Not Hearers Only – The Letter of James

1. Trials and Temptations James 1:1-18

2. Faith and Actions James 1:19-27 and 2:14-26

3. The Dangers of Favouritism* James 2:1-13 and 5:1-6

4. Taming the Tongue James 3:1-18

5. Submitting to God James 4:1-16

6. Patience and Prayer James 5:7-20

Due to uncertainty about the identity of the author, who describes himself as ‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’ ( 1:1 ), this Epistle did not receive general acceptance in the West until the 4th century. James the son of Zebedee was martyred too early to have been the author. Some modern scholars, noticing the almost complete lack of references to distinctively Christian doctrines and the fact that Jesus Christ is explicitly mentioned only twice, have rejected the idea that it was composed by any Christian. The address ‘to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion’ ( 1:1 ), probably referring to scattered Jewish-Christian congregations, the homiletic character of the work, its Jewish-Christian flavour, its concern with a communal ethic and community solidarity, its echoes of the sayings of Jesus which became embodied in the Sermon on the Mount (c.f. 2:13 and Mt. 5:7 ; 3:12 and Mt. 7:16 ; 3:18 and Mt. 7:20 ; 5:2 and Mt. 6:19 ; 5:12 and Mt. 5:34–37 ), and the note of authority with which the author speaks are all consistent with the tradition that he was James the Lord’s brother, first ‘bishop’ of the church in Jerusalem. The resemblances in Greek words and phrases between the Epistle and James’ speech at the Council of Jerusalem (c.f. 1:1 and Acts 15:23 ; 1:27 and Acts 15:14 ; 2:5 and Acts 15:13 ; 2:7 and Acts 15:17) may afford possible supporting evidence. It seems logical to suppose that either James himself composed the work, or else a secretary or later redactor compiled it from James’ sermons. The situation of the church in the Epistle fits an early date of origin for much, if not all, of the contents: a date before the Council of Jerusalem ( 48/49 AD) would best explain the data .

The Epistle concerns itself with the need for Christians to resist the pressure to compromise with the world, especially with respect to the use of wealth. It supplements and in no way contradicts the teaching of Galatians and Romans on the matter of justification.
‘Whenever faith does not issue in love, and dogma, however orthodox, is unrelated to life; whenever Christians are tempted to settle down to a self-centred religion, and become oblivious of the social and material needs of others; or whenever they deny by their manner of living the creed they profess, and seem more anxious to be friends of the world than friends of God, then the Epistle of James has something to say to them which they reject at their peril.’
Now evangelicals are again concerned about social righteousness, the use of wealth and communal life, this Epistle deserves special study. It draws attention to community-building virtues and to the destructive social force of improperly used wealth. In an age when the severity of the divine nature and the transcendence of God tend to be forgotten, the balance is redressed by the emphasis laid in this Epistle on the unchangeable God ( 1:17 ), the Creator ( 1:18 ), the Father ( 1:27 ; 3:9 ), the Sovereign ( 4:15 ), the Righteous One ( 1:20 ), who must not be tested by evil men ( 1:13 ), to whom humanity must submit in humility ( 4:7 , 10 ), the Lawgiver, the Judge, the Saviour and Destroyer ( 4:11–12 ), who tolerates no rivals ( 4:4–5 ), the Giver of wisdom ( 1:5 ) and grace ( 4:6 ), who promises a crown of life to those who stand the test of faith and love him alone ( 1:12 ).

1. Trials and Temptations James 1:1-18

The first section of the letter, which may have been the earliest writing in the New Testament, introduces themes which we will explore in more detail later (so e.g. we will miss out vv 9-11).

1. Begin by reading James 1:1-18. Invite the Group to comment on any verses which strike them particularly.

2. Read verses 2-4 and 12. What kind of “trials” were the first readers facing? What kinds of trials do WE face as Christians in our life of faith?

3. Read verses 2-4 and 12 again. “Perseverance” is an under-rated quality. Ask the Group to suggest examples of situations where they have persevered (or should have, but did not).

4. Read verses 5-8. James here is very critical of “doubt”. But what does he mean by “doubt”? (Opposite of believing = not believing that God will answer prayer.) Is all doubt wrong? What kinds of things do members of the Group have doubts about?

5. Read verses 13-15. How well do these verses fit into our own experiences of temptation? Do we recognise that it is our own desires which lead us into sin, even as Christians? How do these verses help us to resist temptation?

6. Read verses 16-18. God is “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Meditate on this glorious description of God who is OUR Father.

7. What encouragement do these verses give to Christians who are struggling with their faith or in different kinds of trials and temptations? How does this passage help us to persevere?

8. Pray for each other in the problems of life any may be facing this week.

2. Faith and Actions James 1:19-27 and 2:14-26

1. Ask the Group, “Are we saved by faith alone? Or by our actions?” Which is more important – what we believe, or how we live?

2. Read James 1:19-27. Make a list of things which James considers to be expressions of true religion. (You can easily find ten, especially in vv 19-20, 21, 26, 27).

3. Read verses 22-25 again. The challenge is to be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves (Authorised Version). Can the Group suggest any examples where we know the theory but fail to put it into practice? Does your list from question 2 help here?

4. Read James 2:14-26. Invite the Group to suggest practical ways in which we show our faith by our deeds i.e. things which we do because we believe in God which we would not do if we did not believe. Again the list from question 2 may help. (Note – things which non-Christians also do, even though they do not have faith, do not count!)

5. “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.” (v.17). That is actually a very challenging sentence! Can the Group suggest any examples they have seen of faith without actions? (Perhaps e.g. a professing Christian showing no love or compassion? The ways some Third World church leaders enjoy lives of privilege disregarding the needs of the poor in their churches?)

6. Answering question 1 – we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is never alone! Has this study convicted any Group members over any areas of life where they need to begin to put their faith into actions?

Background – Comparisons between the meaning of “faith” in James and Paul
The Epistle supplements and in no way contradicts the teaching of Galatians and Romans on the matter of justification. James does not use the word ‘justified’ in 2:21 with reference to the occasion in the Abraham narrative to which Paul refers, Genesis. 15:6 , but with reference to Genesis. 22 , a declaration of justification on the occasion of the binding of Isaac, itself the crown of a life of charity and faithfulness flowing from the faith of Genesis 15:6 .
Roman Catholics have always valued the Epistle highly as affording evidence for the doctrines of justification by works, auricular confession ( 5:16 ), and extreme unction ( 5:14 ). On the other hand, Protestants—unduly influenced by Luther—have tended to regard it as somewhat sub-Christian. But Calvin pointed out that this Epistle contains nothing unworthy of an apostle of Christ, but on the contrary gives instruction on numerous subjects, all of which are important for Christian living, such as ‘patience, prayer to God, the excellency and fruit of heavenly truth, humility, holy duties, the restraining of the tongue, the cultivation of peace, the repression of lusts, the contempt of the world, and the like’. Many modern evangelicals have begun to see the folly of underemphasizing the ethical implications of justification and the place which good works should occupy in the Christian life. As R.V.G. Tasker has said,
‘Whenever faith does not issue in love, and dogma, however orthodox, is unrelated to life; whenever Christians are tempted to settle down to a self-centred religion, and become oblivious of the social and material needs of others; or whenever they deny by their manner of living the creed they profess, and seem more anxious to be friends of the world than friends of God, then the Epistle of James has something to say to them which they reject at their peril.‘

3. The Dangers of Favouritism James 2:1-13 and 5:1-6

This study draws together two passages, the first on the dangers of showing favouritism towards the rich and powerful and the second on the dangers of riches themselves. You may like to tackle either or both. Or you could spend two weeks on this study!

1. Read James 2:1-13. Ask the Group to pick the verse which is most striking in this passage.

2. Ask the Group, “When you have visited other churches, what kind of welcome have you received?” What are the best and worst experiences Group members have had visiting other churches? Have they seen or experienced favouritism?

3. What kind of welcome does North Springfield Baptist Church give to visitors, guests and strangers? Are there any ways in which we show favouritism? e.g. Do we welcome guests brought by members more warmly than complete strangers? Does our welcome depend on the age, race, appearance of the visitor? As well as Sunday services, consider the kind of welcome we give at other events and activities of the church.

4. What suggestions can the Group make of ways in which we could be more welcoming? Are there things we could do, or not do? Are there changes we could make to our premises, or to our literature or our websites? All suggestions welcome – please forward to Peter.

5. Read James 2:8-11 again. Apart from in welcoming new people, are there any other ways in which we risk showing favouritism? Is it showing favouritism if the church gives more time, energy and resources to pastoral care of believers rather than unbelievers, or in helping people who are easy to help rather than helping those who are more demanding and challenging. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10) Is this favouritism?

6. Read James 5:1-6. These words were written by James to Christians!! Are there any ways in which they could possibly apply to us? Consider for example:-
“You have hoarded wealth.” Is it possible for Christians to have too much money saved up in the bank for a rainy day? What should we be using that money for instead?
“You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.” How many of our “necessities” would be regarded as “luxuries” by the vast majority of the populations of the world?

7. Look back at James 2:5-7 again. In challenging “you rich people” (5:1-2) James almost gives the impression that being rich is in itself a sin. Does the sin lie in “ill-gotten gains” exploiting the poor? Or is it the case that in a world of striking poverty and so much unnecessary preventable suffering, keeping our riches rather than spending them on caring for the poor is itself a sin of omission?

8. How should our lives and our church change in response to this teaching in James?

4. Taming the Tongue James 3:1-18

The “theory” of this evening’s study is simple and obvious. The “practice” is a lifelong battle for self-control. In asking Group members to talk about things they have said, or have been said to them, do not press too hard and remember that some of the things people recall may bring back painful memories. The discussion will need sensitive leading so be ready to move on to somebody else if a person begins to become upset. For timing and flow, you may want to miss out question 7.

1. Read James 1:19. “Be quick to listen and slow to speak.” Wise words which we all wish we could remember to live by! There is a verse in Proverbs which can be translated “Every time he opens his mouth he puts his foot in it.” Invite the Group to recall occasions when they spoke and then wished they had remained silent – preferably funny incidents to begin with. If you can think of a good humorous example from your own experience to get things started, so much the better.

2. The old proverb says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.” Is that true?

3. Read James 3:1-12. This passage is about ways in which our speech can hurt other people. Ask the group to recall occasions when they have said something which has hurt or upset somebody else. What caused them to say such a thing? (Was it accidental or deliberate? Spite or jealousy or anger or carelessness?) When we know we have said something and somebody else has been upset, what as Christians should we do to put things right? Is it always best to apologise? Or is it sometimes better to “let sleeping dogs lie”?

4. What steps should we take to gain greater control over our speech and language? e.g. Stop and think before we speak. Pray harder! Avoid TV or books which give us bad examples of hurtful speech. (e.g. Does watching chef Gordon Ramsay shout and swear at his staff lead us to think that such behaviour is acceptable?) What does Philippians 4:8-9 command?

5. TREAD GENTLY with this question! Ask the Group to recall any occasions where other people have said things which have been hurtful to them? Or situations where they regularly experience hurtful remarks (e.g. at work, with difficult family members)?
How can we cope when other people hurt us with their speech? (e.g. by prayer, talk through with friends, counselling.) Should we confront those who regularly hurt or demean us? Or should we condition ourselves to ignore their words?

6. Our speech can bless as well as curse. To move to a more positive note, invite the Group to share examples of things which have been said to them which have encouraged them and built them up. What steps should we take to bless and encourage each other more?

7. Read James 3:13-18. List the characteristics of “the wisdom that comes from heaven”. Then list the characteristics of the wisdom which is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” How can we know and live out God’s wisdom more in our daily lives?

8. Pray through any issues which have come to light in the course of this study. Mention to the Group that Peter would be most happy to chat with anybody who feels they have experienced hurts in the past which still need healing.

5. Submitting to God James 4:1-16

1. Ask the Group, “Are there any prayers you have prayed which God has not answered?” How can we tell the difference between the answers such as “No, not ever,” “Yes, but not yet” or “Keep on asking”?

2. Sometimes there are good reasons why we do not receive what we want from God.
Read James 4:1-3. Can the Group suggest any examples in their lives or in the life of the church where “You do not have because you do not ask”?

3. “You ask with wrong motives.” Can the Group suggest any examples of this from their own experience? How can we make sure our motives are right when we pray?

4. Read James 4:4-10. What ways are we tempted to fall into the sin of “friendship with the world”? If you did not look at James 5:1-6 in Study 3 questions 6 and 7, you could do so.

5. Verses 6-7 are tremendous promises! Can any members of the Group share testimonies of an occasion when they have resisted the devil and drawn near to God, and then experienced that great joy and peace when God has drawn near to them?

6. These are not verses to talk about so much as to respond to. So set aside some time to meditate on this passage and respond inwardly to God in prayer. I suggest the Leader reads the verses, with substantial pauses between each phrase as follows.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (PAUSE) 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. (PAUSE) Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (PAUSE) 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. (PAUSE) Wash your hands, you sinners, (PAUSE) and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (PAUSE) 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. (PAUSE) Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. (PAUSE)10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

6. Patience and Prayer James 5:7-20

1. Read James 5:7-12. Ask the Group which verse, if any, strikes them as important or helpful? The passage may seem irrelevant to many. We looked at Trials and Temptations in James 1:1-18 in Study 1. On Sunday we will mark Suffering Church Sunday.

2. Read James 5:13-20. If we are sick we usually just go to the doctor. What part should prayer by the Elders with anointing with oil (vv 14-15) play in the life of the church? Is it relevant that James wrote in an age before modern medicine and pharmaceuticals were discovered?
We tend to save anointing for “serious” illnesses. How then should we pray for the sick?

3. We do not practise what the Roman Catholics used to call “the sacrament of Confession.” When we have already confessed our sins to God, what is the point of confessing our sins to other Christians (v 16)? (e.g. to be assured of forgiveness, to ensure sincere repentance, to enlist another in “watching over us” to make sure we do not fall into the same sin again.) If such confession is a good thing, how in practice should we do it more?

4. Can the Group suggest any examples of persevering and earnest “Elijah” prayer bringing miraculous answers from their lives or Christian experience?

5. Verses 13-18 and 7-11 are clearly connected. How true might it be that those believers who experience miraculous answers to prayer are those who have previously learned patience through trials and temptations? Is it the case that we find persevering and earnest prayer difficult because we have not learned perseverance through suffering? Pray about prayer!

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