The General Epistles
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).- James 1:27
In 2004, we spent our time engaging in a systematic study of the book of Hebrews, the letter that most clearly describes the priestly office of Christ. Over the course of last year, we were able to look at several great theological themes, including the superiority of Jesus, the relationship between the old covenant and the new, persevering in faith, and the great company of faithful saints who came before us.
In past years, it has been our practice to spend a year in the Old Testament after studying a New Testament book the previous year. However, we shall remain in the New Testament this year and study what are commonly called the “catholic” or “general” epistles — James; 1 and 2 Peter; 1, 2, and 3 John; and Jude. They are known as such because, unlike the letters of Paul, a specific audience is not named by the authors. Rather, these letters are addressed to “the twelve tribes” (James), “the exiles in the dispersion” (1 Peter), or they may even lack a named audience completely (1 John).
These books have been chosen for two reasons. First, the Reformed tradition emphasizes the study of the whole counsel of God, and these books are some of the least familiar to the people of God. Secondly, the topics covered in these letters — particularly the importance of godly living and the need to beware of false teachers — are especially pertinent to the current situation surrounding the church.
The first of these epistles is the book of James, which is sometimes called “the Proverbs of the New Testament.” We pray that our study of James will help us to be doers of the Word and that we will pay heed to James’ instruction on how true faith manifests itself in our lives. John Calvin writes that James “is indeed full of instruction on various subjects, the benefit of which extends to every part of the Christian life, for there are here remarkable passages on patience, prayer to God, the excellency and fruit of heavenly truth, humility, holy duties, the restraining of the tongue, the cultivation of peace, the repressing of lusts, the contempt of the world, and the like things, which we shall separately discuss in their own places.” Over the next three months, we will discuss these great themes in more detail.
Take some time to read through the book of James before we begin our studies tomorrow. As you read, meditate on a few of the verses, and pray that the Holy Spirit would begin to open your mind and heart so that you may rightly apply to your life the teaching of this book. Ask the Lord to show you how to be one who, by faith, lives out the Word of God. Pray that He would make you willing and able to do so.
Passages for Further Study