However, the Book of James is unique in its style. Foregoing the lengthy greetings as employed by writers like Paul and Peter, James’s greetings fall generally into the style of the prophets. His language, though showing his awareness of proper Greek, sounds much like that of the men who called Israel and Judah to accountability before God. James, reared as a loyal Jew, wrote about the law of Moses as seen through the perspective of the Lord Jesus Christ. As a late-comer to belief in Jesus, God’s anointed One, James absorbed much of what Jesus taught. For example, he includes at least ten allusions to the teachings of Jesus, particularly from the Sermon on the Mount. We will consider these at the appropriate junctures. But James has his distinct contribution to make. Whereas one could call John the Apostle of Love, Paul the Apostle of Faith, and Peter the Apostle of Hope, James deserves the reputation of the Apostle of Good Works. After this brief overview of James and his ministry, we turn our attention to his epistle as he wrestles with the pressures raised by trials in the Christian life.
First, he addresses the fact of the recurrence of trials (v. 1). In his greeting James addresses “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” The ten northern tribes, called Israel, were taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. As a group they were absorbed into the surrounding nations. Judah, including Benjamin, fell to the Babylonians in stages, beginning in 608 B.C. through 587 B.C. The tribes are called by the Jewish historian, Josephus, the Diaspora, or Dispersion. James knew that many Jews became Christians in Jerusalem and traveled back to their foreign settlements. What a joy it must have been to receive a “letter from home,” as James dealt with the very issues and conflicts which plagued Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
He advances the idea that trials are a means of obtaining joy (v. 2). Whereas happiness by definition is shallow and temporary because it comes from particular events, a “happening,” joy, in contrast, is a soul-deep feeling of contentment which arises from the attainment of a life goal. For example, Jesus endured the cross because He anticipated the joy that what He accomplished would bring to Himself and others. Trials purify the soul. When I was a boy, we grew sugar cane to turn the juice into syrup. We would boil 60 gallons of juice for four hours and scoop off impurities as they rose to the surface. When the impurities and water were gone, we ended with 12 gallons of syrup.
James also realized the trials would bring self-awareness (v. 3). The Bible begins a series in which one word suggests another, or so forth. Faith works endurance and endurance leads to maturity. The same kind of progression is given in I Peter 1:5-7 in which “faith” (v. 5) leads to “brotherly kindness charity.”
Enduring trials results in growing into moral perfection (v. 4). At this juncture James reiterates the thought implied in a statement of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” We would expect our Lord to set with the moral standard that each believer might grow into moral perfection.
The word perfect does not mean sinless, a state only applicable to Jesus. It’s meaning is revealed in Hebrews 2:10. The captain, or leader of our salvation was made “perfect through suffering.” That is, His suffering made Him suited for His work of atonement for sin.
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