Genuine Faith and the Persecuted Church
by Mary Elmer
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:26
Read: To get the most out of this study, read the entire book of James at one sitting, if you can. This will give you a good overview of his message and a better understanding of this amazing book. You could also go on a walk while you listen to James through a Bible app.
Prayer: Dear Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, help us see and hear Your Truth clearly as we study Your Word. Remove any false ideas, hopes, or teachings, and create a right spirit within us. As we take this time to sit with You, and learn from You, clear our minds and empty us of ourselves, so we can soak in all that You have for us. Fill us, Lord, with Your Holy Spirit and reveal Yourself to us now. In Jesus’ precious name we pray. Amen
Study Questions for the Week:
- What do you expect to get out of this study?
- What commitments will you make to ensure that you are able to finish the study?
- Who will be your accountability partner to help you finish strong?
- Who will you invite to do this study with you?
- Will you allow God to change your heart and apply what you learn?
Introduction to James
Welcome to our second annual, summer online Bible study! Are you excited and ready to dig into God’s truths? This short book of five chapters is anything but short on deep, thought-provoking, and life- changing, truth! This book could be considered a how-to book on Christian living. If James was here today with us, he would challenge us to become a doer of the Word. So keep that in mind as you are reading it—you must do what it says!
Find a place to settle in, away from distractions, and prepare to meet God. He will meet us where we are. Invite Him into your study time through prayer. Put your to-do list aside, put your cell phone on silent, and ignore the ping from your computer telling you an email awaits you! Oh, and don’t be tempted to check any of your social media sites while you are studying. Hang on tight for a ride through God’s Word. He will speak to you through the writing of His servant James.
Who is this James? Most would agree that this is James, the oldest of four sons of Mary and Joseph (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). This would make him the second born and half brother of Jesus. Can you imagine how difficult it must have been to grow up with an older brother who did nothing wrong? I wonder how Jesus’ siblings treated Him. He would have been hard to live up to!
In John 7:2-5 (ESV) his brothers ridicule him:
“But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, ‘You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.’ For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”
James was slow to accept Jesus’ deity, but after Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection, he believed and became a follower, as did his other brothers. James joined the other disciples, and became the leader of the church at Jerusalem as one of the apostles, although he was not one of the Twelve (Acts 1:14, 12:17, 15:13, 21:18; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19; 2:9).
We know that James wrote his letter before AD 62 because he was martyred at the hands of the high priest in the year 60-61 when there was a Jewish uprising after the death of Festus (Josephus, Ant. XX.9.1). If the book was written before the Jerusalem Council (AD 49), the date of writing could be as early as AD 45-49. Most believe that James was probably the first New Testament book written.
James’ letter is addressed to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations—Jewish Christians, yet the message is intended for all Christians then and now; Jew or Gentile. After Stephen was martyred (You can read about this in Acts 7:55-8:3.), persecution increased greatly and Christians in Jerusalem were forced to scatter throughout the Roman world. Because there were no established churches outside of Jerusalem at this time, James was concerned for them and wrote to encourage them in their faith during these difficult times. He tells them that true faith will be able to endure suffering and that
“blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).
His message is the same today! Are you suffering? Are you in a trial now that seems beyond bearable? Stand strong in your faith. Keep your eyes on Jesus and He will help you through it. James encourages you and inspires you to stand firm no matter what you are going through. And if you are not going through any trial, you will! God has given us many promises and one of those promises is that we will have trouble. In John 16:33, Jesus’ own words tell us:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
James warns that following Jesus is a serious commitment where faith is to be put into action. Faith that is not demonstrated by loving acts is standing on shaky ground. Faith placed and lived in Christ will be revealed in the way life is lived out. Where is your faith shaky? Do you have any doubts about God in your life? Seek His wisdom and He will help you stand firm on His strong foundation. I’m looking forward to what God will teach each of us about our own faith walk and bring us into a deeper relationship with Him.
If this is your first time reading James or the Bible, you will be blessed! If you have been a Christian for many years, you will be blessed! Because God speaks to us through His Word and His Word is living and active (Hebrew 4:12), He will speak to you in a way that will touch you where you are on your journey. You could read the same passage a year from now yet hear something different from God depending on what you need to hear. And what you glossed over before will stand out because God has something to say to you in the situation you are in. He always meets us where we are. The Bible is not just a book; it is the living, inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17)! The Holy Spirit will guide you through its pages and reveal truths to you that will convict, challenge, and change you (Romans 8:26-27)!
When I started getting serious about reading the Bible and living it out, I was changed! God’s Word has refined, redeemed, and restored me, and He isn’t finished with me yet! I still have a lot of work that needs to be done in me. I am not “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4). That’s why I know I am not done with trials. His trials will continue to refine, purify, shape, and mold me into the vessel He created me to be. And He will do the same for you.
My prayer for each of us on this journey through James is that we will all be transformed—from our wrong thinking, attitudes, actions, and words. And, that in the end, our faith will be strengthened. Ask God what He wants to change in you, and remember, when God calls you to something, He will enable and equip you to do it!
Blessings my friends, stay the course, and finish strong! And remember, love God and love others, and don’t let yourselves be polluted by the world. We are not of the world, but we live in the world to be the light of Christ.
I end with the prayer of Jesus:
“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” John 17:14-19