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Summary of James

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Author: James

Audience: Jewish Christians

Subjects: Be doers of the word, Don't show favoritism, Don't be a hypocrite, Faith without works is dead, Watch what you say, Wealth is ultimately worthless, etc.

Chapters: 5

Summary of James 1

James introduces himself and immediately begins a series of small teachings. He teaches on how to respond to trials and persecution, explaining that when our faith is tested it leads to maturity of our faith.

James also says to ask God for wisdom, since he gives willingly.

Speaking of faith, he says that those who doubt are unstable and shouldn't expect anything from God. James then says that the lowly will be lifted up and the rich will be brought down.

James says that those who endure temptation, and resist, will receive eternal life, and he teaches that it is our own evil desires that tempt us, not God (James 1:12-14).

Our evil desires give birth to sin, which leads to eternal death. James urges his readers to rid themselves of evil.

James makes it clear that our actions matter in determining whether or not we are saved, since we show what we truly believe by what we do. He says to "be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves." (James 1:22)

Giving examples of actions, he says that "religion that is pure...is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (James 1:27)

During this time-period, and even today, orphans and widows would be two of the most helpless people groups. Neither group would be able to easily earn money to support themselves, and would be destined for a life of poverty.

Summary of James 2

James speaks negatively about showing favoritism toward anyone, such as to those who appear wealthy. He gives explanations for why favoritism toward the rich is evil, since they make themselves judges of who is worthy.

James explains that "loving your neighbor" is righteous, unless it is done so only partially. He then reiterates his point that actions reveal what we truly believe, by saying, "So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." (James 2:17)

Also, James says, "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith." (James 2:18)

James is making this connection "of works" to both "loving your neighbor" and the rest of the commandments he references in James 2:8-11.

James states plainly that a person's behavior is what confirms their faith, and faith cannot exist on it's own (James 2:24-25).

Connecting this idea to being saved: simply believing in Jesus Christ is not enough to save us. We are called to "repent" of our sins and return to obeying God. This repentance is evidence of our faith.

Without this returning to obeying God (works of our faith), as James discusses by saying that our faith is dead without works (which he is connecting to obeying the law in James 2:8-11), then there is no salvation.

James, Peter, John, and Paul all agree on this point in there letters. (examples: 2 Peter, 1 John, Romans)

Summary of James 3

Having just discussed that faith is dead without works just as the body is dead without the spirit, James begins to explain that what "we say" also matters.

He first discusses the significance of how much influence our words can have over ourselves and everyone else. Then he explains that, "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so." (James 3:10)

James explains that just as a spring cannot have both salt and fresh water, and just as a fig tree cannot produce other kinds of fruit, what we say reveals what kind of person we are.

His point is that we should not be hypocrites.

Pretending to be righteous, when we really have evil in our heart, is an earthly wisdom that does not result in salvation or righteousness.

Summary of James 4

Giving specific examples of hypocritical behavior, James discusses the arguments that have been occurring among his audience. He says that they have been self-seeking and sinful.

Paul discusses this subject in Romans 2:8, "while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury."

James says, "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" (James 4:4) He then urges his audience to stop sinning and submit to God, obeying him. "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil...Draw near to God..." (James 4:7-8)

Understanding "Do not Judge"

The whole section from James 3 to 4 is all one teaching. In James 4:11, he says to not judge, speaking in-context of judging others based on appearance in order to show favoritism to those who appear wealthy.

James is not saying that judging others is sinful; he himself is judging his audience as sinful and as hypocrites.

There is a difference between making a judgment regarding things that are sinful (which is the right thing to do according to both James and Paul), versus making judgments on things that are not necessarily right or wrong.

Paul's Teachings on Judgment

Paul also makes judgments on a sinner in 1 Corinthians 5, saying, "I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing." (1 Corinthians 5:3)

And he says, "But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of a brother or sister [Christian] who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber." (1 Corinthians 5:11)

Paul is telling his audience to make a judgment about someone who is sinning and to not associate with such a person. Why? He explains at the end of his letter, "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals.'" (1 Corinthians 15:33)

Yet Paul too says to not judge about issues that are not right or wrong, such as what we eat, "Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another...Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died." (Romans 14:13-15)

Summary of Understanding "Do not Judge"

James says to not judge a person's worth based on how they appear (do not show favoritism or be a hypocrite), yet he judges his audience as sinful.

Paul says to not judge a person based on what they choose to eat/drink or not eat/drink (food sacrificed to idols); yet he not only judges his audience about sinful things, but also tells his audience to make a judgment and not associate with people who claim to be believers and sin.

James urges his audience to listen to him, saying, "Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin." (James 4:17)

Summary of James 5

Continuing to emphasize his point that it's wrong to show favoritism and to pursue the pleasures of this world, James speaks of the ultimate worthlessness of wealth.

When James speaks of the people who have been wronged by the rich, he is returning to what he has said in James 2:15-16, "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?"

Loving others through our actions is the main point James is trying to make.

Since James is ending his letter, he gives a list of instructions for his audience to follow, including: be patient, pray, confess your sins, etc.

James says, "The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective." (James 5:16)

Concluding Summary of James

This letter written by James is addressed to Jewish Christians who were showing favoritism and neglecting to obey God's commandments.

James explains plainly that faith is dead and useless without obedience to God's law, which is seen by looking at the key points in James 2:8-17,

"(v. 9) But if you show partiality, you commit sin...(v. 10) For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it...(11) If you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. (12) So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty...(14) What good is it, [Christians], if you say you have faith but do not have works?...(17) So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead."

James overall point can be summarized with his statement in James 2:12 "So speak and so act..." He is instructing his audience on how to speak (taming the tongue) and how to act:

  • "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith." (James 2:18)
  • "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil...Drawn near to God..." (James 4:7-8)
  • "Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin." (James 4:17)

The main subjects that James covers in his letter to the Jewish Christians are: Be doers of the word, Don't show favoritism, Don't be a hypocrite, Faith without works is dead, Watch what you say, Wealth is ultimately worthless, etc.

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