Summary of the Book of James
Date Written: 44-49 AD
Major Theme: Faith Expressed Through Works
The book of James was written by Jesus’ half brother, James who initially did not accept him as the Messiah (John 7:5), but later became a pillar in the early church (I Corinthians 15:7). The book has been dated between 44-49 AD which makes it the first book written in the New Testament. The audience for this book was Jewish as James addresses the letter “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (vs 1:1).
The main theme of the book of James focuses on godly behavior and obedience to the Word of God. James wrote extensively about the relationship between faith and works, which can cause confusion when comparing with the writings of the apostle Paul. However, James emphasizes that we are justified by faith but it needs to be expressed through works of faith (as opposed to works of the law), so given that preface there is no contradiction.
James 1 - Perseverance Through Trials
James 1 opens with a greeting and encouragement to remain joyful in the midst of trials because the outcome of this type of testing is perseverance and a mature and complete faith. James encourages that God is faithful to this process and will grant wisdom so we can endure it. He then cautions us that God does not tempt us, rather temptation comes from our own evil desires inside. James then gives instruction about listening and acting according to the Word of God. He shows how knowing what it says shows us who we truly are and living it out will give freedom and bless us.
James 2 - Faith and Deeds
James 2 starts with instructions about being impartial toward people. James instructs not to show favoritism toward individuals who are wealthy because God has chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith. He goes on to build a good case for works of faith, which are deeds that grow out of one’s faith. He cites examples from Abraham and Rabah, showing that what they did, proved their faith. He closes the chapter with this statement, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (vs. 2:26).
James 3 - Taming the Tongue
James 3 gives instruction about the dangers of the words we say. The tongue has the ability to set the course of life, James compares it to a rudder which steers a ship and a fire which can consume everything in its path. He makes the contrast that out of the same mouth come praise and curses, however this should not be because true faith is evident by our words. This chapter ends with the definition of the wisdom that comes from heaven. It is “peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (vs. 3:17).
James 4 - Submitting To God
James 4 describes the war that rages between friendship with the world and life in God. James advises to submit to God and resist the devil and his schemes. We are reminded to humble ourselves before God so that He can exalt us. We are also cautioned to take into account the Lord’s will when making plans because our time on earth is short and it is God’s will that prevails.
James 5 - The Prayer of Faith
James 5 opens with a warning about hoarding wealth at the expense of workers. Then he encourages us to remain patient in suffering because the Lord is able to bring us through trials and make everything right. James closes the letter with instructions about praying. We are instructed to pray in faith because “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (vs. 5:16).
As you can see the book of James gives practical advice for the believer in living out what one believes. May you be blessed and inspired as you read and study the book of James.
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