James is probably one of the most difficult books to read. It is hard truth. No frills. No butter. No sugar. Like strong black coffee, it is percolated to wake Christians up. It is no-nonsense wisdom for daily Christian life. It is like the Proverbs of the New Testament, which too, like James, has no real structure, and focuses on the day-to-day issues in life. It is known as “Jewish Wisdom Literature.”
Jewish Rabbis have different forms of preaching. One that was used in earlier times is called charaz, and it is when they just “muse aloud.” There is no formal or structured address, just an elderly Rabbi in the synagogue sharing gems of understanding and pearls of wisdom. It was up to the listener to go home and string them all together. James was clearly taught by such a Rabbi when he was a young man, because he is a master of charaz, and he is doing exactly the same for his readers.
So who was he writing to? The letter is different to most of the New Testament letters, in that it is not addressed to an individual, a specific church, or even a group of churches. No, it is addressed to the 12 tribes of Israel scattered among the nations. To those churches started among the dispersed Jews around the Mediterranean. This is significant, because it means that James was essentially writing to his brothers, to his family. Hence, he wrote with much less diplomacy, and mostly just spoke straight, (just like we would do to our siblings or parents.)
However, we are not dispersed Jews, so the question is: “is this letter relevant to us?” And the answer is: “Yes.” It is very relevant to us, because we are dispersed Christians. Most Christians are just like the dispersed Jews, working in an everyday world, and being tempted to become assimilated into the world and to adopt its moral standards rather than the Lord’s. James addresses things like suffering, wealth, the tongue, the world, and wisdom. Pressures and morals that we as Christians today also have to deal with. Hence, the letter of James is right up-to-date and of great value to any believer seeking to follow Christ today.
For now though, we will be looking specifically at verses 1- 18 in chapter 1, which focuses mostly on living wisely in the midst of suffering and difficulty.
Lord, would you give us great revelation about suffering and trial. We want to understand these things in the way that you do. We want to see things from your perspective so that we can live and walk in a way that is pleasing to you. Please pour out new understanding as we seek to know you as friend through the pages of James.
This post has been adapted from Pawson, D. Unlocking the Bible. James. Chapter 54, pg 1144-1164. Collins Publishing. (This is a great book that gives a unique and easy to understand contextual overview of every book in the bible. It can be stolen for R120 here.)