As a seminary student, I know that many people are interested in learning more about the information and ideologies presented in the Bible. Yet because the book is so complex and intricate, they find themselves intimidated or overwhelmed when they attempt to understand its form and content. Moreover, the periodically archaic and academic language of the Bible oftentimes depersonalizes the information presented within it. For these reasons, quick reference guides which offer readers a brief overview of the Bible as well as how the text has personally affected the life of an individual can be very helpful. Here’s one on the book of James:
In the first chapter of James, the author discusses the importance of recognizing that temptations cause one to gain patience (v.2-4). He goes on to point out that God is the one people should turn to when in search of wisdom (v.5, 6). Following these statements, James notes that those who endure temptation will receive the crown of life (v.12). He goes on to point out that temptations come from people giving way to their own lusts (v.14, 15). Thus, he argues, God cannot be identified as a tempter (v.13). In defining God’s character and personhood further, James argues that He is constant and unchanging (v.17). James also notes the importance of being doers of the word, rather than simply hearers of it (v.22). Finally, he identifies visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction as a manifestation of sincere religion (v.27).
This is one of my favorite chapters from the book of James because it has clarified my understanding of what real religion is about. As opposed to conforming to a set of man-made rules and regulations, sincere religion is about caring for those who are in need. James draws attention to this reality in verse 27 when he mentions the importance of taking care of the fatherless and widows. In my own life, the realization that sincere faith is marked by concern for individuals who need help has led me to volunteer at an outpatient counseling center. Through this endeavor, I have learned much about how substance abuse addictions and mental disorders can compromise the individual’s ability to lead a productive and powerful life. By offering my time and skills at this counseling center, I believe that I am actualizing the type of sincere religion that James discusses at the end of the book’s first chapter.
In this chapter, James places primacy on the importance of not adopting class elitist values. To explain himself, he notes that individuals who come into the assembly poorly clothed should be treated with the same humanity as a person who enters in garments that indicate wealth (v.1-4). To expound upon this principle, James states that having respect of persons is sin (v.9). James goes on to point out that faith and works are intrinsically connected realities. In essence, he argues, faith without works is dead (v.17). Ultimately, a person’s faith is demonstrated through works that evince her or his belief about any given matter (v.18). James uses Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac at the altar as an example of faith being demonstrated through works (v.21).
The knowledge revealed in this chapter has helped me in many ways. Specifically, it has caused me to recognize the human proclivity to operate according to worldly class elitist principles. Additionally, it has shown me that doing so often precludes people from wanting to attend church or learn more about God. As a seminary student, I have argued that individuals should feel comfortable coming to church in casual dress rather than business suits. In making this statement, I recognize that suits are often an outward symbol people use to show they have money and the power that comes with it. I also know that casual clothes such as jeans and t-shirts are often worn by individuals who do not have the money to buy more formal clothing. This is part of the reason why I feel spiritual communities should create an environment and culture where people feel that they are accepted and have intrinsic value even if they do not dress formally upon visiting a church. In essence, I am trying to realize the principle of treating everyone equally that James expounds upon when he talks about not favoring those who dress well over those whose clothes reveal that they are impoverished.
In this chapter, James talks about the importance of bridling the tongue. He uses several lively metaphors to make this idea plain, including the way we put bits in the horses’ mouth in order to make them obey us (v.3). After defining the tongue as a fire and world of iniquity (v.6), he goes on to point out that it is full of deadly poison (v.8). Then, he notes that humans use their tongues to bless and curse people and identifies such acts as a reality that should not exist (v.9). To conclude the chapter, James argues that the marks of godly wisdom and righteousness are peacemaking, mercy, and straightforwardness (v.17, 18).
This chapter probably has the most personal significance for me of all the chapters in the book of James. This is the case because I fully recognize the importance of believers leading lives that are not marked by hypocrisy. Although there are many actions and attitudes that could reveal that one is operating in hypocrisy, using the mouth to simultaneously bless and curse other individuals is a manifestation of this duplicity. For this reason, I have made it a personal point to think critically about the way I talk to and about other individuals.
Here, James argues that the arguments and fights believers have amongst themselves result from internal wars (v.1). He goes on to note that these internal wars are marked by lusts and envies for things (v.2). When those things are not attained, he argues that it is for two reasons-either neglecting to ask (v.2) or asking for the purpose of using the thing asked for in a lustful manner (v.2). James goes on to point out that submitting to God and resisting the devil results in him fleeing from you (v.7). Next, he encourages readers to draw nigh to God (v.8) and humble themselves before Him (v.10). He also urges Christians not to say negative or judgmental things about one another (v.11-12). He concludes the chapter by noting that knowing the right thing to do and neglecting to do it is sin (v.17).
While there are many meaningful points made in this chapter, the one that is most significant to me concerns the reason why prayers are not answered. I think many people lose faith in God because an unanswered prayer seems to indicate that He does not exist. Yet, in examining the issue further, I agree with the author when he states that asking for things with the end goal of using them for a lustful purpose might entail God not granting you the desire. For example, if I ask God for a car, a pure intent for the request would be to make sure that I have transportation to ensure that I can get to work or drive other people who do not have a vehicle around. Yet if I ask for the car because I want to use it as a status symbol that makes other individuals think that I have monetary power, my request is rooted in a lustful intent.
In this chapter, James discusses the judgment that will come upon wealthy people who have used their riches to oppress the poor. He talks about how the misery experienced by the poor at the hands of exploitative wealthy people is a cry that God hears (v.4). He goes on to encourage afflicted believers to pray (v.13), merry believers to sing (v.13), and sick believers to have the elders of the church to anoint him with oil and pray in faith for the purpose of recovery (v.14). He concludes the chapter by noting that those who turn one who errs back to God has saved a soul from death (v.20).
Like Chapter Two, this chapter is meaningful for me because it establishes some foundational principles regarding how believers should perceive the wealthy. Here, James insists that the exploitative behaviors of rich people are not acceptable and that God hears the cry of individuals who protest such abuse. At the same time, James does not condemn people for simply being wealthy. Rather, he critiques the fact that some peope use wealth in a manner designed to preclude others from attaining the money necessary to lead a quality life. This commentary helps me understand that I do not have to feel bad about gaining wealth. I should simply make sure that I do not use my money to oppress and thereby dehumanize others.
In summation, the book of James is a work covering many topics. Primacy is placed on enduring temptation, asking God for wisdom, controlling the tongue, avoiding the sin of partiality towards the wealthy, and turning sinners back to righteousness.
Readers who want to learn more about the book of James can gain more information from the following articles:
1. “A Study of the New Testament Book of James” by Kyle Godwin
2. “A Study of the New Testament Book of James, Part II” by Kyle Godwin
3. “A Study of the New Testament Book of James, Part III” by Kyle Godwin
4. “A Study of the New Testament Book of James, Part IV” by Kyle Godwin
5. “A Study of the New Testament Book of James, Part V” by Kyle Godwin
I hope this brief overview of the book of James helps you.
Jocelyn Crawley is a 28-year-old college student currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree in preparation to become a pastor. She holds B.A. degrees in English and Religious Studies.