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The Wisdom of James

April 28, 2009

For the months ahead we will be making our way through the James using Scot McKnight’s commentary.

In the Bible we have different kinds of books. There are the books of the Law and then there are the books of the Prophets. In addition to these kinds of books we also find books of wisdom made up of maxims, aphorisms and proverbs,–simple truths that are stated so aptly they have become part of the folk wisdom of the ages. These short sayings are surprisingly profound for all their simplicity. When we hear them they immediately ring true. We find ourselves saying, yes, that is true.

You will probably recognize most of these from everyday life?

·        A stitch in time saves nine

·        What goes around comes around

·        Out of sight out of mind

·        Birds of a feather flock together

·        Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

·        Angles go where wise men fear to tread

In the New Testament we find wisdom material in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Epistle of James. Matthew’s Jesus and James, as we find him in his letter, think a lot alike. In his letter James encourages us to think of the Christian life as the way of wisdom. The maxims below are from James.

·        Faith without works is dead.

·        Whoever knows what is right to do and doesn’t do it for that person it is sin.

·        The double minded person is unstable in every way.

The brother of Jesus begins his letter by writing:

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:



James is a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. His relationship to God is at the center of his life. His definition of himself is a very timely reminder of our own identity before God. It is not about “me and God”—as though we are buddies, and it’s not “what he can do for me?” or “what do I get?” God is always the subject. No matter what James life revolves around the creator God and what He is doing. It doesn’t go the other way around as is often the case in our culture where the self is the final authority by which everything else is measured and evaluated. Given the stark differences what James offers is a wildly radical idea.

James is writing as a Jew, as the brother of Jesus no less, to his fellow Jews. He is also a servant of the LORD Jesus Christ. The people to whom he writes are early believers in Jesus the messiah. Thus he is writing as a Jewish Christian to Jews who are Christian- scattered, as he says, among the unbelieving nations. Interestingly, that just happens to be where we live. We will find that James has a lot to say to us who are living as servants of the LORD Jesus Christ in a foreign land.

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