Intro to James

Hey everyone! Today I’m going to hit a few major points regarding the Letter of James by way of a very brief, and very broad, introduction. I’ll also direct you to additional resources in case you’re interested in doing more research on your own. As I alluded to yesterday, there’s much more to James than you might think!

Authorship – The vast majority of scholars believe evidence points to James, the brother of Jesus, as the author of this letter. There are six other Jameses in the Bible, but only one has received serious consideration beyond the one already mentioned:  James, the son of Zebedee. However, his early date of death in AD 44 makes him questionable since the letter appears to have been written around that same time.

On the other hand, James, the brother of Jesus, was a leader in the early church and was martyred in AD 62. If you’re interested in the various discussions regarding authorship, the three commentaries listed below are a good place to start. For my study purposes, I’m going with James, the brother of Jesus, as the assumed author.

Audience – Almost as much discussion has evolved around James’ audience as authorship! It seems pretty obvious.  James comes right out in verse 1 and says he’s writing “To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” BUT… does he mean to limit the twelve tribes to the messianic Jews who are direct descendants of the Old Testament, or does he mean to include gentiles in this greeting lending a more multiracial, New Testament audience?

As we’ll see later in this study, James appears to be highly devoted to Jewish scripture and faith, while believing in Jesus as the Messiah. After reading the different arguments, I tend to lean toward an audience of messianic Jews. I believe James says exactly what he means: He’s writing to the twelve tribes of the diaspora.

Themes – James’ audience also has “issues” to deal with:  divisiveness, intolerance, and favoritism in the church, as well as individual desire for wealth and status over everything else – including God. They’ve been influenced by false teachers and have turned the church into a social club.

In addressing all these problems, James will write about suffering, sin, righteousness, and holy wisdom. His letter is brief, but he gives just enough details that we’ll also get a glimpse of his theology regarding the Trinity, eschatology, the Torah, ethics of Christian life, and – of course – faith, works, and justification.

It’s hard to believe all that gets packed into this short letter, but as we learned from Ephesians (and are now seeing in Philippians), it pays to read all scripture – short or long – slowly, closely, thoughtfully, and prayerfully.

I believe we come into a time of communion with the Father, Son, and Spirit when we meditate on scripture in this way, becoming a participating member of the Body of Christ in relationship to the Trinity. Other than the Eucharist, I can’t think of any other time when I feel as close to God as when I ‘listen’ to scripture speak.

Resources – I recommend that you watch The Bible Project video on James. Excellent resource from them, as always. I’m also relying on three different commentaries for my personal study.  (Just to clarify… I always read scripture first, at least three times over, before I ever consult anything written about scripture. Always keep the primary thing primary!) These are all available in print or on Kindle, if you’re looking to build your library. Or you can just keep following along here — I’ll be sharing a LOT of their information!

  • The Letter of James, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, by Scot McKnight
  • The Letter of James, Pillar New Testament Commentary Series, by Douglas Moo
  • James: The NIV Application Commentary, by David Nystrom

So there you have it: a super short intro to the Letter of James. Between this and The Bible Project video, you should have a good idea of what to expect. Take the next day or so and read James through two or three times – preferably at least once out loud. Underline, star, highlight, or write down anything that really catches your attention. You never know where the Spirit is leading you. Meet you here again later in the week. Take care!

REMINDERS: 

  • Philippians Bible Study with Cory on Facebook, Wednesday at 6:30.
  • Pray, pray, pray.  Build your friendship with God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Quarantining? Stay connected. Going out? Be a blessing.

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Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, always to your glory and the welfare of your people. Through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)

All About Works

Or Is It?

Hello! Hope everyone is well this Monday morning. G and I are still working from home and quarantining for the most part – a good decision for us. If you are staying in as well, find ways to keep connected to others. If you are going out and about, be a blessing wherever you go.

I started reading a few commentaries on the Letter of James this weekend, which was quite enlightening. I’ve never spent a lot of time studying James and in my recent memory, I can’t recall a devotion centered around any scripture in James. That said, I recognized several of the scriptures and realized a few appear elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments.

For the most part, the author James – most likely the brother of Jesus and a leader in the early Christian church – remains singularly known as “the one who disagrees with Paul about works and salvation.” Which is really too bad. Unlike one scholar who refers to James’ letter as the “junk mail of the New Testament,” I’m finding it holds many gems, including James’ thoughts on works as an expression of our faith.

Saint James
Orthodox icon of Saint James

For instance… In Cory’s sermon yesterday, he read from Philippians 2:19-30, a personal section of Paul’s letter where he talks about Timothy and Epaphroditus. These two have been serving as messengers between the Philippians and Paul during his imprisonment, and no matter how much difficulty they’ve encountered, they have remained loyal to Jesus and to Paul. Epaphroditus almost died from an illness, to which Paul says, “honor people like him because he almost died for the work of Christ.” He risked his life to help Paul on behalf of the Philippians to ensure the continued spread of the gospel.

James says something pretty similar in 2:14-25 when he writes: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

In much the same way, I know Paul appreciated the Philippians prayers on his behalf, but he also made clear his appreciation for the tangible ways they helped him. Sending Epaphroditus – and his willingness to make the journey – was one of those ways, not done to garner favor with Paul or God. No. Their tangible help was an expression of the depth and authenticity of their faith. It was living out the command to love their neighbor as themselves.

Well, all that to say, there’s more to James and his letter than you might think! And once we examine the context of both writers, he and Paul might not be so far apart on faith and works. Tomorrow, I’ll share information regarding the commentaries I’m reading, and provide a brief background/overview of the Letter of James. As I said before, this isn’t a formal study, but I hope you find some interesting bits of information if you’re reading along.

Have a great day!

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

Odds & Ends

Happy Saturday, everyone! Hope you’ve had a good week, are feeling well, and staying connected.

Just a few items to mention:

  • Missions, outreach, and everyday expenses don’t stop for COVID-19. Donations to NCUMC may be mailed to P.O. Box 194, New Castle KY 40050.
  • Bible Study on Philippians, Wednesday nights @ 6:30 with Cory on Facebook.
  • Recommended reading this week is from Scot McKnight at his blog, Jesus Creed. His essay, “Wasting the Crisis” is a call for us to think about how the COVID pandemic has provided many of us with moments of clarity and learning — things we shouldn’t let go to waste as we emerge from the crisis.
  • I’ve been doing some independent study of the Letter of James and will be sharing a little of what I learn here on our class site. Just a little personal Bible study… nothing formal by any means, but I certainly welcome discussion!

Calling All NCUMC Guest Bloggers! If there’s a spiritual, scriptural, or general Christian topic you’re interested in writing about (or something you’ve read that you’d like to share) send me a note via Facebook Messenger. I would love to post your contribution here on Sunday Morning, Continued. Be brave and add to our online conversation!

Closing today with a bit of humor…

Check it Out

Every Thursday, I post a short book recommendation. Some of these are my favorites (like today’s selection)… others, not so much. But they’ve all made me think. I have copies of the books I post about, so let me know if you’d like to borrow one before buying.

Today’s read is Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans.

From Amazon: From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Held Evans (1981-2019) comes a book that is both a heartfelt ode to the past and hopeful gaze into the future of what it means to be a part of the Church.

Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn’t want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals–church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.

Centered around seven sacraments, Evans’ quest takes readers through a liturgical year with stories about baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death that are funny, heartbreaking, and sharply honest.

A memoir about making do and taking risks, about the messiness of community and the power of grace, Searching for Sunday is about overcoming cynicism to find hope and, somewhere in between, Church.

Personal Note: An open mind and a willingness to have your beliefs and notions challenged are required when reading Rachel Held Evans. She can be polarizing — readers seem to either love her or hate her — but no matter how she makes you “feel,” she will always make you think. And she will always… always… remind us of just how much God loves us. Sadly, Rachel passed away last year after a short illness; I’m so thankful to still have her words.

Artistic Devotion

If you’re searching for a short devotion/meditation, I highly recommend taking a look at The Hallway Through the Sea, an online series written by Timothy Dalrymple, president and CEO of Christianity Today.

Described as “specifically for those struggling through the coronavirus pandemic,” the entries “address our sense of fear and isolation and also the ways we find beauty and truth and hope—and Christ himself—in the midst of suffering.”

Additionally, each message is paired with a work of art or music “to inspire and bring beauty through the darkness of this season.”

From a recent entry:

We become what we attend to. The more we devote our attention to worldly diversions, the more worldly and divided we become. The more we harness all of our attention into attentiveness to Jesus Christ, the more we are united with Christ and conformed to his image. In this season, countless anxieties and agitations clamor for our attention. Help us, O Lord, to discipline our powers of attention. Help us to lift our eyes away from our passing troubles and to fix our eyes on the one who was lifted up for us.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

LTP – Last Chapter

kalasToday marks the end of our study of Longing to Pray: How the Psalms Teach Us to Talk with God by Dr. J. Ellsworth Kalas. I feel very blessed to have been led to this in-depth look at prayer and the psalms while isolated due to COVID-19.  As my emotions have run the gamut during this time of heightened stress and unknowns, I have welcomed the reminder that I can (and should) bring all things — exuberance, gratitude, repentance, helplessness, and yes, even anger — to my Lord in complete candor.

I pray that you’ve been blessed in some way from your reading. I’ll continue sharing quotes, book recommendations, and “odds & ends” on this site. God is good, Jesus is King, and the Holy Spirit is at work — I’m always looking for and will try to share evidence of these truths.

In today’s entry, I’d like to simply list a few quotes from Dr. Kalas’s final chapter on anger. Once again, this was a chapter filled with “one-liners” (so to speak) that stopped me in my tracks. A few of these, I’m still lingering over. Longing to Pray will be a book I return to again and again because it carries a message I often need to hear:  God desires relationship with me, and prayer is the language he and I can use to communicate. It doesn’t need to be lofty, polished, or perfect. It just needs to be.

 

From Chapter 12 of Longing to Pray

(FYI:  I added bold print for emphasis in a few places where I thought to myself… “Wow! That’ll preach!” LOL!)

“Anger – because it is so often misused – has gotten a bad name. But anger is essential to human progress…. True, anger is a dangerous power, but less dangerous than supine acquiescence to evil” (100).

“I admit that sometimes the vigor of the psalmist’s anger is more than I can handle. But I’m not in his shoes, nor am I ‘wired up’ as he was…. So while I may be uneasy with the language the psalmist employs, I will try to give him the kind of latitude I might want in some other circumstance. More than that, I will ask that I come to possess the same commitment to justice and righteousness [that led to his anger]” (101-2).

“As readers [of Psalm 139], we see quickly that David feels he is on the side of God in his hating…. But any of us who observe human nature somewhat critically realize that it’s very easy to baptize our prejudices and judgments…. So while the psalmist prays for the victory of good and the destruction of evil, he never forgets his own capacity for evilSearch me, O God, and know my heart; . . . See if there is any wicked way in me” (105).

“You and I are miniature battlefields, microcosms of what is going on in the larger world around us. So how do we fight this evil? … We fight by education, by political action, by economic reform, by petitions, and by marching in the streets. And by prayer” (106).

“Prayer deals with matters of life, death, and eternity; it wrestles with hell. So of course it includes expressions of anger against all that violates the will and purposes of God…. I want a God who is angry with all that hurts and destroys, that cheapens and violates. I want to join with God in this battle. I need prayer to do so: prayer that is powerful enough to attack evil at its most subtle and hidden places, and prayer that is humble and perceptive enough to keep my anger in productive restraint” (107).

 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)