The letter of James, or at least that’s his name in English. If you look in the Greek you will see that his name is Iakobos, which translates his Hebrew name Yáakov. And that’s why most ancient and modern translations render his name as Jacob. That’s how we’re going to call him in this video. Now, there are many Jacobs in the New Testament. Two of them belonged to Jesus’ inner circle of the 12 disciples, but this letter comes from the Jacob who was the half-brother of Jesus himself. Now, we learned this Jacob’s story from the book of Acts and from Paul’s letters. After Peter moved on from Jerusalem to go start new churches Jesus’ half-brother Jacob rose to prominence as a leader in the Mother Church in Jerusalem. It was made up mostly of Messianic or Christian Jews. This was the first Christian community ever. And we know that it fell on hard times during the 20 years that Jacob was its leader. There was a famine that led to great poverty in the region and these Messianic Jews were being persecuted by Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. But through it all Jacob was known as a pillar of the Jerusalem church. He was also known as a peacemaker who led with wisdom and courage until he was tragically murdered. And in this book we have the legacy of Jacob’s teaching and wisdom condensed into a short and very powerful work. The book begins like a letter. He greets all the Messianic Jews who were living outside the Land of Israel. But this does not read like one of Paul’s letters where he addresses specific problems in one local church, rather this book is a summary of Jacob’s sage wisdom for any and every community of Jesus’ followers. And Jacob’s goal isn’t to teach new theological information, rather he wants to get in your business and challenge how you live. Jacob’s wisdom has been heavily influenced by two sources: The first is Jesus’ teaching about life in the kingdom of God. Especially the Sermon on the Mount which is constantly echoing and quoting in the book. The second key influence is the biblical wisdom book of Proverbs. Especially the poems and proverbs one through nine. Jacob literally grew up with Jesus and with the book of Proverbs and so now his own teaching sounds like them. It’s stamped by their language and imagery. The book consists of short challenging wisdom speeches that are full of metaphors and easy to memorize one-liners. And in essence Jacob is calling the Messianic community to become truly wise by living according to Jesus’ summary of the Torah: To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. The body of the book is in chapters 2 through 5. Which consists of 12 short teachings that call God’s people to wholehearted devotion to the way of Jesus. And altogether they don’t develop one main idea in a linear way. Each teaching kind of stands alone and concludes with a catchy one-liner, but all of these teachings are connected through key repeated words and themes – it’s really cool. At the opening of the books body there are two teachings: First about favoritism and love Jacob exposes how we tend to show favor to people who can benefit us and we neglect people who can’t. Usually because they’re needy. Jacob says this is the opposite of love as Jesus defined it. He goes on to show what genuine faith does and does not look like. So, if someone says that they have faith in God, but neglects people who are needy or poor, this person’s faith is dead, he says. Their actions betray what they say they believe. And genuine faith always results in obedience to Jesus’ teachings. Now scattered throughout the body of the book we find three different places where Jacob develops Jesus’ own teaching about our words. So, with the same mouth we unleash pain upon people and then go offer praise to God – so messed up! And also we judge people and then go talk badly about them behind their backs! And we also all tend to distort the truth to our own advantage. How we talk about people opens up a window into our hearts and our core values. Our words tell the real truth about our character. Jacob also believes that God’s kingdom community, as Jesus taught about it, Is the kind of place where the divisions created by wealth and social status are dismantled. So, he warns first about the arrogance that wealth can create in people who believe it will be around forever. He says: “No, your wealth will one day rot just like you.” In contrast, God’s people are to live with patience and hope for Jesus’ return to set all things right and this should inspire a life of faith-filled prayer. Now, this part of the book, all of these teachings, they’re so powerful and there’s way more than we have time for in this video, but, seriously, read all of them and slowly. Now, placed in front of these 12 wise teachings is the introductory chapter. It’s a flowing stream of wise teachings and one-liners. And they’re designed to sum up the main ideas of the entire book. this chapter actually introduces you to all the key words and themes that you’re going to meet in chapters 2 through 5. Jacob opens by saying that he knows from personal experience – Life is hard. He was martyred after all, not long after writing this letter. But he believes that life’s trials and hardships are actually paradoxical gifts that can produce endurance and shape our character. God can do amazing work inside of us in the midst of suffering and help us become perfect and complete. Now, that word “perfect” it’s really important for Jacob. He repeats it seven times in the book. In Biblical Hebrew and in Greek this word refers to wholeness. It means living a completely integrated life where your actions are always consistent with the values and beliefs that you’ve received from Jesus. Jacob knows that most of us actually live as fractured people with big inconsistencies in our character. we are all more compromised than we want to admit. However, God is on a mission to restore fractured people to make them whole. And it begins with wisdom – the ability to see my hardships through a new perspective. God will generously give this kind of wisdom to people who ask for it in faith, without doubting God’s character. And when we realize our humble and frail place before God we are forced to choose between anxiety or trust. And true wisdom means choosing to believe that God is good despite my circumstances. So, if it’s poverty that’s forcing you into hard times in life Jacob says: “Try and view it as a gift that forces you to trust in God alone.” And besides wealth is fleeting it’s all going to pass away like wildflowers in the summer heat. And so when we do fall into hard times don’t accuse God, rather let your circumstances teach you what Jesus taught about God’s character, that the father is generous, that he’s there to meet us in our pain and that he’s trustworthy. It’s this God who through Jesus has given us new birth to become new kinds of humans, who can face their suffering with total trust in the father just like Jesus did. And this new humanity is something we discover when we not only listen to God’s Word but do what it says. Jacob calls God’s Word here “The perfect Torah of freedom.” He’s referring here to the greatest command of the Torah that passed on to us through Jesus. That he freed us to love God and love our neighbor. And Jacob shows practically what that kind of love looks like. It means speaking to others in a kind and loving way, it means serving the poor and it means living with wholehearted devotion to God alone. Now you can see how this opening chapter contains all the key words and ideas explored more deeply in the twelve teachings of chapters 2 through 5. Jacob immersed himself in the wisdom of Jesus and of the proverbs. And he’s giving us a great gift in this book of his own wisdom. This is a beautifully crafted punch in the gut for those who want to follow Jesus. And that is what the book of James or Jacob is all about.