The First Generation
The book of Acts says that when the Holy Spirit came in power to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, more than 3,000 Jews believed Peter’s gospel message. By faith, each repented of sin and trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior (1). The visitors among them returned home and shared the good news in their synagogues. Soon after, waves of persecution drove other Jewish Christians from Jerusalem.
All these new Christians needed leaders and teaching in order to mature in their faith. This first generation of Jewish Christians were:
From and To
Who authored the letter? The New Testament refers to four men named James. It seems most likely that the Lord Jesus’ brother wrote this message. Jesus’ post-resurrection meeting with James transformed him. He went from unbelief to a spiritually mature leader in a short time (2).
The first believers who received this letter faced trials similar to ours today. Gentile majorities mostly looked down on Jewish people. Both Gentiles and Jews increasingly opposed Christians. Persecution harmed families and churches, often tearing them apart. Believers lacked money, influence and ability to bring social or government reforms. They worked under oppressive, greedy leaders. They battled sinful habits.
Yet, God knew everything about each one as He does today. They had faith, but they needed correction. They needed leaders devoted to God. So, God provided this practical letter by a practical leader with mature faith. Readers not only hear about the way of faith but also see how to live by faith; the way God knows is best for us to live.
When was the letter written? Context favors a date between A.D. 43 and A.D. 50. These dates mean the letter was circulating within the first 20 years of the Church. Accordingly, James is the earliest New Testament letter.
James’ message is clear. God-given faith is a faith that works in loving response to salvation. James’ purpose is to help believers wisely live out their faith. He warns those who wander and stray from truth. He encourages stronger believers to return these strays to the fold (3). James calls all believers to see life as a series of tests. Each test offers the choice to faithfully trust the Spirit and obey God with the love of Christ (4).
Ask yourself: how often do you substitute feelings, what ifs, peer pressure, past outcomes, cultural norms or governmental laws for God’s wisdom? James’ message to disciples of Jesus Christ is, “Seek God. Get wisdom. Do the Word.”
Look at our world. Why is there desertion by a spouse, illness, death of loved ones, terrorism and bigotry? Such things are profoundly troubling. Even the strongest Christians ask why God allows suffering.
James declares a truth we can be certain of, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (1:17-18).
1. Scan James 1 and 2. What topics brought up in these chapters are part of your daily circumstances?
2. James delivers God’s Word on one of life’s ultimate issues – authentic faith in a deceitful world. What experiences have you had that show the importance of true faith in God and His ways?
1 Day of Pentecost: Acts 2
2 James’ belief: John 7:1-5; Acts 1:14; Acts 15; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 2:9
3 Return to the fold: James 5:19-20
4 Love covers sin: Proverbs 10:12; John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 13; 1 Peter 4:8