James was possibly the first New Testament book written, probably penned in the very late 40’s AD. It is generally accepted that the book was written by James, the leader of the Jerusalem Church, also known as James the brother of Jesus.
From the very first, some people objected to having James in the New Testament. Martin Luther pushed for its exclusion (as well as some other books) because he thought it crossed some Protestant doctrines. However, history shows that God intends for James to be included in sacred Scripture.
Perhaps some of the controversary around the book can be ended if people are willing to accept the book for what it is, and not try to force it to be something it is not. We get a quick look at what it is by looking at the first verse: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.”
James was the leader of the Jerusalem church, but was not one of the original apostles. His letter shows that he is a strong, experienced leader whose purpose is to guide Jewish Christians about how to live as Christians in various countries and cultures. He accomplishes his purpose.
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Most people in the modern world try very hard to avoid suffering. It is unpleasant, and few of us want to endure things that are unpleasant. Yet the Bible presents suffering not just as something that is unavoidable but also a condition that might be sent from God, something that can result in enormous benefits if endured properly.
Suffering is a major theme in the New Testament. Jesus promises his followers they will encounter it, and Paul and Peter both write about suffering for the cause of Christ. They all say that overcoming suffering has a multitude of benefits. They never said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but they do seem to share that sentiment.
Most English translations soften James’ opening statement, but he begins his book by saying he is a slave of God and Jesus. He is a voluntary slave, but a slave nonetheless. And slaves expect to suffer. This would not come as a surprise to his ancient audience, since up to one-third of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves.
James writes his letter to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations. This description probably means he is writing to Jewish Christians who had left Israel due to persecution from Jewish leaders. At the time this letter was written, the majority of Christians were formerly Jews. As the leader of the church in Jerusalem, James was probably acquainted with many of the Christians who had left Israel.
Our modern ears might find it surprising that James does not encourage his audience to evangelize by teaching the Gospel. Instead, he focuses on telling them how to live as Christians wherever they go. And one thing James is sure of is this: they will face temptations and tests, and will suffer. So, he opens his letter with one of the most puzzling of all greetings: “Count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds.” You can only imagine how the early, persecuted Christians who heard this must have reacted.
Much later in the letter, James encourages Christians to be patient in the face of suffering. Be patient, wait, stand firm, don’t grumble, don’t judge. In coming years, Christians will cling to these words as the Romans begin their persecution and as some succumb to their trials, recant their faith, and betray their fellow Christians.
What can those who successfully endure persecution expect to receive as their reward? Mercy and compassion from the Lord, the judge who is standing nearby.
James – Andy Axewell
Jude – Zachary Leasau
Peter – Peter Fuselier
Last Deacon – Bruce Dubose
Barnabas – Bob Hess
King Solomon – Todd Terry