1. Greeting (James 1:1)
James, "a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ," sends greetings to the "twelve tribes in the Dispersion," an apparent linking of this Christian community with its Jewish roots.
2. Count It All Joy (James 1:2-18)
A series of admonitions literarily linked to the opening greeting ("joy" and "greetings" are the same Greek word) introduce themes the letter will repeatedly pick up: joy, wisdom, blessing, faith, growth, endurance, creation, word, and first fruits. Christians endure and grow by a stable-minded wisdom that knows them to be blessed as the "first fruits" of a creative word coming from the Father, who is the giver of "every perfect gift."
3. Hearing and Doing (James 1:19-27)
Like those who observe themselves in a mirror, Christians are to be hearers who remember who they are. God's "implanted word" is "the perfect law, the law of liberty" that has power to enable "doers" who, while keeping themselves unstained by the world, are blessed through effective action on behalf of the needy.
4. The Royal Law of Mercy (James 2:1-13)
Faith that responds to the call of its Lord Jesus Christ to love the neighbor as the self fulfills the "royal law" of Scripture. Such faith lives by the "law of liberty," which demonstrates the power of mercy to triumph over a partiality that caters to the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and oppressed.
5. Faith without Works Is Dead (James 2:14-26)
Through imaginary dialogue and pointed repetition, the theme of "hearing" and "doing" is picked up and expanded in terms of "faith" and "works." Abraham and Rahab are models of a faith whose action for others is as essential to its life as the soul is to the body.
6. Controlling the Tongue (James 3:1-12)
If the previous section picked up the theme of "doing," this section picks up and emphasizes the theme of "hearing." One should be quick to hear and slow to speak, because the tongue is a restless and dangerous fire that has potential both to bless God and to curse God's creation.
7. Learning True Wisdom (James 3:13-5:6)
In what might be regarded as a kind of mini-handbook on Christian wisdom, this section brings together a number of themes suggested in the letter's opening reference to wisdom (see 1:5). Typically, the author contrasts wisdom that is from above and full of mercy through God's gift with wisdom that is of this world and the author of destruction and death.
A. Conflicts and Disputes (James 4:1-12)
Conflicts and disputes arise from unrestrained wants that forget the gifts of God. Wisdom, on the other hand, knows the graceful gift of God's presence and yearning Spirit within and is thus enabled to live in humility and integrity with the neighbor.
B. Living for Today (James 4:13-17)
Wisdom knows the uncertainty and limits of being created and thus knows that the future remains in God's hands. Such humility allows us to know that we cannot do everything, but that perhaps we can do the one thing that is right for today.
C. Remember to Do Justice (James 5:1-6)
Wisdom knows that God hears the cries of those who have been treated unjustly by the rich and the powerful, and that God's judgment on them will surely come.
8. Concluding Exhortation: Patience, Prayer, and Power (James 5:7-20)
Finally, the Christian community is encouraged to live patiently in the surety of the nearness of the Lord's coming and to endure in the "truth" and certainty that the end is in the Lord's hands. In the meantime this community should exercise prayer on behalf of one another in the knowledge that prayer has power for healing, forgiveness, and ultimately salvation from death.
AUTHOR: James Boyce, Professor of New Testament and Greek