James, one of the brothers of Jesus, became a leader of the church in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death and resurrection. He was respected for the advice he gave and for the wise decisions he helped the community of believers make (see Acts 15:13-21). At one point he decided to write down some of his best teachings and advice and send them to other Jewish believers in Jesus who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. What he wrote to them has become known as the book of James.
This book begins like a letter because it’s being sent to people at a distance. But it is actually not very much like other letters of the time. It is a collection of short sayings and slightly longer discussions of practical topics. The conversational style, the short, pithy sayings and the interweaving of themes all make this book similar to the wisdom writing found in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
Like those wisdom books, James concentrates on questions of daily living in God’s good creation. He considers such practical issues as concern for the poor, the responsible use of wealth, control of the tongue, purity of life, unity in the community of Christ-followers, and above all patience and endurance during times of trial. The godly wisdom here remains as valuable a guide to living fully human lives as when James first shared it centuries ago.