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James 1:1 - The Introduction To The Book Of James

Rainy once gave me a shirt that says on the front, “A Bond-Servant Of Jesus Christ”. I have often thought about those words as I began to study the opening words of James’ letter. In fact, I am a little less desirous to wear that shirt after thinking about James 1:1. Those words are easy to proclaim, but they are hard to put into practice. That phrase is easy to print on a shirt, but they are hard to show forth in our lives. It is easy to say, “Jesus is LORD and I am His servant”, but that profession can easily be tested and found to either be true or false.

  • Do you proclaim to be a “servant of Christ” but you display no joy in life’s various trials?

  • Do you proclaim to be a “servant of Christ” but you rarely pray for God’s wisdom?

  • Do you proclaim to be a “servant of Christ” but you are full of doubts and tossed around like a wave?

  • Do you proclaim to be a “servant of Christ” but you think more of this world than the one to come?

  • Do you proclaim to be a “servant of Christ” but the fruit of grace is not growing in your life?

James could have begun this letter by claiming to be an apostle, an elder in the church in Jerusalem, or he could remind us that he is a ‘pillar’ in the church of God. Instead, James opens his letter to us by making a statement that when rightly understood should leave us speechless, “James, a servant of God and of the LORD Jesus Christ.” James writes as a servant of the LORD to other believers who need to be given ‘wisdom to act more consistently within the community of God’. He is writing to other Christians, to those who have received the high and hard calling to be servants of God, with the wisdom and doctrines that can conform them to Christ in godliness.

James 1:1 says, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

  • Here we are given the name of the author of this letter, ‘James

  • Then we are given a short description concerning him, ‘a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’.

  • Next we are given a description of the recipients of this letter, ‘the twelve tribes of in the Dispersion’.

  • And lastly, the author says, ‘Greetings’.

There is NOT a lot of debate regarding who wrote this letter.  Throughout church history it has been widely accepted that the author of this letter is James the ½ brother of Jesus.

In both Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospel we find a list of the names of Jesus’ half brothers and James is always listed first. This is probably because James was the oldest son of Joseph’s and Mary after Jesus was born (Mt. 13:55; Mk. 6:3). The names of Jesus’ ½ brothers are: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas.

Jesus’ brothers were raised by Joseph and Mary and they are described in the Scriptures as being righteous, just, devout and faithful. They were also raised in a home where they watched Jesus grow in wisdom and stature and favor with the LORD. They were also there when Jesus entered into ministry and they heard Him teach. Jesus’ brothers were with Him during His ministry in Galilee and in Jerusalem (John 2:12, 7:10).

These brothers had unprecedented access to Jesus which allowed them to hear the things Jesus would speak in private.  They were eyewitnesses to the miracles and the signs and wonders that Jesus was performed. They saw him heal sicknesses, raise the dead, cleanse leprosy, cast out demons, feed multitudes of people, turn water into wine, and they heard Jesus tell people that He could forgive sins!

Despite all of these things none of Jesus’ brothers believed that He was the LORD and the Christ. The scriptures testify that Jesus’ brothers were scoffers and skeptics. We find an example of this in John 7:1-9 where we read, “After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews' Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

It must have been frustrating for Mary to experience the unbelief of Jesus’ ½ brothers. She knew more than anyone who Jesus was and it had to be very disappointing to see that her sons did not believe her testimony and all of the evidence given that Jesus was the Christ.  I bet this often caused her grief and sorrow. Many times she must have found herself caught in the middle between Jesus and her other unbelieving sons.

We get a sense of this tension in Mark 3:20-21. We read, “Then he (Jesus) went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.” Who is included in the word family?

In Mark 3:31-35 we find the answer to this question. We read, “And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him.” So the word ‘family’ refers to Jesus’ mother and His brothers. They all thought He was ‘out of His mind’ and they have come to do an intervention.

Listen to what Jesus says next, And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.

I do not want to make undue assumptions but it appears that at best Mary is getting caught in the middle in this difficult situation or at worst she is a participant in these things with her faithless sons. In any event you can see how difficult being caught in the middle of these things would be for Mary.

In the gospels Mary often treasured the testimony that the Holy Spirit gave to her through others concerning Jesus. Those prophetic words strengthened her faith and encouraged her heart. Now, however, Mary is surrounded by her children who do not believe. There were times that this may have adversely affected her faith.

How easily this can happen to us in our own families! Like Mary, we know the grief and sorrow that comes upon us because so many in our families are not believers. Our unbelieving family members can exert (actively and passively) great pressure upon us to act and think like the world. Therefore, we should pray for ourselves and for them.

As Bad As This Appears To Be Something Changes!

Although Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him during His life and ministry it appears that James did come to faith after His resurrection. Many believe that James was an eyewitness to Jesus’ resurrection, His ascension into heaven, and he witnessed the events on the Day of Pentecost where over three thousand souls were saved and the church grew in numbers daily.

After James’ conversion he soon became an important leader in Christ’s church. For example, we see in Acts 12 when Peter is miraculously delivered from prison that he says, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” (12:17)

In Galatians 1:18-19 James is referred to as an apostle and he is also called a ‘pillar’ within the church along with Peter and John. Later all three of these men (Peter, James and John) all testified to the grace of God that was evident in the apostle Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles and that the Gospel that he preached was the true, authentic, and genuine. We should remember this when we consider James’ teaching on justification in this letter. (James 2:24)

Notice what comes next in the greetings, ‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’. James once was a skeptic and a scoffer. James once sat in judgment over Jesus and His message but that is not the case now.

 What a heart transformation that has occurred in James since he became a believer. James’ heart has been made new, he has been raised from spiritual deadness to spiritual life. His life is no longer his own because he has been bought with a price. Because of this James is a servant and a bond slave. In the book of James we will find that we are reading the words of a mature believer whose thinking and life have been transformed. He no longer thinks like the majority of the people in his culture. And the wisdom he now has is not like the wisdom of this world which is earthly, un-spiritual, and demonic (James 3:15).

I would like to make two observations about this greeting. First, it would be so easy to read these words and not be able to see that being ‘a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’ is not an easy title to live up to. Servanthood is a high calling. Being a bond slave of Jesus Christ is a hard standard for anyone to faithfully model in their lives.

Can we admit that it is not easy for you and I to step down from the throne of our hearts and give that place to God and His will for us. It is not easy for you and I to accept all that the LORD says and to obey everything that He commands in any and all situations. In fact, the apostle Paul says that the natural man cannot submit to the Law of God because he is hostile to it (Romans 8:7).  Apart from the grace of God this would be impossible!

In the book of James we will often feel this tension between our flesh and the will of God. As we read the words of James we may want to sit in the judgment seat and accept some things and reject other things. We will want to remain on the throne of our heart and obey some of these things and not obey other things.

Secondly, consider that we can read the words, ‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’ and see them as nothing more than James’ description of himself. But consider that we are reading a letter that is found among the 66 books preserved in the sacred cannon of Scripture. Christians believe that every word in scripture is God-breathed, inspired, inerrant and authoritative.

What does this mean?

It means that this simple greeting is the Holy Spirit testifying to the fact that James was indeed ‘a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’. The life and death of James is a testimony concerning his genuine faith and his love and devotion to Christ. Because of his faith James has heard the words found in Matthew 25:21, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” If the LORD has commended his servant James then who am I to not receive the message that is spoken by this man?

With the time remaining I would like to show you from the scriptures how significant it is to be a person who is called a servant of the LORD. I think by seeing this we will appreciate this letter and be more responsive to the teachings in this letter.

To do this let’s turn to Luke 4. In Luke 4-6 we will see how difficult it is to create disciples and how high a standard it is to be a servant of Christ who calls Jesus their LORD. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry He was baptized by John the Baptist and led by the Spirit into the wilderness. After this we read in Luke 4:14-15, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

Let me make two observations about this verse. First, notice where Jesus began to teach and to preach. Jesus began to teach and preach in the synagogues. Throughout Jesus’ ministry He taught in all sorts of places. He taught from a boat, from a dinner table, from a mountainside, in the Temple, He taught in homes, in towns and villages, and in every other place imaginable. And yet, all of this began in the synagogues where God’s people always gathered together to hear the Word of the LORD from the scriptures.

Secondly, notice that as Jesus began to teach the people ‘glorified’ Him. What does this mean? The word ‘glorified’ means, ‘to praise, to exalt, to magnify, to honor’. This sounds like an appropriate response to Jesus and His teaching, however, this does not mean that the people were placing their faith in Him as their Savior. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ ‘fame’ began to spread everywhere. Jesus was very popular and well liked by the people. In some ways we see that a certain type of Jesus is well liked and popular today. And yet, the real Jesus and His message of ‘repent’ is not liked.

In John’s gospel we read these words, “...many people believed in Jesus when they saw the signs that He was doing. But Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” (2:23-25)  

We should ask ourselves,

  • What will Jesus do so that these crowds will glorify Him as savior and LORD?

  • What will He do so that the people will believe upon Him so that their sins are forgiven?

  • What will Jesus do to overcome the evil unbelieving heart that is keeping Him from entrusting Himself to them?

Jesus went throughout all of Israel in the power of the Holy Spirit preaching the Good News to accomplish these things. As you read the gospels you see that the people flocked to hear Jesus and His message.

  • In Luke 5:1 we read, “On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on Him to hear the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret…”.

  • In Luke 5:15, “But now even more heard the report about Jesus that went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear Him and to be healed of their infirmities.

  • In Luke 6 we read, “And Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases.” (17-18)

Jesus continued to preach and the crowds grew larger. Over time some of them began to be called His disciples which means that they were following Him and identifying themselves with Him. They were beginning to understand that Jesus is the King and so they are beginning to call Him ‘Lord’ and ‘Master’.

Because of Jesus’ preaching and teaching this group seems to be progressing from...

  • speaking well of Jesus,

  • from seeing Jesus as a popular figure,

  • from seeing Him as a famous figure,

  • to being His disciples who call Jesus their Master and LORD.

In Luke 4&5 we find that everyone in these crowds of people were watching and listening to Him. The crowds are forming their own opinion and drawing their own conclusions regarding Jesus and His message. They are calling Jesus ‘Lord’ but they are not really acting like His servants.  

Would you agree that there is something comfortable about thinking that the Christian life is all about us observing Jesus and drawing our conclusions about Him? As we come to Luke 6 we begin to see that Jesus is watching and listening to them! It gets uncomfortable when we begin to realize that we are being watched by Jesus and He is listening to our words. In other words!

 As Jesus watches these people He sees that there is a problem with the profession that they are making. What will He do about this? Well, Jesus preaches to them another sermon in Luke 6:20-49. Up until this point we have heard about these sermons but this is the first one we get to hear.  Jesus speaks to them about what it means to be a servant of the LORD. He teaches them…

  • That this life will not always be easy but their reward in heaven will be great (20-23).

  • Jesus warns those who love this world and refuse to come to Him (24-26).

  • Jesus contrasts the love that His disciples are to have and the love of the world (27-36).

  • Jesus talks about the forgiveness, humility, and sincerity that characterizes His disciples (37-42).

  • Jesus speaks of the heart that His disciples must have to produce good fruit (43-45).

At the end of this sermon Jesus addresses the problem that He has seen in those who are confessing that Jesus is their LORD. Jesus looks at them and wonders where is their love, forgiveness, humility, and the fruit of goodness in their lives?   He looks at how they are treating each other and wonders where is the evidence that they have faith and their hearts have been changed by grace? Therefore, He says to them all, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46-49) Jesus could have said it this way, “Why do you profess to be my servants but you do not obey me?

 I think it is safe to say that in some way we all struggle with this. We all need to hear the Word of God preached to us and to have the Scriptures teach, reproof, correct and train us (2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”).

At the end of this sermon Jesus describes the practical consequences of not obeying His words. Jesus says, “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. Jesus then says, “But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.

Jesus intended these words to accomplish what He wanted them to do in the hearts of His disciples. They were to respond with repentance and faith. He wanted to see them move from seeing Him as a famous and as a popular celebrity to entrusting their lives to Him as LORD. These rebukes were part of Jesus’ ministry to bring the people from speaking well of Jesus, to seeing Him as a celebrity, to calling Him LORD, to serving Him sincerely in all things.

I get the feeling that the majority of the sermon that we find in Luke 6 is something that Jesus consistently taught to the people. For example, read Matthew 5-7 and you will see many similarities in that sermon with the one here in Luke 6.

James probably heard these sermons taught over and over again. He probably heard Jesus ask the crowds on many occasions, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” As an unbeliever he made no attempt to claim that Jesus was LORD or to pretend that he tried to obey His words. Now, however, since becoming a Christian James knows better than most what the standard is to be a professing Christian. He knows what it means to say you are a servant of Christ. He knows what it means to call Jesus LORD. In short, it means that your life is characterized in every area by being someone who does what Jesus has commanded. To do this we must be truly saved because the same grace that has saved a person is the same grace that equips, enables, and empowers them to be sanctified. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

Do we now better see the significance of the words, ““James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.” If we do, we will understand this letter and the things that are written much better.


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