Peter and Paul were not the only people who were writing letters encouraging the early Church. Others who were disciples of Jesus or witnesses to His life, death, and resurrection gave their lives to spreading the gospel message. This week, we will read letters from two of those individuals: John and James.
We have already read some of John’s writing -- the gospel of John. He is the author of five New Testament books: The Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation. In fact, by word count, he is the third most prolific author in the New Testament, trailing Luke (Luke and Acts) and Paul (13 epistles). When reading John’s epistles, one cannot help but be reminded of his gospel account. 1 John centers around three tests for professing Christians to test the genuineness of their faith. There is a moral test -- are you obedient to the commands of God? A life transformed by the gospel is a life that longs to be obedient to the Lord. There is a doctrinal test -- do you believe that Jesus is the crucified and risen Son of God? Finally, there is a love test -- does your faith in Jesus lead you to love God and love His people? These tests are interconnected at times and provide the backdrop for John’s general encouragement: that believers test themselves to be sure they are in the faith.
The book of James is written by Jesus’ brother, who was a leader in the church in Jerusalem. The epistle of James focuses on the relationship between faith and works, between belief and behavior. His letter is full of practical encouragements and illustrations about what the Christian life is to look like. Motivated by our faith in Jesus, Christians are to, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22)
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The epistles were letters written by influential members of the early church and distributed throughout the known world.
FELLOWSHIP OF BELIEVERS
James focuses his letter on some very practical instructions; namely on how we are to speak and act toward one another. Obedience to James’ commands promotes the healthy ingredient of the sweet Fellowship of Believers. First, James addresses conversation. He instructs that we must be “quick to listen and slow to speak and become angry.” He cautions us that, while we think that our words spoken loudly and forcefully will surely convince the other person of their error, this is not the case. This is a healthy caution to us as parents toward our children. Angry words and actions do not teach our children to live righteously, but rather cause scars that are slow to heal. Secondly, when we hear God’s commands, we cannot just stop at hearing them, but we are to do them. This sounds ridiculously simple, but is hard to obey. God promises to help us as we turn to Him.
- Do you have a short fuse or are you more like a candle in your ability to react well in a difficult conversation?
- Why is it easier to listen when someone speaks calmly?
- Picture yourself keeping a tight rein on a horse. What does it feel like when you try to hold your tongue?
- What two things does James say that God considers as “pure religion?” Discuss.
- Pollution makes the air or water dirty and stinky. How does sin make us dirty and stinky? When we sin, what can we do? Read 1 John 1:9.
Activity 1: Take That Back
You will need a tube of toothpaste and a paper plate. As a family, squirt all the toothpaste on the plate. Have fun getting it all out. Next, instruct everyone to work together to put it back in the tube. Is it possible? Discuss how impossible it is to take our words back once they are spoken. Go a step further and write some unkind words on the plate that are common at home. Use this as a time to ask each other’s forgiveness. Pray and ask God to help each of you to keep a tight rein on your tongue.
Activity 2: Reining your Tongue
Take turns reading or saying the second half of James 1:19. For younger kids lead them in repeating phrases. Then try to say it holding onto your tongue. When you are tempted to say something unkind, picture yourself holding your tongue. Role play this situation. This will bring lots of laughter and can be a fun reminder to break up quarrels when they arise in the future.
Small Group Discussion
- This week’s introduction paragraph mentions three tests of genuine faith that are addressed in 1 John. How would you answer those three questions? How do you test the genuineness of your faith?
- The counsel, encouragement and practical truths to live a godly life in the book of James are numerous. What stands out to you?
- James encourages believers to be “doers of the word.” What examples are there to follow in James?
- What promises are there to proclaim?