Introducing James

Sally brings an introduction to the New Testament book of James.

Well, well done everybody for coming. We did actually consider cancelling this morning, so good job we didn’t. Well done everybody!

As a church we’ve been reading through the New Testament together, so this weekend’s reading covers the chapter 1 of James. We’re going to be looking at some of the background to the book, it’s author and then some verses from today’s reading and at the end we’re going to have a chance to reflect on how all of this applies to us today.

The most likely author of this book is James, the brother of Jesus and it was probably written around 50 to 60 ad, which is very very close to Jesus’s death and resurrection. When I was thinking about this message I couldn’t help wondering what it was actually like growing up with Jesus. I know it’s probably not that important in the grand scheme of things but I wonder what was his childhood like, what games did he play? How did Jesus handle being a teenager? Jodie often talks to me about the pressure of following Hannah and Jamie through school, through University and keeping up with the standards that they have set. You’ve got a wonder how the siblings of Jesus dealt with living with someone who never sinned and turned out to be the son of God.

So what do we know from the Gospels we know that Jesus had at least four brothers, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas which James was probably the oldest. He had some sisters too, but they’re not even named. James and his brothers appear to misunderstand Jesus’s ministry they didn’t believe the message. They, like many others struggled with Jesus’s teachings and actions, they were looking for a messiah that would drive in on a white horse and would deliver the Jews from their Roman oppressors, not someone who talked about turning the other cheek and blessing those who curse you. On one occasion we read in John chapter 7, Jesus’s brothers said to him ‘leave Galilee, go to Judea so that your disciples may see the works you do. No one who wants to be a public figure acts in secret since you are doing these things show yourself to the world’. For even his own brothers did not believe in him. James would have witnesses Jesus’ death but we also know that he witnessed his resurrection. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that Jesus appeared to Peter and then to the disciples then to 500 followers and then he specifically mentions that he appeared to James and the other apostles all during the 40 days between his resurrection and his ascension.

James saw firsthand that what Jesus had said about himself was true. Wethen read in Acts chapter 1 that James remained in Jerusalem, he was among the first group of Christians who met daily and prayed in the upper room together, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. He then went on to become a leader in the church in Jerusalem and he was influential in all the discussions with Peter and Paul about accepting the Gentile believers and the argument that they did not need to be circumcised, as everyone, Jew and Gentile, 1st century Christians are all saved by grace and not by the law. In fact James, who chaired the Council of Jerusalem, recorded we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who were turning to God, instead we should write to them telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meats of strangled animals and from blood.

We should not make it difficult for people turning to God. So we look at the man behind the book. We can see from his conversion that from being skeptical about Jesus and probably a little annoyed by him he becomes a leader in the most influential church of the day. All of this was a result of meeting the resurrected Christ and putting his faith in Him. All preconceived ideas about Jesus were blown away in that moment as he accepted that his big brother had indeed been God living as a man. James demonstrates his total belief and reliance on Scripture, as he steered the early church through the pains of rebirth. James wanted unity and peace within the church, but he was very clear to all fractions that we are saved by grace and not by obeying the law. James cared deeply for the Gentile Christians, although he himself ministered exclusively to Jewish Christians, he did not want hard and burdensome traditions put on the Gentiles, that will prevent them from finding a true relationship with God. However he did include some moral guidelines that should be followed even under grace. Christians should look to live a life that brings honor to God.

James never used his position as Jesus’s brother to prove his worth he simply describes himself as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ and we will look at his book. It deals a lot with Christian ethics and not so much Christian theology, basically where is the proof that we are saved, that we have been forgiven, that we have been touched by Almighty God and filled with his spirit. What is different about us and the way we live and the way we relate to others, that have proved we have turned from our old ways and the ways of the world to follow Jesus and why on earth should those that don’t need Jesus, think it is worth listening to us and getting to know him every day? We should consider how our actions both what we do and what we do not do, could affect those around us and how they see our faith. People are watching us every day, they are watching us and for many we are the first and maybe their only connection with God.

I think every morning as I walk to my job, I’m living for Jesus. Sometimes that’s easier than others as we all know, but we should always consider how we act. James is right and I love the book of James, it’s very practical. I’m a practical Christian in many ways. It gives us various guidelines on how to live, covering topics such as how we should behave, that we are rich, not a problem for most of us or if we are poor and how we should treat others who are rich and who are poor. He talks about the danger of pride and the value of humility. He explains that true wisdom comes from God and it is pure, it is peace-loving and it is considerate. James encourages us to be patient when we are suffering and to continue to pray in faith remembering that our Lord is full of compassion and mercy and he hears the cries of our heart. James warns us about the damage and hurt we can cause ourselves and others when we fail to control our tempers and our tongues. James talks a lot about faith and actions he explains that both are signs of true Christianity and that one without the other is meaningless. There’s so much in this book. When Tony and I got married thirty years ago we decided to read the Bible together on honeymoon, amongst other things and we decided on the book of James. It was first book that we read together and so today I’m going to look at James 1:19 227 and this is the first that I often quote and is quoted back.

“My dear brothers take note of this, everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God requires.”

We need to pray for the people we live with. Going on from this we are advised to live lives which line up with the word of God. James is saying things in a very down-to-earth practical way, he tells us to get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in us which can save us. Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves do what it says.

We must remember that James is coming from the standpoint that we are saved by grace, he is not looking to poor condemnation onto people, but he is showing us a way to live in freedom and blessing. The perfect law he talks about is the moral and ethical teachings of Christianity based on the 10 commandments and brought to completion or perfection through Jesus Christ and his teachings. Living within those laws gives the Christian the freedom to be the person we were made to be. Many of the rules or principles in the Bible are about how we should live, they are designed for our protection and I can honestly say that I do not feel I’ve missed out by trying to live within the boundaries in my life and many of us can say the same.

Chapter one ends with some words which cut straight to the heart of how we can demonstrate that being forgiven and living in a relationship with God really does make a difference to how we act. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on our tongues deceive themselves and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this, to look after orphans and widows and vulnerable people in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. We need to be so, so, so, careful about what we say and how we say it and who we say it to. In today’s world that includes what we write by text what we send by email and what we put on social media.

There is so much in the Bible about looking after the vulnerable and the marginalized and the church needs to step up like never before, as Christians we cannot ignore what is happening around us and we only earn the right to preach when we show that we care. As the saying goes actions speak louder than words. As Christians we have to stand up for what we believe in and as I tell the kids at school, just because everybody does it it doesn’t make it right.

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