James:  Working Faith

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Working Faith

The Development, Works, and Power of Faith.

Background: James, the brother of Jesus, encourages Jewish believers around 46-49 AD
Theme: Putting faith to work
Outline: The Development, Works, and Power of Faith
Key Verse: "... faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (James 2:17, NIV)


James was the brother of the Lord Jesus. Two other men named James were Apostles, James the Less (Mark 15:40) was fairly obscure, and James the son of Zebadee (Matt 4:21) was martyred by A.D. 44 (Acts 12:2) before this epistle was written. James was probably a younger brother of Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary. He did not become a believer until after Jesus was crucified, and appeared to him after his resurrection (1st Corinthians 15:7). He was acknowledged as a leader of the Jerusalem Church and the first Council (Acts 15).


James is first introduced in Matthew 13:55 as one of our Lord's brothers. John 7:5 states that even as late as six months before the crucifixion (the feast of tabernacles), James was still an unbeliever. I Cor. 15:7 tells us that in the midst of the resurrection appearances of Christ, "He was seen of James." A little later, a number of people are recorded as meeting for prayer with the apostles in the upper room, as they awaited Pentecost; among them were "Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers." In Gal. 1:18-19 Paul is describing the events of his life following his three years in Arabia after his conversion; at this time he spent two weeks with Peter in Jerusalem and also met another important church leader by the names of James, who "was the Lord's brother." By the time of Acts 12:17 James was evidently already a leader in the Jerusalem church, for Peter, released from prison, asks that the news be reported to James. In Acts 15:13 James is the one presiding at the great council of Jerusalem which met to decide the important question of the relationship of Christianity to the Mosaic law; his leadership role is evident. In Gal. 2:9 Paul refers to him as a "pillar" of the church—equal to Peter and John. The remaining references to James (Gal. 2:12-13 & Acts 21:18-19) reveal his zeal for the Mosaic law. He was evidently in firm agreement with the decision of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:13-19), but he was also careful to keep peace between the Gentile believers and the more "legalistic" Jewish Christians (verse 20). Perhaps he himself (as Peter, cf. Gal. 2:11) carried this matter too far; this does not minimize his standing as an apostle, however (Gal. 1:19). (Note: At least four other men beside the original 11 have apostolic status: Matthias [Acts 1:26], Barnabas [Acts 14:4, 14], Paul, and James.) He was called "James the Just" because of his recognized piety, and was said to have "knees like those of camels" because of his much time spent in prayer. Josephus records that James was martyred during an uprising against Christians while Ananus was high priest in 62 A.D.


The church was centered in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus. But about 3 1/2 years after that event, Stephen was stoned and a persecution broke out in Jerusalem against the Church. Many of the Christians left Jerusalem and scattered, also fulfilling the command to "be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Samaria and Judea, and to the ends of the world." James is the acknowledged head of the Jerusalem church (see Acts 15) and in writing to the "twelve tribes dispersed throughout the world" may be referring to the Hebrew Christians that have left Jerusalem (he may also be including other Hebrew Christians who lived elsewhere in the world but came to faith on the day of Pentecost while visiting Jerusalem).

It is likely that this is the earliest book to be written in the New Testament, approximately twelve years after the martyrdom of Stephen.


"Faith without works cannot be called faith. It is dead, and a dead faith is worse than no faith at all. Faith must work; It must produce; it must be visible. Verbal faith is not enough; mental faith is insufficient. Faith must move into action. Throughout his epistle to Jewish belivers, James integrates true faith and everyday practical experience by stressing that true faith works. It endures trials; it obeys God's Word; it produces doers; it harbors no prejudice; it controls the tongue; it acts wisely; it provides the power to resist the devil; it waits patiently for the coming of the Lord." (Summary from Talk Thru the Bible by Wilkinson and Boa)


The following table shows the five chapters with their themes. There is a separate web page commentary for each chapter




Stand with Confidence


Serve with Compassion


Speak with Care


Submit with Contrition


Share with Concern

Updated March 2012
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