The Bro Code - James 1
The book of James rattles through 5 chapters on Christian living treading the tricky balance that the New Testament teaches of freedom from law and death and the fully revealed grace of God through nothing other than belief in Christ. James teaches firmly that through being saved by grace we are transformed and committed to living a life of holiness and that comes with a holy type of behaviour. James joins its fellow surrounding books of letters to early Christians (known as the epistles) all trying to figure out life in the light of Christ crucified and resurrected.
A few key things to note that form the perspective from which James writes.
- The book is understood to be written by James the brother of Jesus. A man who knew Jesus intimately through his childhood and knew his mother’s pain at Jesus’ death. Key also to understand though is that James was probably hurt by Jesus’ words and way of life (in Matthew 3 where Jesus seems to disown his family). James was not a disciple of Jesus during his years on earth yet saw his life transformed on witnessing Christ resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:7) and became one of the first leaders of the early church.
- As an early church leader he would likely have been present at the Jerusalem council in 49 AD where the decision was made to take the gospel to the Gentiles. James writes specifically to ‘Jewish believers’ and does not mention Gentiles, therefore some believe it to have been written in 40 AD making it the first New Testament book written.
- James’ writing echoes the Old Testament- a style familiar to the Jews, and specifically rings of proverbs. Without understanding why James writes, the book could read as a list of commands for good behaviour. This however is the hinge of the book. James boldly writes to the Jews in a style they understand but from an entirely new understanding that the messiah has come and it is life changing. The book is therefore peppered with Jesus-isms echoing the sermon on the mount- showing the span of testaments, but honouring the intrinsic link.
- The book could not be placed in a more appropriate sandwich. It sits between Hebrews- a book that establishes Jesus as the messiah and fulfilment of the Old Testament covenant, giving narrative to the Jew’s central role in preparing the way for God’s grace to be administered. And 1 Peter- a book that acknowledges the persecution of Christians, encouraging them to stay strong in the gospel.
So James 1…
James starts the book introducing himself as a ‘servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ’ v1. A mark of the transforming nature of the gospel- brother, turned believer, turned faithful servant.
He then turns to his two messages for the first chapter.
Firstly steadfastness in difficult times. James knows the Christians he writes too are not finding life too easy and he encourages them to hold fast. If they are steadfast, he says, this will strengthen their faith and what could be more joyful than that. (v3-4). If their faith is strengthened then they will not be lacking in the character desired of men of faith. One thing they may lack, James suggests, is wisdom. So why not ask for it? After all in faith Christians believe God gives good gifts. (v4-7) here James hammers his second point home- if as a Christian of faith in the Lord you are not convinced of God’s character then James sees no problem in questioning the authenticity of your faith and your character.
“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” (v6-8).
V7-18 gives point after point of the view that a lack of a steadfast faith can cause Christians to put their faith in things of this world- a pointless endeavour in light of eternity. Instead, a steadfast belief in Christ is the only way to live.
James then builds on this- now that he's established you are of steadfast character, sound mind and have faith in the lord, he gets to a specific point; do your words and your actions reflect the transformation within as a result of your belief in the lord Jesus Christ? (v19-27).
Just like we read in Paul’s letters, James urges Christians to throw off their old ways (here specifically how they talk) and be ready to hear, receive and respond to the word of God through which salvation comes. (v19-21)
For he argues, anyone who rocks up, bum on pew, hears the gospel, leaves and forgets it until the following week is like one who looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what they saw. What was the point? (v22-24)
In fact Christians must look into ‘the perfect law’ (v25) - the fulfilled covenant of grace in Jesus Christ- and persevere, week in week out, allowing their lives to be shaped like Christ, and therefore be holy and of fruitful works.
Unless the transforming impact of the gospel can be seen or heard then James says practicing Christianity is worthless. To hear the gospel and not respond to it with a transformed life is worthless.
Short and sweet. Be saved by Christ, be steadfast in faith, and let your actions reflect the perfect law which you have come to know. And so goes it.