James' Letter

Discovery for Students

James' Letter


James 1:1 through 5:20

“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)


By A.D. 49, many of the early believers had left Jerusalem to live in areas outside of Palestine due to the persecution that arose after Stephen’s death. Since these individuals who were “scattered abroad” no longer had day-to-day contact with the leaders of the church, James wrote this epistle to encourage them to endure in spite of trials, to continue growing in Christ, and to evidence their faith by actions that were appropriate for believers.

More than any other book in the New Testament, James focuses on the necessity for followers of Christ to act in accordance with their faith. The author was convinced that what Christians believe must affect what they do. His repeated emphasis on practical aspects of the life of faith is similar in many ways to Proverbs and other portions of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament.

While there is no clearly defined structure in James’ epistle, a number of themes are woven throughout the five chapters. These include faith that is revealed by actions, remaining steadfast in trials, wise speech, the wisdom of God, the worthlessness of riches, and perseverance in prayer. His instruction, though written nearly two thousand years ago, can still serve as a how-to book on genuine Christian living.


  1. James began his epistle by challenging the recipients of his letter to patiently endure when faced with difficult circumstances. The word “temptation” in James 1:2 refers to both outward adversities and trials. The phrase “trying of your faith” in verse 3 implies a test designed to prove the quality of something. In verse 4, what reason did James give for patient endurance of temptations and trials?
  2. Early Christian churches followed the pattern of synagogue worship in which religious instruction was delivered orally, so throughout his epistle James frequently challenged believers to put into practice what they heard from God’s Word. One such instruction is found in James 1:22, where he admonished, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” How would you describe a person who is a doer of the word?
  3. In James 2:14-26, James described the interaction of “faith” and “works” in the Christian life. How does his assertion that “faith without works is dead” (verse 20) fit with the Apostle Paul’s teaching that salvation is obtained through faith alone, and not by works?
  4. In chapter 3, James moved from generalities about good deeds to specifics about godly speech. In verse 5, he compared the damage the tongue can do to a fire, saying, “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” What are some ways uncontrolled speech and fire are alike?
  5. In verses 13-18 of chapter 3, James took up the topic of genuine wisdom, pointing out that just as one can identify a tree by its fruit, one can identify godly wisdom — the “wisdom from above” — by observing its characteristics. What eight qualities of godly wisdom does he list in verse 17?
  6. In chapter 4, James described behaviors that are evidence of a carnal nature, such as strife, wrong desires, worldliness, and disunity. In verses 7-10, he presented the remedy in a series of imperative commands. What two actions does he mention in James 4:7, and why are both so vital for a victorious Christian life?
  7. Planning for the future is a familiar theme in today’s society. High school students are encouraged to practice for SAT tests, apply for scholarships, and make early inquiries to colleges they might like to attend. Young professionals are advised to draft business plans and set goals for advancement in their field of choice. Middle-aged individuals are counseled to evaluate their resources and talk to a financial advisor in order to ensure they will have a comfortable retirement. In chapter 4, James addressed the making of plans. He gave an example of a merchant who had thought of everything including time (today or tomorrow), location (such and such a city), duration (spend a year there), purpose (buy and sell), and goal (achieve a profit). However, one important aspect had been left out. What was that aspect? How would you summarize James’ admonition about looking ahead to the future? James 4:13-15
  8. In James 5:13-15, the author instructed those who were afflicted (facing any troubling circumstances in life) to pray, and the cheerful to sing psalms of praise to God. What did he instruct the sick to do?


Though written nearly two thousand years ago, the epistle of James gives practical advice for believers of every era regarding living out what one believes.