James was written by the human half-brother of Jesus who identifies himself simply as a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. He writes to the Jewish believers who are scattered abroad in the Greco-Roman world of the first century BC. The book of James is similar to Wisdom Literature like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Sermon on the Mount. The author employs a series of short messages which give advice, counsel, and wisdom to the readers.
The audience is clearly those who are already in the faith and are addressed as ‘brothers,’ which is the Greek word “adelphos.” “Adelphos” includes all in Christ, without distinction as to gender or station in life, so brothers and sisters without ranks. That James is addressing those who have already been adopted into God’s family by faith in Christ is abundantly clear by the term ‘brother’ (see James 1:2, 9, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14, 15; 3:1, 10, 12; 4:11; 5:7, 9, 10, 12, and 19). James is not addressing the ‘lost’ to become found, but rather is telling the ‘found’ how to grow, gain the greatest reward and fulfillment from life and not lose their way.
The book, written to existing believers, is concerned with growing spiritually and practically in the Christian faith. James is challenging his readers concerning sanctification, or becoming more like Christ in character and practice, both individually and as local Christian communities. James sets forth a perspective believers should choose about how to gain the greatest fulfillment from life that comes through maturing our faith through the challenges of life.
James gives us a practical starter kit for Christian living by framing a variety of essential truths in the context of aspiring to maturity and a life that pleases God. He does so while warning believers of the danger of wandering from the truth.
James has a clear message to his believing audience that there is more-than-ample reason to walk in the truth of scripture, being sanctified in Christ. Walking in faith has the great upside of escaping the destruction of sin (James 1:22) and winning the “crown of life” (James 1:12). Walking in faith also avoids the immense downside of birthing sin, which leads to consequences of death and destruction in our lives.
In James chapter 1, James greets his readers and establishes the major themes of his letter about maturing in the faith as one who lives a life which pleases the Father. He moves from the importance of trials as a means of growth, to the value of humility, to the eternal blessings which come from endurance, then finally to the relationship between hearing the Word and doing the Word as a means of maturing in, and displaying, the righteousness of God in life.