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The Book of James: A whistle-stop tour

Author: Bible Society, 3 July 2019

Our Book of the Month for July is the Letter of James. It is a short letter – only five chapters – but it has some extraordinarily deep and
challenging teaching within it.

The author, only named as James but usually assumed to be the brother of Jesus, an influential leader in the early Church – writes from a pastoral heart about real-life issues. He teaches about prayer, poverty, prejudice and hypocrisy. He warns against the perils of gossip, describing the tongue as 'evil and uncontrollable'. He urges Christians not to quarrel with each other, and has hard words for rich Christians who oppress the poor. The letter finishes with beautiful words of encouragement and faith in the effectiveness of prayer.  

This is a pastor's letter full of practical wisdom, and in the past that's led to people misunderstanding it. Martin Luther wasn't a fan: he described it as an 'epistle of straw' because he thought it put too much emphasis on 'works' rather than justification by faith, and said James 'mangled the Scriptures'. However, he included James in his translation of the New Testament and said there were 'many good sayings in him'. Calvin said he was 'more sparing of proclaiming the grace of Christ than an apostle ought to be', but added that it was 'surely not required of all to handle the same arguments'. 

In fact there's no reason to believe James didn't believe in salvation by grace. But he was writing about what it meant to live day by day in the light of that salvation, and challenging his readers to live up to their calling. 

Here are six great verses from James. 

Don’t blame God when you are tempted! God cannot be tempted by evil, and he doesn’t use evil to tempt others (1.13).

If you hear the message and don’t obey it, you are like people who stare at themselves in a mirror and forget what they look like as soon as they leave (1.23-24).

My friends, if you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, you won’t treat some people better than others (2.1).

My friends, what good is it to say you have faith, when you don’t do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you? (2.14).

It takes only a spark to start a forest fire! The tongue is like a spark. It is an evil power that dirties the rest of the body and sets a person’s entire life on fire with flames that come from hell itself (5-6).

Surrender to God! Resist the devil, and he will run from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you (4.7-8).

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