James 1 - Study Guide

Verse 1 indicates that this is a letter really to all Christians but James specifically addresses the "twelve tribes" of Israel which certainly could mean that the original intended audience may have been Jews living around 62 A.D. However, for Christians, like all parts of the Bible, this is "the" Word of God and so the audience is clearly all.  

Who is the author of this book?

When Greg Lott and I led the discussion of this book for our Sunday school class the first question that asked was: "Is this James the brother of Jesus Christ?"  I had intended to avoid this question altogether because my goal was to focus on the wisdom found in this book and not the background.  Plus I had skimmed through that discussion in several sources.  While it may or may not have been wrong to avoid the question of whether this James was the brother of Christ, I did something much worse.  I tried to answer the question based on my imperfect memory of what I had skimmed through on this subject.  I remembered that whether this James was or was not the brother of Jesus historically had been hotly argued.  What I recalled was the arguments against this James being the brother of Christ and I muddled through this explanation.  Ironically, my older brother who was in town and in attendance did not call me out in class but waited until after lunch to let me know that his Bible had a pretty good explanation of why the James in question was indeed the brother of Christ.  I have read several scholarly sources since and they all conclude that the James that wrote the book of James in the Bible was the brother of Jesus Christ.  So much for following the wisdom in James about keeping my tongue.

I will say that James did not identify himself in this book as anything but a "servant" "bond servant" or "slave" of the Lord Jesus Christ.  That being the only description in the actual scripture of the book of James makes it sufficient.  For me, this is the perfect word of God and I believe that there is a reason that James did not identify himself as the brother of Christ.  Some theologians will say that it is either because the original audience would have certainly known that this was James the brother of Christ or conversely that James did not want to identify himself or specific people in his audience because of the threat of persecution but while either or even both of these may be true, for me, who James was is not nearly as important as the word of God that is revealed in the short five chapters of James.

The rest of this will be strictly a study guide as the title of this article suggests.  We had a great discussion in our Sunday school class based on these questions but, I am not including our discussion in this guide.

For verses 2-4 and 5-8 ask the questions first and generate some discussion before you read the verses out loud.  Encourage your group members to avoid reading ahead to find out what James has to say about these questions.

Questions for verses 2-4:

Why does God allow bad things to happen to good Christians? (Discuss then read verses 2-4 and discuss some more, as needed.)

Does God test us? Compare verses 2-4 with verses 13-14.  Are these two sets of verses talking about the same thing or not?

Questions for verses 5-8:

When you pray for wisdom, do you always receive it? Can you think of a time when you did or did not receive wisdom after praying for it?

After the discussion, read verses 5-8 aloud and then discuss some more, as needed.

Questions for verses 9-12 - Read verses 9-11 aloud (leave out verse 12 for now).

Why should a rich person take pride in his low position?

Read verses 9-12 aloud.

Does verse 12 explain verses 9-11? How?

Questions for verses 13-15 - Read verses 13-15 aloud.

What is the process that can lead to our ultimate failure and even death?

Questions for verses 16-18 (Discuss the question first and then read and discuss some more, as needed.)

Do we accomplish anything solely by our hard work and our will? (read verses 16-17)

Questions for verses 19 -21 - Read verses 19-21 aloud then discuss.

Have you ever violated this three step advice of "being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry"?  From your experience is it good advice?

Questions for verses 22-25 - Read verses 22-25 aloud then discuss.

When you read the Bible, do you recognize that it reflects who you are or should be?  Do your actions reflect what you read in the Bible?  Have you ever observed others reflecting the words of the Bible by their actions?

Questions for verses 26-27

Read verse 26 then discuss:  Have you ever violated this principle of keeping a tight rein on your tongue?  What was your experience?

Read verse 27 then discuss:  The first part of the advice in this verse instructs us to take care of the needy/helpless/orphans and widows in their distress.  What are some ways that we can take care of the needy?  The second part of the advice in this verse instructs us to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.  What does this mean?  If we go to the where the "needy" people live how do we avoid being swept up in their world?

James Chapter 2: The $100 Idea

At our Friday lunch discussion of James 2 one of our members presented us with a great idea.

Brooks' idea was simple:  Put a $100 bill in your pocket and give it to someone in need.  Brooks did not take credit for the idea. He said that he had seen somewhere where some guy had already begun doing this idea.  Wherever the idea originated it was inspired.  It very well could have been inspired by the 2nd chapter of the book of James.

When Brooks first presented our group with this idea we were nearing the end of our discussion of James 2 and I thought that I could pinpoint the verse that had prompted this idea. The first verse that came to mind was James 2: 14, "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?". When I got home and looked for the exact verse my eye settle on the second half of James 2: 18, "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." After seeing that I was not so sure which verse had inspire the $100 idea so, I reread all of the 2nd chapter of James.  I realized that the whole chapter was the inspiration for the $100 idea.

The first part of James 2, verses 1-13, talk about how we should not treat people differently because of their position in life.  We should not chose to judge a wealthy person as being more worthy of our attention or shun a poor person.  If you look at verses 8-13 as a separate message from the first seven verses, the message is clearly that it is no defense when you sin to say "I kept all of Gods laws but one."  If you don't commit adultery but, you murder someone, you have still broken the law.  

Verses 1-13 seem like unlikely candidates for inspiring the $100 idea.  At first, that is what I thought but I realized that I was not seeing the bigger picture.  We discussed the $100 idea for a while and determined that if each of us decides to do this idea, we should pray continually for God's guidance in determining who we should give the $100 bill to.  Brooks suspected, I think correctly, that praying to God about who to give the $100 bill to will open our eyes to people that we may not have even seen before.  I think that we all kind of figure that God will lead us to a poor person in need but by praying about the decision, we are taking our personal judgement out of the equation.  If we choose to do this project and we do it right, we will not be directing where the $100 bill goes, God will. So that is how the first seven versus have inspired the $100 idea:  We will not be treating the wealthy man or woman any better than we will be treating the poor man or woman.  If we figured correctly - that God is likely to lead us to a less wealthy person, then we will be treating the less wealthy person better than a wealthy person. Verses 8-13 talk about keeping all of God's laws and not just all but one.  While James talks specifically about God's commands forbidding adultery and murder, I think we can agree that "Do unto others as you would have them do to you"- the Golden Rule - is certainly one of those rules that God directs us to live by.  If you were in need, wouldn't it be great if someone just handed you a $100 bill?

The latter part of the 2nd chapter of James, verses 14-26, are clear direction for starting a project like the $100 idea.  Those verses are dedicated to making the case that acting upon your faith is necessary for your faith to be real.  We cannot work our way to heaven but if we have bought into Christianity, we will act like Christians and that does not mean just resisting temptation.  It also means taking an active role in treating others well and helping those in need wherever we find those people.  

The Second Chapter of the book of James

This Friday our mentoring group will be examining the 2nd chapter of James.  Two weeks ago I did some quick analysis of the first chapter prior to our group's discussion and realized that I could have done a better job had I waited and considered the thoughts of the other members of our mentoring group.  I look forward to our discussion this Friday and plan to provide commentary sometime after I have had a chance to reflect on our discussion.

To review a complete NIV version of James 2 click anywhere on this sentence.

James 1:12 Featured Today on Heartlight Daily Devotional

This is the featured verse and discussion of that verse on Phil Ware's Heartlight Daily Devotional.  This is also today's verse featured on Biblegateway.com. 
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive he crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
Thoughts on today's verse
Only Christians win at life. That's because none of us have the power to hold back our greatest enemy, death. But when we have persevered, we are given the ultimate victory, LIFE that will not end.
Thank You, O Father, for giving me the assurance that when all is said and done, I will share in your life and your victory forever. Help me this day to live confidently, knowing that I have your life. Through Jesus, my conquering King, I pray. Amen.

Max Lucado's Daily Devotional: A God Thing

This is Max Lucado's Daily Devotional found on his UpWords website:

Works Matter
By Max Lucado

'“If people say they have faith, but do nothing, their faith is worth nothing. Can faith like that save them?”  James 2:14

James’ message is bare-knuckled; his style is bare-boned. Talk is cheap, he argues. Service is invaluable.

It’s not that works save the Christian, but that works mark the Christian. In James’ book of logic, it only makes sense that we who have been given much should give much. Not just with words. But with our lives."

I think the world of Max Lucado's preaching but, I do not go to his website regularly.  I just began this site and finding something that fits so perfectly at the very beginning of building this site is really cool! I am going to count this as a "God Thing" that I happened upon this devotional at exactly the right time.

James 1: 1-8

James 1: 1-8
1James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
      To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

In the first verse James proclaims who he serves - who knows that might not be a bad idea in the letters that we write today.  "Bob Wynn, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ"  may seem a little silly but write that with your own name in place of James' or my name.  There is a reminder and power in that even if we do not write this at the beginning of all our letters or emails. Make no mistake the part that follows is addressed to you and me.  We are part of "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations." Greetings - y'all!

Verses 2-4 are great strengths when you are face with a tough situation.  Next time you face a "trial" try to remember that these times of trial are the very times when you are becoming a mature and finished work.  And remember that God's work is perfecting not simply finishing. When we are going through these times it is sometimes frustrating to be reminded "in the moment" of verses 2-4 and on those occasions (when the perspective of verses 2-4 are kind of frustrating) verses 5-7 are the perfect words.  If you lack wisdom ask for it and truly believe that you will receive it.  I also have found that when I feel like I am "double-minded", like I am being tossed back and forth with waves of uncertainty at the many choice before me, that is the time when I need to stop, pray and remind myself that God is there ready, willing, and able to take on all challenges and all challengers.  All he asks is that I ask for his help and know that I will receive it.   

James 1: 9-11

James 1:  9-11

9The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. 11For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

On face these verses seem to be simply saying that we should be viewing our circumstances exactly the opposite of what the world might expect.  If you are in a humble circumstance, be proud of your high position.   If you are rich, be proud of your low position.  What may require a bit more thought is: "Why should the rich man be proud at all?" especially after the description given of him whithering like a shriveled flower.  On the other hand, maybe what these verses are saying is that we should take pride in whatever circumstances that we find ourselves in.  The humble man can already see that his situation is humbling so he merely needs to be reminded that he should hold his head up and not be ashamed.  Whereas the rich man maybe be in a situation where is already proud but for the wrong reason, namely: his material wealth. Both men should take pride in something other than there circumstances because in reality all of us are truly blessed.