What's the biggest turnoff for people regarding Christianity? I think, with a little discussion, we would all agree. It's people with "fake faith". By fake faith, I mean people whose "walk" doesn't match up with their talk. As Paul would say from our Ephesians study, it is Christians who do not live their lives in a manner worthy of their calling as a Christian. All of us struggle with this because all of us fall short and instinctively try to hide our shortcomings. But we need to remember that people draw their conclusions about Jesus based on what they see in the lives of those who call themselves Christians.
The problem is that many Christians (or people who call themselves Christians) are repelling people instead of attracting them. Lee Strobel, in his book "God's Outrageous Claims," put it this way: "The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians -- when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths."
The book of James is to this point. God inspired James to write a letter about faith. But James doesn't write about faith in some abstract, theoretical sense. James writes about faith in down-to-earth terms, how faith in Jesus is lived out in the trenches of life. We live our lives in the trenches. Apparently James and the Holy Spirit, who inspired him, understood that.
When Christians don't live out their faith, people can easily become disillusioned with Jesus. In fact, for some, it was this hypocrisy that steered them away from faith in Jesus in the first place.
There are two famous examples of this. The first is Gandhi, who spurned Christianity partly because of his encounters with mean spirited people who claimed they were Christians. Remember, we have quoted him many times. He said something like. "I might have become a Christian if I had ever met one." The second lesser known example is Karl Marx, who became deeply disillusioned after his father suddenly abandoned his once deeply held faith and began attending the Lutheran church merely to make more contacts for his business.
Someone wisely observed that "genuine faith should make a genuine difference in the way we live". That's the basic message of James. And that's what we're going to see over the next several weeks as we study this book. Paul, in Ephesians said "Live in a manner worthy of your calling." James is going to say, "Just do it." We are going to find that James said it first, before Paul said it, a little gentler.
One interesting piece of evidence of the practical nature of James' letter is the fact that out of its 108 verses, there are 54 commands! That's an average of one "call to action" in every other verse. Clearly, James' focus is on what the Lord wants us to do.
This week we'll introduce our study of James by focusing on the first of 4 topics we will cover over the next week or two:
Of course, maybe it is not that direct. Terry Heames sent an email to me this week with some factual questions that are just as obvious.
However, in this case, the author of the book of James, who says he is James is James. But since several people have this name in the New Testament, how do we know which James this is? Your homework assignment was to determine who the James that wrote this book really was, of the several alternatives.
So first, can you tell me some of the James's that appear in the New Testament?
How many James's did you find?
As many as five.
Who were they?
James, the father of Judas (not Iscarot), one of the Disciples
James the Lesser who was probably either slight built or younger, to be called the lesser. He is the son of a woman named Mary and the brother of Joses. Mary the mother of Jesus has sons names James and Joses, so James the lesser might have been the brother of Jesus. This does not seem likely, since in Mark 15:40, when this Mary was standing near the cross refers to her as the mother of James and Joses, not mentioning that she was the mother of the man on the cross.
There are two Disciples named James:
Wait a minute. I thought Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin. There is one well-known religion that claims she was a virgin and still is, a perpetual virgin. How can there be a man named James, the brother of Jesus? Possible answers:
We will see that there are several references in the New Testament to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers, and sometimes his sisters. One famous one is immediately after the ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives, we are told:
Another of your homework assignments was to tell me how many siblings did Jesus have.
How many? At least 6, maybe more.
Now back to the question of who wrote the book of James. We have five men identified as James in the new Testament.
So which one wrote the book?
How do we know?
One approach is the process of elimination:
Let's start with the easier ones.
James the father of Judas, the good Judas, is not much of a candidate. Other than this reference, which is probably to identify him as different from Judas Iscarot, the bad Judas, is all we know about him. He had neither the experience or position of authority to author a letter like this. So we have 4 left.
James the lesser falls into the same category. He did nothing of note and had not position or basis of authority to issue the instructions found in this book. That leaves 3.
...we will decide which James wrote this book. Then I want to spend some more time getting to know the man we have concluded wrote this book. I want to see what we can learn about him from the Scripture.
Your assignment for next week is to find out everything that you can about these remaining three James's. Where were they from? Did they have families? What was their age relative to the rest of their family? When did this James realize that Jesus was God? How was James related to Jude?
If you are not too slow next week, we will also look at when the book was written and to whom.