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James study guide

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Preparation Prior to the study session, participants should read the entire book.
Orientation James is book #20 of 27 in the New Testament, and and is one of the general letters. For more information see the Bible Overview page.
Synopsis There are several James mentioned in the New Testament. The author of this letter is believed to be James, younger brother of Jesus, who became a leader in the church at Jerusalem. James has two main themes: watch your tongue, and be doers of good works.

James lists some events that can try our faith (1:2-12) and result in maturity and a stronger faith. James urges us to be swift to hear, but slow to speak, and watchful to not use anger (1:19). Do not show favoritism to the rich (2:1) and be careful to love your neighbor (2:8). Faith, by itself, without producing good works, is useless (2:17). Watch your tongue - it is the most dangerous part of your body (3:5). Seek divine wisdom, not faulty human wisdom (3:13).

Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (4:7). Don't boast about your big plans for tomorrow (4:13). He warns the rich who save their money and do not put it to good use (5:2). Be patient until Jesus comes again (5:7). Use prayer for everything (5:13). Help your brother turn from sin (5:20).

Activity Faith is compared to works (2:17). Make 3 columns: Faith+no works, both, and Works+No Faith. What are examples of each? Where should we strive to be? *

3:13-18 describes two kinds of wisdom: human and divine. Make two columns and list the qualities of each.

Discussion points Compare James' words: "Faith, without works, is dead" (2:17) with Paul's words: "By grace are you saved through faith ... not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8). Are these contradictory? complementary? **
Connections (2:21): The account of Abraham offering his son Isaac on the altar is recorded in Genesis 22:2.

(5:17): the account of Elijah praying for no rain is recorded in 1 Kings 17.

Paul writes more about faith vs. works in Romans 4.

For source citations see the home page. Revised April 11 2014

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* Some possible examples: FAITH but NO WORKS: Academic belief, Churches which preach faith only, Churches with 'shallow' beliefs, Those who believe but do nothing about it due to lack of opportunity, ability, or desire. BOTH: Faith-based aid organizations, Salvation Army, UMCOR, Churches which see the community as the mission field. WORKS but NO FAITH: Secular aid organizations, such as United Way; Government relief efforts, Army Corps of Engineers.

** Faith is the act which saves, and the desire to do good works is the natural outgrowth of faith. Many faith-based organizations produce good works for the community, such as food pantries. Faith and works meet in the middle: James has seen the extreme of all faith/no works among do-nothing believers. Paul has seen the opposite extreme of gentiles trying to earn salvation by following all the Jewish laws and customs.