"The Apostle of Faith"
A Bible Study
Bible Study Outline
|The person of James- "James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ..."|
|James- a "Pastoral Epistle"|
|1:2-8||Temptation, Persecution, and Faith|
|1:5-8||The example of Peter|
|1:19-27||Guidelines for Pastors|
|2:1-7||"Christ's Poverty and Its Implications"|
|2:8-13||Love, Scripture, Apostasy, and the Triumph of the Gospel|
|2:14-26||The New Testament's First Great Justification Discussion|
|3:1-12||Preaching and Doctrine|
|3:13-18||"Preachers Standing in Christ's Stead"|
|4:1-4||The Church Against Itself|
|4:5-10||Correcting the Problem|
|4:11-12||Putting Judgment in Its Proper Place|
|4:13-17||A Gentle Rebuke|
|5:1-6||A Condemnation to Unbelievers|
|5:7-20||Other Pastoral issues|
There is no other book in the New Testament that has suffered as much as the book of James. At times this book has been questioned as to its authorship, its place in the New Testament canon and its overall content.
Martin Luther was one such person who thought that James should not be placed into the New Testament. He called James "a book of straw" because it taught too much about works and not enough about grace. Finally Luther did concede that James did at least mention the name of Christ and so it could remain in the canon.
In our study we will be looking at James as one who has a lot to say to us especially in light of our study of the doctrine of Justification. As one of the first New Testament books, James had in the front of his mind Jesus' suffering and death and what that had to say to the church.
The person of James- "James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ..."
The author of our book is James. He is the half-brother of Jesus Christ. We see this by looking at Matthew 13:55 and 27:56. James the author of our book is the first son of Joseph and the second son of Mary. Jude, James' full brother and half-brother of Jesus is the author of the New Testament epistle ascribed to him. (Jude 1) The naming of his first two sons as James and Joseph indicates that Joseph was interested in perpetuating his own family. His second natural son was named Joseph for himself. Jude, reflects the thought of being one of Judah's descendants.
We see that James is mentioned at other times in the New Testament. At times the family was not too supportive of Jesus' ministry and James as many second-born of the family was both jealous and envious of Jesus (John 7:3-5). However, by the grace of God James was brought to faith. He even received a social visitation from Jesus after the resurrection and before the ascension. (1st Corinthians 15:7) He is also in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 1:14) He was visited by the newly converted Paul (Galatians 1:19) and while Peter served as the first head of the church when time of exile and persecution came James surpasses all others by taking Peter's place and maintained that position even when Peter returned for the Council of Jerusalem. (cf. Acts 1:15; 2:14; 12:17; 15:13; and 21:18)
Our first verse gives us a clue as to the theme of our book and an understanding of what James would like to teach us. When James wrote the church was still young. The great influx of Gentiles into the church was yet to happen. Therefore, we can see a decisive Jewish flavor to this book. The church was still located close to Jerusalem where the temple remained a significant force in the early church. (cf. Acts 3:1)
In the introduction there is no trace of self-praise of James' apostolic office as Paul so often states. Instead James calls himself a "doulos"-servant or slave. James would have had every right to add to his name the titles of "apostle" and "brother of the Lord," titles that others used of him. His previous lack of enthusiasm for his Brother's cause directed him to a self-effacing attitude. James had not accepted the Messianic claims of Jesus before the crucifixion. James, a brother according to the flesh, had refused the first invitations of Jesus to become His brother according to the faith. In calling himself a servant or slave, James is expressing a self-penitent attitude about himself. As he had a very close and personal association with Jesus and rejected him before his death and resurrection many were committing their very lives to Him.
To call one's self a servant or slave is a true confession of humility. But there is more to this. The title of servant is a self-conscious attachment to the ministry of the Old Testament prophets. A prophet understood himself as God's servants, men who spoke only the message that God had given them. When a prophet spoke it was as if God were speaking. God stopped speaking through the last prophet John the Baptist. In the New Testament, He would speak through apostles, who called themselves servants. James was showing us his position as apostle, shaded with Christ's humility.
The whole idea of a servant or slave was foremost in the mind of Jesus as well. We see this in connection with the atonement. (Matthew 20:20-28) For Jesus to be a servant meant giving His life as ransom for the sins of many(verse 28). To share in the benefits of that atonement means that Jesus' followers are also to be a servant or slave. (cf. verse 26) Therefore in calling himself a servant James is showing his awareness of the prophetlike authority that belongs to him. He is also aware of the self-degrading attitude in which his Brother offered the atonement. He is now not only one who has accepted the results of the atonement by faith, but also one who with Jesus has assumed the position of servant.
James- a "Pastoral Epistle"
James' reference to "my brethren" informs us specifically about his readers. The term "brothers" was not used as often as it is today. It suggested that group which intimately shared the common faith. Jesus had said that His true brothers were those who did the will of the Father (Matthew 12:50). After the resurrection it is used specifically for the disciples. (Matthew 28:10) It is these disciples who have been entrusted with the message of salvation revealed in Jesus. The letter of James recorded in Acts is also addressed to "the brethren"(15:23).
Thus the audience consisted primarily of men who, like apostles were entrusted in a special way with the message of salvation. Early church government seems to have been patterned after the Jewish Sanhedrin, where members consisted of priests serving in Jerusalem and in the surrounding Judean countryside. Matters were first handled by the apostles themselves (Acts 1:15) and later by apostles and other pastors in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). The Jerusalem Council was made up of not only the original apostles but also local pastors such as James and others from the area such as Paul and Barnabas from Antioch (Acts 15:2). Such a church government was used by Paul in his first missionary journey in Asia Minor (Acts 14:23).
1:2-8 Temptation, Persecution, and Faith
verse 2-The Problem of Temptation and the Church
We know that Satan has been defeated by Christ. However he still tries to trip us up with temptation to doubt the promises that Christ has given us. James knowing this immediately addresses himself to this problem.
Probably one of the biggest temptations in the early Church as it is even today was for
the faithful to renounce the fact that Jesus is the Christ. As we see that already the
church had been split up due to persecution renouncing, Christ would be easy. As these
Christians had fled from Jerusalem because of their faith, the temptation of Satan was
constantly there to surrender their belief in Jesus for a more comfortable life. And so it
is for us even today for the enticement of the flesh is to surrender the Gospel for the
security of ordinary life. Being both Jewish and Christian, this first persecution of the
church difficult to say the least. The words of Jesus in Matthew 10:33-39 were fast coming
true. What made the Jewish persecution against the Jewish Christians was that is was being
conducted in God's name; which both groups held as sacred. One group saw Jesus as impostor
while the other saw Him as the culmination of God's revelation. This early persecution of
the church was not the secular against the secular but the religious against the
verse 3-Suffering as the Result of Persecution
Faith's strength does not come from itself but from God. Through suffering and persecution faith is made stronger. True, we don't suffer for the sake of suffering but we see that when suffering does come our way because of the circumstances we find ourselves there, we are left with only two things God and His Word. In such persecutions faith comes through and reaches its perfection or completion.
verse 4-Total Forgiveness in Time of Persecution
If we say that James is speaking here of reaching some level of moral perfection or "sinlessness" we are missing the point. Christian perfection is not reaching a certain isolated morality but rather in sharing in the Father's attitude of forgiving. This is not just a goal we aim for or a possibility for the Christian but a necessity. Forgiveness finds its place in the Lord's Prayer, it is exemplified in Jesus, who from the cross forgave His tormentors. It is found in Stephen who at his death forgave those who killed him. (Acts 7:60) Reaching perfection would be asking God to forgive those who kill us, this is the forgiving spirit that James is speaking of. As we get into the rest of James we will see the evidence of Stephen mentioned again. For these early persecuted Christians, Stephen will be held as one of many examples.
1:5-8 The example of Peter
Of all of the disciples, Peter is the one who speaks and asks questions later. Peter is designated as harvester of the Lord's harvest (Matthew 9:37-10:2), fisher of men (Matthew 4:18-20) and a rock man on who's confession the Church is built (Matthew 16:18). Peter also fails, he cuts off a soldier's ear' denies Christ three times, and also with the others grasps the fact of the resurrection but not its significance (Matthew 28:17). He is like this wave rocking to and fro. It is even Peter, willed to walk on the water, in weakness began to sink. Here James is using Peter as an example of the Christian's faithfulness to Christ. Looking at Peter from Acts we also see that he was reluctant to allow Gentiles into the Church. Peter is thus an example of the doubting man who is a believer. The point is, doubt that goes unchecked can turn into cynical unbelief. Thus James, in the time of early persecution warns Christians not to confirm themselves in their doubts. Here James gives us a warning that persisting in their doubting may result in destruction. Thus Christians should ask God for wisdom with the assurance that it will be given.
Next, James has an admonition against acquiring great personal wealth at the expense of their own sacrifice for Jesus Christ. (Cf. the parable of the sower in which the seed sown among the thorns-here are Christians who hear and believe the Word but soon succumb to the world's riches Matthew 13:22)
1:19-27 Guidelines for Pastors
James is not putting down a general prohibition against jocular speech here. Rather he is giving guidelines for the use of good Christian preaching. There is much here to the young church and its preachers that their Law preaching was failing to grasp the real mission of Jesus Christ. James' readers are urged in verse 21 to "receive...the implanted Word." This can hardly be a demand for personal conversion, as these readers are addressed as Christians by the phrase "my beloved brethren." The combination of the hearing in verse 19 and the hearing and doing in verse 22 suggests strongly that this is the hearing of the Word of God. The image of the one looking at one's self in a mirror is similar to Matthew 7:24-27. The Word which Christians are to do is the same implanted Word which is able to save their souls. This Word is not just the Law but the total revelation of God.
The connection between the bridling of the tongue and the visitation of the needy does not seem obvious. Seeing this as an admonition to refrain from a foul mouth is hardly adequate! Rather this is another admonition against heavy Law preaching where the congregation sees God chiefly as a God of wrath and punishment and not giving the people the proper perspective on who God really is. In doing this, preachers are disqualifying themselves as God's true servants. Cf. Matthew 25.31-46 where Christians are rewarded for remembering the needy.
2:1-7 "Christ's Poverty and Its Implications"
verses 1-4 Here James begins with his topic of faith. To him faith is having the same attitude that Jesus had. Though He was the Lord of glory, He showed no favoritism to the rich but regarded all men alike. From this faith no deviation is allowed.
While Jesus treated all men alike, the early Christians were contradicting what He said by what they did. They were assuming that wealth was a sign of God approval. By despising the poor they arrogated to themselves the prerogative of judgment. They were rejecting those whom He had accepted.
verses 5-6 Here we have a beatitude of James. In the New Testament, poor, meek, and humble are words that speak of Christ in His ministry. Jesus invites people to come to Him because He is meek and lowly. Though Christians may be regarded by God as poor, meek, and humble, they possess these qualities only as they are in Christ and Christ is in them! We are not to look for these virtues in ourselves, but God is to find them and reward them at His time. Though the Beatitudes speak of the meek (plural) inheriting the earth, only Christ can say, "I am meek and lowly in heart."(Matthew 11:29) Paul also uses a poverty theme when talking about Christ as he sees Christ as rich, but who impoverishes Himself so that Christians can become rich in Him (2nd Corinthians 8:9). Thus what James is saying is this that poverty, meekness, and humility find their central focus in Christ. Christians are recognized as belonging to Christ by reflecting these attitudes in their lives. According to Matthew 5:11 and 12:24 the Christian with Christ share with Him in being abused, they are reviled, persecuted, and satanically slandered.
verse 7 The honorable name could be an allusion to Baptism. In Acts, Baptism was carried out in the name of Jesus, in Antioch the followers of Jesus were called Christians. Healing and preaching was done in Jesus name (Acts 3:6; 4:7). The name was considered the answer to salvation "For there is no other name...which we must be saved."(Acts 4:12) The Christian "receives forgiveness of sins through His name." (Acts 10:43)
2:8-13 Love, Scripture, Apostasy, and the Triumph of the Gospel
verses 8-9 James' phrase "according to the Scripture" is close to Paul's "according to the Scriptures" in 1st Corinthians 15:3-4. This reference to the law of love is taken from Leviticus 19:18. A failure to mention a specific reference may suggest that James sees love as the central understanding of the entire Old Testament and not merely one passage.
verses 10-11 James is addressing a specific and not a general problem here. The outward problem for James' readers is murder, not adultery. Read verse 11 carefully. They were guilty of adultery not directly but by their implication in murder. They were so taken up in impressing the rich that they not only despised the poor in their worship services (2:1-7), but they also neglected to provide them with even the most elementary needs! (2:14-17) On the other hand the rich, whom the early Christians were trying to impress, were responsible for the miseries of the poor. (5:1-6) This made them coconspirators and guilty of murder.
James also lays a charge of adultery by association too. James is following the example of Jesus who addresses his enemies as adulterous for asking for a sign in Matthew 12:39;16:4. Jesus also gets his enemies to admit that they are the sons of murderers and are thus murderers themselves in Matthew 23:31. To James there early Christian's lives were direct contradictions not only to the message of Christ but to His life.
verses 12-13 Sin against the law for James is failure to show the mercy that God in Christ has shown. Those who know themselves rescued by Christ from the judgment of the law but still fail to show mercy will face a more severe Judgment because they have never comprehended God's mercy in Jesus Christ: "Judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy." Cf. Matthew 18:23-35; 6:12; 14-15. As in the sermon on the mount, Jesus at the end of chapter 18 threatens God's final wrath upon the unforgiving. James, unlike Jesus' talk on forgiveness concludes his section with an evangelical ray of hope: "yet mercy triumphs over judgment." What James is hoping for here is that members of his congregations will realize that Christians following God do not hold others accountable for sins against them.
2:14-26 The New Testament's First Great Justification Discussion
Three times here James will refer to faith as either dead or barren (2:17,20,26). In these references James understands faith in its ordinary usage as a living reality. What James is saying here is that everything which has the appearance of faith is not really the true faith at all. It can not be shown that for James the primary meaning of faith here is mere intellectual knowledge. Since faith is a vital reality
for James, negative adjectives are necessary to describe unbelief posing as belief.
Saving faith is present and can be identified when works are there. Intellectual knowledge
about God without trust in Him to carry out what He wants is not worthy of even being
Chapter 3 "Again to the Pastoral Task..."
3:1-12 Preaching and Doctrine
Again' though James is a "pastoral" epistle he is writing to the entire Christian Church. Jesus' chief purpose was His giving His life as a ransom for the sin of the world. His function was that of a preacher and teacher. Jesus was the only Revealer of the divine (Matthew 7:28-29) and He saw to it that officially recognized teachers would have the obligation of telling others after He was gone (Matthew 28:20). These men according to James have a higher degree of accountability before God at the judgment so we see in verse 1 James' warning of the seriousness in which teaching was to be exercised in the church. Jesus gives the same warning in Matthew 5:19 and Revelation 22:18-19.
In the New Testament, pastors are called by many names. Acts 15:6 "the apostles and the elders" Acts 13:1 "prophets and teachers" Ephesians 4:11 "pastors and teachers" As he calls the clergy "teachers" here James is putting stress on their function of maintaining the doctrinal heritage of Jesus. To fail in the teaching of doctrine is tantamount to tampering with the divine given Word itself and making it of no value!
This section (1-12) makes references to a body, horses, bits, mouths, ships, winds, rudder, pilot, tongue, fire, forest' different types of water, fig tree, olives, and grapevine in a quick succession. This imagery is quite graphic! What James is saying is as the pastor teaches and preaches so goes the church. James tells preachers not to make mistakes in preaching as they control the body of Christ thus he illustrates that the church can be controlled by the pastor as a horse can be controlled by a bit in its mouth. So a congregation as a ship will safely pass through storms under the guidance of a skilled navigator i.e. a pastor, who exercises the preaching of the Gospel with careful precision. While the storms of doctrinal problems threaten to "shipwreck" the congregation the pastor with the Gospel can steer her through threatening as they are. The tongue is small, but when properly controlled and used will be beneficial in preaching, which guides the congregation.
In the Greek text, 5b starts a new paragraph where James might be getting to the real problem. Heavy Law preaching was condemning the congregations. The image of one tree producing another fruit and sweet and foul water coming at the same time does not happen. Where the Law and Gospel are confused the Law wins out. Sweet water coming from a salt spring will always be salty. So the Gospel coming from a Law preacher will always sound as Law.
3:13-18 "Preachers Standing in Christ's Stead"
James' sharp warning against using the pastoral office as an opportunity for condemning the congregation is now followed by explanations of how the Gospel is to be preached'
True wisdom is used three times by James here. It is the central theme of this section. By addressing those individuals who are professionals in the church involved in the doctrine of the congregation James is suggesting several things.
James addresses pastors in 3:1 in whom he was considered one of them. In singling out some as "wise" he also refers to them as understanding or knowledgeable. James is speaking to pastors who had received knowledge of Christianity in a precise, detailed manner, over a long period of time. Because of their knowledge they had become boastful, pride was getting in their way.
Thus we see addressed the central problem of this book or epistle which is that their outward behavior or "works" were publicly contradicting what the professed.
In 2:18 James says "I by my works will show you my faith." Here again James is saying the same thing that clergy are to show their good behavior or works in meekness. What James is calling for is that quality of meekness which is not hypocritical or "showy." James is calling for self effacing humility which does not call attention to itself!
James sees a "dualism" between the works of God and the works of the Devil. So does Paul in Galatians 5:19-23 and Jesus in Matthew 18:35 and 15:19. Thus James also sees this as the problem of the "war within," the fight between the Old Adam and the New Adam.
James concludes with a phrase that is close to Jesus' Seventh Beatitude "blessed are the peacemakers." This is a reference to the atonement. Because of His work of atonement Jesus receives the recognition that He is the Son of God. By His atonement Jesus became the Peacemaker. James also brings in the thought of sowing, an activity accomplished by Jesus alone in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:37. Reflected in 1st Corinthians 3:5-7, we see that pastors are to be involved in preaching the message of the atonement as God gives the blessing that as He always does, righteousness will be the end result!
Chapter Four"Exhortations Against Worldliness"
4:1-4 The Church Against Itself
As before, James gives the charge of murder and adultery. Fighting within the levels of the church seem to be happening. Quarrels between the leaders of the churches was starting to cause some serious problems. In their prayers these men were not presenting their real concerns to God but their prayers were directed only by their evil emotions. We see James writing here reflected by Jesus' first sermon again. "No one can serve two masters...you can not serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24) and on prayer, "Ask and it will be given to you" (Matthew 7:7). James calls these men adulteress, the RSV says "unfaithful creatures!" That catches the real problem. They were double-minded. They were lacking total allegiance to God.
4:5-10 Correcting the Problem
There is no clear indication as to which Old Testament passage James is quoting. What he does quote is the full weight of the Old Testament. "Spirit" is the Holy Spirit. What James is saying is that the double minded person who tries to serve two masters by attempting the impossible feat of being friends with both God and the world puts the Holy Spirit in an intolerable position. The Spirit's concern for the Christian is nullified by the Christian's unacceptable commitment to unholy living. James' "envious yearning" is the same as Paul's "inward groaning" (Romans 8:23). James' point is that the Holy Spirit does have a permanent residence within the Christian. Willful alliance with the world can eventually cause the Spirit to leave. The Christian is to be submissive to God and have resistance to the devil. James thus calls them as sinners to repentance, just as in Luke 6:25. Humble and Humiliation is quoted from Proverbs 3:34. As both Jesus and James use humility in a special way, humility in and of itself is no virtue. It only has value as the believer shares in Christ's humiliation which is reliance on God alone. This means release from sin & Satan. (Cf. Matthew 11:29)
4:11-12 Putting Judgment in Its Proper Place
James places evil words spoken against other believers within the judgment spoken of by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1-2). The Law is to love the Lawgiver is Jesus who has been given the authority to Judge. James' reference to the Judge "who is able to save and destroy" so closely resembles Jesus words to fear "Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28)
4:13-17 A Gentle Rebuke
Here James addresses the congregation who are living their lives according to ordinary patterns of life and were not fully aware of its transitory nature. James reminds them that their lives are under divine control and could come to an end at any time.
5:1-6 A Condemnation to Unbelievers
We have seen already James speaking to the believers who were linked to unbelieving rich people. In their association the Christians were seen by James as murderers. He does not condemn them for being rich but like the rich young man love for money is first in their lives.
We do see some similarity in verse 4 to 1 Timothy 5:18 and Matthew 9:37. The early church expressed God's work in the Gospel with agricultural terms and often to the extent that the terms were used without any need for any explanation. In Matthew 9:37 Jesus assured the apostles that they would participate with Him in the work of the harvest. Paul uses the word "laborers" for those who along with the apostles hold the pastoral office. Paul also uses the same agricultural imagery when he explains his work as preacher of the Gospel in 1st Corinthians 3:6-9. Thus we see that some of these unbelievers were in the congregations. This problem caused some of the members and especially the clergy to cater to the rich in a most conspicuous way. These rich did not provide for the poor and worse were dragging members of the congregation into court. They did little if anything, to provide for the support of the congregation, and the clergy. But the horror of it all is that they did not believe! Therefore here James comes down hard on these "members."
5:7-20 Other Pastoral issues
|-patience among pastors verse||verses 7-11|
|-a more careful use of God's name verse||verse 12|
|-personal religious problems||verses 13-18|
|-handling the problem of doctrinally erring pastors||verses 19-20|
...Some final thoughts on James..................................
From our Lutheran Symbols, the Confessions, we have some understandings of James 2:4, out of context, can suggest justification with works is needed. Yet our Confessions have never taken this point but rather state that this is speaking of the Christian who has already been reconciled and justified. Thus 2:24 and 1:18 can not be used to show that we merit the forgiveness of sins.
To show that James is speaking of faith in Christ alone we have seen the distinction between a living faith and a dead faith, a faith of devils which consists only in knowledge and the faith that trusts. James, in his speaking of faith and works also states that works only verify that Justification has taken place!
We see that James is strong on justification in his examples of Rahab and Abraham. They were just, because they saw the sacrificing activities demanded by the Gospel. These two were willing to make a sacrifice of themselves. This proved they had faith not just in the keeping of the law.
Luther pointing to 1:6-7 with the Lord's Prayer, stated this about those who doubt that God will hear their prayer. "Have their eye not on God's promise but on their own works and worthiness, so that they despise God and accuse him of lying. Therefore they receive nothing..." shows that in some small way Luther saw James teaching faith that puts faith only in God and not relying on one's merits and worthiness.