James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. James 1:1 ESV
This week we are beginning a study of the book of James. This book begins in the same way as many of the New Testament letters. Before we go to the Scriptures, I want you to ask yourself a question.
Who are you?
Our identity is an important part of our lives. As I considered this question myself, I came up with many answers. I am a son, brother, grandson, husband, father, grandfather, friend, pastor, … you get the idea. However, none of these things are the most important when I think about my identity. No, the most important part of my identity is being a follower of Jesus Christ. All of those other identities are accurate and point to parts of my identity, but the most important, overarching, identity is my faith in Jesus! I pray my faith shines through into all my other identities and relationships, though I know that is not always the case.
Who was James? James was an associate of the apostles, the leader of the Jerusalem church, brother of Jesus and Jude, and an eye witness to the resurrected Christ. However, most importantly in James own words he was a slave to Jesus Christ.
James could have identified himself in many ways. After all, not many people could start their letter with James, the brother of Jesus, if they had desired. Yet, this was not the way he chose to begin. Rather he uses an introduction found exclusively here in James 1:1, “Servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Greek word translated servant is doulos, which is also translated as slave or bondservant in some English translations. The word servant is often used instead of slave, because of the negative connotations we associate with American and European slavery.
In the Biblical context a slave, is someone who sets aside all rights of his own to serve another. A slave of Christ knows the Lord, who is the King. A slave of Christ is one who has voluntarily set aside his or her personal rights in order to love, serve, and obey the will of God in Christ Jesus. Servants of Christ die daily to sin and fleshly desires, allowing Christ’s life to flow through them (Galatians 2:20).
James demonstrates through his greeting that he considers his position to be one of humble service to his master, the Lord Jesus.
One of the themes of James writing is his passionate desire for believers to live in obedience to Christ and His Word. We must be careful as we study this book since it can be easy to focus on the behaviors described and forget the truth that our works are evidence of our faith, not the reason we are saved! We must not forget the reason we are to be obedient, and avoid falling into a legalistic or works based traps. After all, John 14:15 Jesus makes it clear we are obedient out of our love for Him, not because we want Him to love us. Just as with any Bible study we need to remember to come back to the Gospel. We are not saved by works, by behaving, by following all the rules, we are only saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Following Jesus does not mean we are perfect. We know we will still sin, as Paul describes in Romans 7:7-25. Rather it means we understand the Gospel is for everyday. We are saved once, but we must recognize our need for ongoing repentance of sin as we grow in our relationship with the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
So how did you answer the question “Who are you?” Among your identities are you a follower of Jesus? Whether you have been following Jesus a long time, are a new believer, or have not made the decision to follow Him yet join us each Thursday, as we continue to explore James letter together.