Background Text: Mark 6:3
Devotional Text: James 5:13-15
As we enter the new year, one of the books of the New Testament is especially helpful in teaching us how to live the new life (although they all truly are). Today, I am referring to the Book of James, the brother of Jesus, who became a leader in the church at Jerusalem.
It is interesting to me that as he was a half-brother to Jesus (son of Mary and Joseph), and lived with him in their parents’ home, James (along with other family members) did not readily believe that Jesus was the savior (see John 7:5).
The next we see of James is after the resurrection when Jesus appears to him (1 Corinthians 15:7, following the Scripture timeline). The Book of Acts is full of James’ participation in the new church, known as The Way, and his leadership in the church. However, we learn of the meeting between Jesus and James following the resurrection in Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth. Then we can return to James’ leadership in Jerusalem.
Going to Acts 12 and 15, we find Peter mentioning to the prayerful believers, after his miraculous escape from prison, that they should tell James and the brothers about it, too (Acts 12:17).
As we continue on, we find James speaking to all the assembled believers after they had listened to Paul’s report of miraculous signs and wonders of God, which he and Barnabas had been able to show the Gentiles.
At this point in the Scriptures (Acts 15:13), James speaks to those gathered there about how God had planned from the beginning to include Gentiles in his plan for salvation. In this Scripture, James refers to the prophecy from Amos 9:11-12, that specifically refers to Gentiles “who bear my name.”
Furthermore, as we read about Paul’s acceptance by the Apostles in Galatians 2, we also read in Galatians 1:19, about his visit with James, the Lord’s brother.
In this Scripture, Paul wrote about his conversion and the three years he spent learning the ways of Jesus and spreading his message before he came back to Jerusalem. Upon his arrival, he spent 15 days with Peter, and also met with James (though not with any of the other church leaders).
All of these verses bring to us the progression of James’ belief in his brother, who was and is the Messiah, and allude to his leadership, along with Peter, in the Jerusalem church.
Before coming to the Book of James, it’s good for us to realize that even the brother of Jesus, who lived with him and knew him, did not at first believe him to be the savior of humankind.
First, it comes to mind, how often someone who becomes important in the lives of others is not seen as being so within his or her own hometown and family. Jesus remarked on this in the Gospels whenever he spoke to the people in his hometown temple, and was rejected.
A number of times in the Gospels, it is mentioned that Jesus was thought to be the son of Joseph and Mary, so how could he become the Messiah? The background to his incarnation was not widely known. It would take years and the spreading of the Gospel for others to realize that Jesus truly came from God.
Secondly, the growth of James’ understanding did not come all at once. This still speaks to us today, as people still struggle to believe or decide not to believe at all. However, God did not leave James in a corner called unbeliever, nor does God do the same to us. God continues to give us chances to believe and come into the new life as a believer in Christ.
The story of James confirms this message to us, as we read about his unbelief, and then watch as he becomes a leader of the Christian way under Jesus.
The Book of James
Now we come to the Scriptures for living the new life found in the five chapters of James in the New Testament. The basis of the letters found in this book was to encourage the Jewish Christians who did not live in Jerusalem. This Scripture is believed to have been written circa 49 A.D.
Each chapter has its main theme. From one to five, they include: persevering in our faith, faith and doing good deeds, being careful in what we say, walking humbly in our faith, and the message to share the things we have.
Some call the Book of James a treatise on Christian ethics. It does cover the areas of our lives as new people in Christ, in how to do what is right and to believe what is right. However, I would say it is a book for all people, whether rich or poor, those who have and those who have not. It speaks to us all.
As I highlight the sections of James, I will focus on those areas that speak to us today, as well as to the times of Jesus:
Chapter one encourages us to persevere in the faith, even when troubles come our way. It is important to pray to God during those times, because God will and does help us. James admonishes those who say they are tempted by God to do what is wrong, for “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each is tempted ... by his own evil desires ...” (James 1:13-14).
James warns us not to give in to those who seek to deceive us, but seek the good things that come from our heavenly Father, who shows us how to live in the right way.
He tells us to not only listen to the Word of God, but also to do what it says. Looking after widows and orphans was important during ancient times, before organizations were set up to be of assistance. Often this help fell to those who had compassion. Jesus told us to make sure the widows and orphans were taken care of.
The other part of this statement from James is that as believers we need to keep ourselves from the evil that is in the world.
These certainly are words we can take to heart today. James, brother to Jesus, and leader of the church, knew from personal experience in the world how we fail from time to time, how we accept some temptations, and how we feel sorry afterward. He speaks to the everyday person, reminding us God is with us every day and we can always turn to him for help in our daily prayers.
In next week’s column, I will continue with the next four chapters found in James, chapters that speak about lives in general, how we live, how we act, and the pitfalls that can surround us.