What does it say?
Though we cannot say definitely, it would appear that the author of this book is James, the half-brother of Jesus and brother of Jude. This is the traditional view since the early centuries and the opinion of most scholars. It is included here in our chronological reading because James probably wrote this letter in the 40’s, quite possibly the first of the inspired New Testament epistles. Notice that it is addressed to Jewish believers (the twelve tribes) scattered abroad at a time when the majority of Christ-followers are Jews.
The first chapter deals with the value of trials and the proper response to them. The second chapter deals with the problem of showing partiality and also the fact that a true, vital faith is one that bears the fruit of good works. Chapter three warns us of the power of the human tongue and the need to submit it to God’s control. We also see here the ways that wisdom is lived out in our daily life. Chapter four instructs on conflict and the need for genuine humility. Finally, chapter five issues a warning to the rich, an exhortation to be patient and the power of prayer.
What does it mean?
A proper understanding of James requires an acknowledgement that the letter is addressed to Jewish believers early in the history of the church. These are people schooled in the scriptures and living at a time when the church is still predominately Jewish. Modern Western readers often stumble at the end of James 2 thinking there is a conflict between James’ theology and that of Paul. When James concludes that one is justified by works and not by faith alone, he is speaking from a Jewish worldview that sees true belief as validated by good works that follow. The Jewish reader understands the examples from Abraham’s life as evidence of the reality of his faith. The is no conflict with Paul’s point that salvation is by grace through faith.
Despite the Jewish slant of the writing, this is an enormously practical book and applicable to everyone’s daily life at any time in history. The teaching on handling trials, dealing with conflict, tongue control and the responsibility of riches are rich and deep, as is the power of prayer to heal.
How will I respond?
Of the various topics addressed in James, which is the one that most speaks to me today? How will I practically apply this teaching to my daily life?