Sometimes I might not love as I ought to love and treat people fairly and equally. 
 
But that will not be the direction of our life.  It will not be the normal status quo for the way we treat people and respond to God. If we’ve been saved and we are obedient to His lordship, we’ll love people impartially.  That's where the verification takes place.
 
Test #5 is
 
- the test of righteous works
 
2:14-26
 
We won’t read it all, but suffice it to say that three times in this passage he repeats, "Faith without works is dead." That's test number five. Faith without works is dead.
 
We find test #6 in chapter 3 and it is
 
- the test of the tongue
 
This is God saying, "Stick your tongue out and say "Ah" and let me check your spirituality.”
 
Living faith produces self-control and self-control is revealed in the tongue. Ugly speech comes from an ugly heart. Unloving speech comes from a heart where the love of Christ is a stranger. That's his argument all the way through down to verse 12. It's the test of speech. What's your speech? I don't mean what's your speech around the church. I mean what's your speech when you're not around the church? How do you do with the test of speech?
 
Then we come to
 
- the test of humble wisdom
 
3:13-18
 
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that real wisdom expresses it’s self by being a peacemaker. 
 
Once again, we hear the influence of the Sermon on the Mount. What’s your life like?  Is it focused on that which is earthly and sensual?  Is it filled with strife and bitter envy and self-glory and lying against the truth? If so, you failed the test of humble wisdom.
Or do you have that wisdom that can bring to a situation peace and gentleness and mercy and good fruits and honesty and righteousness? This is the wisdom that is peaceful and peace producing.
The eighth test is
 
-the test of worldly desires
 
That’s the first 12 verses of chapter 4.  Let’s just read
 
Verse 4
 
Here we find self-love and fulfillment at the expense of others.  That is not the character and nature of saving faith.  The disre and lust that is mentioned in the first three verses is not saving faith.  In fact, it is just the opposite. 
 
And it’s a simple test.  You honestly look at your heart and ask, "Do I love the world and the things that are of the world?”
 
If I do, the then I am a friend of the world and the enemy of God.  That's the test of worldly desires.  What are your pursuits? Are you pursuing the Kingdom of God or the things of the world?
 
Then at the end of chapter 4 we find
 
- the test of dependence
 
Verses 13-16
 
Do you really submit your life to God or do you just make your plans as if there were no God?  After all, you, not God is in control of your life, right?  Therefore we go wherever we want, we do what we want, we buy what we want, we make whatever deals we want to make.  We're in charge."
 
But the truth is, we have no idea what’s waiting for us tomorrow.  And besides that, our life is nothing more than a wisp of smoke that is soon vanished!
 
Therefore, what we ought to be saying is, “If the Lord will." Underline that, that's the way you ought to live your whole life.  That is the distinguishing mark of living faith.  Living faith is dependent faith.
 
And to not live that way, according to verse 17, is a sin. 
 
Then in chapter 5, we find the final four test. 
 
Verses 1-11 give us
 
- the test of patience
 
In verses 1-6, he indicts the rich for condemning the poor. And in verse 7 he encourages the poor to leave it in the hands of God. 
 
See, it works both ways.  Living faith expresses itself like Christ on both ends of the spectrum.  If you’re rich, don’t look down your nose and be snobbish. 
 
If you’re poor and oppressed, leave the judgment to God.  Just say, “You can persecute me, you can hit me, you can say all manner of evil against me, I just want you to know that I am waiting for the coming of Jesus Christ and because my heart is filled with that hope, I really don't care what happens here”. Right? That's the essence of it.
Then he illustrates that lesson in verses 7 and 8 with the farmer who has to plant and then wait.
Then he uses the illustration of the prophets that have to speak and then wait. Then he gives the illustration of Job who had to wait to see the mercy of God.
 
Then I think he slides one in on verse 12 called
 
- the test of truthfulness
 
verse 12
 
The Jews had developed an entire system of lying based on oaths. And they said, "Well if you say this oath, you have to tell the truth. If you say this oath, you can lie because this oath isn't binding."
 
Jesus mentioned the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. He says "Just say it yes, just say it no, and that's it. And if you don't, you're going to fall into condemnation." It's the test of truthfulness.
 
And then finally,
 
-  the test of prayerfulness
 
verse 13-18
 
If anyone is sick, pray and call others to pray and pray like Elijah prayed.  Those who are saved pray and depend upon God and see God at work. 
 
Show me someone who consistently, habitually and fervently prays and I’ll show you a child of God.  You show me true faith and I'll show you prayer.
No one has to remind us to pray. We should pray more than we do, but prayer is a part of our life.
 
And notice how it ends. 
 
Verses 19-20
 
Those are the tests.  If you find someone who doesn’t pass the tests, then the real need is either salvation.  Turn them around, and you save a sinner from death and bring to him forgiveness.
 
And if you don't pass the test you're either not a Christian or you’ve somehow gotten off course.  Either way, the cure is to turn to God for real, genuine saving faith. 
 
I'm excited what He's going to teach me and you as we study this book together. 
 
Let's pray
 
 
 
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