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Lesson 1: James, the Lord's Brother *

Introduction: Which do you prefer: to study a topic or a book of the Bible? My preference is to teach books, rather than topics. Why? Because God arranges the order of the material. This quarter we are studying a book! But, of all the books to teach, James would be a contender for my least favorite. On the surface, James stresses works, not grace. He seems to have some sort of dislike for those with money, even though he says showing favoritism is a sin. Some of his statements seem to contradict other statements in the Bible. If you like a challenge, then we have one! We are going to be challenged to dig deeply into James and try to understand what he, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is really teaching us! This week let's start by learning about James' background.

  1. The Family

    1. Read Matthew 1:20-21. What do you think Jesus' father understood about Jesus' mission?

    2. Read Luke 1:30-34. What part of the angel's message did Mary think was most important? (The part about her having a baby even though she was a virgin.)

      1. Should Jesus' parents have understood His mission? (The angels gave Jesus' parents an amazing message. It seems the message was so big, and they were so focused on real life, that they did not properly understand.)

    3. Read Luke 2:41-43. Why would a twelve year-old boy stay behind in Jerusalem? (Read Luke 2:45-47. He was having a great time with the Jewish teachers. He loved to learn.)

    4. Read Luke 2:48. How did Jesus' parents view this? (They thought that Jesus was mistreating His parents. They were focused on themselves, rather than His work.)

    5. Read Luke 2:49-50. What is the problem here? (Jesus' parents did not understand His mission.)

    6. Read Mark 3:13-15. Why did Jesus select disciples to be with Him? (They would aid Him in His ministry.)

    7. Read Mark 3:20-21. Recall that Jesus was born to a working class family. What does it appear they thought about Jesus selecting disciples and attracting crowds? (That Jesus was out of His mind. He needed to have someone "take charge" of Him.)

      1. Should Jesus' parents have understood what was going on? (They should have understood, but apparently they did not.)

    8. Read Mark 3:22. What did the religious leaders think about Jesus' work? (They said He was demon-possessed.)

      1. If you were Jesus, how would you feel about yourself? (Your family thinks you are crazy and need to be restrained, and the religious leaders think you are demon-possessed.)

    9. Read John 7:1-5. This is much later in Jesus' ministry. What advice is Jesus being given by His brothers? (To prove Himself to the world. Perform miracles that many can see and believe.)

      1. Why did they give Jesus this advice? (Because not even His brothers were convinced that He was a proper "public figure.")

    10. Read Mark 6:1-3. Is Jesus the hero of His hometown? (No! They were offended that Jesus was claiming to be someone special.)

      1. Notice the names of Jesus' half-brothers. It appears that Jesus' oldest half-brother is named James. Later in this study, I hope you will conclude that the author of the book of James is Jesus' oldest half-brother. Given what we have learned about the attitude of Jesus' parents, Jesus' family, and those in Jesus' hometown, what kind of attitude would you expect that James would have about Jesus?

  2. The Change

    1. Read Acts 1:10-11. When is this in Jesus' ministry? (Jesus has been killed, resurrected, appeared to His followers, and now is returning to heaven.)

    2. Read Acts 1:12-14. What has happened with regard to Jesus' family? (They have become convinced. They now believe that Jesus is the Messiah, He is not crazy.)

    3. Read 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Who is this James? ( Mark 3:16-18 tells us that two of Jesus' disciples are named James. Mark 6:3 tells us that Jesus' oldest half-brother is named James. However, because 1 Corinthians 15:7 sets this James apart from the "the Twelve", this appears to be a reference to Jesus' oldest half-brother.)

    4. Read Galatians 1:15-19. Paul argues that he received his message from Jesus, not from any human. What does this text suggest about James, Jesus' half-brother? (That he was an important figure in the early church.)

    5. Read Galatians 2:9. How important is James? (He is a "pillar" of the early church!)

    6. Read Acts 15:12-14 and Acts 15:19-21. What do we learn about James here? (He is the head of the early church. He declares his judgment (apparently on behalf of the early church) on what should be required of the Gentile converts.)

    7. As we see this transformation in James' views, and his importance in the early church rise, does this make sense to you? (Yes. James has first-hand knowledge of Jesus' life on earth from the very beginning. He becomes convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. No doubt James' parents shared with him what the angel told them. Second, it seems natural that the early church would be attracted to a brother of Jesus. They had the same mother. They might have looked alike. Perhaps their voices were similar. Jesus returned to heaven, but His brother was still here.)

    8. From a lawyer's evidentiary point of view, I realize that I have not perfectly "proven" that James, the half-brother of Jesus, is the one who wrote the book we are studying. But, that is the majority view and it seems right to me.)

  3. The Book

    1. Read James 1:1. Given what we have learned, does this introduction seem right to you? (What James says is no doubt correct, it is what he does not say that bothers me.)

      1. Why does James omit "and half-brother of our beloved Savior Jesus?" (He is more modest than most of us!)

      2. Is his modesty misplaced? (The early church thought James was special, no doubt at least in part because of his relationship with Jesus. I think the relationship gives him a special position that he should have stated. Perhaps James thought "People already know, I don't need to say it.")

      3. What significance do you attach to the fact that James aimed his letter at Jewish converts rather than Gentile converts? (This might help to explain his later emphasis on works.)

    2. Look again at James 1:1. What do we know about the Jews being "scattered among the nations?" (Read Acts 11:19-21. The death of Stephen started a "great persecution" among the early believers with the result that they were "scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." Acts 8:1.)

    3. Read James 1:2. How many of you want joy in your life? How many want trials? (No doubt we all want joy and we all would like to avoid trials. Remember, James' audience is those who have left their homes to avoid persecution.)

      1. What does James say is the relationship between joy and trials? (He says we should look for joy in trials.)

    4. Read James 1:3. Looking for joy in trials seems counter-intuitive. Why is it reasonable to look for joy? (Trials test our faith and that develops perseverance.)

      1. I've got to say that I do not put joy and perseverance in the same box! Perseverance brings to mind a continuing problem. How do you look at this?

    5. Read James 1:4. How does this explain joy? (James tells us that trials teach us perseverance, and perseverance gives us all the tools we need. Knowing that is a source of joy.)

    6. Friend, do you identify with this lesson? Are you one who thought Jesus' teachings were crazy, but later, like James, have come to be a true believer? Perhaps you were the one whose family thought you were crazy because of your faith. One lesson I've learned in life is that if I'm "converted" from one view to another, I hold my new view much more strongly. No doubt James was a strong believer. Will you join me in seriously considering what James has for us in the following studies?

  4. Next week: The Perfecting of Our Faith.
* Copr. 2014, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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