Why did James write this book? What is the purpose of this book for us today?
There is no doubt that James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote the Book of James. Many consider it part of the wisdom literature of the Bible, and rightly so. James begins the letter by identifying himself as “James, a servant (lit. “slave”) of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve scattered tribes(James 1:1). This book may have been the very first book, making it the oldest of the New Testament books and was written between AD 44 and 50. This book was written primarily for the Jews who had been scattered within the Roman Empire during a period of intense persecution.
James gave instructions for Jews who were scattered or scattered abroad and far beyond the church in Jerusalem and therefore he wanted them to remain connected to the body of Christ. James provides biblical methods for praying, having faith, how to suffer, controlling one’s tongue, what works and salvation have to do with each other (a “dead faith”), doing and not just hearing, he chastises the rich (James 2:6; 5:1-2), comforts the poor, shows how to acquire wisdom and what true religion really is (James 1:27). The purpose is multiple in the book of James because it talks so much about the Christian faith and examining us to see if we are doing works worthy of a true Christian.
The focal point
Perhaps the central point of James was that people can say all they want when they say they’re Christians, but if they don’t have works to show it, then they’re just Christians. law-hearers and non-doers and that person’s faith is dead. James writes “faith in itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I’ll show you my faith by what I do.(James 2:17-18). If there are no deeds or good works that result from faith, then it is not true faith. He died on arrival. If you believe in God, James says so what! You have just qualified to be a demon because even they believe in God and tremble with fear (James 2:19).
Talk about one of the most difficult parts of the human body to control! The tongue wins the prize of being the most unruly, unwholesome, filthy, degrading and destructive of all the physical limbs of the body (James 3:6). James compares the tongue to a tiny rudder steering a huge ship and shows how much damage this tiny member can cause (James 1:3) and “Like a big forest is set on fire by such a small fire(James 3:5)! We managed to tame all the rest of nature, including some very large mammals and animals,”but no human being can tame the tongue. It’s a restless evil, full of deadly poison(James 3:8) and with that we bless and curse people (James 3:10) knowing full well that they are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27; James 3:9).
Sufferings are never wasted
James wrote this letter at a time of great sadness for Jewish Christians. Was it bad enough to be a Jew but a Christian Jew? This really intensified the persecution. Many have lost their jobs, their homes, their families, their possessions and many have lost their lives. Those who managed to survive were driven to other parts of the empire but with them they brought the only hope for mankind in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). James wanted these suffering servants of Christ to know that their suffering is not going to be wasted. Ironically, suffering from need brings lack for nothing as he wrote “may the testing of your faith produce constancy. And let constancy produce its full effect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.(James 1:3-4). Suffering leads to sufficiency, if only in Christ. life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
I also believe that James identifies what true religion is and it is found in James 1:27 where he writes “The religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and keep oneself undefiled from the world..” Visiting orphans and widows would be considered the kind of works James wrote about that would be produced as a result of genuine, saving faith. These types of works would be obvious and otherwise there is obviously no saving faith in the first place. Visiting orphans and widows can be children of single parents, people in prison, people living in homeless shelters, men and women in nursing homes and who almost all happen to be orphans and , in a retirement home, a large majority of them are widows or widowers. This is the type of religion”who is pure and undefiled before God the Father” and that’s the only audience that matters. It’s pure religion for James (and for God) but there’s more to it. One must keep oneself undefiled from the world, and “world” surely means the sins of the world and living a sinful lifestyle.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is pastor of Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Editor of What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage and energize Christians and answer questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.