In this study, we are reading through the Epistle of James. James is one of the “catholic” epistles (like John and Jude) because, unlike Paul’s letters, James is not writing to a particular congregation with particular issues but to the universal church at large. James’s concern is with the horizontal interpersonal relationships – how members of a Christian community relate to one another – and not with the vertical relationship between his audience and God specifically. James is a work of moral exhortation teaching us what “faith working through love” looks like in practice. For background on this study, I have used Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Writings of the New Testament and the Anchor-Yale Bible Commentary on James and Ben Witherington’s Letters for Jewish Christians – A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. This study covers five to six weeks.
The Epistle of James
James is written to the Christian community at large and it instructs us on how to live as a community.
The Christian life that James will describe in his letter begins with the recognition that a pervasive and all-encompassing joy is the essential characteristic of the Christian life despite what may come our way.
The three necessary and sufficient conditions for committing a sin are: receiving an evil suggestion, taking pleasure in the thought of performing the act suggested, and consenting to perform the act.
One of the great titles that James uses for God is the “Father of Lights” in v.17.
James makes the connection between (1) respecting the poor and shunning partiality towards the rich and (2) the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
What does it profit, my brother, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?
In this verse, James is telling us that a faith that is not placed into action simply cannot reach its perfect teleological end.
For James, the speech that teachers must control is not doctrinally subversive speech where someone teaches the wrong thing, but ethically subversive speech where someone speaks condemnation and evil.
The one thread that holds this chpater together is that of humility. When we count others as better than ourselves then there is no room left for envy or jealousy, nor for slander or judgment, nor for total self-reliance.
James’ condemnation lies with how the rich obtain and retain their riches – by withholding wages, hoarding their wealth, and condemning the righteous. Wealth is not simply a danger because it forms the basis of inequality, but wealth itself corrupts the human soul.
James ends his letter with the themes of being patient in times of trial, being in constant communication with the One in charge, and being responsible to bring back those who have strayed.