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The Book of James is a mystery to many people with its peculiar language.  Historically, some very godly men have had a problem with how to understand the book of James.  Martin Luther said this about this important book: “In a word St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw, compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.”  He called James an “epistle of straw” as if it lacked importance and was close to being worthless.  He just did not understand what James was trying to say.

Let’s look first at who wrote this important epistle.  While some have thought that James the Apostle wrote this book, that is highly improbable.  Let’s read Acts 12:1-2, “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.”  James the Apostle was killed by Herod.  Historians put the date of his murder around 44 A.D.  Historians put the date of the Book of James at around 48 A.D.  If these dates are close to accurate, we can see that James the Apostle did not write this book.  In all likelihood, James the half-brother of Jesus wrote it.  We know from Matthew 13:55that Christ had four half-brothers; one of them was James.  John 7:5tells us, “For neither did his brethren believe in him.”  Although James did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah during His lifetime, he did believe on the Lord Jesus after His death, burial, and resurrection.  The Lord had a private meeting with him after His resurrection as we read in 1 Corinthians 15:7, “After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.”  We also see that James played a prominent role in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:13-21.

The Book of James is filled with practical truths.  Some have misunderstood James, thinking that he taught works, as opposed to faith, for salvation.  That is simply not the case.  Let’s look at James 2:18, which is a key in understanding this book.  It says, “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”  James taught that a man’s righteousness will be shown by his works.  So, works is what justifies a man before other men.  We can’t see other people’s hearts, only the Lord can do that.  We can only make a determination about someone’s salvation by their testimony AND their works.  We read in Matthew 7:20, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”  Of course, a man is truly justified before God by faith as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”  In a practical sense, we can see a person’s salvation by the things he does and says.  The Lord, however sees the heart, and according to 2 Timothy 2:19, “…The Lord knoweth them that are his.” 

The book of James, doesn’t really teach doctrine, but it does teach important practical truths. 

  • We read of the value in the trials of the believer in James 1:2-3, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.”
  • We learn that true faith will show itself in the life of the believer in James 2:17-18, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”
  • We are cautioned about how much damage we can do with the words we say.  James 3:5 says, “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!”
  • We learn the value of submitting ourselves completely to the Lord in James 4:7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
  • We learn of the importance and power of prayer in James 5:14-15 which says, “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”There is so much more practical truth to be gleaned from this important book.  I encourage everyone to spend time in this book, asking the Lord’s guidance so that you might understand its wonderful truths.  (135.6)