Just Do It!
When I was a teenager, way back in the 70s, the two most popular NT books for Bible study were the Gospel of John and the Book of James. Several decades have come and gone since then, but the popularity of those books as not waned.
James is one of the first New Testament books to be written. Many Scholars say it was first. I think that’s a real possibility, though Matthew may be slightly older. Both were written around the mid 40s AD.
James’ back story is every bit as fascinating to me as that of the Apostle Paul. James is from the tribe of Judah, and the biological son of Joseph and Mary of Nazareth. He is the direct descendent of King David through Solomon. He, then, is the half brother of Jesus. Like Jesus, he would have grown up a tradesman, a carpenter.
With the exception of Mary, probably no one knew Jesus the way James did. They grew up, playing, rough housing, and working together. I would have loved to have been privy to some of their one on one conversations during their years together.
Despite, or possibly because of, their closeness, James was not a disciple of Jesus during His ministry years. In fact, as we read through the Gospels, it appears as if Jesus’ siblings took a bit of a sarcastic, if not outright cynical view of their older Brother’s ministry.
I tend to believe, though, that Jesus and James were close. I make that claim, based on the fact that James was one of the individuals Jesus made a personal appearance to following His resurrection. You can read about that in I Corinthians 15.
The next time we meet James, he is already a leader in the Jerusalem Church. He seems to have been on equal footing with the Apostles. Obviously, his familial connection with Jesus would have given him some leverage, but his character and faith were obvious from the beginning. The legends that grew up around him, say he was so devoted to prayer, that great, thick callouses grew on his knees, earning him the nickname, ‘Old Camel Knees’.
7:227:48According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, James was martyred in A.D. shortly after Governor Festus died, and before the new Governor, Albinus, arrived.
There are two versions of James’ Death. One says that James was lured to the roof of the temple where he was invited to address the crowd. While he was preaching, some of the Pharisees threw him off in an effort to kill him, but failed. James rose to his knees and began to pray for the assassins, whereupon, they began to stone and club him until he died.
Josephus tells a much less fanciful tale, and says the high priest, Ananus, took advantage of his interim leadership, between Festus’ death and Albinus’ arrival to have a number of his least favorite people executed. James was among that number, when he was publicly stoned.
Somehow, Josephus’ account has a more ring of truth to it, but Hegesippus’ tale of intrigue and conspiracy would make a great movie. Perhaps someone should get Mel Gibson on the phone…
Again, according to tradition, James never left Jerusalem. He lived, ministered, and died in that great city.
The letter that bears his name, might be a favorite now, but has not always been so. Martin Luther and many of the early reformers disliked it because of its emphasis on good works. In fact, Luther called it, ‘an epistle of straw’, or, ‘a right strawy epistle.’
For some reason, it appeared to the reformers that James was somehow contradicting Paul’s emphasis on Grace and Faith. A few people continue to make that mistake even in the 21st century.
Frankly, I just can’t see the conflict. It is clear from Paul’s letters that he was comparing salvation by faith, to trying to keep the law of Moses as a way to earn salvation. James is saying that if we truly have faith, it will show itself in the way we live. A faith that doesn’t shape our behavior is not faith.
The little book of James is much more, though, than a challenge to walk the walk we talk.
In Chapter one, he encourages the Church to sees their suffering as growing spiritual stamina and patience. He finishes the chapter by reminding the readers that we need to do more than hear or acknowledge the gospel. We need to put it into practice.
In short, James says, the Gospel isn’t dressed until it has shoes on.
Chapters 2 and 3 contain the juiciest bits. These are the two chapters that have stirred the pot for centuries.
James begins chapter 2 by denouncing favoritism; especially economic favoritism. When we show favoritism for the wealthy, we look really tacky. Examples. But back in Exodus, God told Moses not to show favoritism to the poor OR the rich. The truth (which is, or should be, implied in the word, justice), is blind. It doesn’t show favoritism. That’s why we always see ‘lady justice’ wearing a blindfold.
11:08 These days, we see it in other ways, too. Talent. A struggling congregation will grab a musician like a monkey grabs a peanut. Good looks will get you a seat at the table PDQ as well. Celebrity. The list goes on. Its so tempting. But it’s still wrong.
After his excellent words on favoritism, James returns to the subject of putting faith into action. Here he says things like, ‘it is by works a man is justified and not by faith alone. And Faith without works is dead.
Chapter 3 is all about how much our mouths get us into trouble. No man can tame the tongue.
Chapter 4, while not nearly as dramatic as 2 and 3, is deep. It reads almost like a commentary on Jesus’ statement, ‘out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. ‘ The source of quarrels, ugly words, selfish actions all have their roots buried in stony, self engrossed hearts.
In Chapter 5, James returns to the danger of riches. Coveteousness and greed are siblings and they hide everywhere.
From there he goes back to patience, especially as we wait for Christ’s return. And he finishes with a powerful statement about prayer. He reminds us of the power of prayer, and that every Believer has access to that Power. Prayer is for everyone, especially ordinary people.
I won’t dive any deeper into James’ letter, because I want you to read it for yourself and discover just how much is packed into it. This little letter by the camel kneed brother of Jesus is both powerful and practical. I think you’ll love it. Let me know. For now, that’s all I got. See you next week. Until then….
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