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?