Great benefit is to be had by personal study of God's Word. Recently I learned of a Christian who claimed that he no longer needed to read or turn to the Bible on a regular basis. He claimed that because of his maturity as a Christian and previous Bible knowledge that all his thoughts and actions were now automatically based on the truth every moment. God protect our brother and ourselves from this thinking! We all know from our foolish inclinations that to depend upon our own judgment is dangerous. Instead every Christian needs regular correction from the Word of God.
Let's take a look at the book of James. The study of an entire book of the Bible is recommended for several reasons. First God inspired Scripture writers to give us His Word in the form of whole books and letters. The first audience read Bible books and letters in the same way we read books and letters today, from beginning to end. In this way one is sure to capture the entire view of the book. Many Christians are faithful readers of the Bible but only ever read sections of verses here and there. It can be quite helpful to learn that gaining a view of an entire book of the Bible gives us further insight into the author's introduction, main points, and conclusion. With this better understanding of the author's original emphases we can also heed God's word better. Our study of the book of James will demonstrate this benefit.
James is identified by Eusebius, a Christian historian of the 4th century, as the first New Testament book written. The book of James is most likely authored by James the Lord's half-brother, not the disciple James. Find a good Bible dictionary or resource to confirm this background information for yourself. Several nicknames have been given to the book of James over the years. It has been called "The epistle of holy living," "The epistle of practical Christianity," "The epistle of Christian ethics," and "Christianity in coveralls." Yet another nickname is "The Proverbs of the New Testament." The letter of James appears to be simply a collection of paragraphs of various themes without structure, much like the book of Proverbs. Our study will reveal whether this is really the case.
In my study I read the book of James several times from beginning to end making notes of key verses and themes, repeated words and phrases, and groupings of paragraphs. Again my goal was not to become a Bible grammar expert, but to fully appreciate the author's original emphases. As I continued writing notes I noticed that several themes appeared 2 and 3 times in the letter. This seemed strange at first. Why would the author repeat his themes rather than fully expand upon them the first place they were introduced? After more study I came to the conclusion that James, as inspired by God, has written his book just like my professor taught me to give a good speech. My professor said, "First tell them what you are going to tell them, second tell them, and third tell them what you told them." James did exactly that. First he introduces his six major themes. Second he tells us his six themes again. Finally, he concludes with a third mention of his six major themes. My study revealed that James introduces six major themes in chapter 1. In chapters 2:1-4:12 he addresses all six themes again. Finally, he concludes in chapters 4:13-5:20 by reviewing all six themes one last time.
Your own study of the book may expose flaws in my observations or bolster the concept. For example there are certainly more than six themes in the book of James and our short study does not even touch on the complete list. However, I did feel my proposed outline for the book enabled me to zero in on six main themes in the book for application in our Christian lives. Now let’s look at the six themes that seem to be the focus of the book of James. We will examine each theme in turn and show how each theme is addressed three times, once in the introduction, once in the body, and once in the conclusion.
Theme One - Persevere Toward God Given Wisdom
2) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, 3) knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4) Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5) But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.James 1:2-5 (WEB)13) Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good conduct that his deeds are done in gentleness of wisdom. 14) But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, don't boast and don't lie against the truth. 15) This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, sensual, and demonic. 16) For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is confusion and every evil deed. 17) But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18) Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.James 3:13-18 (WEB)10) Take, brothers, for an example of suffering and of perseverance, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11) Behold, we call them blessed who endured. You have heard of the perseverance of Job, and have seen the Lord in the outcome, and how the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.James 5:10-11 (WEB)
Theme Two - Poor Take Pride and Rich Weep and Wail
9) But let the brother in humble circumstances glory in his high position; 10) and the rich, in that he is made humble, because like the flower in the grass, he will pass away. 11) For the sun arises with the scorching wind and withers the grass, and the flower in it falls, and the beauty of its appearance perishes. So the rich man will also fade away in his pursuits.James 1:9-11 (WEB)1) My brothers, don't hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. 2) For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in, 3) and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing and say, "Sit here in a good place;" and you tell the poor man, "Stand there," or "Sit by my footstool" 4) haven't you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5) Listen, my beloved brothers. Didn't God choose those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him?James 2:1-5 (WEB)1) Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming on you. 2) Your riches are corrupted and your garments are moth-eaten.James 5:1-2 (WEB)
Theme Three - Resist Temptation
13) Let no man say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God," for God can't be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14) But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed.James 1:13-14 (WEB)1) Where do wars and fightings among you come from? Don't they come from your pleasures that war in your members? 2) You lust, and don't have. You murder and covet, and can't obtain. You fight and make war. You don't have, because you don't ask. 3) You ask, and don't receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4) You adulterers and adulteresses, don't you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5) Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously"? 6) But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 7) Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.James 4:1-7 (WEB)16) Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective. 17) Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and it didn't rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18) He prayed again, and the sky gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit. 19) Brothers, if any among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, 20) let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.James 5:16-20 (WEB)
Theme Four - Rid Yourself of Anger
19) So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; 20) for the anger of man doesn't produce the righteousness of God. 21) Therefore, putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.James 1:19-21 (WEB)11) Don't speak against one another, brothers. He who speaks against a brother and judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge. 12) Only one is the lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge another?James 4:11-12 (WEB)7) Be patient therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receives the early and late rain. 8) You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9) Don't grumble, brothers, against one another, so that you won't be judged. Behold, the judge stands at the door.James 5:7-9 (WEB)
Theme Five - Do Not Only Listen, Obey!
22) But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves. 23) For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his natural face in a mirror; 24) for he sees himself, and goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25) But he who looks into the perfect law of freedom and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does.James 1:22-25 (WEB)14) What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith, but has no works? Can faith save him? 15) And if a brother or sister is naked and in lack of daily food, 16) and one of you tells them, "Go in peace. Be warmed and filled;" yet you didn't give them the things the body needs, what good is it? 17) Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead in itself. 18) Yes, a man will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.James 2:14-18 (WEB)13) Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow let's go into this city, and spend a year there, trade, and make a profit." 14) Whereas you don't know what your life will be like tomorrow. For what is your life? For you are a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. 15) For you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will both live, and do this or that." 16) But now you glory in your boasting. All such boasting is evil. 17) To him therefore who knows to do good, and doesn't do it, to him it is sin.James 4:13-17 (WEB)
Theme Six - Rein The Tongue
26) If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn't bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man's religion is worthless. 27) Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.James 1:26-27 (WEB)1) Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive heavier judgment. 2) For we all stumble in many things. Anyone who doesn't stumble in word is a perfect person, able to bridle the whole body also. 3) Indeed, we put bits into the horses' mouths so that they may obey us, and we guide their whole body. 4) Behold, the ships also, though they are so big and are driven by fierce winds, are yet guided by a very small rudder, wherever the pilot desires. 5) So the tongue is also a little member, and boasts great things. See how a small fire can spread to a large forest! 6) And the tongue is a fire. The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by Gehenna. 7) For every kind of animal, bird, creeping thing, and sea creature, is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind; 8) but nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9) With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in the image of God. 10) Out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.James 3:1-12 (WEB)12) But above all things, my brothers, don't swear— not by heaven, or by the earth, or by any other oath; but let your "yes" be "yes", and your "no", "no", so that you don't fall into hypocrisy.James 5:12 (WEB)
The first benefit we reap by our effort in studying God's word is a certain knowledge of what God has to say to us. The second benefit is that since there is no confusion about what God has communicated we can now trust and obey Him wholeheartedly. We have no doubt 1) that God wants us to persevere toward God given wisdom, 2) that the poor should take pride and the rich weep and wail, 3) that we are to resist temptation, 4) that we are to rid ourselves of anger, 5) that we are to listen and obey, and 6) that we are to rein our tongue.
God give us the grace to obey God's message for us from the book of James.