The Letter of James: Practical Christianity. Part 1.

Posted: Tue. Dec, 3 2019

Practical Christianity

The subject of practical Christianity answers the following question:

After we have been justified forever by God, and given eternal life, as well as other amazing permanent blessings, all by grace through faith…..

HOW ARE WE TO LIVE?

This is what the letter of James is all about.  It  has nothing to say about eternal salvation by grace through faith.

Romans 1-8, by contrast, tells us everything about our eternal salvation.

Then after that, Romans 12-15 addresses practical Christianity.  It speaks about how we are to live as those who have been saved by the grace of God.

Romans 12-15 is very similar to the letter of James.

James is full of commands (or exhortations, which is a nicer word but means the same thing).

In fact, the letter of James contains the highest frequency of verbs in the imperative mood (the mood of command) of any book in the New Testament.

And the closest parallel in the New Testament to this approach by James is in fact found in Romans 12:9-21.

ROM 12:9-21

9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. 20 "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

27 commands in rapid-fire succession!

Well, that gets us ready for what we can expect to find in James.

James the drill sergeant

James focuses on exhortation.  He gives clear and direct commands.  His statements are short and concise.

If you have participated in organized sports, perhaps you have had a coach like James.  I have had a couple of them.

They get in our face and drill us over and over again to correct what we are doing wrong.

This also describes a drill sergeant for those who have been in the military.

That’s James in a nutshell.  He is definitely not a theologian or a theorist. He's all about executing the game plan.  Stretching us beyond what we think is possible.

Never satisfied with second best. Pushing us beyond our limits. Striving for perfection.

God the Father has set an impossible goal for us.  He will make sure that we attain that goal.  Thus, he has given us  the greatest Coach ever, and the perfect playbook.

ROM 8:28-30
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

His goal is to conform us to the image and likeness of Christ.  The Coach is the Holy Spirit, and the playbook is the Bible.

We need to approach the letter of James without any pre-conceived notions.  We need to take it for what it is.  To let God speak us directly in James, without any filter or judgment. 

James is good for our souls.  He will brook no rationalization or excuses.

So let’s begin our training program in the letter of James.

Rightly handling words

Now one thing we need to get clear on right off the bat:  James uses certain words differently from how Paul uses the same word.  Righteousness, for example.  It takes on a different meaning in James than it does in Romans 1-5 or in Galatians.

We need to learn what James means by these words, in the context of his letter.  Two other important examples will be "save" and "justified".

Be ready for that, and try not to react negatively if you find it hard to adapt.

One other thing: we are going to see that James reflects the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus.  We can’t understand how he uses certain words without understanding how that word is used in the Old Testament and in the gospels.

You don’t have to choose between Paul’s meaning and James’s meaning. They are both right, and they do not contradict each other.  They are just speaking about different things from one another.

2 Tim 3:14-17
14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them,  15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Righteousness! 

We have been credited with God’s righteousness by grace through faith. That is eternal salvation.

But we need to be trained in righteousness.  That’s practical Christianity. That’s what James does.

God-breathed

All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for instruction.

All of it. The Torah.  Old Testament historical books. The wisdom books.  The prophets.  The gospels.  The book of Acts - the history of the first generation of the church.  And of course the epistles of Paul. Yet also the general epistles and the book of Revelation.

The letter of James is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

The Greek word for “reproof” is found only here in the New Testament,  and means an expression of strong disapproval, reproach, or rebuke.

The letter of James has quite a bit of reproof.

James 1:1
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

A few facts about the letter as we begin:

Echoes of the teachings of Jesus

First, of all the letters in the New Testament, the letter of James is the most saturated with the teachings of Jesus, particularly from the Gospel of Matthew.

For this reason alone, this letter is very convicting and tugs at our hearts.

Look for the frequent echoes of the teachings of Jesus as you read the letter. Here are a few:  JAM 1:5-6; JAM 2:8; JAM 3:17-18; JAM 5:2-3, 5, 9, 12.

As an example, compare James 5:12 with Matthew 5:33-37:

James 5:12
12 But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.

Matt 5:33-37
33 "Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.'  34 "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,  35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING.  36 "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil.

The author of the letter of James

Second, the author of the letter of James was the half-brother of Jesus.  He was called "the Just", and he was younger than Jesus.

Matt 13:53-58
When Jesus had finished these parables, He departed from there. 54 He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? 55 "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 "And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?" 57 And they took offense at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household."  58 And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.

So James was the younger brother of Jesus. So was Judas, who was also called Jude.  He wrote the letter of Jude.

As a younger brother, James must have been quite familiar with the teachings of his older brother Jesus.

Yet it appears as if he did not believe in Jesus until after Jesus rose from the dead.

John 7:1-5
After these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. 2 Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near. 3 Therefore His brothers said to Him, "Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. 4 "For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world." 5 For not even His brothers were believing in Him.

We find the brothers of Jesus in the Upper Room with their mother Mary and other disciples after Jesus ascended into heaven.

Acts 1:9-14
9 And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. 10 And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them. 11 They also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven."

12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. 14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

IN this passage, we have a James associated with Peter and John, and a second James, tthe son of Alphaeus.  Neither of these is the author of the letter of James.

And 1 Corinthians 15 reveals that the resurrected Jesus appeared to his brother James before He appeared to the full apostolic company.

1 Cor 15:3-8
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

Notice here that James is not one of the twelve.

This appearance from the resurrected Christ seems to have been the event that caused James to believe in Him.  James became a Christian.

Our Lord’s appearance to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus had the same impact on Saul.  He became a believer and he became the apostle Paul.

By the time we meet James again in the New Testament, he has become the leader of the Jerusalem church.  You can read about him in the book of Acts:  ACT 12:17; ACT 15:1-29; ACT 21:17-18.

James is also mentioned in Galatians 2:6-12.

So James the brother of the Lord became a well-known figure in the early Jewish church.  The mere mention of his first name would have been sufficient for the saints to know who was writing to them.  His name carried great authority.

So much so that when his other brother Jude wrote his letter, he began by using his brother’s name to establish his own authority to write.

Jude 1-2
Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James,

To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you.

In the next article, we will continue to examine the background for the letter of James including when and to whom the letter was written.

 

In His grip,

Pastor John

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