Introduction to James
Characteristics of Wisdom Literature:
Getting to know the author:
He uses a large number of words (sixty-three) not used elsewhere in the New Testament, many words found otherwise only in Greek literature that came after James (thirteen), and even a few words he appears to have coined himself. He employs alliteration (purposely using words together that begin with the same letter). He plays off of words and even uses rhyme occasionally. Some of his metaphors in chapter 3, like those involving horses and ships, are common in Greek literature. The device of a hypothetical speaker, used in James 2:18 and 3:13, is also Greek.
Third, James was written by an accomplished speaker. Many of the Greek features of the writing just mentioned would make James enjoyable listening. It would keep the attention of an audience. The frequent reference to his readers as “brothers,” “my brothers,” or “my dear brothers” (James 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7, 12) would also work well to keep an audience involved in a speech or, for that matter, a congregation to a sermon. Because of these features in James, it is possible that James was originally a sermon or that it brings together main points of some sermons previously delivered by the author.
This is one of the reasons we enjoy James so much. We feel as if he is speaking to us.
Deity of Christ
James incorporates Jesus’ messiahship with His name much as we do today, as if Christ were His last name. Although this is a common practice of New Testament writers, it must have seemed strange for James to refer to his older brother as Jesus Christ. Since James grew up with Jesus, his testimony in this regard is daunting. Further, he calls Jesus “Lord,” a term used by Jews to refer to Jahweh. Its purpose here is to accent Jesus’ divinity but also to complement the servant status of James.
Most parents have learned not to expect positive results from requests made of their children while the children are watching television. That placid “Yes, Dad” means their brains have put their mouths on automatic in order to keep the parents happy while their conscious beings are focused on the television program. They will not remember or even acknowledge a commitment made under such duress.
Our ears are marvelous instruments. They are built to receive all the sounds that go on around us. Like satellite dishes, they must be directed and tuned to be effective. Our minds adjust our ears to hear what we want to hear. Unlike a radio or television, we can accommodate background noises. We can hear many more than two things at once; but, in order to hear well, we must focus on one dominant sound at a time. James is trying to convince us to do something similar with our spiritual ears in James 1:22–25. He wants us to tune our ears exclusively to the word implanted by God in us and, even more importantly, to allow that word to govern the way we live.
Today, we are faced with the same problems that James dealt with nearly two millennia ago: During the “seeker” movement, droves of people accepted Christ, but many did not accept His lordship over their lives. This problem is what James combats in 2:18—it’s ancient and common. It’s the unfortunate side of good, convincing preaching, when that preaching is not coupled with discipleship.
We need to reject the convenience store faith that has become rampant in many of our churches. Christ didn’t intend following Him to be easy; He intended for Christ followers to change the world. We have an opportunity. What we do with that opportunity is our decision, but our world will be a morose place if we ignore Christ’s call.
Going out of our way for others is how we follow Christ. Making difficult decisions is part of walking with Christ. When we sacrifice ourselves, we respect the God who sacrificed His son. Faith is about action, not consumption. When we as Christians turn our attention to self-sacrifice, we will finally have a faith worth marketing. Simply the gospel could change everything.