We saw in the previous article how life-hanging it had been for James to have personally witnessed the newly-risen Lord (1 Cor 15:7). How wrong he had been, and now humbled by his conversion, how he threw him­self into converting his family (Acts 1:14). This was then followed by selfless service “doing the will of his Father”. As “mercy had rejoiced over judgment” in his life, so now he was moved to show the same goodness to others. His desire to “convert the sinner from the error of his ways” was the spirit he would strive to share with all.

The bookends to James’ epistle show how highly relevant his words were to them just after the death of James the brother of John.

Over the subsequent years James became a vital “pillar” in the first century ecclesia (Gal 2:9). It is fascinating to follow him now through the book of Acts to see how some of these events were mirrored in his epistle. James’ ex­periences in the gospels and the Acts shine through his words in his epistle.

Trying of your Faith

The early days of the first century ecclesia were a time in which James’ own experiences would have provided him with many exhortations to write about. The preaching in Acts 2 was first to the Jews, who were described as “devout men” (2:5). After hearing the gospel they “were pricked in their hearts” and were baptised (2:37). It was a time when the ecclesia met with “gladness and singleness of heart” (2:46).

Soon, however, their faith was to be tried under immense pressure. The persecution that arose after Stephen’s confession (Acts 7), and particularly by Saul, caused the Jerusalem ecclesia to be partially “scat­tered abroad” (Acts 8:1). The amazing irony of this was that God’s word was also “scattered abroad” (Acts 8:1). The meaning of this verb ‘diaspeiro’ (‘dia’– across/through; ‘speiro’– to sow seed) shows that God was working in this process to sow His seed even further, to produce the “firstfruits of His creation”.

The incredible fact was that their faith had triumphed through trial because “there was great joy in the city” (Acts 8:8). They had responded in “patience”. This was the very spirit that shone forth from the first century ecclesia at this time. They had even seen the conversion of the very man that had once ravaged the ecclesia.

Count it all Joy

It was that spirit that James sought to remind them of some years later in his letter. “To the twelve tribes scattered abroad (diaspora) … my breth­ren count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations” (James 1:1-2). They would need to reinvigorate that “singleness of heart” by asking God “in faith, nothing wavering” (1:6), and allow “patience to have her perfect (maturing) work” (1:4) in their trials once again.

Their joy had been challenged, in approximate­ly AD 44, by Herod “stretching forth his hand to vex the ecclesia” (Acts 12:1). James the brother of John, one of the twelve, was taken and killed. Upon seeing the pleasure of the Jews, Herod took Peter also, again striking at the leadership of the Jerusalem ecclesia. It seems fitting, therefore, that James the Lord’s brother, upon feeling the distress within the local ecclesia and abroad at that time, reminds them of their need to be patient in tribulation.

Although “the circumcision was committed to Peter” James is the first name in the list mentioned by Paul as those “of reputation”

The bookends to James’ epistle show how highly relevant his words were to them just after the death of James the brother of John. It begins with encour­agement regarding the trials of their faith (James 1), and ends in assurance of God’s judgments on those who had “condemned and killed the just one” (5:6). It begins with him encouraging them to “ask of God” for wisdom to see their trials from God’s perspective (1:5), and it ends with him assuring them that their prayers are heard, having “entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (5:4). It begins with him remind­ing them of patience and her “perfecting work” and ends with the patience of the prophets as examples of “suffering affliction” (5:10).

James the Apostle

A great insight into James the Lord’s brother is given in Acts 12:17, when Peter is saved from prison. Peter immediately requests that they “Go and show these things unto James and to the brethren”. This not only demonstrates the position James had in the first century ecclesia, but also the genuine love and concern for his brethren that he had. A feature in James’ epistle is the use of the phrase “my brethren” or “my beloved brethren” (1:2, 16, 19, 2:5), or “brethren” (2:1,14; 3:1,10,12; 4:11; 5:7,9,10,12,19).

The love, zeal, and dedicated service that James showed in the Jerusalem ecclesia, to his “brethren”, saw him highly esteemed. So much so, it is Paul in Galatians 1:19 that calls him an “Apostle”. In God’s eyes the greatest leaders are those who humbly show God’s character by their actions: “Let him prove it by a right life with conduct guided by a wise teach­able spirit” (James 3:13 WNT).

Paul’s insight into James’ important work in the Jerusalem ecclesia is further described in Galatians Chapter 2. Paul records how he came up to those “which were of reputation” (Gal 2:2) to seek their advice and direction on key issues. There was grow­ing concern over the integration of the Gentile believers into the ecclesia due to Jewish sensitivities (Acts 10:28; 1 Pet 4:3). In addition to this was the opposition created by “those of the circumcision party” (Acts 11:1-3). Even Paul’s fears of having “run in vain” needed wise counsel to encourage him in his work. Paul would have seen James as a wonderful pillar of support personally and a strong affinity would have developed between them. After all, there were many similarities in their experiences leading up to their conversions.

The fascinating thing in Galatians 2 is, that despite Paul telling us that the gos­pel of “the circumcision was committed to Peter” (2:7-8), James is the first name in the list mentioned by Paul as those “of reputation” (Gal 2:9). Despite Peter being commissioned by Jesus to this role (Matt 16:17-19; John 21:14-19), James’ understanding of the Jewish mindset commanded the respect of Paul, who saw him as being pivotal in the handling of these delicate issues.

Yet Galatians 2:10 records another important insight: “Only they would that we should remem­ber the poor”. Here was something about which James was zealous as well. Here was “true religion”. James mentions the “poor” four times in chapter 2 (v2,3,5,6) and his contrast to the “rich men” in chapter 5 shows his true desire to care for the poor and needy. His love for “the brother of low degree” was a wonderful feature of his character and a golden theme in his epistle. Had not “God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?” (James 2:5).

Jerusalem Conference

The first century ecclesia desperately needed wise direction to handle the challenging issues that sprang up along the way. James’ wisdom would have been invaluable in handling the cultural differences concerning the Greek and Hebrew women in Acts 6. He would have attempted to restrain the extremes of the “circumcision party” in Acts 11. He would have wrestled against the undermining trends of “false brethren” trying to impose the keeping of the Law of Moses by the whole ecclesia (Gal 2:4). He would have distanced himself from those brethren who travelled throughout the ecclesial world claiming to have “come from James” (Gal 2:12) in the vain hope that by mentioning his name and reputation they would be able to add weight to their cause.

So it fell to James, at the Jerusalem Conference, to sum up the way forward after Paul, Barnabas and Peter had spoken. He was there to provide his ‘judgment’ and ‘proposal’ (Acts 15:19). His answer shows a wonderful knowledge of the prophets and a deep apprecia­tion of God’s purpose.

It was clear to James that there were fundamen­tal principles that had to be upheld by the entire body of Christ (like the pollution of idols and for­nication). Yet there were other aspects that needed to take into account the conscience and sensitivities of others (like abstaining from things strangled and blood). To him it would be edifying if both issues were understood and observed by both Jewish and Greek believers.

Wisdom from Above

James’ speech in Acts 15 has all the hallmarks of his modus operandi. We can see in James 3:17-18 how issues like this should be approached. James begins by showing that “the wisdom from above is first pure”. He is speaking here of our motive and purpose; that we have pure intent with no hidden or personal agendas. Pure is put in contrast to the jealousy and hypocrisy of verse 14. The word of God is pure (Prov 30:5) because it contains the Truth and has the power to purify the heart.

James continues his description of wisdom as being “peaceable and gentle”. We must always seek to reconcile and have peace, to take two paths and merge them into one. Peace in Scripture refers to being set at one again (Eph 2:14). This can only be fostered if our temperament is “gentle” or careful, treading slowly and cautiously – a great contrast to the “strife” or contention and factions of verse 14. James speaks of this wisdom as being “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (1:19).

Wisdom engenders a disposition that is “easily entreated and full of mercy”. The ESV says “open to rea­son” or willing to yield, rather than self-willed and unwilling to listen. James’ request to the Gentile con­verts was for them to be yielding to the sensitivities of their Jewish brethren in the same way that the Jewish brethren had to “not trouble the Gentiles” in their demands. Rather they were to be “full of mercy” by being compassionate and forgiving of the others. Such a mindset springs out of a person’s apprecia­tion of the depth of “mercy” our God has provided us (Ex 34; Matt 18).

Underpinning all of this are our actions and behaviour: “full of good fruits, without partiality and hypocrisy”. It must be accompanied by behav­iour that honours God and is in accord with His character. Right doctrine must be accompanied by right actions. Our example must be consistent with our faith; not selective in who we treat well; not two faced. There is to be only one way of life for a one-God believer. If God is a God of peace, then “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by them who make peace” (ESV).

James and Paul

Despite the positive affirmation of the Truth at the Jerusalem Conference, there were still additional challenges facing the believers. James, as a leader in the Jerusalem ecclesia, was again required to demonstrate the “wisdom from above” in a more personal way. In Acts 21, Paul came up to Jerusalem and it specifically mentions them coming to see “James, and all the elders [that] were present” (v18).

Although the exciting news of Paul’s ministry was discussed, there were some concerning undercurrents that needed a delicate hand to navigate through the difficulties. The Jerusalem ecclesia was made up of many Jews who were “all zealous for the law” (Acts 21:20). However, there were evil reports and rumours being spread about Paul, that he was teaching “the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs” (Acts 21:21).

We can see, not only from the fact that James is singled out in verse 18 that these are his words, but also from verse 25. This is exactly James’words from Acts 15: “We have sent a letter” (cp Acts 15:20), “our judgment” (cp Acts 15:19) and “abstain from…” (cp Acts 15:20). These all bear James’ inscription.

This scenario is a classic example of the lessons in James 4: here was the issue of “speaking evil one against another” (4:11). They had to learn that “he who speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law and judgeth the law”, because the true essence of the law was to “love thy neighbour as thyself”.

James was deeply concerned for the reputation of his brother Paul. His position on the law is well spoken of in his epistle (James 1:25; 2:8-12; 4:11) and doubtless these are the words that he would have tried to share with the brothers and sisters in the Jerusalem ecclesia. But by asking Paul to be sensitive to the many believers at Jerusalem, it would be a peaceful way of conquering those rumours and restoring the respect for Paul in their midst.

Although clearly supposition, was this event the one that made it possible for the letter to the Hebrews to be written some years later? Was this event in Acts 21 that which reestablished Paul’s reputation and authority amongst the Jewish believ­ers in Jerusalem that would enable him to write his emergency letter to them around AD 64-65, just after the death of James the Lord’s brother around AD 62?

Peace can only be fostered if our temperament is “gentle” or careful, treading slowly and cautiously.

James the Just

James’ words are bound up with more significance when we come to under­stand that they mirror the very lessons that he himself learnt by bitter experience. From rejecting his Messiah to being converted and passionately working in the first century ecclesia, there is great inspiration in learning from him.

Finally, history records this of James: “The Pharisees said one to another, ‘Let us go up and cast him down that they may dread to believe in Christ … let us stone James the Just?’ And they began to stone him; but he turned around and knelt saying, ‘I entreat thee, O Lord God and Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’. As they were stoning him one said, ‘Cease. Justus is praying for you’. Then one of them, a fuller, took the staff with which he was accustomed to wring out the garments he dyed, and hurled it at the head of the just man” (Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, vol 2, ch 23, quoting Hegesippus).

To this James would have said (5:7-8 ESV): “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the pre­cious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

Even so come Lord Jesus!