James: a Good and Difficult Word – Chapter 1

The 1st chapter of the Book of James is very readable and practical. So practical, however, that one can miss the whole point. ♦

I heard someone recently say that the Book of James in the New Testament was their favorite book of the Bible. They said it made them feel good “that God loves us no matter what.” I recall another person said that James reminds them to “be doers of the Word and not hearers.” Still another one was convicted by James on the topic of “debt” in their life and took real steps to readjust their finances. As a youth I remember the discussion in high school church groups over the debate of “faith vs. works.” That issue is found directly in the Book of James.

If you peruse the Book of James one can find very quotable verses and whole passages that can have real and practical meaning and application in your life. Like many sections of the Bible, that is certainly well and good.

It just may miss the real point.

A Word From a Solid Servant
James is generally agreed to have been penned by James, the brother of Jesus, not one of the original disciples. Paul refers to him as the “brother of the Lord” (Galatians 1:19) and one of the “pillars” (Galatians 2:9) of the growing, early Christian Church. It is considered to have been written before AD 69 or in AD 62 when he was martyred in Jerusalem.

Credentials aside, James has a purposeful way about his writings. It truly is about as practical as one can get to living out the Christian life.

And for that it is both illuminating, helpful, and challenging.

A Good Word
First note that the Book of James is written specifically to the Jews – “To the twelve tribes (of Israel) scattered among the nations.” (James 1:1) This doesn’t mean that it can’t apply to us Gentiles (all other people), but it should be read carefully and understood in that context. The early Christian Church, still within 40 years of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was a burgeoning mix of Jews and Gentiles working through the ways and means of the New Way – Christianity.  It takes the written and carefully recopied New Testament letters of Paul, Peter, John and other Christ-followers passed around city to city, town to town, to spread the Good News of the redemption of all mankind through the sacrificial death of Christ.

This Good News was for Jews and Gentiles – to all the world, thus fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham 2000 years earlier when he was told that through his offspring (Isaac) and descendants (12 sons of Jacob, renamed Israel) all the nations would be blessed.

A Difficult Word
Nevertheless, the Book of James is a warning to those early Jews in Jerusalem and those scattered throughout the middle east who would later hear this word.  Here are 10 key points and directives in Chapter 1:

  1. You Will Face Trials – weather them, even joyfully, as testing of faith produces perseverance and full maturity. (James 1:3-4)
  2. Ask God for Wisdom – regardless of your past, God gives wisdom to those believers who ask. (James 1:5)
  3. Ask with Belief and No Doubt – doubt in God reveals a person to be mixed-up and confused, double-minded and unstable. God does not answer those who doubt and lack belief. (James 1:6-8)
  4. Humble Lives are Rewarded – relish humble circumstances, the pride and possessions of the rich, apart from Christ, will fade away and be destroyed. (James 1:9-11)
  5. Blessed are Those Who Persevere – hard tests are coming, those who persevere will be rewarded (James 1:12)
  6. Temptation is Not From God – we are enticed and tempted by our own desire. Desire births sin. Sin, full-grown leads to death. (James 1:13-15)
  7. God is the Source and Does Not Changedo not be deceived, God gives every good thing and the word of truth. (James 1:16-18)
  8. Be Rid of Anger and Moral Filth – listen well and tread carefully with anger and moral wickedness that will separate you from the righteousness that God desires. We are saved by the Word of God within us. (James 1:19-21)
  9. Act on the Word of God and Be Blessed, Don’t Just Hear It – don’t be deceived, lest you forget what you’ve heard, read or seen. The Gospel is the Law of Liberty, those who practice this perfect law, or continuously walk according to it, in Christ, will be blessed in their deeds. (James 1:22-25)
  10. Control Your Tongue, Help the Needy, Stay Pure – God values behavioral purity, loving care and charity, and those that have full control and rein on the tongues. Religion that does otherwise is worthless. (James 1:26-27)

A Purposeful Word
James is specifically addressing Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. This is a clear and firm instructional guide to purify Jewish Christians that are at the apex of the origins of Christianity. This is a call out to get really right in Christian personal conduct, social behavior and depth of spiritual belief. Any thing less will be found wanting in the times ahead. Those early Christians were doing well to get themselves fully right with God in all manners of life.

Indeed history shows us that this strong word of edification came just prior to the awful horror and persecution that befell the Jews and Christians in Jerusalem with the Roman razing of the entire city to crush all opposition in AD 70. All told, there were estimates of 700,000 to 1 million civilian Jewish casualties during that holocaust. Many Christians survived as they listened to the Word and heeded Christ’s warnings (Luke 21:20) to exit the City when the soldiers surrounded the walls in a siege.

Like a death knell, the Book of James serves as a forging fire to steel the hearts, minds, and will of the early Church in Jerusalem. Today, we too as Christians around the world, can take heed as to how we also should conduct ourselves as under new authority and rule of the cross. Today, as back then, there will be trials and afflictions in that effort as we confront a dark and lost world.

Do you understand the full context of the Book of James?
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12

Categories: Books of the Bible, Church, Faith, Israel, The Church

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2 replies

  1. I liked all of your good points on what we should glean from the Book of James, Mike. However, I would somewhat disagree about your point #3 that God does not answer prayer for those who doubt and disbelieve. Many a doubter has cried out to God for help, and I truly believe He can and does answer their prayer, esp. when it leads them to Him. If we are honest, we all have doubts and spiritual weaknesses at times, but the Lord knows that and is faithful to us. After all, Jesus died on the cross so that we may believe. Many a doubter’s life has been transformed by our GOD.


  2. Mary Jane, good point raised about James and the question of whether God answers the prayers of “those who doubt and disbelieve” – specifically about my “point #3.” Please note that my point #3 is in the context of my point #2. Here are my 2 points:

    # 2. Ask God for Wisdom – regardless of your past, God gives wisdom to those believers who ask. (James 1:5)
    # 3. Ask with Belief and No Doubt – doubt in God reveals a person to be mixed-up and confused, double-minded and unstable. God does not answer those who doubt and lack belief. (James 1:6-8)

    Of course, these point must be seen in the context of James 1:5-8. Here’s the full text (NIV):

    (5) If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (6) But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (7) That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. (8) Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 15-8)

    As shown in the text, v6 connects the believer’s mindset with the issue of asking for wisdom in v5: “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt…”

    Again, per the textual background of James, this message is to believers, not non-believers. These verses are about driving a deeper walk in faith. For instance, earlier in verses 2-4, the challenge is that in the face of coming persecution, persevere. Next, in verses 5-8, the topic is Wisdom. That is, seek wisdom if you’re lacking by asking God specifically for it. But ask with belief and not doubt. (v6) In this context it is a different type of belief and doubt. This is about believing whether God will come through in your particular circumstance. Of course, there may be fear and hesitation and wonder as to whether God is REALLY going to come through, nevertheless, the charge to Christians is to not doubt God, but believe in who He is and His faithfulness.

    One could make the case that this v6 applies beyond asking for wisdom. Either way, the point is that a Christian who doubts God in any way is like one buffeted around on a wave, blown and tossed by the wind. Christians are called to be strong and stable. According to James, God does not necessarily respond to Christians who stay rooted in God-doubting disbelief. Of course, this doesn’t preclude God from doing whatever He wants in the lives of anyone at anytime.


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