What have I learned from the epistles written by Jesus’ brothers? The epistle of James is a concise, very practical read that encourages Christians in their day-to-day walk with Christ. I have often heard it said that the book of James, with its five chapters, is a perfect chapter-a-day read for the five days of the typical work week. Certainly, reading James that often will help a Christian to be more faithful.
The book of James covers the following topics in a precise, to-the-point way: trials, temptations, wickedness, bridling the tongue, wisdom, sin, God’s Word which saves us, vain religion, equality in Christ, God being the source of good, being doers of the Word, pure and undefiled religion, the brevity of life, the perfect law of liberty, visitation, partiality, the faith of demons, salvation being not by faith only, stumbling in one point of the law, faith being dead if it is without works, Rahab and Abraham being justified by works, mercy over judgment, faith working together with works, how we all stumble in many things, envy and selfishness, demonic wisdom vs. true wisdom from above, the evils of the tongue and how it blesses God and curses men, the meekness of wisdom, the fruit of righteousness, the reasons prayers are not answered positively, the need to submit to God, how there is one lawgiver, the need to resist the devil, what brings enmity with God, humility as opposed to arrogant boasting, evil speaking, sins of omission, how God resists the proud, the woes of the sinfully rich, the blessings which come with endurance, the need to confess sins, the effectiveness of the prayers of righteous people, the evil of swearing, the need to patiently wait on the Lord, the sin of grumbling against others, the need to pray and sing, the example of Elijah, the prophets as examples, physical and spiritual sickness, and the importance of converting sinners.
As one can readily see, the book of James does an outstanding job of covering a large variety of topics (sometimes more than once) in a very short book. And this is not an all-inclusive list! For this reason, James is sometimes called the “Proverbs of the New Testament,” because, like Proverbs, it covers many different topics one after the other. For this reason, I have found the book of James to be one of my personal favorites, as I guess you could say I tend to be a little “scatter-brained,” jumping quickly from one thought to another. If you are like me in that regard, then you too will probably love the book of James.
I have one last thought from the book of James. In the opening lines of the book, we find that the book was written to “the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” This is probably in reference to spiritual Israel (the church), and likely deals with the scattering afar caused by persecution (see also Acts 8:4). It is important to realize that Christians will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12), and the book of James shows us that Christians – even in facing trials – are still expected to act like Christians.
Although a very short book (only one chapter of 25 verses), the epistle of Jude, at least to this author’s observation, does not seem to be as well read among Christians. That is a shame. The book of Jude is fascinating in content, and can be thoroughly read in about a five-to-ten-minute sitting.
Probably what is most interesting about this epistle is that Jude had to change his topic. Verse three tells us that he had intended to write unto his readers about the general topic of the common salvation, but instead, upon hearing that there were false teachers active, changed his topic to earnestly contending for the faith. This is such an important concept because it shows 1) that there is only one true faith, 2) that such faith includes our actions, not just ideas, and 3) that it is so important that we must contend for it.
While it is true that there are many things in the realm of opinion, it is unfortunately also true that there are many who have taken matters of doctrine and relegated them (in their own minds) to the level of opinion. Jude shows us that some things are worth fighting for, spiritually speaking. Incidentally, in other instances, contentions are forbidden (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:10; Titus 3:9-11; etc.). Thus, we must exercise wisdom and careful discernment in knowing when to contend and when not to contend.
The reason things had gotten so bad for Jude to have to confront is that “certain men” had “crept in unnoticed.” These ungodly men turned the grace of God into an excuse for lewdness, and in so doing denied the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, in the New King James Version the word “ungodly” appears six times in this short book! Jude goes on to provide further explanation of their ungodliness, summarized below: unbelief similar to the Jews who left Egypt, speaking evil of dignitaries, serving only themselves, using flattery, fornication similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, self-corruption, grumbling, complaining, mockery, greediness similar to Cain and Balaam, walking according to their own lusts, involvement in sensuality, rejecting authority, rebellion similar to that of Korah, mouthing great swelling words, and causing divisions.
As one can readily see, the church was in many ways “eaten up” with sin. Could we not say the same today? Jude tells Christians that it must be dealt with. Yet the conclusion of Jude’s letter is also important. Beginning in verse 20, Jude says that Christians are to build themselves up in the most holy faith. He also speaks about having compassion on some (perhaps those who are just confused) as opposed to having to outright pull others out of the fire (likely those who are caught up in sin and know full well of it).
Finally, Jude says that with God’s help Christians can be kept from stumbling. Eventually we can be found faultless before the glory of God on Judgment Day.