The First in a Series of Sermons on the Book of James
When I first announced that I was going to preach through the Book of James, there were two common responses. The first was “good, about time we get to something practical.” [I’m not quite too sure how to take that comment–I thought the Book of Judges was very practical]. The second (and more common) response was “ugh . . . there’s no gospel in that epistle of straw.” My hope and prayer is that both groups will find something of value in our series on the Book of James.
The Book of James is about as straight-forward a book as you will find in the New Testament. There is a higher percentage of imperatives (commands) in the Book of James than in any other book of the Bible. James did not write this epistle to instruct his reader, as much as to exhort persecuted Christians to put their faith into practice. If you want “practical,” this is a book for you. But James is also chocked full of theological insight and interpreting this book correctly–which entails understanding the context in which this epistle was written–will eliminate many of the fears people commonly have about the Book of James, i.e., that it contains no gospel, and that James’s doctrine of justification is in conflict with Paul’s.
That said, the Book of James can be quite difficult in places because this letter is not structured like most of the other epistles in the New Testament (i.e., the epistles of Paul). Many of you know of Martin Luther’s reservations about the Book of James–Luther called it an “epistle of straw,” although Luther cites from James many times, and often encouraged Christians to read it and study it. Calvin’s assessment was much more balanced. Calvin stated that James “seems rather reluctant to preach the grace of Christ than an apostle should be” but Calvin goes on to say, “we must remember not to expect everyone to go over the same ground.” In fact, says Calvin, James “is a rich source of varied instruction, of abundant benefit in all aspects of the Christian life.” I think Calvin got this absolutely right.
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