Tonight we started looking at the ‘General Epistles’, or those letters in the New Testament not written by Paul:
1. James
2. 1 Peter
3. 2 Peter
4. 1 John
5. 2 John
6. 3 John
7. Jude

Tonight we looked at some of the background to James and then at the first 4 verses of James 1.

The letter of James is generally thought to be written by James, the brother of Jesus, described as an apostle by Paul (Gal 1:19) and head of the church in Jerusalem. Jesus had at least 4 brothers: “aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?” (Matt 13:55), but it is clear they did not believe in Jesus during His lifetime (see Mark 3:21 “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”) James became a believer after the Resurrection (“Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Cor 15:7-8))

James soon accepted as a leader in the early church. When Peter was released from prison (Acts 12), he went to the house of Mary and told his friends to give a report of all that had happened ‘to James and all the brothers and sisters’ (Acts 12:17) and Paul himself met with James on his first visit to Jersualem after his conversion (Gal 1:19). He was clearly a leader in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 15), but in the opening verse of the letter he does not identify himself as the natural half-brother of Jesus but calls himself ‘a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’. We too are servants of God, no longer slaves to sin, but willing slaves to God.

James writes “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (Js 1:1) Following the death of Stephen, the church was scattered far and wide (Acts 8:1-3), and James writes to those who had likely lost homes or possessions or normal means of income; they had been separated from relatives and friends. There were abundant circumstances to cause them confusion, fear, loneliness, anger, sorrow, poverty, hardship–in fact, “trials of many kinds.” (Js 1:2) Nonetheless, James sends greetings (literally ‘joy’), because he knows that God is working His purposes out, even in the midst of trials and suffering.

The ‘overview’ of the letter could be summarised in this way:
Chapter 1 looks at trials, temptations and good gifts. It goes on to talk about ‘pure religion’ and how to live in a manner worthy of God.
Chapter 2 looks at the integrity of faith, how faith and works mesh together and how there must be congruence in our lives, no dissonance between our words and our actions.
Chapter 3 looks at how we speak and how wisdom is manifested in our lives
Chapter 4 looks at submission to God and humility, including how to live for God
Chapter 5 looks at how to live a spiritual life in a material world, including developing the life of prayer and fellowship