Key scriptures: Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55-56; James 1&2 and Mark 3:20-21
Guiding Question: What advice does James give Christians, that still applicable today?
Optional Introductory Activity: Provide students with advice given to others during different periods of time. Have students decide which pieces of advice would still be food advice today. Why was some of the advice actually wrong? How do we know advice in the Bible is good in all time periods?
Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) When we study the New Testament, it seems we spend most of our time in the Gospels, Acts and Paul’s letters. Those few tiny books towards the end often go ignored or we rush through them in an effort to “finish” reading the New Testament. It’s unfortunate because there is a lot of practical help in those books for living a Christian life.
Other than Proverbs, James is one of the most practical, straightforward books in the Bible. Historians aren’t one hundred percent sure which of the various “James” mentioned in the New Testament actually wrote this book, the strongest evidence point towards James, the half-brother of Jesus. James was an interesting person, he was one of four named half-brothers of Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph. (Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-56)
The book of John mentions that the brothers of Jesus “did not believe”. In Mark 3:20-21, James may have been part of the “family” that went to check on Jesus for fear He had lost his mind. Now, whether they were going because they actually believed he was crazy or more in an effort to protect him, it was clear that the family at this point was not 100% in support of or understood the ministry of Jesus.
Fast forward and at some point, probably after the resurrection, James believed Jesus was the Son of God. He became not only a Christian but also was a pillar in the church in Jerusalem. He was sometimes called James the Just, because of his strong Christian character. The book of Acts refers to him more than once in a way that indicates that James was a leader in the early church.
Early Christian writings outside the Bible say James was taken to the top of the Temple (around the early 60’s A.D.) and thrown down by the Pharisees, who them stoned him when the fall did not kill him. They were supposedly angry because they had asked James to convince the people to eject Christ and instead he proclaimed him.
The book of James was probably written within a couple of decades of the death of Jesus. James wrote the letter probably to Jewish Christians who had been scattered around the known world because of various persecutions.
Interestingly, James wrote the letter to encourage these Christians who were still going through rough times. Either they were still being persecuted or they were starting from scratch in a new location. This meant many of them were evidently poor in addition to any persecution they were experiencing.
It must have been tempting for these early Christians to reject Jesus and go back to an “easier” life. James not only encouraged them to remain faithful but also gave them specific instructions on how to live a Christian life.
If you were writing a book to encourage new Christians who were being persecuted, what would you tell them? What advice would you tell them? What advice would you give them?
Read James 1. Why do you think James focused the readers on those particular areas in the first part of his letter? Back in the time of the early church – real wealth was often in the hands of large landowners who grew food for the increasingly dependent people in the large cities. They needed a lot of inexpensive labor to manage their farms. Often they used slave labor or very poorly paid workers. People who had debts often signed themselves into a type of slavery in order to work off their debts (indentured servitude).
Many of the readers of James’ letters were probably in some sort of arrangement where they were taken advantage of financially. Their “employers” may also have treated them poorly in other ways.
In addition to poor working conditions, many of the readers were persecuted or were being persecuted for their faith. Woman and children had lowly roles in society and had little value to many.
In the environment, it could become easy to doubt God and His promises. It would be easy to be tempted to sin against God by seeking some sort of revenge against their persecutors.
Looking at the first chapter through this new lens, why is James giving the people the advice he is giving them? How does he tell them to respond to what is going on in their world? What lessons do his instructions have for us? Do his words still apply to us if we have fair employers and are not mistreated by those around us? Why or why not? How would your behavior and attitudes change if you followed God’s commands and principles as written by James?
James 2 is one of the most controversial sections of the New Testament. It is very important for us to understand how this chapter does not negate other teachings in the New Testament, but merely makes them fuller an richer.
First, let’s look at the beginning of the chapter. Why would favoritism have been an issue in the early church? Is it still an issue today? Have you seen it happen in church? What happened? What does James say about favoritism? How can we be sure we are putting these principles into action? How might the devil deceive us into showing favoritism to someone? What can we do to make sure we treat everyone equally? Is there a danger of revere favoritism? How can we as individuals and the church avoid that also?
Now, let’s look at the section on faith and deeds. How do we receive salvation? Do we earn it? Is James saying we earn our salvation? Why or why not?
Look at the passage carefully. James carefully explains that our deeds are an evidence of our faith. They don’t earn our salvation, but if we do not have good deeds the faith we claim to have is in question. Why would James write it that way? Does it fit with the rest of the teachings in the New Testament?
Do you believe your deeds reflect the strength or weakness of your faith? Why or why not? Do you think if your faith grew, your good deeds would also? What if your faith began to fail, would your good works decrease? Do you believe as James does that “faith without works is dead?” Can you fake good deeds to make others believe you have strong faith? Would that work with God? Why or why not?
Application Challenge: Read James 1 and 2 again. What advice does James give that is new to you? What parts do you have difficulty putting into practice? What can you do to follow the God – inspired advice James gives to us?
Author: Thereasa Winnett