Living What You Believe: Wisdom from the Book of James

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To live the life to which we've been called, Christians must respond to each challenge with practical wisdom--a virtue that often eludes even the most well-meaning Christians. This Bible study on the book of James examines how we can live out our faith with wisdom.
- Personal study between meetings
- 5 sessions


  • SKU: 9781576831984
  • SKU10: 1576831981
  • Title: Living What You Believe: Wisdom from the Book of James
  • Series: Guide Book Series
  • Qty Remaining Online: 62
  • Publisher: Navpress Publishing Group
  • Date Published: Jan 2001
  • Pages: 160
  • Binding: Leather
  • Edge Color: White
  • Red Letter: No
  • Concordance: No
  • Weight lbs: 0.65
  • Dimensions: 9.90" L x 6.90" W x 0.50" H
  • Features: Price on Product, Maps
  • Themes: Theometrics | Evangelical;
  • Category: STUDY GUIDE
  • Subject: Biblical Studies - New Testament

Chapter Excerpt

Chapter One

Introduction to Unit 1 Wisdom in Troubles and Temptation (James 1)

Destination: To integrate the truth that God has promised to provide wisdom to handle the trials and temptations that confront us in life.

When an older member of my (William's) extended family was struck with a disabling physical condition, it fell to me to assume responsibility for her affairs when her husband died. While I had begun playing an assisting role in their lives during the husband's final months-coordinating legal and financial matters, looking after finances, hiring and managing in-home health care workers-I quickly became overwhelmed with the complexities of the situation after he died. Handling this type of situation long-distance (I lived in another state) required skills I did not possess. I remember asking God often for help-for wisdom and skill-in knowing how to meet this family member's needs.

That was more than a decade ago. Since then I have had to expand my skill set considerably in carrying out my responsibilities to this family member. Though she has continued to live, she exists in a totally disabled condition physically. While there are other family members to consult on important decisions, I have become responsible for her day-to-day welfare. Navigating the maze of medical and insurance details, overseeing her limited finances, looking out for the home where she still lives, managing the cadre of around-the-clock sitters who administer her medications-I now possess a measure of wisdom in an area of life with which I was totally unfamiliar a few years ago.

Job said, "Man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7). While sometimes trouble has malevolent or pernicious sources, more often than not the troubles and trials we experience come simply from living in a fallen world. Things rust and break. We get sick. We have conflicts with others. We are reviled for our faith. There is too much month for our money. And because of all that, we get personally tired and discouraged and wonder how we can go on.

Jewish sages had a word for the remedy for life's trouble-hokmah. We translate this word as "wisdom," but its basic meaning is "skill." Wisdom, therefore, is the skill of living. It's the ability to face an obstacle and figure out how to go over, around, or through it. It's the ability to persevere without giving up. It's the ability to navigate the dangerous shoals without shipwrecking our faith. James was a man with Jewish roots, and he wanted you to know that "when you encounter various trials," you should "ask of God," who will give the skill (wisdom) to make it through. You may never be baptized in the fire of long-term caregiver as I was, but you have experienced (and will experience) serious trials and troubles for which you feel totally unskilled, totally unprepared. What should you do? Ask God for the skills (the wisdom) to meet the challenge.

James' emphasis on acquiring wisdom has led many to refer to his letter as the New Testament's version of the book of Proverbs. Unit 1 of this GuideBook will help you explore the first chapter of James and discover why asking God for skill in living is the best way to face life's troubles and temptations. Acquiring wisdom is crucial for the journey to Christlikeness-becoming like the one who was Himself "the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:2-3

Day 1

Overview of James

James as Literature

The book of James is a letter. And as such, it is not unique. Of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, all but five (the four Gospels plus Acts) were letters in their original form.

Author, Date, and Recipients

Four different men named James are mentioned in the New Testament. Identify each one from the following verses:

Matthew 10:2; Acts 12:2

Luke 6:16

Matthew 10:3; Acts 1:13

Matthew 13:55; Galatians 1:19

Tradition has recognized the last of these four, James the half brother of Jesus, as the author of the letter. This James played a leading role in the first church council held in Jerusalem around AD 49-50 (Acts 15), and the letter produced by that council, under James' leadership, is similar in tone and style to the book of James. In particular, the same distinctive word for "greeting" is used in both the book of James (James 1:1) and the letter from the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:23)-and in no other apostolic letter in the New Testament.

The prominent disciple named James (in the inner circle of James, Peter, and John; see Matthew 17:1) was killed around AD 44, and neither of the other two Jameses occupies a prominent place in the New Testament. James the half brother of Jesus is the most reasonable choice as author of this letter.

Historians place the death of James at around AD 62-66, but evidence suggests his letter may have been written much earlier-as early as AD 46-49. If so, it was likely the first apostolic letter written to the early church (that is, the first letter that has been preserved). Several factors point to an early date of composition:

1. Jewish-Gentile relations, prominent in later New Testament letters (Romans and Galatians), are absent from this letter. That suggests a setting in which the church was still predominantly Jewish.

2. James' emphasis is on behavior rather than theology. The pattern in Paul's letters was often theology first, practice second (see, for example, Romans and Ephesians). This suggests an early period when faith was conceived of simply as belief in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

3. In the Greek text, James calls the meeting place of the church a "synagogue," an indication of the early, transitional setting for the letter (James 2:2). His references to church leadership also reflect a Jewish heritage, as he refers only to "teachers" and "elders" (James 3:1; 5:1).

4. James does not mention the watershed results of the Jerusalem council, which may indicate the letter was written before the council took place.

To whom did James address his letter (see James 1:1)?

Where did they reside?

According to James 1:2-3, what were they apparently experiencing?

Most Bible scholars believe that "twelve tribes" were Jewish converts to Christianity who were driven out of Jerusalem in the persecution that arose after the martyrdom of Stephen.

Read the following verses and characterize the growth of the church in Jerusalem following the ascension of Christ:

Acts 1:15

Acts 2:41

Acts 4:4

Acts 5:14

Acts 6:7

When persecution began, where did the church flee (see Acts 8:1; 11:19)?

How does this situation fit with James' words in James 1:2-3?


The father of the Protestant Reformation, the great theologian Martin Luther, called James a "right strawy epistle." He, and others of his day, felt James' letter placed too much emphasis on works and not enough on faith. This view is understandable in that Luther and other Reformers were battling to reinstate faith to its rightful, biblical position after salvation by works had become a dominant emphasis in church teaching.

But James' letter is not contradictory to the letters of Paul ("the righteous man shall live by faith"; Romans 1:17); it is complementary to them. James stresses the truth that genuine faith will manifest itself in righteous living and that "faith, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:17). The same criticisms leveled against James have been leveled against the teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, and understandably so-both stress the righteous lifestyle that should be evident among citizens of the kingdom of God.

The following two passages are perhaps the most central to James' message (for the verses, see appendix A). Summarize in your own words these primary themes of the letter.

James 1:19-22

James 2:14-17

Bringing It Home

1. What areas of life can you identify-whether spiritual, practical, relational, or moral-in which you need greater wisdom (skill)?

2. What do you see in James 1:5 that indicates God would welcome your request for increased wisdom in any area of your life?

3. Self-deception is subtle. Name any behavior in your life that is evidence of deception (James 1:22). What must you do not to be deceived any longer?

Day 2

The Old Testament Roots of Wisdom

Wisdom is one of those words used by many and defined by few. We think we know wisdom when we see it, but we have a hard time telling anyone else how to look for it. While James encourages us to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5), if we discover the roots of wisdom in the Old Testament, we'll know better what we are asking for, how to know when we have received it, and how to make it a characteristic of our life.

The Skill of Wisdom

As mentioned in the introduction, the Hebrew word for wisdom is hokmah, meaning "skill." This word, in its various forms (the verb "be wise," the adjective "wise," and the noun "wisdom"), occurs more than three hundred times in the Old Testament.

To see hokmah in its most practical, concrete settings, identify the "skill" that is referred to in each of the following verses:

Exodus 28:3

Exodus 35:35

2 Samuel 13:3

Psalm 58:5

Proverbs 30:24-28

Isaiah 40:20

Ezekiel 27:8

Whether dexterity in engraving, shrewdness in negotiating, adroitness in navigating, passion in mourning, or discernment in speaking, skill was a valued characteristic in the Old Testament world. It is easy to see how the concept moved from the concrete realm of physical activity to the more abstract realm of words and ideas that today is most closely associated with wisdom. As examples of the more abstract expressions of wisdom in Hebrew thought, a wise person was one who was skilled in giving advice, interpreting dreams, settling disputes, or influencing and leading others.

The Only Wise God

What does a wise person do? He or she, in a manner of speaking, brings order out of chaos. Take the building of the tabernacle, for instance. It took a group of wise (skilled) craftsmen to transform a multitude of raw resources-leathers, fabrics, metals, stones, and wood-into a beautiful worship center in the Sinai desert. Where did people learn such skills (that is, acquire such wisdom)? Because men and women are created in the image of God the Creator, they too can become skilled at bringing order out of chaos.

God is the One who, in the beginning, transformed a lifeless chaos (Genesis 1:2) into a living cosmos (Isaiah 42:5), and wisdom was His instrument of creation. Wisdom is personified in Proverbs 8, where it is pictured as being present with God in the creation of the world. Using Proverbs 8:22-31 (see appendix A), list the parts of the earth and universe to which God brought order by the use of wisdom.

God brought physical order out of chaos at Creation by employing His wisdom. He wants us, by the use of His wisdom, to bring order into the moral and spiritual chaos that sin has produced in the world-beginning with our own lives. Draw lines connecting the following verses with the area of life where wisdom brings order out of chaos:

Proverbs 2:9-10 The realm of personal peace

Proverbs 2:12-15 The realm of personal reputation

Proverbs 2:16-17 The realm of appropriate relationships

Proverbs 3:4 The realm of intellect and knowledge

Proverbs 3:13,17 The realm of sexual morality

Wisdom and the Fear of the Lord

If wisdom belongs to God (Job 12:13; Daniel 2:20; Romans 16:27), how do we get it from Him? As mentioned previously, we have the potential for doing wise (skillful) things because we have been made in His image. But how do we know what is truly wise, and then how do we increase in wisdom?

One element in Scripture is consistently linked to the discovery and application of wisdom in life. To what is wisdom linked in Proverbs 9:10 (see also Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 15:33; Isaiah 33:6)?

In Psalm 34:11 the psalmist suggested that the fear of the Lord can be learned or acquired. How did the author of Proverbs suggest that one acquire (come to understand) the fear of the Lord? Summarize in your own words what you believe to be the theme of Proverbs 2:1-5 (found in appendix A).

James and the Old Testament Roots of Wisdom

One verse in the Old Testament says what the fear of the Lord is: Proverbs 8:13. Define the fear of the Lord based on this verse.

We can conclude the following about the Old Testament roots of wisdom:

Abstaining from evil is to fear the Lord.

To fear the Lord is to gain wisdom (skill in living).

Therefore, abstaining from evil is to gain wisdom (skill in living).

James revealed his Old Testament understanding of wisdom by contrasting true wisdom with false wisdom. List the characteristics of each as found in James 3:13-18 (see appendix A):

True, Heavenly Wisdom False, Earthly Wisdom

How does James' understanding of wisdom match that of the Old Testament?

Bringing It Home

1. Obedience is at the heart of fearing God. Though James didn't per se mention the fear of the Lord in his letter, it is obvious that he wanted his readers to move beyond knowing God to obeying God. The letter you are about to study is filled with practical examples and exhortations to live in a manner that will cause you to gain wisdom. Perhaps now would be a good time to follow the admonition of Proverbs 2:3 ("Cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding") and compose your own prayer, asking God for wisdom as you study James.

Day 3

How to Handle Trials

You may not be in the same situation that James' readers were-scattered from your hometown, living in unfamiliar surroundings, not sure if you will ever see familiar faces again-but one thing connects you to them: trials! Suffering is a common thread that unites all humanity, but it takes on a special purpose for those who know God.

Before we discover James' insights on the "whys" and "hows" of trials, what is the largest trial looming on your horizon at the moment?

Keep that trial in mind as you study James' words, looking for insights and God's perspective on how you should handle it.



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