Faith at Work

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Are you where you’re supposed to be?

Dr. Jim Denison

James 1:1

For many in our society, place = success.

Janet and I moved to Atlanta in 1994 to pastor Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church. The church is located in “Buckhead,” a strange name for a residential area. The name comes from a tavern opened in the vicinity in 1837, whose owner mounted a buck’s head to attract interest. The area is today considered the most exclusive in Atlanta; living in Buckhead means you’re a success.

When we moved to Dallas, we discovered the same success/place identity. The area where you live is important to people, and even the street; and even the block on that street. Our house on Marquette is in the Highland Park school district, but is a Dallas address. Move the house one block west, and it is in University Park, and worth another $100,000, I’m told.

Where do you identify success with place? If you could change your “place” in life, how would you? A newer, larger house? Area? Address? Office location? “Place” in life–job, title, salary, social strata?

We are right: there is a “place” which defines success. Today we’ll learn where it is, and how to get to it this week.

What kind of literature is this?

A letter: the book of James is addressed “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings” (1:1b).

“Greetings” demonstrates the epistolary nature of this book.

This was a formal way of opening correspondence, found in the NT only here; with the opening of the letter from James and the Jerusalem Council to the Gentile Christians (Acts 15:23); and in the opening of the letter regarding Paul sent by Claudius Lysias, a Roman centurion, to Governor Felix (Acts 23:26).

A pastoral letter: James is “a quasi-prophetic letter of pastoral encouragement and, no less, of pastoral rebuke, proceeding from an unquestioned right of pastoral vocation and authority. It was most natural that James, as first ‘Bishop’ (or whatever we may style him) of Jerusalem, should address his charges, not only in Palestine but also in their many and great centers elsewhere” (Adamson 20).

Wisdom literature, like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (thus less systematic than Romans and similar literature):

James often uses a proverbial style: “he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (1:8); “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (1:22); “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (4:17).

He juxtaposes good and evil (cf. 3:13-18).

He uses “wisdom” with emphasis (1:5; 3:13-17).

He quotes Proverbs. 3:34: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (4:6).

Other parallels can be cited (cf. 1:5 with Proverbs 2:6; 1:19 with Proverbs 29:20; 3:18 with Proverbs 11:30; 4:13-16 with Proverbs 27:1; 5:20 with Proverbs 10:12; Burdick 164).

A treatise on the Sermon on the Mount:

Rejoice in trials (1:2; Matthew 5:12)

Ask and it will be given to us (1:5; Matthew 7:7)

Be perfect and complete (1:4; Matthew 5:48)

Be peacemakers (3:17-18; Matthew 5:5, 9)

Show mercy or be judged (2:13; Matthew 5:7; 6:14-15; 7:1)

Refuse oaths (5:12; Matthew 5:33-37)

Be meek (3:13; Matthew 5:3)

Refuse to hoard (5:2-3; Matthew 6:19)

Deal with anger (1:20; Matthew 5:22)

Be honest (2:14-16; Matthew 7:21-23)

Refuse divided loyalty (4:4; Matthew 6:24)

Refuse slander (4:11; Matthew 5:22; 7:1-2)

Claim the blessing of the poor (2:5; Matthew 5:3)

Follow the example of the prophets (5:10; Matthew 5:12; Martin lxxv-lxxvi).

A sermon: the book displays an amazing coherence with typical preaching methods in the first century (see Robertson 6-7, Barclay 27-30). Parallels with Greek sermons:

Began with a paradox which would capture the attention of the listeners (1:2)

Carried on imaginary conversations with opponents (2:18f; 5:13f)

Introduced transitions with questions (2:14; 4:1) and used rhetorical questions frequently (2:4, 5; 2:14-16; 3:11, 12; 4:4)

Fond of imperatives (nearly 60 in James’ 108 verses)

Personified virtues and vices (1:15; 2:13; 5:3)

Used figures of speech (the bridle, rudder, and forest fire were standards; 3:3-6)

Used the examples of famous men and women (2:21-23, 25; 5:11, 17)

Often concluded with a vivid antithesis, setting the right way beside the wrong (2:13; 2:26).

The Jewish sermon possessed an additional characteristic: it was deliberately disconnected. Speakers were instructed to jump quickly from subject to subject, so as to keep their hearers’ attention. Such preaching was called charaz, which means “stringing beads.” The letter as sermon would explain its lack of systematic theology, as James was speaking on the subject of practical Christianity.

Perhaps a sermon by James, later transcribed as a letter in the best Greek in the NT (with the possible exception of Hebrews). Some hold that James wrote the transcribed letter himself: “James both writes and thinks in Greek better than any other NT author” (Adamson 52). Others suggest that the letter was written by an amanuensis who recorded his sermon in excellent Greek (Barclay 33).

Inspired revelation, despite Luther’s assessment.

Luther’s Preface to the New Testament concludes: “the gospel and the first epistle of St. John, St. Paul’s epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians and Ephesians; and St. Peter’s first epistle, are the books which show Christ to you. They teach everything you need to know for your salvation, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or hear any other teaching. In comparison with these the epistle of James is an epistle full of straw, because it contains nothing evangelical.” Luther thought that James ascribes salvation to works, criticizes him for mentioning Jesus only twice, and considered the work non-apostolic in value.

But the date of the letter (see below) precludes the possibility that James contradicts Paul. The two wrote to very different audiences, for very different purposes.

When was it written?

Some believe the letter to have been composed before AD 50, and consider it perhaps the first book of the NT to be written. Evidence:

Jesus’ return is expected quickly: “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (5:7). Some scholars consider this assertion to argue for an early date, believing that the expectation of Jesus’ imminent return faded somewhat as his Coming was delayed (an assertion I would dispute; cf. Revelation 22:20, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon'”).