The Epistle of St. James is not an easy book to find. Tucked away in the middle of the New Testament over-shadowed by the great epistles of St. Paul and St. John, it is easily overlooked and neglected.
James, the brother of Our Lord (Galatians 1:19) must have responded to Jesus’ ministry when the rest of the family were somewhat sceptical (Mark 3:31).
Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer (1483-1546), was also sceptical about the Epistle because Jesus’ name is only fleetingly mentioned (James 1:1 and 2:1) and salvation seems to depend on works rather than faith.
However, to me the writer of this book comes across as a man full of the Spirit of Jesus, and the book itself is full of the Spirit and teaching of Jesus. Here is a summary of the Epistle in a book given to me 70 years ago (be careful never to throw a book away!):
“This epistle is remarkable for its eminently practical character, the homeliness of its illustrations and its bold plain speaking rebuke of the wealthy oppression of the poor.”
The writer is not expounding deep theological and philosophical themes that only the scholar can grasp, he is writing a practical guide to Christ-like living for the members of the early Christian Church. He is helping them to be constantly aware of the way Christ wanted them to live in a lost and wandering world. He speaks about:
1) The importance of sincerity and patience in difficult times (1:2; 1:12)
2) Beware of exultation of the rich and contempt for the poor (1:9; 2:5)
3) Bridle the unruly tongue, and seek to embrace peace and harmonious living (3:16)
4) Christianity is doing, not just listening (1:14; 2:14; 4:17)
5) Beware of the corrupting influence of “the world” and any attempt to serve both God and mammon
6) The importance of seeking wisdom from above (3:13) and cultivating the life of prayer (5:13)
So I commend the Epistle of James to you as a book that is meant to help you “reach for the skies” yet keeping your feet “firmly planted on Earth”.
F. Bernard Dodd
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.