Message

  A Message from Brother Pete


 

The Book of James

Delivered February 1, 2010

 

After enjoying a fine meal and fellowship with Brother Albert and Sister Debbie a few weeks ago.....(Yes! I too have indulged in the nearly decadent delight of Sister Debbie’s Chocolate dessert....the fabulous fullness of her scrumptious Pies....the indescribable pleasure of her chocolate chip cookies....and, Oh yes, this past Saturday night, I succumbed to the tantalizing temptation of her honey bun cake).

 

....but I digress....anyway, after dinner a few weeks ago, we decided to sit down and have Bible study. Sister Debbie asked if I had any preference as to where we’d begin and I replied, “pretty much anywhere but the Book of James.”

 

Now, why did I say that? Well, James really burnt me up, that‘s why....

 

You see forty years or so ago, I was really just beginning to get through the tip of that iceberg known as the Bible. As a child brought up in a Catholic home, I was exposed to my Catechism classes....the Priest and the Nuns telling me what to do....but not the Bible. So as I explored the New Testament for the first time....and basked in all that “faith” and “grace” that I was being saved by....and I had Faith....and the more God blessed me, the more Faith I was going to have!....and I liked grace.....I needed plenty of grace because of all the junk that I was involved in!...Accepting Jesus was a free ticket as far as I was concerned! I didn’t even have to go to a Priest once a month to get absolution!

 

Now, of course, over the years I figured out that living for Christ wasn’t quite the way I thought it was back then....but I still stayed away from James as much as I could.

 

I was talking to Brother Tom about preparing this message, and he told me that Martin Luther didn’t even want the Book of James included in the Bible!....Not a bad thing to have something in common with Martin Luther.

 

Anyway, way back when, I’m basking in faith and grace. I get to James, and he starts lousing things up! He starts talking about works...and trials...and being humble....and sacrifice....hey, what was wrong with him....Man, was he harsh! I read through that whole mess in a hurry and got on to more pleasant scriptures....and although I’ve experienced much enlightenment since that time....as I said, I still shied away from James until a few weeks ago.

 

You see, when I replied to Sister Debbie as to my Bible study preference “anywhere but the Book of James.” She said, “Oh, I like James...” So, I said to myself, “Well if my Sister Debbie likes James, I’d better take another good look at it.....I had better really study it!

 

So, first of all, suspicious guy that I am, I needed to know exactly who this guy was! Now there are four men named James in the New Testament. Ut Oh!

 

There is James, the father of Judas. (Not that louse Iscariot!....another guy named Judas) He’s mentioned twice as the father of one of the 12 disciples, but is otherwise completely unknown. So that kind of leaves him out.

 

Then there’s James, the son of Alpheous, often known as James “the Less,” (That sure must of given him some kind of complex, don’t ya think?) He was one of the 12 disciples....but apart from being listed with the other disciples, this James is completely obscure. So let’s take him out of the mix.

 

Now what about James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John? He was one of Jesus’ intimate disciples....but his martyrdom, by 44 AD, makes it highly unlikely that he wrote the Book.

 

That leaves us with James, Jesus’ brother. Now he was one of the “pillars” at the Church in Jerusalem! He was a very prominent figure and he best fits the evidence of Scripture.

 

There are several clear parallels between the language of the letter drafted under his leadership in Acts 15:23-29 and the Book of James. Here’s an example: The unusual word “chairein,” used for “greeting,” is found only in Acts 15:23-29 and James 1:1. “chairein,” is like simply saying “Hello.”

 

James was even a bit terse in his greeting. In James 1:1 it’s like He’s saying, “I’m writing to the twelve tribes, scattered to Kingdom Come, .......Hello!

 

Anyway there are many other parallels between the two writings.

Also, the Jewish character of this Book with its stress upon the Law, along with the evident influence by the Sermon on the Mount compliment what we know about James called James “the Just,” from Scripture and early church tradition.

 

Oh, by the way, if you were around in those days, when someone would spot him, you would often here them say, “Hey, there goes “old camel knees.” He got that nickname because of the thick calluses that built up on his knees from years and years of determined prayer! I find that this prayer was foundational to his wisdom. I know now that Prayer is always foundational to wisdom!

 

Yes! We’ve got the right James now....Of that I am certain.

 

James was the eldest of Jesus’ four half-brothers, being the offspring of Mary and Joseph after the birth of Jesus, and James was the most prominent of these brothers. The Gospels refer to several siblings to Jesus. Along with James there was Joseph, Simon, and Judas....or Jude. (The name Judas lost a lot of its popularity after what Iscariot pulled) Anyway, there were several half-sisters too....I couldn’t find out exactly how many there were, and I don’t know their names.

 

Anyway, the Gospels hint that certain family members were skeptical of Jesus ministry. Even though James and his brothers were very likely present at the Sermon on the Mount, James apparently didn’t accept the claims of Jesus until the Lord appeared to him after His resurrection.

 

He and his brothers were among the believers who awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. It was not long after that before he became an acknowledged leader of the Jerusalem Church. He was a central figure in the Jerusalem Council, and even after Paul’s third missionary journey, James continued to observe the Mosaic Law as a testimony to other Jews. This Jewish piety that James displayed most certainly helped in his role of bringing others to an understanding of Jesus as the Messiah.

 

According to Jewish historian Josephus, James suffered a violent martyr’s death just before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Although the Book of James may very well be the oldest of all New Testament documents, its brevity and limited doctrinal emphasis kept it from wide circulation; and by the time it became known to the Church as a whole, there was uncertainty about the identity of the James that wrote it. Now, growing recognition that it was indeed written by the Lord’s brother is what led to its acceptance as a canonized Book.

 

Now why is finding out all these details about James and his life so important to me?

 

Well you see, reading is one dimensional. You have words on paper....no sounds....no pictures. You can’t perceive the sound or tone of voice....or the facial expressions, or look in someone’s eyes.

 

If reading fiction, it does no harm to put your own faces on characters....or to use your imagination to create scenery or situations. But when reading and indeed studying scripture, I feel that knowing the writer, his situation and general attitude is of much importance. I know a great many details about the writer of this Book now. Only some of which I’ve shared because of time constraints. Knowing those details enables me to better understand him and his writings then I did 40 years ago when I didn‘t take that time.

 

The Book of James was written between 46 and 49 AD, probably in Jerusalem. It’s focus is on the Test of Faith....the characteristics of faith...and the triumph of faith. It explains the purpose of those tests....the source of temptation...the outward demonstration of inner faith. It speaks of the development of faith....the response of faith....the works of faith....the reality of faith....the reassurance of Faith....and the power of faith. It shows that Faith endures waiting....prays for the afflicted....and confronts sin.

 

I want very much to study through every verse in all five chapters of the Book of James with you....and Lord willing....if I’m still here...and if you’re still here, I will, in time. We never know where, or in what direction the Lord might lead us, do we?

 

For tonight I’d like to give you a little overview of the entire Book:

 

James the “Just” states that Faith without works cannot be called faith....that faith without works is dead...and that dead faith is worse than no faith at all. He further states that faith must work...it must produce...it must be visible.

 

“Old camel knees” says that verbal faith is insufficient....That faith must be there, but it must be more. Faith must inspire action! Throughout his Book, James integrates true faith and everyday practical experience, by stressing that true faith must manifest itself in works of faith.

 

He states that Faith endures trials...that trials come and go....but that strong faith will face them head-on and develop endurance. He says that faith understands temptations...but will not allow us to consent to our lust and slide into sin. He says that through faith we obey the Word....through faith we will not merely hear and not do.....that faith produces doers....that faith harbors no prejudice. For James, faith and favoritism cannot coexist....that faith displays itself in works....that it is far more than mere words....that it is far more than mere knowledge.

 

“Camel Knees” says that faith is demonstrated by obedience and it overtly responds to the promises of God! He says that faith controls the tongue and that this small but immensely powerful part of the body must be held in check! That the tongue is set on fire by hell itself!....and that faith can control that hellish tongue!

 

In his Book James says that Faith acts wisely....that it gives us the ability to choose wisdom that is heavenly and to shun wisdom that is worldly....that faith provides us with the means to resist the devil and to humbly draw near to God.

 

Finally James states that faith waits patiently for the coming of the Lord...and that through trouble and trial....faith stifles our complaining.

 

I wish I would have paid more attention to James 40 years ago!

 

I give the Book of James a four star rating now....not the big thumbs down that I gave it way back when!

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