This is part 1 in a 7-part series on the book of James. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
We are starting today a study on the book of James. I usually start talking on this and I forget to tell you some important things. We have study guides and they are called, Living What You Believe: Wisdom from the Book of James by Kenneth Boa and William Kruidneir. It’s a NavPress book and those of you that would like to follow along with us this is the book I’ll be using. Now I know I am not good at following a study guide because of course I’ve done many of these before and I often get e-mails from people saying, ”Just exactly where are we? I don’t recognize anything!” But so far I want to tell you I only changed around one thing. I really like the way this book is laid out. It’s got a lot of additional information. It’s really good and I like it. If you would like to do a study along with us this would be a great one to do. It’s basically broken down into five lessons written as a spiritual journey. I don’t know why they didn’t call it Journey With James. That is what I would call it!
The book of James is just rich. There are five lessons but whatever made me think I could get through one of these lessons in one day. It reminded me of when I was in Fort Lauderdale and the pastor preached on the book of James for three years! Now I’m not kidding! Three years! When he said,” This is the last sermon”, I’m not kidding, the entire choir jumped up and sang the alleluiah chorus, not as loud as I wanted to sing it though!
It is written as a trip, a journey to a destination where we want to get somewhere and what is going to take us there. We’ll be looking at the theme of the book and where we want to go with all that.
It has just made me think of summer vacations. Did you go on vacations when you were kids? I’m sure you did and you’ve tried to take your kids on vacations. Is there anything more difficult than a family vacation? It’s supposed to promote family unity and love and you nearly end up killing each other when you’re in the car! I took vacations when I was younger but I really started remembering them when I was 13 or 14 years old. That year we were going to Washington D.C. and our family car was a mint green Rambler station wagon. It was horrible. I remember hearing my parents saying we were going to go to Washington D.C. to show you all that and meet my grandparents up there. I heard one thing and one thing only. We were going to ride there in the mint green Rambler! This was mortifying to me. I remember asking my mother if we could get a new car before the vacation. It was so embarrassing to go in the Rambler. Well, I should’ve known that was a mistake. My father was what I would call the total opposite of a snob. In other words if he knew you didn’t want to ride in the green Rambler because it was embarrassing then it was his greatest joy to make you ride in it. He was very mischievous that way. He had that sense of humor. I tried never to let him know what was not in because he would think it was so hilarious and wonderful to be different and wear something or drive something that was not in to prove my individuality. That of course is a teenager’s worst nightmare. So we went to Washington D.C. in the green Rambler station wagon. That’s all I remember about that trip, being so mortified and being so glad no one I knew would be see me in the mint green Rambler station wagon! The next year I was more prepared when my parents announced we were going to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We had a new car and I was thrilled. But the problem was I didn’t want to be with my family all that time. My best friend Becky said I couldn’t be gone. I had my social life to think of, I couldn’t be gone for two weeks! It would not be possible! So Becky and I started cooking up this idea. How could I stay with her and not go on this summer vacation. My kids did that to me constantly when they were teenagers and of course it didn’t get very far! But I do remember that as mad as I was even though we had a new car, once we got to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, being so stunned by the scenery that I forgot about myself. That was pretty amazing for me to do at age 15! So part of the adventure with a family or trip that you go on is getting there. Sometimes you don’t even remember the trip but the adventure and fun in getting there.
Well, we do have a destination with the book of James but before we really get started I’d like to go over how to study passages and books in the bible. Always, before you begin to dig into the passages to see what it says and what it means to you, is to look at the author who wrote it. Look at the people to whom he wrote it or why did he write it. In this case it’s a letter so who is the audience? You look at the culture of the day and the time. Something that I’ve learned about hermeneutics is the art of interpretation. There are hermeneutical principles when you study the bible and here’s one of them that we are going to be using in this study. When you really want to get the meat or greatest meaning out of a passage go back and see how the original hearers heard it. What did the person who was writing this say originally to those people at that time? That is the deepest and richest meaning you can get. You cannot, it is against the rules, to come up with a meaning in 2004 of a passage that meant something else totally different back in A.D. 60. That doesn’t work. They may say the same thing but you’re going to get a lot more light and understanding of a passage or verse if you understand the context of it’s time. Who wrote it, what they were saying and your understanding will increase.
First of all the author of this book is understood to be the half brother of Jesus named the name of James. Now there are three men named James that are frequently mentioned in the New Testament. One James was the son of Zebedee, the brother of John, you know Peter , James and John, one of the inner three. He was the first apostolic martyr killed by King Herod. That’s in the book of Acts. Secondly there was James the son of Alpheus. He’s mentioned toward the end of the disciples. We don’t know anything about him except that he was a disciple. Then there is James who is the half brother of Jesus. Scholars really don’t have a lot of argument on this. People believe that he was the author of this book.
Now let’s talk about him for a minute this James. We don’t know a lot about him. First of all we do know that Jesus’ brothers originally were non-believers. We talked about this before in previous studies about the account in John 7:5 where Jesus’ brothers and mother come to see Him. I think they were coming to do an intervention! They were worried about Him! It says that His brothers did not believe in Him. That’s how we know. We also know they were not at the cross. At least we have no record of them being present in any part of His ministry in those three years at all. But in I Corinthians 15 as Paul is writing he’s talking about the resurrected Christ, the risen Christ, how He appeared to over 500 people before He had ascended into heaven and he says specifically that He appeared to His brother James. So we can put together an understanding here that James was obviously not a believer, the risen Christ appeared to him and he became a believer. He quickly became a leader in the Jerusalem church and it is generally understood that he was probably one of the main pastors or leaders of the Jerusalem church.
There are a lot of metaphors in this book that you would expect from somebody who was raised in a rural environment. Now Jesus’ family was from Nazareth, a small town in the hills of Galilee, northern Israel. James was raised in a small rural town and not a big city. James uses so many metaphors from nature, the sea, the flower, the grass, the sun, the moon, storms and boats. He uses a lot of metaphorical language to illustrate his spiritual truth. Which is something else you would expect from someone raised in that environment. He probably wrote this book around 50A.D. One of the first New Testament books written. But what is interesting to me about all of this is the way he introduces himself in verse one: This letter is from James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Now really, if you were the half brother of Jesus would you have put in parenthesis and by the way I’m connected to the family or I’m the half brother of Jesus! That in itself is a clue is it not, to the character of this man. He doesn’t introduce himself in this way but as a slave to God.
I’d read something that was really interesting to me. It said that the word slave in our culture does not have a good connotation. Obviously no one would want to describe them selves in that way but so often Paul and other writers refer to themselves as the slave of Christ. In that day they were illustrating a point that He owned them. They belonged to Him. It wasn’t necessarily in the way that we think of suffering and being the slave of someone against your will. But that He owned them. He is saying I am God’s. I am a part of His household. It was a way of speaking in a very not self- depreciating way but a very humble way. I am no better than a slave in the house of God. You may see this term several times in the New Testament and it had a little bit of a different connotation back then as it does now.
He says that this is written to Jewish Christians scattered among the nations. I’m reading from the Living Bible translation. If you read from the New International Version or the New King James version or something it will say to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. James was writing this letter to Jewish Christians who had scattered out of Jerusalem away from the center of persecution at that time. Because of the persecution of Christians you see a lot of talk in James about endurance, patience, wisdom and all of these things. He encourages them to persevere because of the great, great persecution they were in. You see this in many books such as Hebrews where they are written to people who have scattered because of persecution. That’s why you see so many verses such as don’t quit and keep on. We can only imagine what their lives were like; loss of family, loss of jobs, loss of income, physical illness, physical persecution and all of that. It is difficult for us to relate to but that is whom he was writing to. He is explaining to them what it really means to follow Christ.
Now the theme of this book is simply this, genuine faith will result or manifest itself in righteous living. If you’re truly a follower of Christ, true faith will show itself in righteous living.
Now this is the one reason why of course that this book is so timely. We live in a day and time where people say they believe one thing but act another way. If most Christians put their lives in a chart showing what they value or what they say they believe and compare it to here’s what I’ve done. Well, do we not know how that would look? It would often not be related whatsoever because we know we live in a time where most statistics of the world whether it’s from divorce or child abuse to alcoholism would look the same as the church, meaning in Christian’s lives. That’s why this is so challenging and he’s saying that genuine faith will show itself in righteous living.
We could almost look at his little segments in this book as sermons. They are all making the same point. He addresses different subjects but he is making the same point. He talks about the tongue. I am going to try to put that lesson off as long as possible!
Today we are going to talk about trials. He talks about having wisdom, how you’re going to get through trials, tribulations and temptations through godly wisdom. Oh, he talks a lot about the tongue, rumors and gossip. He talks about developing patience, endurance and humility. He has some strong words about favoritism and prejudice that are really, really very potent.
His famous statement in the book of James is faith without works is dead. What he is saying is that if your faith is real it will show itself through your works. Now there are a lot of people who think it says something different than we’re saved by faith. I remember our preacher mentioned that he was going to preach the book of James and this woman came up to him after and said ”Oh, preacher I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” It doesn’t say that if you read it in the correct light. He is simply saying faith without works – how do you even know it is faith? It’s going to show itself as being real through your works and righteous acts. In fact Martin Luther called this book an epistle of straw. He didn’t think it should be in the New Testament canon because there was so much emphasis on works. But here again take the context of time- what was Martin Luther’s message- justification through faith. His whole focus of life in the reformation was against the Catholic Church which he felt and which obviously had done this had made works the way of salvation. His point was “sola scriptura” by grace you are saved through faith. Scripture is the only thing that we need and faith is the only thing we need for salvation. So you could understand how he might not quite understand the message of James as well as someone else. I think he eventually changed his attitude but that was his mission. A lot of people have felt that way. But honest and truly, if you look at the book in it’s context, understand what it is saying and you do not emphasize one part over another you find that James has a very pointed message here to those of us who are believers. That we can all go around talking about how much we love Jesus. That is fine on Sunday but does it not come down to Monday morning when you walk in that office? Yes it does. Or when you walk into a difficult situation or you go through a trial. That’s when you find out what your faith is really made of. True faith will result in outward behavior consistent with scripture.
The theme of James is that genuine faith will always show itself through righteous living. Two passages that we’ll probably talk about next week are that your speech and your actions reflect your faith and that’s what he talks about- being a doer of the word. That is something we’ll hear over and over- being a doer of the word and not just a hearer and then of course faith without works is dead.
Let me start with James 1:2 and 4. Dear brothers and sisters whenever trouble comes your way let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow. For when your endurance or your patience is fully developed you will be strong in character and ready for anything. And in verse five –If you need wisdom –if you want to know what God wants you to do-ask Him and He will gladly tell you. We’ll go onto that in a minute.
Now it’s interesting if you just kind of stand back and look at the book. You see a couple of verses on trials and then he talks about wisdom which tells you how you’re going to get through those trials-with God’s wisdom. Then he spends a lot of time on temptation and this is classic- classic passage on temptation. It’s throughout the bible this whole pattern of temptation. That’s what we’ll talk about next week-what it is. It does not come from God. We are tempted by the evil one. He talks about withstanding temptation and about getting rid of the filth and bad attitudes in your life so that you can have a life of true wisdom and true godliness.
To start off with let’s look at joy in trials. This is a verse that I’m sure many of us have heard quoted many times- Whenever trials come your way my brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials and temptations. Now you know what I’m going to say. Joy? Now really. It’s joy when it’s over with right? Yes and sometimes it’s joy when it’s somebody else and it’s not you. That might be joyful. But I find it interesting that the first thing he addresses to these persecuted believers is don’t be surprised when you find yourself in trials. Suffering is the common thread that unites all of humanity. That’s why these verses that were written so long ago can still have meaning for us as it did for the original hearers. We all go through trials. That’s just a part of the fallen world we live in. We’ve talked about some of the trials that they were suffering. It’s interesting this word in the Greek is used many times in the gospels when it says that people were very sick and had various illnesses. That was used for trials and they would come to Jesus to be healed. Going through discouragement cans also be translated as a trial. The word translated in each particular passage is sometimes different. The context influences exactly how it is translated. So there’s a common theme through the bible that we are all going to suffer trials.
Now what is the joy about it? I for one am not good at suffering. Are you? That is not my best thing. Other things I can do but suffering? I am not good at that. I’m a wimp. But he tells us here we are to be joyful about it, why? Well let’s read the rest of the verse- because knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience or endurance. Now here’s the joy. When you know that the trial-this difficulty- that you are going through is not for nothing. That if you are following Christ and you really want to follow Him this trial and this tribulation is going to count for something. It’s as if God is giving you an opportunity to exercise your spiritual muscles. If you don’t go through trials you don’t know how to have faith do you? That’s when you learn to pray. That’s when you learn to trust God. He says it right here-the testing of your faith produces endurance, produces patience. It teaches us that God is faithful. It’s one thing to know it off the top of our head and it’s another thing to experience it. Would you not agree? Yes that is a completely different thing. As you go through a trial you find God’s provision and His comfort and His presence with you makes you stronger as a believer. It exercises your spiritual muscle and after you go through that you find you are stronger. You find that when you meet people and hear what they are going through you can minister to them. You know exactly what they are going through. It gives you an opportunity to reach out to the body of Christ-to other people- to encourage them. But you know, no matter how much we know something it’s not the same as experiencing it. I think of Ruth Ann over here who went through breast cancer in 2001. I’ve had several friends who have gone through that and have prayed with them and all that. It is one thing for me to know how hard that must be. It’s something else for Ruth Ann to know. She’s experienced it. Through that trial and experience God has developed her spiritual muscle and that of her family. She’s able to minister and be stronger as a woman of God. That’s just the way God arranged things to be. Trials are the method God uses to provide His provision and His care. Let me tell you something I’m convinced of too. Sometimes it amazes me. There are Christians and people who claim to be Christians who at the first time there are problems or trials they will be whining and crying. They can’t bear it. Why would God let this happen? I have a friend that did that. Her father got sick with cancer-my father hadn’t died too much further before that –and all she could say was this doesn’t happen to us, God wouldn’t do this. This must be a mistake. It was all I could do to say what makes you think you’re going to escape it and the rest of us have to go through it. Come on! Snap out of it! That’s what I wanted to do. On the other hand you have people like Ruth Ann and Dawn who are good examples. They have gone through very difficult circumstances and yet some how even though they get discouraged and they get weary and sometimes they get angry and question God, their spirit will not let them quit. We had dinner last night with a young man who has gone through extremely difficult circumstances in his marriage with five children. If ever there was a person who could’ve said I quit, I give up. God has failed me. Nothing has happened in my life as it should. But he sat there and told us however though everything in his life is a mess there’s something in him. He wants to obey God. He wants to be a godly man. He wants his children to know Christ. I just marvel at that. To me that is proof that someone is truly born again. Something in them will not let go and they will keep hanging on when they’re in a trial. If they will, it will produce great patience and endurance. So if you are in a trial right now and I’m sure every person in this room is in some kind of trial, please listen to the word of God. If you will not let yourself become angry or resentful or self-centered and you let God use that in your life you will bring forth great fruit, the fruit of righteousness. It will help you learn to trust God. It will produce endurance, patience and all those good qualities that we want. Let me tell you that we are not different as Christians as anybody else if you read about the great Christian women and men in history, the missionaries who endured unbelievable sufferings for the sake of the gospel. They were giants in faith because they allowed their suffering to produce this fruit-patience and endurance. God blessed them greatly for it. Trials create maturity and endurance. David said in Psalm 119:11, It is good for me that I have been afflicted. I have learned your word. Now isn’t that true. When I have a problem or something is really bothering me, that’s when I’m suddenly able to find all kinds of time for reading the bible. Are you like that? And prayer, oh yes, I have time for it then. On days that everything is OK I just can’t squeeze it in. There’s something about trials that drive us to the Lord. We’re all like that. It’s for our good and that is the joy in it. In Romans 8:28 it says that God will work it for our spiritual good if we will let Him do so and not become angry, resentful or bitter but let Him work in our life that way.
Now James goes on and says in verse 5 that if you need wisdom, if you want to know what God wants you to do, ask Him and He will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking but when you ask Him be sure that you really expect Him to answer for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. People like that should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. They can’t make up their minds. They waver back and forth in everything they do. Now here is what he is saying if you are going through a trial. How are you going to get through it, through wisdom. Godly wisdom will enable you to make the right choices to develop the skill in navigating through this trial by making wise choices and doing what you feel God wants you to do and learn through this trial. I’ve always loved this part of the verse that says He will not resent your asking. In the NKJV it says God gives liberally and without reproach when you need wisdom. I love that. He doesn’t say, “Well look who’s here.”
No, He doesn’t say that like an earthly parent might. No. I love it that He gives liberally. He just throws it out there and keeps throwing it out there on you and without reproach. He doesn’t say- well if you asked last time…. without reproach. When you want it He will give it to you. And yet James said but you have to ask in faith. You can’t ask and believe what this means is Lord, you tell me what you think I should do and then I’ll just kind of see. I’m not sure you know. I’ll just kind of decide then what I’m going to do. No, that’s a double minded person. It literally means a person with two minds. You have to ask in faith. You have to really want it.