Introduction: James 1

James 1  •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 10
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To understand the epistle it is necessary to remember the position of Jewish believers in Judaea and Jerusalem as brought before us in the Acts of the Apostles. It is evident that at that time there were great numbers of believers who had not definitely separated from the Jewish system. We read of believers "continuing daily with one accord in the temple." Later we find "a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." Then again we read that there were also "certain of the sect of the Pharisees" which believed, and who said it was needful to circumcise believers. Later we hear of "many thousands of Jews" which believed and were "all zealous of the law" and who, apparently, had not even given up the sacrifices, offerings, and Jewish customs (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 6:7; 15:5; 21:2046And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, (Acts 2:46)
1Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. (Acts 3:1)
7And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7)
5But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. (Acts 15:5)
20And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: (Acts 21:20)
This doubtless was an anomalous position. It was, however, a period of transition from Judaism to Christianity, and during this period God bore with much that was not according to His mind. This we know from the Epistle to the Hebrews, written at a later date with the main object of entirely separating Christians from the Jewish system, and which exhorted them to go without the camp and break their links with the earthly religion in order to take up their heavenly position in connection with Christ in the outside place of reproach.
Moreover, it would seem that, during this transition time, God recognized as the professing people of God not only the Christians associated with the Jews, but also the twelve tribes among whom they were found, though only the Christians among them possessed the faith that confessed Jesus as Lord.
Thus the epistle is not addressed to the church as such, nor exclusively to Jewish Christians. It is addressed to the twelve tribes scattered abroad, while recognizing and especially exhorting the Christians among them.
The epistle has been greatly misunderstood and, it is feared, much neglected by true believers who have not discerned its peculiar character. It is rightly viewed as meeting the first phase of Christianity before believers had separated from the nation of Israel; but for this reason it is wrongly argued that it has little direct reference to our days when the full light of the church with its heavenly blessings has been revealed.
As to fact, history has repeated itself and, once again, true Christians find themselves in the midst of a vast profession which, like the twelve tribes, is not heathen but professes to own the true God. For this reason the epistle that met the first phase of Christianity has a very special application to its last phase.
In its five chapters we are not to look for any unfolding of Christian doctrine, nor the presentation of the exclusive privileges of the assembly. All these deeply important truths are unfolded in other inspired epistles. The main object of this searching epistle is to appeal to the professing people of God and exhort believers to a practical walk that proves the reality of their faith, in contrast with the vast profession in whose midst they are found. Christian conduct must ever be of the deepest importance, but never more so than when an easy-going profession has put on the outward cloak of Christianity without personal faith in the Lord Jesus. Here, then, we find our faith tested, and our conduct searched.
In chapter 1 there is set before us the practical Christian life.
In chapter 2 the practical life is presented as the proof of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
In chapters 3 and 4 seven different evils are passed before us which characterize the vast profession and into which the true Christian can easily fall but for the grace of the Spirit of God.
In chapter 5 the apostle contrasts the condition of the professing mass with that of God's suffering people, and presents the coming of the Lord in relation to both classes.