The book of James is written in a style that brings to mind two words: “plain” and “practical.” Not only is the book is so plain that nearly everyone can easily understand it, but it is also immensely practical — it is aimed at putting God’s word to work in your life. A good question to keep in mind when reading the book of James is this: “What does real faith in Jesus Christ look like?”
Real Faith Perseveres in Trial (Chapter 1) — Engineers know that the real test of any well-designed structure is how it performs under stress. So too, real faith is proved through testing (James 1:2-4). Do not expect that Christianity will be trouble-free (Jn. 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Tim. 3:12); rather, trust in God’s power (James 1:5-8), justice (v.9-11), goodness (v.12-18), and word (v.19-27). It is not true that, “whatever does not kill us makes us stronger,” for some people grow bitter and resentful in trials. However, enduring trials with real faith does make us stronger and more fit for the Master’s use (1:2-4).
Real Faith Demands Appropriate Action (Chapter 2) — Two types of inappropriate action are described in this chapter: doing what one knows is wrong (2:1-13), and failing to do what one knows to be right (2:14-26). First, how we treat others says much about the quality of our faith — we may be self-deceived in this area (cf. James 1:26-27). Second, whether we dowhat we know pleases God means the difference between living (saving) and dead (condemning) faith (James 2:16-19).
Real Faith Knows the Power of the Tongue (Chapter 3) — With an extremely serious tone, James warns Christians of the power of what we say. Though small, the tongue can do great damage (3:2-5). James seems to view the tongue the way we might view a handgun — with proper use, it is capable of great good, but used carelessly, it is capable of great evil. Real faith knows the power of the tongue and seeks the wisdom from above concerning how to use it properly (James 3:13-18).
Real Faith is God-Centered (Chapter 4) — When Christian living doesn’t seem to “work,” perhaps the problem is that God is not being properly exalted. Prayers are hindered when God’s will is not our chief concern (4:1-3). We drift from God when we try to cling to “things” (v.4-10). Our relationships with God and others are damaged severely when we are harsh and critical (v.11-12). And our greatest plans and goals are ultimately useless unless God remains at the center of them (v.13-17). Real faith knows that living for God is a daily affair (cf. Luke 9:23).
Real Faith is Concerned for Others (Chapter 5) — Like it or not, real faith cannot exist in a spiritual vacuum! James 5 stresses that the way we deal with others is one of the greatest evidences of whether our faith is authentic. For example, a Christian cannot manipulate or “use” people and expect to please God (5:1-6). Additionally, real faith does not grumble against others (v.9), but rather joyfully endures difficult people while treating them better than they deserve — the very definition of mercy (v.7-11). Real faith gets involved in the lives of others not just on the surface, but also on a spiritual level where worship and exaltation of God are emphasized (v.13-18). Real faith works diligently to restore the erring (v.19-20) because of the gravity of eternal matters and a passionate love for souls.
James is indeed both plain and practical. How authentic is your faith? —JB