By Don Ruhl
The Letters of James, First and Second Peter, First, Second, and Third John, and Jude we call the General Letters (or Catholic Letters, meaning universal), because the writers did not address specific people or congregations, but they wrote to the church as a whole.
The New Testament mentions several different men with the name of James.
- James the son of Zebedee (one of the apostles)
- James the son of Alphaeus (another apostle)
- James the brother of Jesus
Acts 12.2 says that Herod killed James, the brother of John, which would be James the son of Zebedee. The writer of the Letter of James does not introduce himself as an apostle, which would be unusual, for the other apostles so identified themselves. The common belief is that the brother of Jesus wrote this letter, and that he was also the brother of Jude, who wrote a letter of the New Testament. Mark 6.3 shows that Jesus had at least two brothers with the names of James and Judas (which could also be Jude and it does not surprise us that he would later go by that name).
Some call the Letter of James the New Testament version of the Book of Proverbs or simply the Book of Common Sense. The theme of the Letter of James is how to be perfect by being effective doers of the word.
- 1.5, 6 shows that we cannot just ask God for wisdom, we have to ask in the right way.
- 1.13 explains what not to say when tempted.
- 1.22–25 teaches that we are blessed by doing the word, not just hearing it.
- Chapter 2 demonstrates that we cannot have faith in Jesus, and show partiality to people.
- 3.10 shows the inconsistency of speaking blessings and curses.
- 4.2, 3 explains that we cannot simply ask, but the motive must be right.
- 4.13–16 teaches that planning without considering the Lord’s will is sinful.
- 5.12 demonstrates that we should not swear by various things, but mean what we say.
Peter’s first letter addresses suffering, among other subjects, such as submission. After reminding us of who we are (1.1–2.10), he then shifted his theme to remind us of the world before we live (2.11, 12). That started the subject of submission in various parts of our lives:
- Submission to the government (2.13–17)
- Submission to masters (2.18–25)
- Submission to husbands (3.1–6)
That also brought a word for husbands (3.7). He then reminded us that we are here to bless people (3.8–12). Remembering that we are here to bless people, launched him into a discussion about suffering. Generally people will not harm us, if we do good zealously (3.13). However, if we still suffer, here is what we must do:
- Give our persecutors answers (3.14–17).
- Remember Christ’s sufferings (3.18–22).
- Live righteously (4.1–11).
- Know that suffering is a sign of approval (4.12–19).
He reminded elders to shepherd the flock and for the flock to submit to the elders (5.1–5). He closed with various teachings (5.6–14).
Peter’s second letter urged us to grow (1.1–15). He wanted us to know of the certainty of the Scriptures (1.16–21). Then he wanted the church to know that false teachers were on the way (Chapter 2). He finished by refuting those who mocked the Second Coming of Christ (Chapter 3).
First, Second, and Third John
When you read the three letters of John, it becomes obvious why people call him the apostle of love. Fifty-three times John uses the word “love,” or a form of it, in his three letters. John is not only the apostle of love, but
- the apostle of knowledge
- the apostle of obedience
- the apostle of truth
- the apostle of black and white
First John 2.3, 4 typifies his writings, and therefore shows how he is the apostle of these other things also, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1Jo 2.3, 4). See how John says that we can know things, that we must obey what we know, that we can know the truth, and that there is no middle ground.
Jude began by explaining that he set out to write of our common salvation, but something compelled him to write on another subject, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1.3, 4). Then he shows that false teachers had entered the church. Jude took Second Peter 2 and showed the fulfillment of Peter’s prophecy in the first century.
- Sermon: Jesus Christ on Trial (grantspasschurchofchrist.com)