It’s been a decade or so since the new covenant was established and the kingdom of Christ established in the hearts and minds of men and women. From a relatively small group of 3,000 souls, the church has continued to grow wherever the gospel has gone. But over time, it seems the church has allowed unseemly, worldly behavior to slip in and take root. So James takes up his pen and by inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes to these Christians. With honesty and intensity, he writes to shake these Jewish Christians from the spiritual doldrums of worldliness and call them to true, pure, faultless religion (1.27).
James 1.1 – James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
The Author of the Epistle
Who wrote it? To whom was it written? More detailed answers to these questions are found in the Introductory material. Suffice it to say that the author is James, the half-brother of Jesus. He was quite influential in the early church and is traditionally considered a bishop of the Jerusalem church. If he was not a bishop (elder) of the church, then he certainly was a leader in that church.
Paul mentions him as an “apostle” in Galatians 1.19, a rather interesting statement considering that James did not even believe his own Brother’s message as Messiah (see Mark 3.21; John 7.5). What do we make of this? Considering the word “apostle” had more than one meaning, James was of the same apostleship as Barnabas (Acts 14.14) or Andronicus, Junias and others (Rom 16.7). He was a “sent one” of the church.
Although Paul calls him an “apostle” James does not appeal to apostolic authority. Instead his introduction to his audience is more subtle – he is a “servant” or perhaps a better word is “slave.” Here is a title every Christian wears and it is with this same title which James addresses his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. He is a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ with a view that they are equally both God. James and Jude (both half-brothers of Jesus and contributors to the New Testament) refer to themselves not as brothers of Christ but as His slaves. That, and that only, gave either of them cause to speak and claim to be heard.
The God He Served
First, “God.” In fact, in the Greek, God is in the emphatic position. God is of prime importance. He takes the first place. Also, there is no definite article (which is the usual method of expressing the word “God” in the Greek – ho theos). This is interesting because some scholars see this as a reference to the entire Godhead – the whole divine essence. James is a slave of the Godhead – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Perhaps James is saying this, however, light of the fact that he specifically names Jesus also seems to indicate that James may have the Father more in mind. Or James references the whole Godhead and zeroes in on “the Lord” Jesus from that.
James is God’s slave. This term indicates one who sells himself into slavery to another. Modern Americans bristle when we hear this word; however, if we take off our 21st century glasses and view this from a first century Jewish perspective, this was not a term of drudgery but of honor and privilege. In fact, Israel as a whole was God’s slave (Isa 43.10). When James calls himself a “slave” (Gk. Doulos), he enters into the ranks of some of Israel’s great men of faith: Moses (Josh 14.7), David (Psa 89.3), and Elijah (2 Kings 10.10). All of these were “slaves” of the Lord (lit. YHWH). Even Jesus took the form of a slave (Phil 2.7). Oh, that more Christians would see themselves as slaves of God! The Christian has been sold into slavery to righteousness and the kingly rule of Christ and God in our lives. The Christian should view and value this position as the highest prize – God owns me. I am His. And He dictates how I should live. Christians have been called into service for God by Christ to extend and advance His cause among me.
Second, and on equal footing with “God,” or perhaps from that one supreme Godhead, is the “Lord Jesus Christ.” This full title captures everything about Jesus – he is Lord and Christ. Perhaps James is alluding back to Pentecost and words that some of the recipients were familiar (see Acts 2.36). He is Ruler and the Anointed One from God. He was Lord and Christ a decade ago when you first heard the gospel and He is still Lord and Christ – the Lord Jesus Christ! Further, James is the slave; Christ is the “Master” (another translation of kuriou). So when we call Jesus “Lord,” we are making a profound statement about our relationship to Him – He is our Master.
An interesting note: only here and in 2.1 does Jesus make an appearance in James. One commentator said this is because James is more practical than doctrinal and therefore mentioning the name of Jesus is not as necessary. However, it would seem that if one is addressing practice, why wouldn’t they invoke the name of Jesus, our model and standard for practice?
The People to Whom He Writes
He writes to those who are of the “Dispersion” (Gk. Dispora) or the scattering. This is a scatter of the Jewish Christians (“the twelve tribes”) among the Gentile nations. Luke records this scattering for us in Acts 8.4; they were scattered due to persecution. So there is sense in which this was probably a circulatory letter by nature, since there was no one place where all the Jews were gathered. They were from all over the known empire; Acts 2 gives an interesting picture of this very thing where Jews (and proselytes) were in Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 2.9-11). In addition, these were Jewish Christians, those who had heard the gospel (some perhaps on Pentecost day), believed Jesus to be both Lord and Christ (Acts 2.36), and were immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins, reception of Holy Spirit, and initiation into the new community of God (Acts 2.38, 44).
While aimed at the hearts and minds of first century Jewish Christians dispersed among the nations, the epistle from James is certainly applicable for Christians today scattered all over this planet. James will remind us that we should never be comfortable in the world or with the world in us.