The connection between James and the Sermon on the Mount is striking in that there are so many that James could almost be a commentary. Maybe it’s just me, but I think that another curious feature of this connection is that while there are more direct correlations between James and Matthew than there are with Luke, James’ language is actually quite similar to Luke in its phrasing.
While it seems unlikely that he had those Gospels at his fingertips, it is highly likely that the teachings of Jesus on that occasion were treasured and protected by the early church, and James would surely have been at the forefront of such an effort. In a letter that serves the purpose as the primary New Testament document of moral instruction, what better source to draw from than the Sermon on the Mount, the highest and most exacting moral teaching of all history? The chart below shows how James and the Sermon are connected:
|James’ Topic||Sermon on the Mount Reference|
|Trial 1:2-4||MT 5:10-12,48; LK 6;23|
|Asking 1:5-8||MT 7:7-8; LK 11:9-10|
|Riches 1:9-11||MT 6:19-21|
|God’s Gifts 1:12-18||MT 7:11; LK 11:13|
|Listening 1:19-27||MT 5:22; 7:21-27; LK 6:46-49|
|Judging 2:1-13||MT 5:3,5,7,19-22; 7:1-5; LK 6:20|
|Faith and Works 2:14-26||MT 7:21-23|
|The Tongue 3:1-12||MT 7:16; LK 6:44-45|
|Wisdom 3:13-18||MT 5:5-9|
|Word of God 4:1-10||MT 5:4,8; 6:7-8; 24; 7:7-8; LK 6:25|
|Slander 4:11-12||MT 5:21-22; 7:1; LK 6:37|
|Tomorrow 4:13-17||MT 6:25-34|
|The Rich 5:1-6||MT 6:19-21; LK 6:24-25; 12:33|
|Patience 5:7-11||MT 5:11-12; 7:1; LK 6:22-23|
|Swearing 5:12||MT 5:33-37|
|Prayer 5:13-18||MT 6:12-15; 7:7-11|
In case you didn’t look all that closely at the chart, the entire book of James is mapped out here, and what really strikes me is how clear it is when you look at this that James is making direct application of the teachings of Jesus to the daily lives of the members of the early church. Even more interesting is that he isn’t doing so in the legalistic way that so many people would do in later centuries, including our own, but in a way that preserves liberty while exhorting the people to hold high the standard of Jesus Christ in their love for one another.
To me, this makes James all the more useful and important a guide for every one of us.