Now we know who his audience was and the reason (the Jews were under immense trials, tribulation and were in pain) why this Epistle was penned in the first place. James was the half-brother of our Lord Jesus; he joined the other disciples as he responded to the Gospel after the Almighty raised Jesus from the dead. We understood that he was one of the three disciples that Apostle Paul met when he went to the Jerusalem council for the great debate.
We are also aware of the fact that the book of James was one of the early Epistles written in the New Testament before the Pauline Epistles. By this, one would expect that there would be some kind of difference especially as we relate it to the message(s) to the Church. The earlier Apostles believed in the Gospel of Works; they believed the finished work at Calvary was insufficient and needed something (works) added in order to be completely saved. In light of this doctrine of Works, James wrote his Epistle coupled with the fact that the Jerusalem council meeting had to take place to iron things out about the Gentiles, circumcision and the Law.
In accordance with the doctrine of Faith, Apostle Paul’s message bordered on the fact that we are saved ONLY by believing in Jesus, the Son of God and the finished work at Calvary (that is, the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus). Through the resurrection of the dead, we can therefore draw close and be accepted by God as His children. This was the only way prescribed in his doctrine. Therefore, adding works to faith completely nullifies FAITH.
Apostle Paul posits that just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life. One man (Adam) said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man (Jesus) said yes to God and put many in the right.
In his defense of FAITH and WORKS, he further went on to say, “If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do and you trust him to do it, you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked; well, that trusting-him-to-do-it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.”
Apostle Paul told them in Galatia that anyone who preaches the Goodnews plus WORKS isn’t preaching the Gospel or are described as preaching another “gospel” aside that which was taught by the Apostle. He was so strong on this in his Epistle to the church at Galatia. In the same Book, he mentions his trip to Jerusalem to discuss and debate on how WORKS has no place in the message and the doctrine of FAITH.
He further threw a question to his Roman counterparts saying, “Do you think for a minute that this blessing is only pronounced over those of us who keep our religious ways and are circumcised? Or do you think it possible that the blessing could be given to those who never even heard of our ways, who were never brought up in the discipline of God? We all agree, don’t we, that it was by embracing what God did for him that Abraham was declared fit before God?”
Luther had little use for this Epistle because it contained almost no doctrinal teaching, especially that of FAITH which he (Luther) defended with passion. Some of his hostility to this book stemmed from the Roman Catholic opponents misuse of the second Chapter to defend justification by WORKS.
WORKS gives a connotation that, there must be something I must do to accomplish the blessings of God and that if we don’t add these works to our Salvation, we might miss out and miss Him on that day of rapture. It sounds like a good statement BUT this is not the Gospel that Jesus came to profess. Like Paul said, it is not of WORKS; and he also said, “It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing.”
Therefore, as we study this Epistle, we would endeavor to remind ourselves and to have in hindsight the purpose of this book, the reason it was written and more importantly the time it was written. We intend to remind our readers about this as we continue to exegete the text.
Other than that, there is a lot to glean in this Epistle of James; there is a lot we can learn and especially from the unparalleled words of encouragement even as we go through the challenges that life throws at us.
We would like to conclude by this quote from C.H Spurgeon to encourage some of us who are going through a form of pain, trial or persecution. He said, “Look upward, and you will perceive no seat of fiery wrath to shoot devouring flame. Look downward and you discover no hell, for there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. Look back, and sin is blotted out. Look around, and all things work together for good to them that love God. Look beyond, and glory shines through the veil of the future, like the sun through a morning’s mist. Look outward and the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field, are at peace with us. Look inward, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keeps our hearts and minds by Christ Jesus.”
Keep it right here and be encouraged!
PST Kunle Surakatu
Bond Servant of God
Teacher | Pastor | Author