James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
The James who wrote this letter is traditionally understood to be the brother of Jesus. This is not because of any indicators in the text, but through deduction: James, the brother of John, was killed by Herod in Acts 12. James, the son of Alpheus, is unknown outside of being listed among Jesus’ twelve disciples. Which leaves Jesus’ brother, who presided over the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and is acknowledged as a leader in the Jerusalem church throughout the New Testament. While another James could be the possible author, none is known to have apostolic authority.
“The twelve tribes in the Dispersion” is likewise an elusive recipient. Jews had been “dispersed” throughout the Mediterranean for centuries, as you saw in Acts, but a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ would not be writing to purely Jewish audiences. However, this description of the church is unknown outside of this reference, so we’re left to simply read the letter to deduce the audience in James’s mind.
The concern that energizes this letter is the connection between faith and works. Consider the contrast in the final verses of chapter 1: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James puts this more succinctly in the next chapter, simply stating: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
A theme that lies under the interplay between faith and works is that of pride. It’s behind the discussion about distinctions in chapter 2, and it drives the caution about ambition and, later, about wisdom, in chapter 3. Late in chapter 4 there is a lengthy discussion about setting plans, again, without considering the Lord’s ultimate sovereignty; and finally, it seems to lurk behind the attitudes of the rich in chapter 5.
Though James doesn’t give us many historical markers, he is direct about his concerns all the way to the end. While you’re reading his letter, remember where he’s headed: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Our verse for this week is Luke 2:52: And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.
The Epistle of James. Now let’s read it!
1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.