James is pastoring believers who have lost a great deal for following Christ – they have undergone opposition and probably persecution. He deals with various dangers and temptations that they are facing and provides appropriate advice for them to implement in their new circumstances. We might imagine that since they had experienced trouble because of their faith he would advise them to keep a low profile. Instead, he urges them to engage in active Christianity based on the word of God. In order to do this, he tells them that they need to understand the purpose of the Bible and to persevere in obedience to it.
The first point that we can take from what James says here is that the Bible is the only rule to direct us how we may obey God. This is an important point to make and it is a reminder that the message of the Bible is understandable. While there are doctrinal passages that are difficult to understand, and about which we require help from teachers as to their meaning, we cannot say that the practical demands are hard to understand. They may be hard to obey, but that is not the same as saying that they are hard to understand.
Connected to this fact is the privilege and responsibility that they have been given as ‘doers of the word’. After all, James could not have said this description to people who had never received the word of God. Such are ignorant of what he requires. In his grace, he has given his word to believers, which is a great privilege because it tells us about the way of salvation and about how we can live for his glory, which is the best way to live. But along with being given it we have received a great responsibility, which makes us accountable to God regarding our obedience of it.
The second point that James makes is that the Bible is primarily practical. When he makes this statement – ‘be doers of the word’ – he states the obvious. We only have to think of passages such as the Ten Commandments to realise that is the case. Of course, James would have been speaking initially of the Old Testament since the New Testament had not been written at his time of writing. Nevertheless, what he says about the Old is also true of the New. The Sermon on the Mount and the practical sections of Paul’s letters and many other passages show that it is a practical book. James makes it very clear that belief and behaviour go together.