An Introduction to the Book of James the Just

images   The verse I have today may seem short to some but for me it is perfect!  James 1:1-James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:  Greetings.  Today we will be looking at this verse in three parts, first being who the author is, and what can we expect from this book, the second part is that very cryptic verse of the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, and the last part-probably the hardest one, greetings!

Martin Luther once called this epistle “a right strawy epistle.”  Some say it is a Jewish letter edited by inept Christian monks.  E.C.Blackman a former London University lecturer in an SCM commentary published 40 years ago, sums the letter of James up as “simple things for the ordinary church member who is not interested in theology, has no deep religious experience, and yet feels called to be faithful in that which is least; who ask for no spiritual banquet, but is content with a diet of straw.” I’m sorry but are we reading the same thing?

Before we get in any deeper let’s look at the author.  Who was James?  James is often believed to be James the Just; he calls himself a servant, or slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we know he was a bit more than that.  James the Just was above all else the brother of Jesus Christ.  Whether this was through Joseph and Mary later or another circumstance is not important it is clearly shown he is a brother; those who believe in the perpetual virginity believe he was a cousin since Jesus was an only child but in the original Greek James is put into the tense of a possessive noun, the same type of grammatical structure we would use for a mother or uncle.  He was also the bishop of the Jerusalem church.  Several men in the New Testament are called James, and some of them have no more information other than their names. Due to time limits the chances of it being the apostle James, the brother of John, since he was martyred around 40 A.D. There was another man called James, the son of Alpheus, another one of the apostles, who was literally one of the minor apostles.

Most likely the man who authored this epistle is the man whom we know to have been the half-brother of our Lord Jesus. James was most likely the oldest out of all Jesus’ brothers and sisters.  As Jesus’ closest brother James would have known our Lord intimately.  James initially had a Jewish view of the Messiah as a deliverer and conqueror, similar to Moses.  At times James even thinks Jesus goes too far and should dial it back; this stands out particularly to me when Jesus is teaching and James with the other siblings and Mary come to see Him and Jesus elevate those who are His followers above His own flesh and blood.  But in the end the resurrected Christ appears to James in Acts-a very special, holy, and ineffable experience.  But what was James like as a man?  James had always been highly intelligent. This second son of a carpenter, raised in the village of Nazareth, had an ear for language and picked up and spoke Greek with a flow.  James of Nazareth is a gifted writer. He grows in wisdom through his life. The apostle Paul calls James a pillar of the church (Gals.2:9). And James is one of the first brothers that Paul visits when he is first converted from Saul and in his last visit to Jerusalem visits him again. When Peter was rescued from prison he told his friends to tell James (Acts 12:17).  And above all this he was humble, he is a slave, a servant, he does not even let a whisper of his bloodline slip from his lips; for he was not only the brother of the Son of God but also a direct descended of the House of David.  James is eventually martyred in 62 A.D. by the Roman official Porcius Fetus.  The epistle that carries his name reflects his love for his brother and his God.  It was written by 49 A.D. before the Jerusalem Council and the destruction of the temple.  This book was written for first century Christians focussed at the Jewish Christians but also surpassed the cultural barriers of the gentile Christians.  It was meant to give practical advice to Christians in a world that put pressures on them to live in a way contradictory to God’s law.  Some of the themes we will examine in this book are faith through trials, avoidance of temptation, be cautious of how we act, and to give as Christ did.  It gives a very unique portrait of Christ’s message from a point of view we would have never seen before, from the point of view of a family member.  The Book focusses on exhortations to Christians on genuine faith, true faith is demonstrated in our actions, and true wisdom comes from God not from human beings.  In this series we will focus on the trials Christians will face in this life, followed by the wisdom of God.  Like James we will look at what is really riches and poverty in the grand spectrum of eternity, why it is important to hold our tongue, and why favouritism no longer exists under an equal God, we will look at the problems of faith when they do not have works to go along with them, and of course the importance of anointing prayer.  This book offers all of this and more.

The next verse speaks to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.  I love this verse!  Right off the bat we see James’ deep faith Judaic roots showing themselves.  This is an allusion to the twelve tribes of Israel, 10 of which went out into the world.  This verse is twofold; it not only references Jewish history but also shows that Jews and Christians are connected.  James’ line here tells us that the faith was on the move; Jewish Christians were spread far and wide preaching unto gentiles and pagans.  But James also does not limit his greeting to messianic Jews-to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations-he is speaking of God’s chosen people but not of those of the old law.  He puts the supremacy of Christ above the Old Law; but with the twelve tribes scattered among the nations he is telling these Messianic Christians that even though they are few and far between in strange lands they are still God’s Chosen people.  We are ambassadors of Christ, and no matter where we are in the world we have that connection still.  We can always find fellow pilgrims in this world.  James does not reference the names of the twelve tribes like they reference the names of the churches.  This is done intentionally because it shows that there are no real tribal names we are all under the banner of the tribe of Christ.  See even though we may not be messianic Jews we are descendent of Abraham.

Now for the last part of this verse; one word-Greetings!  Right away we see the tone is one of welcome.  James the leader of the Jewish church is reaching out to his brothers; when they are feeling isolated, alone.  They may be the only be one Christian in an entire nation, without linguistic, cultural, or familial connection this letter would bring tears to their eyes; when I put my feet in these early Christians shoes it brings tears to my eyes.  I am probably more excited by this one word than the rest of the verse.  I feel anticipation, I am excited-because in this word I sense that God’s Word will be unveiled and it was convict us, give us hope, and bring us closer to Christ.  So not to disagree with Martin Luther but I can think of many  books that may be considered a “righty strawy epistle” but to me the book of James gives us a glimpse into a very important world.  We see some of the instructions the messianic Christians were given; we are encouraged with messages of hope, fellowship, the importance of prayer and acting on our faith.    The topics we will follow will give us tools to be effective brothers and sisters in Christ ministering in very practical and real ways to a world in which we are all pilgrims and foreigners.  Let’s pray



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