The Second in a Series of Sermons on the Epistle of James
I wish I could stand here and promise you that God will not call you to suffer. I wish that I could tell you that living the Christian life is a very easy thing. But I can’t do that. The reason is simple. Neither of these things are true. As many of you know first-hand, God does indeed call us to suffer–some of us much more than others. And all of us who place our trust in Jesus know full-well that the Christian life often includes difficult trials designed to test our faith. Suffering, trials, temptations, and the testing of our faith, are all realities of the Christian life. And all of these difficult issues are raised in the opening chapter of the Book of James, a letter written to persecuted Christians living during the most trying of times.
This morning, we’ll jump right in and make our way through the first eighteen verses of the opening chapter of James. Last time, we spent a great deal of time on introductory matters–which are very important when it comes to interpreting this book correctly. In the introductory sermon, I attempted to make my case that we can best interpret this epistle by looking carefully at James’ role in apostolic history, which, I think, serves to eliminate many of the difficulties which are often raised by those who seek to pit James against Paul, and who see this book as nothing more than Jewish legalism. So, if you were not here last time, I strongly encourage you pick up a copy of last week’s sermon in the bookstore, because much of what we’ll be doing in the coming weeks grows directly out of the historical context which I labored to establish in the opening sermon.
To briefly recap, if the Book of James was written before the Jerusalem Council in A.D. 48 as recounted in Acts 15, this means that James is writing before the controversy between Jewish and Gentile Christians over justification broke out in the Galatian churches. An early date for the Book of James is an important key to resolving the supposed controversy between James and Paul over the doctrine of justification. James’ Epistle was very likely written before any of the gospels were written, and during that time in the mid-40's when Christianity was rapidly spreading throughout Jerusalem, Palestine, and Syria. This time frame helps us to identify James’ original audience (persecuted Jewish Christians), as well as the purpose for which this epistle was written–to exhort these persecuted Christians, to put their faith in Christ into action. James does not contradict Paul. Paul is dealing with a controversy between Jewish and Gentile Christians over the doctrine of justification, while James is writing to exhort struggling Jewish Christians not to be satisfied with being mere hearers of the word only. James is exhorting his reader to be a doer of the word, which is important counsel to persecuted Christians.
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