James – An introduction
From now until December we're going to be studying the book of James.
And instead of a 'normal' sermon, this evening I want to give you 6
Reasons to get excited studying James.
1. James was written by God for you
Every time we open the Bible we need to remember that it's no ordinary book. The book of James (or rather the letter of James), just like every book in the Bible, was written by God, and it has been preserved for nearly 2000 years for us. Look at what it says in 2 Peter 1.20-21 -
"Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
The Holy Spirit carried James along as he wrote his letter. He inspired James to write the very words of God and therefore, as it says in 2 Timothy 3.16-17-
"…[it] is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
James was written by God for you.
2. James was written by someone like us who cares for us
There are four James's mentioned in the Bible. Two of them are obscure. One of them is a disciple of Jesus and one of his closest friends – but we hardly know or hear anything else about him. And the other James was one of Jesus' younger brothers, and it is almost certainly that James who wrote this book.
Now, how do we know that? After all in 1 v 1 all it says is
"James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ."
And at first glance that doesn't seem like a lot to go on particularly given that James was such a common name back then. Well…it's true that James doesn't really introduce himself in his letter, but that, in itself, a big clue to who he is. The James who wrote this letter wrote it to
"…the twelve tribes scattered among the nations." (1 v 2)
Now that's probably a reference to the Jewish Christians who had been living in Jerusalem until opposition broke out and they were scattered all over the Roman world (which we can read about in Acts chapter 8 and chapter 11). What is interesting for us is that the pastor of the church in Jerusalem at that time was James, the brother of Jesus. And if it was written by James, the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, to the Jewish Christians who had been part of his church, but were now scattered all over the Roman world, well then he would need no introduction, and his words would come with authority. Just as we find here.
So, this is a letter written by a pastor who cares for his flock. But it's also a letter written by a sceptic who had become a believer. James didn't always believe that his older brother was the "Lord Jesus Christ." In John chapter 7 it tells us that at that time John didn't believe in him. And in Mark chapter 3 it says that he thought that Jesus was out of his mind.
But then 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that after Jesus had risen from the dead he appeared to his brother, James. James believed who Jesus was, he joined the other believers to form the first church, and in the book of Acts we find that eventually he became the pastor of that church. The church in Jerusalem.
So the letter of James then was written by someone like us, who cares for us. Thirdly we should be excited about studying James because
3. James was written to Christians living in a non-Christian world
As we've seen this letter was written to "…the twelve tribes scattered among the nations." It was written to Jewish Christians who, for the first time, were living in a pagan world. A world that didn't worship the God of the Bible, but a hundred other gods. A world that knew nothing about the God of the Bible and who didn't care about him either.
In other words they lived in a world much like the world that we live in today. And so what James has to say to them is in many ways going to be directly applicable to us.
4. James is incredibly practical
There are times, reading the New Testament, when we can find ourselves bogged down in weighty theology. Now, good theology is wonderful stuff. Wrestling with it and working it out is not always easy, but it's always worthwhile and always rewarding. But that's not what we find in the letter of James. What we find in the letter of James is hard in lots of other ways, but it's not hard to understand, and it's not hard to apply to our lives, because it is incredibly practical.
James talks about facing trials, making decisions and how to live if you're rich or if you're poor. He talks about forgetfulness, and how to welcome people into church, and into your home. He looks at how we can tell if our faith is real or fake. He talks about the power and the danger of words and what we say. He talks about the difference between thinking that you're wise, and actually being wise. He takes a look at why we have arguments, and how we can mend broken relationships. How we should treat people at work. How to respond if someone doesn't like you. What to do if we're in trouble, or happy, or feeling sick.
If we come to church and read James with our eyes open and our hearts and our minds open...then God will speak into our lives. James is an incredibly practical book.
5. James is both comforting and challenging
Remember James was a pastor writing to his dearly beloved flock. 15 times in this letter he calls his readers "brothers", or "my brothers", or "my dear brothers". He is writing this letter to comfort them and encourage them as they face hardship and trials. But he also loves them enough, as their pastor, to challenge them.
I think in some ways the last two verses of the book sum up what James himself is trying to do.
Look at 5 vv 19-20 -
"My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins."
James wants his readers, both then and now, to stand firm and not give up. And if any of them have wandered away from the truth, he wants to bring them back. As we study this book together for the next three months it will both comfort and challenge us.
And that leads me to my final reason for us to get excited about studying James, and for that you'll need to turn back with me to chapter 1 v 1.
Ok, there they are. Reasons to get excited about studying James. Now six, very quick…
Ways to get excited studying James.
Pray for the preacher each week, pray for each other, and pray for yourself
2. Read James
Why not try to read James once per week every week this term?
It only takes 10 minutes. You could read a chapter a day Monday-Friday, or the whole book every Sunday afternoon.
3. Take notes
I know this doesn't help everyone, but why not try to take notes?
For this term we're going to experiment printing off an A5 sheet each week for you to take notes on and take home. It's a way to help you concentrate during the talks, and it's a way to help you remember it through the week and beyond.
4. Be here
Let me encourage you to make Sunday night a priority.
The more often you are here, the more you will get out of the James. And if you really can't make it one week…
5. Catch up online
If you go to www.holytrinitygateshead.org.uk
Click on 'sermons' and it'll take you to Print and Audio where you can catch up on any sermon you missed out on. And finally…
6. Study James by yourself
Why not study James by yourself in your own Bible reading.