James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
James is a practical book which reduces the pretensions of the religious to size. I chose it so that none of us may be tempted to be heady. For God is not interested in intellectual Calvinists, He is interested in practically godly Christians. The church of Christ does not need those who are theologically aligned but lack in holiness. Our faith must be a living faith, a working faith, a faith to live by. A faith that has been born by the Holy Spirit through His Word, and faith that is sustained by the Holy Spirit through His Word.
We must remember that of God’s own will He brought us forth by the Word of truth that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures so that we put away all filthiness and rampart wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save your souls. Yes be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
I am particularly amazed by three attributes of this wonderful letter:
In this letter is a strong tone of a gracious, wise and loving pastor. This book is deeply concerned with the average Christian’s daily struggle against the pressures of the world, the tug of temptation and the subtle suggestion of compromise. It is an antidote to the problems that bedevil every Christian. It is a wise counsel, giving guidance for godly living.
This book is faithful in bringing timeless truths to bear on everyday life in a way that is quite irresistible. It will grip your mind and your heart all at once. It will reach your conscience and would change your behaviour, if you would listen. This letter is addressed to you - do not divert its message.
“Few things would do more to revitalize present-day Christianity than a determined effort on the part of believers to take James seriously and put his teaching into practice.” Curtis Vaughan.
We profess faith in Christ, but trust to materialism (Sir Fredrick Catherwood, MP European Parliament) - This letter will help see yourself from the right lens and bring you to terms with the message of the Bible. It is rich in the Law (there is a lot from Leviticus) and fresh with the gospel (so much from the teachings of Christ, especially the Sermon on the Mount).
I have the pleasure of serving this spiritual delicacy to you by simply unpacking the first verse.
From the first verse we learn:
1. James Considered himself a servant
Who is a servant?
The word translated ‘servant’ (doulos) could also be translated, ‘slave’. A servant at the time, whether male or female was owned by another! This means that such a servant had no human rights attached to him for he was considered a personal property. Such a servant was there to be used and be disposed at the will of the master.
It is most remarkable that James considered himself such a servant, even though he was the leader or pastor of the very first church of Christ in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18). Even if James would have wanted to designate himself one of the pillars of the church in Jerusalem, he would have been justified for this is how Paul referred to him in Galatians 2:9. Paul even called him an apostle along Peter! Besides, being the brother of Jesus, it shocking that he would have referred to himself as ‘James, a servant’. Yet, he is not lying - James was a servant of God. He was no more than a servant of Jesus Christ! Those who serve in the enterprise of the gospel are servants.
It is clear that James is a humble Christian who viewed himself in the light of eternity. He did not think of himself more highly than he ought (Romans 12:3).
"The mark of a great man of God is no that he thinks himself great, but rather that he thinks himself utterly insignificant." (John Blanchard).
This is how Paul responded to the Corinthian immaturity –
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 1Co 3:5.
Whether Paul or Appollos or Peter or Murungi or whoever you are, are nothing and can do nothing… yes, says Paul, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
I am nothing more than what Christ has assigned me. Christ has simply assigned me or any other church leader to be a servant indeed and in practice. Failure to conform to this biblical standard of church leadership, disqualifies the person from the designated position. If one is more than a servant, then the Lord has not assigned such a person any position in His church.
Look at yourself – are you more inclined to think of yourself more highly than you ought? Do you have an insatiable appetite for recognition and appreciation? Remember that 'the only Person who had the right to assert His rights waived them.' (Kenneth Wuest). Jesus Christ is the only who had such rights - who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Php 2:6-8.
Undoubtedly Jesus was a servant and since this was true of Jesus, how much more you who are owned by God? This is how God puts it in His word - You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1Co 6:19-20. Commenting on this verse John Blanchard says,
Paul’s words are particularly appropriate here because he is using the language that would apply to the purchase of a slave, and a slave would not have the luxury of choosing his own master, dictating the terms of his employment and then asking to be given credit for everything he did. It was the master who did the choosing, paid the price, sent the slave to work and had the right to expect loyal and humble obedience.
Clearly we know that we did not choose Christ but He chose us to go and bear fruit (John 15:16). This is how the famous missionary C.T. Studd puts it,
I had known about Jesus dying for me, but I had never understood that he had died for me then I did not belong to myself. Redemption means buying back, so that if I belonged to him, either I had to be a thief and keep what wasn’t mine, or else I had to give up everything to God. When I came to see that Jesus Christ had died for me, it didn’t seem hard to give up all for him.”
2. James served God & the Lord Jesus Christ
With the understanding that God has bought us at the cost of His Son, and we are his and we owe all to Him, this comes with a responsibility of service to Him. When James describes himself as a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, he stands along Abraham (Psalm 105:6); Moses (Joshua 14:7); Joshua (24:29) and Paul (Rom.1:1; Phil.1:1).
What does it mean to be a servant of God and Jesus Christ? It means that he had no authority that he claimed from himself. He did not stand on his own feet, rather what he said, was spoken with divine authority. He is messenger of God and all he had to say what he had received from God, his Master.
In placing Jesus Christ alongside God, James shows that Jesus has the same honour with God the Father. And as the Father is Lord, so is Jesus. The word Lord is used here to mean the sovereign Creator and Saviour who reigns over all the creation. In using the term ‘lord’, James is saying that God the Father and Jesus Christ deserve equal service as the Sovereign Master. In this sense, it is equal to the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God (John 20:28) and the words of Jude, “Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord (Jude 4).
Clearly the words employed to describe God the Father and God the Son show a very precise theology of who is God. He is not only the Father, upon whom the plan of salvation was conceived and planned in His electing love, but He is also God the Son who in the fullness of time was born and fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies. He is Jesus the Son of David and Son of Mary – fully human. But He is also Christ the Son of God and the Son of Man.
It is such an exalted position to be a servant of a president in statehouse – where the political power of the land dwells. What a privilege to be a comptroller of State House? But it is a loftier position to be a servant of the Holy God. To be servant of God is to be highly lifted by God for what could be better than to be the dispenser of the grace of God? To be a preacher of the gospel of God is to be a minister of the mercies of God to sinners. To serve the Lord is to have the honours of God as your badge. It is a shame that there are few labourers in the fields of God. It shows that far more Christians are in love with the world than we can imagine. For even many of those who are servants of God show themselves to be masters than servants. They lord it over people instead of serving them.
James so served God and Christ that he is described like this:
Of so great temperance, that he drank neither wine nor strong drink, and ate no flesh. So pious, that his knees were made like a camel’s hood by frequent prayers. He died a martyr; they would have him persuade the people to abandon the doctrine of Christ, which, when he refused, and pressed the quite contrary, he was thrown down from a pinnacle of the temple, and his brains dashed out with a fuller’s club, and so gave up the ghost.
- 3. James served the people of God
He writes to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion. In writing to these people, James displays his love for them. His love for God is displayed in his love for His people. Faith in the Saviour must be displayed by love for the saints. Since the love of Christ has been cast upon the saints, how you who claims to serve Christ, who gave His life as a ransom for them must be manifested in the love for the objects of this divine love.
The people that James is concerned about have been scattered among the nations – they are in diaspora. This is a reference to the ethnic Jews who had been scattered by the persecution of the saints to different nations. As these people moaned in a foreign land, they would naturally want to know where is their God. In response James by the hand of God writes to them in order to encourage them to living their Christian lives faithfully.
We know that while this letter was addressed to the Jews, it has something for us. For we are the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). And so we are strangers and exiles on earth (Heb. 11:13). We have no abiding city here, but we seek the city that is to come (Heb. 13:14). We are the elect exiles (1Peter 1:1). And for this reason we need constant encouragement to help us live as pilgrims do. As we bear the reproach of aliens and foreigners we have a need to be encouraged to persevere in faith in the midst of suffering.
This letter has a very special focus on Christian relationships: caring for orphans and widows (1:27); to be impartial in our courtesy (2:1); the duty of love for our neighbour (2:8); he calls us to love and compassion for the needy (2:15-16); he warns us of social sins like bitter jealousy and selfish ambition (3:14) speaking evil against another brother (4:11); pay our workers faithfully and honestly (5:4); Grumbling (5:9); ministering to the sick (5:14); confessing sins to one another (5:16); pursuing those who have gone astray (5:19-20). In this way we serve our people.
Thankfully although the recipients of this letter were of the Dispersion, yet they had been faithfully preserved by the hand of God. They were still the twelve tribes – not one had been lost or forgotten. They enjoyed the presence and protection of God even though in a foreign land. The Lord preserves His people as a united entity and perpetuates them to His cause so that He is glorified not only as the Creator and Saviour, but also as the Preserver and Sustainer of His people – so that none of His people shall be lost. John Blanchard puts it this way;
God’s people may be oppressed, they may be persecuted, they may be in the minority, they may find the going hard, they may be ridiculed, they may be thought irrelevant by the world; but they are still the ‘twelve tribes’, held secure in the preserving hand of God.
When James writes the brief salutation, ‘Greetings’ he means “Rejoice!” This particular greeting occurs in the New Testament only in James’ letter embodying the Jerusalem Council decision (Acts 15:23) – a parallel that tends to confirm common authorship. Rejoice that such is your God, and such is your privileged position of being servants of God. Even though you meet trials of various kinds – count it all joy, for your faith is being strengthened by God in these trials. Be steadfast in trials because you know your God. Rejoice because you will receive the crown of life.
Having considered the introduction to the book and the first verse, do you think this is an epistle of straw as Martin Luther called it? This is letter is excellent in addressing the Christian life. It calls us to be faithful Christians 24/7