Two Apostles were named James: one the brother of John, the other the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:2,3.).
The oldest brother of Jesus was named James (Matthew 13:55). This James was early recognized as leading Overseer of the Judean Church (Acts 12:17, Galatians 1:19), and is commonly regarded as the writer of this Epistle.
He was known as an unusually good man. Was surnamed "the Just" by his countrymen. It is said that he spent so much time on his knees in Prayer that they became hard and callous like a camel's knees. He is thought to have been married (I Corinthians 9:5). He was very influential both among the Jews and in the Church. Peter reported to him on his release from prison (Acts 12:17). Paul acted on his advice (Acts 21:18-26). He was a very strict Jew himself, but was author of the tolerant letter to Gentile Christians (Acts 15:13-29). He endorsed Paul's Gentile work, but was himself mainly concerned with Jews. His life work was to win Jews, and "smooth their passage to Christianity."
Story of His Martyrdom
According to Josephus; and Hegesippus, a Christian historian of the second century, whose narrative Eusebius accepts:
Shortly before Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army, A.D. 70, when Jews were, in large numbers, embracing Christianity, Ananus, the High-Priest, and the Scribes and Pharisees, about the year A.D. 62 or A.D. 66, assembled the Sanhedrin,
and commanded James, "the brother of Jesus who was called Christ," to proclaim from one of the galleries of the Temple that Jesus Was Not the Messiah. But, instead, James cried out that Jesus Was the Son of God and Judge of the World.
Then his enraged enemies hurled him to the ground, and stoned him till a charitable fuller ended his sufferings with a club, while he was on his knees praying, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."
Addressed to Christian Jews (2:1), scattered abroad (1:1), it seems like a book of Christian Proverbs, about a number of subjects, bearing on the Practical Phases of Christian Life.
Written, probably, about A.D. 60, near the close of James' life, after a 30 years pastorate of the Judean Church.
Chapter 1:1-8. Trials. Patience. Wisdom. Faith
Rejoice in Trials (2), Persecutions, Afflictions, Sufferings, of one kind or another, endurance of which Proves our Faith, and helps build us into the kind of person that Christ came to make of us. Peter calls Trials Precious (1 Peter 1:7).
Trials work Patience (3, 4). Patience, in time of Suffering, is the ability to Wait calmly and in Joy for that glad day when God shall wipe all tears.
Patience works Perfection (4). We are just poor sinners, saved by Grace. But Perfection is our ultimate goal. Some day we shall be Perfect, Like Him (1 John 3:2).
Wisdom (5). Sound Judgment about the Practical things of Daily Life,in all its phases, so as to live, in all things, as a Christian should.
Prayer (5), will help attain such Wisdom. The Epistle begins, and ends (5:13-18), with an exhortation to Prayer.
Faith (6-8). Unwavering Faith, that stands Sure and Undisturbed, in all the storms, of life, is the condition of Prevailing Prayer. All Things are possible to him that Believeth (Mark 9:23).
Chapter 1:9-18. Riches. Temptation. New Birth
Riches (9-11). A solemn reminder that our status, not here, but in Eternity, should be our main concern. Even the poor may Rejoice in their Glorious Destiny. (See further 2:1-13)
Temptation (12-15), same word as in verse 2. There it seems to mean being Proved by Suffering. Here it means Enticement to Sin. And Sin, born in Lust, gives birth to Death.
The Christian's New-Born Soul (16-18). As Lust brings forth Sin, and Sin brings forth Death, so God. through His Word, and in the Name of Christ, begets and brings forth New-Born Souls in those who are destined to constitute His Inheritance through the Endless Ages of Eternity. Peter also speaks of the Word of-God as being the Seed of Impregnation that brings forth the New-Born Soul of a Christian (I Peter 1:23).
Chapter 1:19-27. Tongue. The Word. Pure Religion
Watch your Tongue (19-21). Control your Temper. Be a good Listener. Abstain from Filthy Talk.
Doers of the Word (21-25). In verse 18 the Word is called the instrument of the Soul's Birth. In verse 21 it is the agent of the Soul's Salvation. In verse 23 it is represented as a Mirror, showing us ourselves in our true light.
Pure Religion (26, 27). A magnificent passage. The Tongue again. An Uncontrolled Tongue in a religious person indicates his religion is useless. A life of Charity and Kindness, free from over-much attachment to earthly things, is religion's Glory. (Compare Jesus' eulogy on Kindness, Matthew 25:31-46.)
Chapter 2:1-13. Respect of Persons
There must have been a decidedly worldly element in the Judean Church, to call forth such words as these. So different from the way the Church had started (Acts 2:45; 4:34).
Christ taught that the Glory of His Church would be in its Kindness to the Poor. But very evidently some of the congregations were developing into social circles where the Poor were given to understand they were not wanted. But God loves the Poor. And the Rich ought to love them too.
Chapter 2:14-26. Faith and Works
Paul's doctrine of Justification by Faith, and James' doctrine of Justification by Works, are supplementary, not contradictory. Neither was opposing the teaching of the other. They were devoted friends and co-workers. James fully endorsed Paul's work (Acts 15:13-29; 21:17-26).
Paul preached Faith as the basis of justification before God, but insisted that it must issue in the right kind of Life. James was writing to those who had accepted the doctrine of Justification by Faith but were not Living Right, telling them that such Faith was No Faith at all.
Chapter 3:1-12. The Tongue
Sins of the Tongue: not only Harsh and Angry Words, but False and Foolish Doctrines. From the general tone of this chapter we suspect there must have been many presumptuous, quarrelsome, worldly-minded men, of uncontrolled temper, putting themselves forward as leaders and teachers.
Power of the Tongue, The Tongue is the main expression of our Personality. and usually calls forth an immediate reaction, of one kind or another, in others. Mean words have wrecked many a home, divided many a church, and sent unnumbered millions to despair and ruin. Yet we know many very Religious people who seem never to make even the slightest effort to control their Tongue.
Chapter 3:13-18. Wisdom
This passage seems to be aimed at certain loquacious teachers, who, bigoted over some pet doctrine, with little personal affection for Christ, and ambitious to be considered brilliant in argument, were producing only jealousy and faction. James calls such Wisdom "devilish," and suggests that the best way to show Real Wisdom is
by a Good Life.
Chapter 4. Worldly-Mindedness
Origin of Wars: Covetousness (1, 2). The desire to get that which belongs to others. This has been the cause of most wars.
Reason for Unanswered Prayer: because they are for the gratification of our worldly pleasures (3).
Double-Mindedness (4-10). An expansion of Jesus' statement that a person cannot serve God and Mammon (Matthew 6:24), and similar to John's warning against Love of the World (I John 2:15-17). Such passages suggest the need of unceasing Self-Examination; for, having to live in the world, and worldly things being needful to our
daily subsistence, it requires great watchfulness to keep our affection above the border line. We need constantly to Draw Nigh to God, to Cleanse our Hands, to Purify our Hearts And to Humble ourselves.
The Tongue, again (11, 12). This time on the utter absurdity of one sinner setting himself up as judge of another sinner.
If the Lord Will (13-17). One of the most amazing doctrines of Scripture is that God, with the infinite universe on His hands, yet has a definite Plan for each of His people (Acts 18:21; Romans 1:10; 15:32; I Corinthians 4:19; I Peter 3:17).
Chapter 5. Riches. Patience. Tongue. Prayer
The Rich (1-6). James's fourth and strongest blast at them, the others being 1:9-.11; 2:1-13; 4:1-10. There must have been a good many rich men in the Judean Church who were thoroughly Un-Christian bent on Worldly Pleasure. Rare Christian souls are to be found among the rich; but, quite largely, James' picture of them still holds.; and his. warning.to them of-coming retribution is frightful.
Patience under Suffering (7-11). One day the Lord will Come, and all Suffering will be over. Keep you eyes and your heart fixed on That Glad Day. The greater the Suffering here the greater will be the Glory there.
The Tongue, again (12). Our Sinful Tongue. The cause of so much trouble. This time, Swearing. A very serious Sin, very displeasing to God. Yet how many professed Christians, in their ordinary conversation, profane God's Name. A better use of the Tongue is to Sing (13).
Prayer, again (13-18). Believing Prayer will surely be answered. Elijah's closing and opening of the heavens was a rare and mighty miracle (I Kings 18). Yet it is quoted to us as an incentive to Pray.
Anointing with Oil (14), was a recognized medical treatment (Isaiah 1:6; Luke 10:34), to be re-inforced by Prayer, not to be used for magical purposes.
To win a Soul for Christ (19, 20), pleases God immensely for which He loves us, and overlooks our weaknesses. For it, we shall shine as the stars forever (Daniel 12:3).