It must have been exciting to be a part of the original church in Jerusalem. Beginning on the day of Pentecost (50 days after Jesus rose from the dead) thousands came to Christ in just a few months, and the Holy Spirit was moving in miraculous ways. But after the murder of Stephen, the deacon who became the first Christian martyr, many of the believers fled Jerusalem and were scattered across the Roman world. This book of the Bible is actually a letter written to “the Dispersion” (v.1), these Christians who were dispersed because of the persecution. Written by James, the half-brother of Jesus (same mom, different dads…get it?), a leader in the original Jerusalem church, this letter was encouraging and instructive for these isolated, persecuted believers.
The first subject James addresses is the reality of “trials of various kinds” (v.2). We should see our troubles and our difficult days as opportunities to strengthen our faith — like “resistance training” that builds spiritual muscle. We should rely on God alone for the wisdom to deal with trials (v.5). Life will not always be smooth sailing, and His wisdom will stabilize us in the stormy times (v.6-8).
One kind of trial you will face today is the temptation to sin (v.12-14). When we give in to temptation a sin is born, and if that sin is not killed by confession and repentance, it will grow and kill our joy and our faith (v.15). We have to trust the Lord and apply His wisdom when we are tempted — something James calls being a “doer of the Word” (v.22).
James contrasts the “doer” with three kinds of people. First he mentions the “talker” (v.19-21). The “talker” loves to argue about the things of God, debating the finer points of theology and getting worked up about doctrinal details. Meanwhile, the “doer” is quietly, humbly taking God’s Word to heart and responding in repentance (v.21).
Second, he compares the “doer” with the “hearer only” (v.22-25). The “hearer” listens as others preach and teach the Word (they may even read it for themselves), but they never apply it to their lives in practical ways. They don’t repent of the sins it exposes, they don’t obey the commands in the Word, and they quickly forget the truth they see in it. Meanwhile, the “doer” is acting on what he or she has learned, and God blesses them for it (v.25).
Third, James compares the “doer” to the “self-deceived” person (v.26-27). This is the guy who claims to be religious and has convinced himself that because of his religious knowledge and affiliations, he is spiritually healthy. He knows some religious things and goes to some religious places, but he never actually does anything for Jesus. His faith is fake and his religion is worthless (v.26). James is talking about the woman who attends Bible studies but doesn’t apply what she learns. She doesn’t stoop down to serve the poor and she doesn’t resist worldliness (v.27). Her faith is also fake; her religion is also worthless. Meanwhile the “doer” is putting faith into action, visiting orphans and helping widows. The “doer” is running from worldliness and pursuing holiness. That is the theme James develops in the next four chapters, and that is the standard to which we should aspire. Now, let’s go do something!