3 Themes of the Book of James

This Bible study lesson focuses on the 3 themes of the Book of James, which are all found in the first chapter. 

The 3 themes are:

1) Trials

2) Wisdom

3) Poverty and Riches

These 3 themes of the Book of James are covered twice in the first chapter of the Book.  Some are obvious and some are a little more difficult to see but are clearly seen in the linking of Greek catch words in the original text.

Day One

1.  Given that the author of the Book of James is the physical or half-brother of Jesus Christ, how would you characterize his self-identification in verse 1?

First of 3 Themes of the Book of James - Trials

2.  In verse 2 the topic of trials is introduced.  According to Yale Anchor Bible commentary, the word "trials" doesn't indicate circumstances that are sought or chosen, and the trials can result from internal temptation or external circumstances that will try or test a believer.  

Many have attempted to define the nature of the various trials but there's no real consensus.  Some have thought that the various trials are those facing James' original readers - Jewish Christians who spread out from Jerusalem in the first century.  It's thought that they faced trials in the form of persecution by economic injustice and oppression.

Others have argued that James is simply addressing trials in general.  The Pillar New Testament Commentary holds that ". . .a 'trial' refers to any difficulty in life that may threaten our faithfulness to Christ: physical illness, financial reversal, the death of a loved one.  James is not thinking of any particular trial, but the nature or essence of a 'trial.'" 

In any regard, we can't be sure of what the nature of the trials were for the original readers, or those that we ourselves will face today.  However, of one thing we can be certain, Christians will face various trials.  The key will be how we respond to them.

Open Doors USA reports that every month:

  • 322 Christians are killed for their faith
  • 214 Christian churches and properties are destroyed
  • 722 forms of violence are committed against Christians (such as beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests, and forced marriages)

Have you thought about what you would do if you faced a trial of persecution?

Day Two

3.  In verse 2, James doesn't say "if" you experience trials, he says "when" or "whenever" you experience trials, which indicates that we'll all undergo trials in our lives.  

Review verses 2, 3, and 4.  What's another way our trials are described?  Also, what does James command us to do about them, and what rationale does he give for his command?

Second of 3 Themes of the Book of James - Wisdom 

4.  In verse 5, James moves from a certain circumstance for all - trials, to one of a possible occurrence indicated by the conditional word "if".  The possible condition is someone lacking wisdom.  

But is it really wise to claim you're wise?  Who can say they're always wise?  We might say that we're wise on a particular matter in some respect, but who can say that he or she is wise enough and doesn't need to be more wise?

So in verse 5, James says if someone is lacking wisdom, then James tells his readers to ask God for it.  Review verses 5 through 8 to answer the following questions. 

  • How does God give wisdom? 
  • Who should ask Him for it? 
  • How should one ask Him for it? 

Day Three

Third of 3 Themes of the Book of James - Poverty and Riches

5.  In verses 9, 10, and 11, James tells his readers to be proud of their poverty or to be ashamed of their riches.  This implies that others would be aware of their financial circumstances.

Can you imagine a room full of people comparing their bank statements?  Imagine the poor so happy to be broke and the rich utterly humiliated because they're so rich.  Imagine the poor boasting because they're so broke and the rich ashamed of their riches.

Dr. Douglas Moo offers the following enlightenment on verses 9, 10, and 11 in the Pillar New Testament Commentary which is helpful to our understanding:

James 1:27

"In these verses James addresses two Christians, a poor one and a rich one. He exhorts each of them to look toward their spiritual identity as the measure of their ultimate significance.  

To the poor believer, tempted to feel insignificant and powerless because the world judges a person on the basis of money and status, James says: take pride in your exalted status in the spiritual realm as one seated in the heavenlies with Jesus Christ himself.

To the rich believer, tempted to think too much of himself because the world holds him in high esteem, James says: take pride not in your money or social position -- things that are all too soon to fade away forever -- but paradoxically, in your humble status as a person who identifies with the one who was 'despised and rejected' by the world.

The point of this passage is, then, that Christians must always evaluate themselves by spiritual and not material standards."

Why do you think we often mistakenly equate our self-worth or standing in the community with our financial status?  That's not how God sees us.

Also, why do Christians heed the appeal of the "name it and claim it" or "health and wealth" gospel preachers?

First Theme of the Book of James - Trials

6.  In verses 12 through 18, James returns to the first of 3 themes of the Book of James - trials or temptations.  He explains that when Christ followers endure trials and pass the testing of their faith, God rewards them with the promised crown of life (verse 12).  This reward isn't something that's enjoyed in this life.  Much more than that, the reward is exactly life itself - eternal life!  

Review verses 13, 14, and 15.  What explanation does James give for the source of our temptations?  Also, what insight can we gain on the source from the illustration he uses?

Day Four

7.  In verse 16, we see that we're not to be deceived about God.  James explained earlier in verse 13 that God doesn't tempt us.  Instead, we see His true nature in verses 17 and 18.  

What do we learn about God's true nature from verses 17 and 18?   Specifically, what can you say are the main ideas about God in your own words from each of these two verses?

Second Theme of the Book of James - Wisdom

8.  In verses 22 through 25, James returns to the second of the 3 themes of the Book of James.  Here we see two pathways for those who hear the Word of God.  Build two profiles of someone taking each of the paths using the table below.

First Path

  • Who takes this path (verse 22)? 
  • What does he look into (verse 25)? 
  • What is the result of his looking? (verse 25)? 

Second Path

  • Who takes this path (verse 23)? 
  • What does he look into (verse 23)?
  • What is the result of his looking? (verses 22 and 24)? 

We must not deceive ourselves; we must live our lives between the two slogans of "Just Say No" (to sin) and "Just Do It!" (to the right thing before God).  We mustn't be just a hearer, but also a doer of the Word of God. 

Day Five

9.  In verses 19 through 26, James returns to the second of 3 themes of the Book of James - wisdom.  Here James asks his readers to understand that they need to do three things:

  • be quick to hear
  • be slow to speak
  • be slow to anger

What habits can we form to help us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger?  Also, what's the result of forming these habits and how can it glorify God?

Third Theme of the Book of James - Poverty and Riches

10.  In verses 26 and 27 James returns to the third of 3 themes of the Book of James.  He identifies three marks of someone who truly "has religion"; he explains it's someone who:

  • has a controlled tongue
  • looks after widows and orphans (or those who cannot provide for themselves)
  • is unstained by the world

We see in verse 27, that James returns to the third of 3 themes of the Book of James - poverty and riches.  Poverty was commonly the condition of widows and orphans in James' day.  Old Testament laws provided for their welfare and here James carries the idea forward to his Christian readers who we would suppose were able to look after them. 

Some contend that verse 27 is the thesis of James' letter, that the essence of everything in the letter comes down to the two-part definition of a true Christ follower given in that verse.  First, that faith without works isn't true religion; and secondly, that good works without a holy life isn't true religion.  These two traits aren't all inclusive of the Christ follower, but they're essential.

Think about how people to whom you wish to witness would perceive you if you had one of these traits but not the other.  Why does it make a difference?

Click here to compare your answers to this Bible study lesson.

We pray this Bible study lesson on the 3 themes of the Book of James has blessed you.

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