James' epistle was a circular letter addressed to the Synagogues of the dispersion in Jerusalem. These Synagogues had an incongrous mixture of both the persecution Jewish authorities and the Jewish Christians whom they were beginning to persecute. The letter was written because of the persecution which followed the death of Stephen (Acts 7), organised by Saul of Tarsus (later the Apostle Paul), and prior to the execution of James by Herod as recorded in Acts 12:2. It was an epistle of admonition to both sides, of outright condemnation of the persecuting rich members of these Synagogues and, especially in chapter 5, of encouragement in that time of trial to remain faithful no matter what the cost.
James’ teaching may be summed up:
Pray! Pray for wisdom to deal with the complexities and trials of life. Pray for your brethren and sisters. Pray earnestly! Pray frequently! Pray on your own! Pray with your brethren and sisters! Pray!
Treat one another with dignity and respect – especially those whom you esteem to be “the least.” Love one another. Help one another. Listen to one another. Rescue one another. Do not be “respecters of persons” – esteeming one set of brethren and sisters more highly than another.
Work for peace and harmony within your church and between churches. Your labour will be blessed and you will be among the “children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Remember that the Father hates those who sow strife among brethren but that He loves those who work for peace!
Finally, the theme of James’ epistle: with the Father’s help, build a faith that works in spite of any trial, that can bear any burden, and forgive any wrong. If you can do that, He will indeed “lift you up” - you will “mount up with wings as eagles; you will run and not be weary; and walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31).
My own fascination with the Epistle of James began several years ago when , during a discussion of James 5:14, 15, a point of view was being put forward regarding healing that seemed to contradict both scriptural precedent and common sense. In coming to terms with the true meaning of that passage, I came to appreciate both the spiritual depth and the practicality of the epistle.
James is as relevant today as it was in Jerusalem when it was written not very long after the Lord’s ascension. The apostle (I use that title deliberately) has written words of instruction, advice, exhortation and comfort which will assist us in our daily struggle to remain true to our Lord.
We must allow James’ message and the challenge of his uncompromising stand for the truth coupled with his deep love for his brethren and sisters to motivate us to greater efforts on our Lord’s behalf. We may not be called upon, as was James, to die a martyr’s death in the service of our Master, but we are called upon to do the best we can with what talents and resources we have been given. An understanding of James’ epistle will help us as we strive to be better “servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Beside the Lord himself, we could not choose a better role model than James. We will do well if we emulate his passion in the service of his Lord and of his brethren and sisters and his courage in the face of vicious persecution.
I hope you have found this helpful,