We live in a busy world. Between keeping our family obligations, making a living, dodging pandemics, and ignoring TV ads about getting all of the Medicare benefits that we’re entitled to, who has time for religion? What we really need is a condensed version of the teachings of Jesus so that we can get on with Christianity without spending hours every single day reading the Bible! Brothers and sisters, our prayers have been answered! There’s good news about THE Good News! It’s the Book of James, a short practical guide to living a life of faith. Do you want to learn about temptation, sin, and true religion? Read James. Need a review of faith and works? James has the answer. Do you have trouble controlling the words that come out of your mouth? James gives good advice. Pastor Chuck Swindoll, in his commentary on the book of James, writes that James’ epistle “looks a bit like the Old Testament book of Proverbs dressed up in New Testament clothes.” Swindoll is right—the book of James is a summary of Jesus’ teaching in five short chapters.
Who is James? Although he doesn’t identify himself specifically, scholars generally agree that he is the half-brother of Jesus. When Jesus left home to begin His ministry, His brothers, including James, were unsupportive of His message. James didn’t become a believer until he saw Jesus’ resurrected body. But once he believed, what a believer he was! One of the early histories of the church says that James was such a man of prayer that his knees had thick calluses. Paul called James one of the pillars of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9).
But James didn’t just echo the teachings of his brother—he was also an important creator of Church doctrine. The first Christians were Jews, and they believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah; generally, they still followed the “rules” of the Jewish faith. But when Gentiles became believers, the big question was whether or not these non-Jews had to follow Jewish law. When the Jerusalem Council met in AD 49, Peter, Paul, and James affirmed the decision to take Jesus’ gospel message to the Gentiles. James made the deciding speech before the Council, and his words had such an impact that his statement was sent to all the churches (Acts 15:12-29).
James died around AD 62. He was martyred in Jerusalem by being pushed from a high point of the temple, but the fall didn’t kill him, and he ended up beaten to death by his attackers–and he prayed for them as they killed him. What a testimony!
James teaches us that faith is not an abstract concept, and that a life of faith should impact every area of our lives. “More than any other book in the New Testament,” Swindoll writes, “James places the spotlight on the necessity for believers to act in accordance with our faith.” It’s a wonderful instruction manual that explains how to implement our Christianity, even in today’s busy world.
P.S. It wouldn’t hurt any of us to read the rest of the Bible after reading the Book of James. It’s a great book with a really happy ending!
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