We don’t know for sure who actually wrote the book of James. The name James was very common at this time, but it is most likely that the letter was written by the most well known James of the early church, the brother of Jesus. James was a pillar of faith in the Jerusalem church. While most people assume that Peter was the strongest leader in the early church, there is much church tradition that indicates that James was just as much a pillar and leader in Jerusalem.
This letter is addressed to the twelve tribes. This could mean that James is writing to a more Jewish audience, but I lean towards it being a Jewish phrase (since James was a Jew) to describe all the Christians in the churches around the world. This is different from many of the letters that we have in the New Testament that are addressed to a specific individual or congregation. James understood his letter to contain instructions valuable to Christians in all places and all situations.
The book is well known for being full of practical instructions for Christian living. Similar in many ways to the wisdom literature found in the Old Testament, this book puts forth the idea that our lives should be consistent with our faith. If we believe in Jesus but that belief never touches our life through our actions and practices then we have nothing. The book also seems to be dealing with problems that were already creeping into the early church community. We know from Acts that the Apostles had to appoint servants to be in charge of making sure widows were fed fairly. Apparently the widows who behaved more “Jewish” were getting better care than the Jewish widows who behaved more like Romans. Prejudice towards widows is a problem. And there was the problem with Ananias and Sapphira, who wanted the glory of generosity without the willingness to actually give. In James we see that there is prejudice between the wealthy and the poor in the church as well.
In the office we have a saying that’s more of a joke than anything, but occasionally we find ourselves saying “Ministry would be the greatest job in the world if it weren’t for the people.” Well James has discovered exactly that and now he is writing to help people bring their lives into alignment with the Gospel that they proclaim to believe.
The last several verses of chapter 1 highlight this very point, that if you should get rid of moral filth and instead accept the word of God planted in you. Don’t just listen to the word and deceive yourself, but actually DO WHAT IT SAYS! Your faith should impact your life. Unfortunately, this remains a radical concept today when thousands of Christians attend church on Sundays and it has no affect on their decisions, actions, or words throughout the rest of the week. What’s frightening is when their conscience is not even pricked by such behavior. It is to this crisis that James wrote and to which his words still speak today. We will cover the entire book in the next week, so be sure to keep reading and measuring your life against the teachings of James.