James: The Man
Secured with a place in Biblical history, the name of James evokes a picture of fidelity. While the half-brother of Jesus could boast of a familial relationship to the incarnate God, never does James do anything but point to his formal relationship with Christ. More important than a sibling, his status as a slave is what he emphasizes (James 1:1). History casually memorializes James’ journey from unbelief to belief in such a way that causes reflection about the deep commitment that is the Christian life.
The gospels refer to James in a fleeting way noting his rejection of Christ as Messiah. It’s not until later that we see James has risen to a position of leadership within the prominent Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13). But, James’ relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ would ultimately cost him his physical life when Ananus would assemble a council and accuse James (and others) of being breakers of the law. While some accounts differ about the manner, James’ death in AD 62 is agreed upon by historians. What we have left then, are the words of James penned to believers encouraging them to live an active faith.
James: The Message
A person can easily rationalize a neglect for the book of James. Most people know that Martin Luther did, dismissing it as a mere epistle of straw. The Epistle of James appears to lack God’s grace and compassion, instead confronting apathy and allegedly enforcing a Christianity of legalism. Examination of the book reveals a book of action by emphasizing God’s gracious work in the lives of believers.
First, James is a book of wise faith. James puts theology into action, by applying that which was taught. He does so in a way that obligates readers to acknowledge that who they are in Christ dictates who they are for Christ. The book initiates relationships with other believers in a manner that reflects God’s care and compassion. For many, the challenge of James is that he calls believers to a wise faith that necessitates transformation, something few people truly desire.
James is not merely a practical book though. James writes of a hopeful faith also. Trials and temptations will confront us. Yet, James assures believers that those trials are meant to perfect us, softening the sharp edges and molding us into His image. Charles Spurgeon shares:
When blessed of God, our trials ripen us. Believers who have endured a great deal of affliction exhibit a sort of mellowness that you never see in other people. It cannot be mistaken or imitated. A certain measure of sunlight is needed to bring out the real flavor of fruits. When a fruit has felt its measure of burning sun, it develops a lusciousness we delight in. So it is in men and women. A certain amount of trouble appears to be necessary to create a sugar of graciousness in them so that they may contain the rich, ripe juice of a gracious character (1).
From James, believers are encouraged that God is at work and we can be hopeful that while it requires patience, it will be a beautiful and complete work.
James: The Motivation
James writes more than to provoke obedience. Assuming a renovated heart, he motivates a renovated lifestyle. It is an indictment of Christian behavior on the premise that love of God compels a love for Godly behavior.
If believers were to apply James’ wise counsel, the implications would reveal peace. He teaches about how to live with others (i.e. guarding the tongue), how to live in the church (do not show partiality), and how to live with ourselves (be quick to listen, consider trials joy). Such teaching generates peace with those around us, peace with our circumstances, and ultimately, peace with God.
The lifestyle that James describes though is not merely personal. It is a lifestyle the reveals God’s character causing others to consider the significance of such a relationship with him. And so, James writes to incite a transformation in behavior, not because of who we are not, but because of who we are.
(1) Alistair Begg, Ed., The Spurgeon Study Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1660.