The Apostle James, half-brother of Jesus and leader of the early church in Jerusalem, authored this letter around A.D. 48, making it one of the earliest New Testament books. He wrote to encourage mostly Jewish believers scattered throughout the Roman Empire to endure persecution with joy. (James himself died a martyr’s death about A.D. 62.) James also encouraged these believers to live out a practical faith, one marked by works of obedience.
Because of its content, some have characterized the book of James as an extended commentary on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Indeed, there are many similarities.
James also focused on relationships in the church. In Chapter 1, he encourages those who are suffering to ask God for wisdom and to even count it joy because their faith is being perfected. He challenged them to practice true religion, to be “doers of the word,” and to care for orphans and widows in the church. In Chapter 2, James warns the church against favoritism and calls believers to both love one another and show their faith by their good works.
James writes, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works’” (2:17-18). This doesn’t contradict the Paul’s teaching that justification comes by faith alone (see especially Romans). Instead, James emphasizes that good works must follow true faith. He declares clearly that we will never be justified by our works, but we also cannot continue to willfully sin while claiming to be disciples of Christ.
In Chapter 3, James warns against bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, and using speech to tear one another down. He encourages the church to seek wisdom from above that results in peace. In Chapter 4, he urges the believers to examine their selfish desires and quarrelsome worldliness. He calls them to draw near to God in humility and refrain from speaking evil against one another. In chapter 5, James encourages the church to persevere without grumbling, to pray and confess sins, and to bring back from their wandering ways those who are pursuing sin.