December 2, 2007
Preface: I had a really crappy holiday season last year–completely my fault. The reason, I’ve determined with a year of hindsight and pondering, is that I simply didn’t celebrate Christmas appropriately. The season began with an assignment to speak in Sacrament Meeting for our Christmas service. Ugh. This really got my mind in a frenzy as I looked around myself and found Christmas falling short at every glance. I didn’t improve upon the status quo, however, so, I’m trying to do better this year. Today being December 1st, (yes, I’m a bit tardy in preparring & posting this lesson 🙂 ) I’ve decided to read James this time ’round as a Christmas “how-to.” I’m going to see what counsel James can give me in appropriately commemorating the birth of our Savior. Perhaps you find this strange. However, I believe if we approach the scriptures with a question or goal in mind we are more likely to be led to answers and make progress in our lives and this question, ‘how to have a more meaningful Christmas’ is pertinent, if a bit shallow, to me in my life today. Tomorrow, when I read James yet again, I’m sure I’ll have another question in mind. So, if my present question doesn’t suit your liking, ask one of your own as you read the book.
James was probably written by the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). Four men in the New Testament are named James, tho there is some confusion and it may actually only be 3 men, two in this list being the same man:
1. son of Zebedee; brother of John; an apostle; killed by Herod with a sword.
2. a son of Alpheus; an apostle.
3. the father (or brother) of the apostle Judas.
4. a brother of Jesus; held an important position in the church; probably the writer of the epistle of James.
James was one of several brothers of Christ, probably the oldest since he heads the list in Matt. 13:55, but not necessarrily. At first he did not believe in Jesus’ divinity and even challenged him and misunderstood his mission (John 7:2-5). Later he became very prominent in the church as evidenced by:
1. He was one of the select individuals to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection.
2. Paul called him a “pillar” of the church.
3. Paul, on his first post-conversion visit to Jerusalem, saw James.
4. Paul did the same on his last visit.
5. When Peter was rescued from prison, he told his friends to tell James.
6. James was a leader in the important council of Jerusalem.
7. Jude could identify himself simply as “a brother of James”, so well known was James.
Various ancient histories report that James was martyred about 62 or 63 AD. Besides the epistle which bears his name, James was also the reputed author of the Protevangelium Jacobi, a work which originated in the 2nd century and received later additions. For more information on the Jame(s) in the New Testament see here.
The epistle of James is probably written in the early 60s though some feel it was written before AD 50. If the eariler date is correct, it is the earliest of all NT writings, with the possible exception of Galatians.
However, we aren’t sure of either the author or the date of James. For an interesting conversation on these points visit here.
To whom is James writing? Reading the first verse, this book is a big “HELLO” from 2,000 years ago. Some believe that James is writing to Christians in general and others to Jewish Christians, but most certainly Christians. Perhaps James is writing to those Christians who dispersed after Stephens death, scattering as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Syrian Antioch (see Act. 8:1; 11:19). This would account for James’s references to trials and oppression, his intimate knowledge of the readers and the authoritative nature of the letter. As leader of the Jerusalem church, James wrote as pastor to instruct and encourage his dispersed people in the face of their difficulties.
As you read James, consider the teaching of Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5. For a comparrison and discussion of this, see here.
Getting back to my earlier premise in reading James this time ’round, I’ve found a few “themes for living” that apply to my efforts to celebrate the Lord’s birth with greater satisfaction:
THEMES FOR LIVING:
*James 1:5-6: “If you lack wisdom, ask of God.” Great advice whatever the querry–how to better celebrate Christmas? or which church is true? How do James 4:3, 5:13-18 bear upon this instruction?
*James 1:8, 22: “Be doers of the word, not hearers only.” I’m going to apply this to the instructions found in the following verse 27 to “visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.” Rendering service seems to be the instruction here. What does it mean to be “double minded?” What does it mean to be “single minded?” See D&C 88:63-68. Doesn’t this just echo James?! Why do you think this portion of the D&C is so resonant of James’ epistle? Who is this “voice crying in the wilderness” mentioned in v. 66? What is the blessing of being single minded?
James 2:14-26 is a continuation of this theme, as is James 3:9-12, 4:8,14-17. How does this instruction bear upon my querry of how to better celebrate Christmas? In relation to the dating of the epistle of James, if it were written prior to Paul’s letters what can we deduce of Paul’s theology and how might that information influence modern Christianity?
President Brigham Young commented on this principle in the Deseret News, 15 Oct. 1856, 252 & 10 Dec. 1856, 320: “I will tell you all that your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the celestial kingdom of God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. God and bring in those people now on the plains…When those persons arrive I do not want to see them put into houses by themselves; I want to have them distributed…among the families that have good and comfortable houses; and I wish the sisters now before me, and all who know how and can, to nurse and wait upon the new comers…those things are a part of my religion, for it pertains to taking care of the Saints….The afternoon meeting will be omitted, for I wish the sisters to go home and prepare to give those who just arrived a mouthful of something to eat, and to wash them and nurse them up. You know that I would give more for a dish of pudding and milk, or a baked potato and salt, were I in the situation of those persons…than I would for all your prayers, though you were to stay here all the afternoon and pray. Prayer is good, but when baked potatoes and pudding and milk are needed, prayer will not supply their place on this occasion; give every duty its proper time and place.”
*James 3:2-8, 13-18; 4:11-12: Speak ONLY kind words. Have peacable relations with other people. What do these teachings compel us to do as we celebrate Christmas, specifically? Why might James have been so focused on this topic? How does 3:14 apply specifically to James’ & Paul’s life and era? Is this teaching relevant in today’s church?
*James 4:3, 5:13-18: Pray responsibly. Why does James call these poor prayers “adulterers and adulteresses?” What does it mean to “ask not amiss?” How is and isn’t a prayer ‘lustful?’ How do we guard ourselves against ‘lustful’ prayers?