Faith that works – studies in James

By Brian Edgar

Today, with rapid scientific, technological and cultural developments the ethical challenges we face mean we can find ourselves off the known ethical map and facing unknown dangers. And where will we find the right direction?

The story goes that in the days when map-making was a very rudimentary and inexact science  and much of the world was unexplored, map-makers represented all the unknown areas  with symbols of terrifying dragons, monsters and big fish!  This uncharted, unknown territory was to be avoided!

When one adventurous commander of a battalion of Roman soldiers found himself at the edge of the known world he didn’t want to turn around and go back, but neither did he want to pursue his course without further instruction.  So, he despatched a messenger back to Rome with the urgent request, ‘Send new orders! We are off the map!’

Today we can find ourselves in a similar, difficult  position, and so the small book Faith that Works: Studies in the Letter of James, published by the Assembly of Confessing Congregations, deals with the way that the epistle of James can relate to our situation today.

It can be purchased, for a small cost,  as a book through the ACC or it can be downloaded for free as a pdf  from the ACC site Faith that Works - studies in James

This series of studies will help us find the compass points as we journey forward into uncharted territory by using the Letter of James as a guide. This epistle is often admired as being a powerful reminder of the need for faith to be active and practical.  In what is often a very blunt and forthright manner, the epistle of James presents a profound challenge to both the church and the wider community about the way that we live.

The text says that the letter comes from ‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’ but does not identify which James is actually the author. Traditionally, it is understood to be James the brother of the Lord Jesus (see Mathew 13:55; 1 Corinthians. 15:7; Galatians 1:19; 2:9) and that remains the most likely option. Other possibilities, however, include James son of Zebedee and the brother of John (see Mark 1:19 and Acts 12:2) and James the son of Alpheus (Mark 3:18; 15:40) or even some other James. However, given the general agreement of the earliest commentators, these are less likely options.

The letter is addressed to ‘the twelve tribes scattered among the nations’ or ‘in the dispersion’. In a Jewish context this is a term initially used of the twelve tribes of Israel after the nation was scattered throughout the world as a result of the Exile. There was significant widespread settlement – a diaspora – outside Palestine down to the time of the Romans. However, in a Christian context this term refers to the church because the early Christian teachers and writers clearly saw the church as inheriting the promises of God to Israel. Believers are ‘children of Abraham’ (Gal. 3:7) and the disciples represent the twelve tribes of ‘the new Israel’ (see Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 19:28; Romans 4:13-16).  Consequently, the letter is addressed to the Christian diaspora – believers in every place throughout the world and in every age. This letter has direct implications for the life of the church today.

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