The Epistle of James

It is generally accepted that the author of this epistle was James, the brother of Jesus. James didn’t become a convert until after Jesus’ resurrection, but then went on to become a leader of the Jerusalem church. The recipients are specifically identified in verse 1 as the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, quite likely those who left Jerusalem during the persecution following Stephen’s martyrdom. The date of writing isn’t known for sure, theories ranging from pre-50 to early 60s A.D., just before James’ martyrdom. This is a very practical letter, focusing entirely on disciplines of Christian life.


[Jas 1] Following a brief introduction identifying his intended recipients, James opens his letter speaking of temptations being a joy in that they are a test to believers. Testing is beneficial to spiritual growth, bringing Christians to spiritual maturity. The wisdom of this can, if necessary, be sought in faithful prayer. Testing exalts people of low degree, yet will bring the rich into recognition of their true standing before God. Those who endure temptation shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. However, temptations are not from God but from one’s own thoughts, which can lead to sin and spiritual death if not dealt with. God’s word is our source of understanding in this, but reading in itself is insufficient. We must practise what the word teaches us, otherwise we deceive ourselves, and our own words will expose us.

Favouritism forbidden; Faith and deeds

[Jas 2] Showing favouritism to the rich, and hence demeaning the poor, is condemned as an act contrary to God who has chosen the poor, and whose name is often blasphemed by the rich. Being a respecter of persons is transgressing the law  that says, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The law is to be obeyed in its entirety, for if one point of the law is transgressed, then the (whole) law is Transgressed. Paul says it is faith that saves us, not deeds. James qualifies this by emphasising that deeds are the consequence of faith. Believing in God is in itself not enough; demons also believe and tremble, so evidence of faith in the form of deeds is an essential element of Christian life. We know that the body without the Spirit is dead; so is faith without deeds also dead.

Beware, the tongue

[Jas 3] A warning is given of how easy it is to offend with the tongue. In the same way that a bit in a horse’s mouth can turn its whole body, and the relatively small rudder will turn a ship as directed, so can the tongue, a small member of our body, change the direction of our destiny. Ill-chosen words can defile the body and set it on a course of spiritual destruction. Out of the same mouth that praises God can come curses on people who are made in the likeness of God; these things ought not to be. Those who profess to be Christians ought especially to control their tongues, for if there are unchristian thoughts or attitudes, then the tongue will expose them. Good conversation can reflect wisdom and knowledge from above, has attributes such as gentility and mercy, and is without hypocrisy. Good seeds are sown by a good tongue.

Against worldliness

[Jas 4] In this chapter James speaks of things of our spirit that are of this world and are at enmity with God. We should remember the scripture tells us, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy (has all manner of lusts), and draw close to God, then He will draw close to us. We are not to speak evil of one another, not judge one another, not boast of what we might do, but seek the Lord’s Will.

The corrupt rich; Patience and brotherly care

[Jas 5] James condemns the worldly attitude of the rich and their oppression of the poor, warning them of the miseries that will come upon them. Christians are encouraged to be patient in waiting on the Lord, citing the prophets as examples of those who suffered affliction yet had patience. We are warned concerning oaths, and encouraged to pray for one another, particularly for the sick and for sinners. Finally, James exhorts us to bring a brother who is a sinner back to truth, for this act will save a soul from spiritual death, and hide a multitude of sins.
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