James hits the ground running. He introduces himself as a “servant of God and of Jesus Christ,” then he starts telling you right away how to live like a servant of God and of Christ. He begins his epistle quite differently than Paul begins most of his epistles. Take Galatians, for example:
“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 Jesus gave himself for our sins to free us from this evil world we live in, as God the Father planned. 5 The glory belongs to God forever and ever. Amen” (Galatians 1:3‑5 (NCV)
Why the big difference? Is it of any significance for us? Both are writing God’s Word, but James is writing to “the tribes in the Dispersion,” which means Jewish people who were not living in Jerusalem, where James was a church leader. Paul is writing to Gentiles. We don’t see that as a huge difference today, but then it was.
James never once mentions the Law of Moses, but rather the “law of liberty” (James 1:25). Meanwhile, Paul mentions Moses’ Law twenty-eight times in Galatians. Some false teachers preyed on the Galatians ignorance of the Law in a way that would never have worked with James’ audience. Just as it wouldn’t work with us today. We, as 21st century American Christians, are not likely to be tricked into following circumcision; it’s a common practice that has nothing to do with being Jewish for us. We’d start following Jewish dietary laws if we thought it would help us lose weight. I can just see a new fad diet: Fat Burning Jewish Law Diet.
What we would be easily deceived about is the importance of Christian living. What these two epistles have in common is connecting our freedom in Christ with sound Christian living. James writes “This royal law is found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If you obey this law, you are doing right. 9 But if you treat one person as being more important than another, you are sinning” (James 2:8-9, NCV). Paul writes: “My brothers and sisters, God called you to be free, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do what pleases your sinful self. Serve each other with love. 14 The whole law is made complete in this one command: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14, NCV).
So, for 1st century Christians, and for 21st century Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles, James is concerned with telling you the truth. And the truth is that none of us are perfect and all of us have a lot to learn. The tenor of James is straight-talking truth, which though sometimes hard to hear, is a blessing if heeded.