JAMES Overview:

As I was preparing these notes I was sitting in my office, in my home, with my car in the garage, with food in my cupboard, cold drinks in the fridge, etc, etc…I stop typing and pause for a moment. Because I have studying James for about a month now I am –up-close-and-personal to his message.

Its uncomfortable, a different type of uncomfortable to Graham Bull’s little wooden stool he likes to sit on…uncomfortable in the sense that the spirit is stirred…what is the Lord saying to me about my use of wealth? Where have I had loose lips, said things about others, where am I not exercising wisdom, where am I inappropriately discriminating?

…James says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”, how am I doing with that? Uncomfortable…yes. Not designed to induce guilt, rather to inspire us to a proactive Christian response.

I love the bible. I love to read the bible. I believe that God speaks through the bible. But, there is much we read in the bible that is complex, and difficult to interpret. The letter of James however – like any other biblical letter, written to a specific audience and into a specific context – spans the years between then and now as a set of practical truths and principles to apply within the church in our discipleship.

And why is this important to take on board? Because when we have confessed Christ as our Saviour, God has called us to a certain standard…the cross before me the world behind me, die to self to live for him, salt and light, light, among darkness…to become like Christ. How do we get there? Not just hear, but do! We apply that which we learn in the word; that which the Holy Spirit reveals to us…we submit to the necessary change/s…James call us to that standard!

I spoke about similar things last year, suffice to say, in this day of moral relativism – that is the truth is what I want it be and whatever I believe it to be, devoid of any moral or ethical reference point – in this day of political correctness, in this day where a stand for the truth – as we believe it – is perceived as bigotry and/or judgement…and I could go on

But that we, know the truth, and live out the truth is essential to our non-conforming to the ways of the of the world. The truths and the principles of Christ cannot, rather do not shift with the morality of the day in which we live. But, we are vulnerable; we are susceptible when our spirituality is weak and lacking. This is a day for robust spirituality…

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

What does our worship, our relationship with God look like when we strip all the periphery away? This is the question which James addresses. How strong we are individually in our walk with Christ, determines how strong we are as a body. How strong we are as a body, determines our effectiveness in his mission for us.

James is unambiguous and authoritative, it does not leave us guessing what is expected of us…it is grass-roots, roll-up-your-sleeves practical Christianity will equip us in this endeavor as we fully engage with his teaching


There are three men in the NT named James: (1) the son of Zebedee and brother of John (Mark 1:19); (2) the son of Alphaeus, one of the apostles (Matt. 10:3); and (3) the most likely candidate, the brother of our Lord Jesus (Matt. 13:55).

So to even suggest that James grew up in an unusual family situation is to understate the obvious. I can only imagine for James – likely the oldest of Jesus’ brothers – what it was like having Jesus, as part of his whanau. James remained an unbeliever until the Lord appeared to him following his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7) although we do read in Acts 1:14 that James was in the upper room with the apostles, prior to and at Pentecost – so specifically when he ‘made his decision’ to believe in Christ and dedicate his life to the mission of God is a little unclear…but that he did, is the most important thing!

References to James in Paul (Gal. 2:9) and Acts (15:13 – 21) make clear that James held a prominent place in early formation of the Christian church.


The letter is addressed to a generic audience (“to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations,” 1:1), not to a specific church, as are most of Paul’s letters.  His audience was born-again Jewish believers, scattered in – what was at that time – the Roman Empire. [1]

Despite this James wrote to a church beset by a number of problems and was unafraid to call sin for what it is, because he does not mince words. Authentic and committed Christian community was James’ agenda in a culture of self-interest – as opposed to the interests of Christ and his purposes. As blunt as James can appear we know he was pastoral and prayerful.  One commentator I read claims “the knees of ….James were like those of a camel due to the unusual amounts of time spent on his knees before God.[2] We know his letter is borne out of prayer.

It is also not surprising there are strong parallels between James and the Sermon on the Mount. He had picked up the batten to advance the gospel. And similar to Jesus, James’ teaching draws a clear line between the teaching of the world and the principles of God.


In planning ahead for this series in James I asked several people to read through the book and prepare their own responses to a few questions…so can I ask…Sheila and Brian to join me …

  1. What issues does James address that can speak most relevantly to the church today?
  2. Give a brief (2min max) reflection from the book on what you believe its core message is
  3. What can we all expect to learn from James?

– Responsible use of wealth

– About bias or prejudice we have toward the poor; injustice

– Faith in action

– Hearing what the word says, doing what the word says

– Our responsibilities for widows/widowers

– Getting what we say under control

– Biblical perspective on suffering

– Attitudes toward other Christians 


  • READ James
  • REFLECT on your Christian Walk
  • READY yourself for growth and change


[1] Nystrom, David P. “Authorship and Date” In NIV Application Commentary, New Testament: James. By David P. Nystrom, 20. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1997.

[2] Patterson, P. (2003). James, Letter From. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 867). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.