James is one of the most beloved and controversial books in the Bible. Luther famously called it an “epistle of straw” because he thought much of James' theology was in contradiction with Paul’s theology of justification by faith and grace alone. But introducing a new theological framework is not James’ agenda. Rather, he is a leader of the early church who is seeking to exhort the community to remain faithful to Jesus amidst challenging circumstances.
James is the half brother of Jesus, and although he only mentions Jesus twice in the whole book, Jesus is everywhere in his letter. James is deeply influenced by the teachings of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount. As a Jewish Christian, he is also very influenced by the Jewish wisdom literature tradition, especially the book of Proverbs.
Given these influences, James’ aim in this book is to help guide believers in how to live. He believes that the faith in the Lord Jesus is a faith that deeply matters for all of life, and is a faith that should be profoundly shaping the way believers live. The topics he covers range widely and are highly practical, covering everything from speech, class and economic divisions, wealth, hardship, prayer, and love. James believes that followers of Jesus are those whose beliefs are deeply integrated with their actions.
In preparation for worship this week, try listening to the book of James the way the original listeners would have heard it- all at once! It takes about 15 minutes to read it, and try doing so out loud. Or better yet, listen to a recording of it so you can hear it read to you. Pay attention to themes that emerge, and listen to what jumps out at you. Pray that the Lord uses this book this summer to shape our community into a people who are following Jesus more faithfully and steadfastly.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: