That we know of, Mary and Joseph had at least four other boys after Jesus: James, Joseph, Simon, and Jude (Matthew 13:55). There were also some sisters whose names we don’t know. During Jesus’ life, his ministry was, at times, an embarrassment to his family. On one occasion, they thought he had lost his mind. Like most parents however, no matter what they think of their children’s actions, they stand with them to the bitter end. Mary, we know, was at the cross, and likely was one of the women who went to tend Jesus’ body the following Sunday.
When Jesus rose from the dead, he made a special appearance to his family, and that seems to have been a turning point in their perceptions. Within a few years James would become a pillar of the church in Jerusalem and both he and Jude would write two books included in the New Testament.
The first readers of James faced the same challenges Christians today face, specifically the continual challenge of being lured by the world into thinking and acting like the world thinks, the challenge of the holy life. James calls Christians to realize that our faith requires decisive commitment – and that on the side of the Lord. Note these directives:
* Don’t merely listen to the word [of God]. Do what it says. 1:22
* What good is it to say you have faith if faith is not seen in your actions? That faith cannot save. (2:14).
* Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (3:13)
* Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (4:8).
* Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (5:9).
I find the theme verses for this book to be James 4:4 – “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Keep in mind, James wrote to Christians.
People who want to be at ease with the world, and at ease with God, have charted for themselves an impossible course that can only end in failure.
Half-hearted prayer, blaming God for your troubles (and your lack of successes), a loose tongue, discrimination against and mistreatment of the poor, an unwillingness to help the needy, planning without regard for God’s will in your daily activities, and giving up when the going gets tough. These traits are all covered by James, and he writes of them in an unmistakable, condemnatory way.
For far too long Christianity has suffered at the hands of those who hate us because we don’t practice what we preach. Christianity is more, much much more, than the positions we hold on hot-button issues (which, however, is all too often all the world knows of us). Christianity is way of life built on a foundation of authentic faith. That’s what James was calling his first readers to. The message of his book has not changed for us – nor does it need to.