The Epistle of James - Godly Values
Part 1 - Introduction
9th March 2018
This week, we're going to start a new series on the book of James.
James was a brother of Jesus Christ. Paul refers in Galatians 1v19 to "James the Lord's brother" and we read in Matthew 12v46 that Jesus had brothers. To be more precise, they were half-brothers. They had the same mother but not the same father. Mary was James's mother but, of course, he wasn't born of the Holy Spirit like Jesus was. Some people struggle with the idea of Jesus having brothers but it seems to me to be obvious from scripture.
James was also the pastor of the Jerusalem church. Although James was the Lord's half-brother, and the leader of the first church ever to exist, he preferred to describe himself modestly as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is true humility.
In the early days the 11 apostles led the Jerusalem church but then persecution broke out and the apostles were scattered, along with most of the church, across the known world. That's how the gospel got shared across the world, and people came to faith all over the world. But James, who wasn't one of the 11 but was a half-brother of Jesus, stayed behind and became the pastor of the Jerusalem church.
In Acts 15 we read about council of Jerusalem, in which James presided over a very important meeting where Paul and other apostles were debating. James was very senior leader, and he was very highly thought of. He was so highly thought of that he was called "James the Just".
He was martyred - killed for being a Christian - in 62 AD. We believe that some Jewish religious leaders asked him to renounce Jesus as Lord, and when he refused they took him to the top of the Temple and threw him off. This story is not in the scriptures but it is in historical documents written near the time.
When they threw him off the temple he didn't die, so they stoned him. When the stoning didn't kill him either, someone took a club and whacked him on the back of the head. They hated him because he was good, and he was a Christian. A Christian who everybody respects and loves, in a very anti-Christian environment, is a marked man. Eventually, James paid the ultimate price for being a good Christian.
But before then, probably a great deal before then, James wrote this letter. Some people think this was the first New Testament document to have been written.
James wrote to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations, otherwise known as the Jewish Diaspora. By that time, many of the Jews had already been scattered across the known world, and when persecution broke out, much of the Jewish church joined them. Also, we can see from the text of the letter that James is writing to Christians. So the original recipients of James's letter were Christian Jews. This is not surprising, since James was the pastor of the pre-eminent Judean church.
What is the fundamental message of this letter? Well, the nearest thing to a key passage in this letter is:
May I ask: Do you know this?
Of course, it doesn't mean that loving people is hatred towards God. Jesus, our example, was criticised for being a friend to sinners and tax collectors. He got into trouble for being such a good friend to people in the world. Obviously James - Jesus's half-brother - didn't mean that.
It's a marvellous thing to be a friend to somebody who isn't a Christian. How else will that person find faith in Jesus? It's good to go to parties hosted by people with dubious morals. Jesus did it. And when they criticised him, he said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5v31-32)
Jesus loved people outside the church, and we are to love people outside the church. Jesus taught us to love our neighbour as ourselves. James didn't mean to suggest that friendship with people is hatred towards God. What he meant was, embracing worldly values is hatred towards God.
This idea is the key to this letter. It's so easy for a Christian to find himself in a battle, with Christian values and worldly values in his heart at the same time. There's a battle inside him as to which values he's going to accept.
Perhaps one definition of sanctification is this: Sanctification is the process by which godly values eventually win.
Every one of us is in this battle. Some of us are further on in the battle than others. If you've only been saved recently, you're just beginning the battle. If you've been saved many decades I hope you've made some progress. But we're all in the battle.
The Bible is telling us one way to live, and the world is telling us another way to live, and we have to choose.
And throughout James's letter, he tells us to choose God's values, not the world's values. If you're going to belong to God, adopt God's mindset. If you're going to follow Jesus, think like Jesus, become like Jesus, because what we believe affects how we behave and what we become.
So adopt biblical values, not worldly values. For example:
These are not the values we learn from the world. We are called to choose to believe that what Jesus says here is true, and live accordingly.
Christian values are not worldly values and, if you will journey with me through this letter, we're going to be thinking about the difference between them. It will change how we think, how we feel, and how we live. And, through us, it will affect the world around us, for Jesus's sake.