James 1:2-3 – Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
Imagine a scene where you’ve recently bought an old house. It’s been cleared of furniture, but up in the attic, there are a few odds and ends including a dusty old box of letters dated as far back as the early 1900s. The previous owner has died, and there are no living relatives to leave the belongings to, so you feel free to peruse the letters. The correspondence you read is fascinating, and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour pouring over half a dozen letters. But you’ve read only one side of a conversation and there are old-timey turns of phrase that are hard to make sense of. Clearly, it’s going to require more reading before you’re able to put the pieces together and make sense of exactly what you are reading.
In order to understand this correspondence, you’ll have to aim at establishing a few things first: what the original intention of the letter was, who the author and recipient were, and in what context the author and recipient lived. The same thing is true when we approach writings in the Bible.
Before we begin applying meaning of a biblical text to our own lives, we have to do the same kind of detective work.
First, church history tells us that this letter was penned by Jesus’ half-brother James. James lived an extraordinary life. Imagine what it would’ve been like to grow up in the same household as Jesus. James was given a front row seat into the daily life of Jesus as He was empowered by the Spirit to fully and perfectly obey God in all of life. In Galatians 1:19, James is considered one of the most highly regarded and respected Christian leaders alive on the earth, and in humility, he uses for himself the simple title of “servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
James was also a leader in the mother Church in Jerusalem (Acts 15) and was skillful in resolving conflict. He included the Gentiles as a part of God’s people. (Amos 9:11,12) He further went on to explain that Jewish and Gentile Christians could and should fellowship together, and that the Gentiles were not required to observe ritual law. He also urged Gentile Christians to abstain from potentially offensive behaviors to the Jews.
The intended audience of James appears to be largely Jewish Christians, the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” The twelve tribes refer to the historical origins of Israel, descended from the twelve patriarchs. (Deut. 33) But the people were scattered due to the Assyrian and Babylonian military victories over the nation. The church then, appropriated the title “Dispersion,” with Jesus as their Messiah who reestablished the twelve tribes (Jer. 3:18; Ezek. 37:19-24; Song of Sol. 17:28), and Christians (Jewish or non) recognized themselves as the true heirs of the Jewish faith. (Rom. 4:1; 1 Cor. 10:18; Gal. 4:21-31; Phil. 3:3) In Christ, the instruction and exhortation of the book of James is for all in the family of God through faith in Christ.
Take some time to think about how you might introduce yourself. What do you usually say? Does James’ introduction help inform your understanding of what it means to be a Christian?