Faith in Action: The Book of James
“You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”
James 2:22, NIV
For Spring Quarter, the adult classes at Brentwood Hills will be studying the book of James. James is one of the more popular books of the Bible. It is brief and very practical. Its teachings are reasonably clear and straightforward. For the most part, the biggest challenge with the book of James is to live what it teaches. Hence, the title of our lesson booklet: “Faith in Action.”
This book was written by James, the brother of Jesus. As you read the book of James, you will be reminded about many of the teachings of Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). James emulates Jesus so closely that in some places, James' teaching is almost identical to Jesus. There is no doubt that James was challenging his audience to understand and live what Jesus commanded.
In writing this material, we have tried to challenge you to focus on practical application. In many lessons, we have asked you to consider what these teachings mean for our congregation. We have also challenged you to apply these teachings to your biological family. We did this to give special focus on the theme this year at Brentwood Hills: the family.
We urge you to read the book of James often during this study. It is short enough to read the entire book at one sitting.
But most of all, we challenge you to do something! James is a book that cries out for action, not just talk. It calls us to put our faith into practice. Let us all hear the call!
-Mike Matheny and Jon Lowrance
To All Christians: Persevere and Be Mature
Lesson 1: James 1:1-4
James wrote this letter to Christians who were “scattered among the nations.” They were mostly Jewish Christians who had come from Jerusalem. They were scattered due to persecution and/or due to the spreading of the gospel to all nations. In either case, James is speaking to his fellow brothers and sisters, hoping to guide and encourage them in all things concerning Christian living. James moves from one subject to another in a seemingly abrupt fashion similar to the practical statements of Proverbs. Yet each series of thoughts from James are bound together in the major theme of how Christians should live by faith. James encourages and demands that we live like Christ, showing our faith through our actions.
The world that James and his readers experienced in the 1st century is our world too! The problems, trials, temptations, and frustrations of life both inside and outside the community of believers are the same today as they were centuries ago. Remember the words of another writer: “there is nothing new under the sun!”
The first 4 verses gets down to business by teaching us that we will face trials and suffering in this life. Yet, we must not focus on the immediate but look long range! Our goal is heaven, not this world. In order to change our focus to the eternal, perseverance and maturity are required. Our questions will address this issue as well as explain the practical ways Christians should live.
To The Teachers:
I would suggest that you begin class by having a class member read the “Introduction” to this series. The “Introduction” will define the major reasons for our study of James and the challenge to us as Christians to apply the message of James to our walk of Faith. Our study of James will also be a wonderful follow-up to our study of Hosea and Amos.
Background and History of James:
Although the New Testament identifies some 6 different persons as James, only James, the brother of Jesus is strongly supported as the author of this letter. The other competitors for authorship would be James the brother of the Apostle John and some other unidentified James of the 1st century church. Since most support the date of authorship to be A.D.62-66, which was well after the Apostle James was martyred in A.D. 44(Acts 12:2). Early church fathers such as Origen and Eusebius claimed that this letter was written by James, the brother of Jesus. The early church councils of Rome and Carthage accepted this letter as part of the New Testament canon and supported the view that the brother of Jesus wrote this letter.
The “James'” of the New Testament
As indicated above several persons were identified as James. The following is a list of 6 individuals and scripture notations for each:
James the brother of Jude (Jude 1)
James the father of Judas (John 14:22; Acts 12:2)
James the Younger (Mark 15:40)
James an Apostle, the son of Zebdee and brother of the Apostle John (Matt. 4:21; 10:2; 17:1; Mark 3:17; Acts 12:2)
James the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18)
James the brother of Jesus (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Acts 15:13-21; 1 Cor. 9:5 & 14; 15:7; Gal.1:15-2;12)
Reference and Resources
The Epistle of James by James B. Adamson
James: NIV Application Commentary by David P. Nystrom
James by D. Edmond Hiebert
What Christian Living is All About by Rubel Shelly
James: Shepherd's Notes series
1. Why is it significant that James the brother of Jesus is the author of this letter? What do you know about James?
Use the introductory material for this question. Your class may benefit by reading in class the scriptures that relates to James.
Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; James named as one of Jesus' brothers
John 7:2-8; the brothers of Jesus did not believe he was the Christ
Acts 1:14; James becomes a believer
Acts 15:13-21; James supporting speech to spread the gospel to the Gentiles as Paul was doing
1 Cor. 9:5 & 14; 15:7; Gal.1:15-2;12; Paul describes James as an apostle and leader in the church at Jerusalem
From scripture, we must note that James became a believer after
the death of Jesus. Once a believer, James developed into a “pilar” of the church as described by the Apostle Paul. This life changing event and his intimate knowledge of Jesus adds a wonderful feel to James' writing. Even though James has this special title of the “the brother of Jesus”, he describes himself as a servant of Jesus. Literally, he says he is in “permanent servitude” to his brother. James models humility in his words.
2. Who are the “twelve tribes scattered among the nations”?
The book of James is filled with Jewish terminology, phrases, and history, which lend strong support to his writings addressing Jewish Christians. The phrase “twelve tribes” is the first example, which may indicate the church of believers. The phrase relates directly to the tribes of Israel. These believers have been scattered due to persecution and/or due to the spreading of the gospel to all nations. As the church, we a modern symbol of the twelve tribes, which have been called out of the world to be the people of God!
3. What does James mean when he says, “consider it pure joy” when we face trials? Should we never be afraid or sorrowful?
The thought of “pure joy” implies that our faith is made real by enduring life's difficult situations. The fall in the Garden of Eden guarantees a world full of strife and problems because sin entered the world at that point. As Christian we will feel pain deeply (Heb. 12:11) but must keep in mind that “all things work together for those who love the Lord.”
“Pure” means that our joy is made whole or complete through our trials. Just as gold or other metals are purified by heat, our faith is made real and active by the trials that we must face and endure. The encountering of trials is not an overt process, but is rather a consequence of daily life. God is not asking that we actively look for trouble that produces suffering but he is looking for a faith that accepts suffering as part of life. Our reactions to the multi-faceted trials of life will determine the purity and strength of our faith. An end product of the “furnace of trials” is a resultant joy, as we understand the transitory nature of these worldly trials before a God who has a greater glory ready for us. We must have a faith that makes us confident and comfortable to stand before a God who is in control!
4. What kind of trials were James' readers facing?
We truly do not know James' exact meaning in these verses. However, we may look at this question in three ways: 1) trials may represent the normal difficulties that all people face in life, such as disease, death, etc; 2) trials may represent the persecution that Christians of any generation will face because of their belief in Jesus as the Christ; 3) trials may represent the temptations that Christians face through the evil of the world. All three possibilities may have the same effect of drawing us away from Jesus as Lord of our life. In the final analysis, trials on any level will test our faith. Each one of us must face our own trials but we must face them in the same manner, through the eyes of faith.
A good follow-up discussion for your class is to have class members share the trials they have faced in life.
5. Why is perseverance so difficult? What helps us persevere?
The trials that we face in life are not without purpose. While trials often occur by accidental circumstance, they still bring us to fruition/maturity if we will persevere and trust in God, even when we have no answer as to the how or why of a situation. Perseverance requires a disciplined spiritual life that is peppered with prayerful conversation with God.
6. How do trials make us “mature and complete”?
Our trials can draw us closer to God, maturing us into a sweetened fruit of faith or our trials can cause us to fall from the “branch” as bitter, unripened and spoiling fruit? Is it easier to become embittered and fall away? Some may say, “yes!”
7. What does James 1:2-4 teach about marriage and family life?
This is a class discussion question to apply today's lesson.
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