Welcome to Jump Start, a place for you to connect with God through Scripture.
We’ll be walking through the book of James, verse-by-verse. I’ll be providing some background but I would strongly encourage you to grab a study Bible and read through the introduction information for the book of James.
Who was James?
James was the brother of Jesus and a very important leader in the early Church. He was the chief elder of the church in Jerusalem. If you ever struggle to believe that Jesus really was God – remember his brother was convinced he was actually God. Do you have a brother? I do. He has never once mistaken me for God!
Themes in James
We’ll return to these throughout the book so we won’t go over them in great detail here but be on the lookout for these things in James’ letter.
- Wisdom – James is often grouped with the other wisdom books of the Bible like Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes and rightfully so. James is deeply concerned with Christians becoming mature, wise believers whose faith has a real impact in the world.
- Suffering – If you could boil James down to one subject, suffering might be it. James led the church in Jerusalem during one of the worst periods of persecution in Christianity and his message is simple: endure and count your blessings.
- Jesus – A professor in college once asked my class where to find Jesus in the New Testament. The nerds in the front row quickly spouted off the Gospels. Unimpressed, he asked where else. The class was mostly silent. After a few miserable guesses, someone got it right. James! There are more echoes of Jesus’ teaching (especially the Sermon on the Mount) found in James’ book than any other outside the Gospels.
- Faith in Action – hence the title, Jump Start. James wants to be clear – following Jesus is not about intellectual ascent to a set of beliefs about who Jesus was and why he came. Faith in Jesus should be active and noticed by non-Christians.
- The Poor – James has a deep concern for the poor. His concern is not purely a personal one, however. James concludes that Christians should be deeply concerned for the poor because that’s what Christians do.
- Sin – Right belief should lead to right behavior. James tackles a few practical examples of sin in his day – ones that we would do well to apply in ours.
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”
James is a servant.
Actually, James is claiming to be a slave for Christ. The Greek word “doulos” literally means slave.
In the Roman Empire, at the time of James’ writing, there were various levels of servanthood. The best allowed a slave to hold positions of political power and the worst had slaves condemned to a short, hard, risky life spent working in the mines.
Early Christians actually had a reputation for serving these mine slaves, the lowest of the low. The historian Eusebius records a letter thanking the church in Rome for repeatedly giving money to other churches so they can continue to care for the slaves in the mine.
There are also several records of early Christians selling themselves into slavery to free other people. What a beautiful picture of what Jesus accomplishes on the cross for us!
But it’s surprising that when given a chance to describe himself James chooses the word SERVANT.
James was the brother of Jesus (if ever there was someone who should name drop!) and a massively important leader in the earliest age of the Church but he is not exercising false humility. In spite of all of his accomplishments and connections, James chooses to focus on being a slave for the one who freed him from the slavery of sin.
Jesus is the one true God.
At first glance, this phrase sounds weird, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” James is making a clear claim to two separate parties.
To the Jews waiting for the promised Messiah, James wants them to see that Messiah has come in Jesus. He really is who He said he was. The Greek word for Lord, “kurios” also enforces James position as a slave with its primary meaning of “master” or “boss.”
To the Romans, James is making the claim that there is only one true God. It’s not the Emperor or the local expression of the temple cult religions. The Roman Emperor Domitian ruled from AD 81-96 and had a particularly strong hatred for Christians. He officially referred to himself in Latin as dominus et deus, or “Lord and God.”
James is drawing a line in the sand. Even as Roman citizens were legally bound to recite the creed, “Caesar is Lord” many of the early Christians died with a better expression on their lips, “Jesus is Lord.”
“to the Twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings”
James’ original readers must have immediately thought of the Twelve tribes of Israel scattered across the Roman empire, largely living without identity or hope.
However, another layer is present. James is busting the door open to all people, not just the Jews. That’s the message of Jesus; the Gospel is for everyone! The twelve tribes now take on a more symbolic meaning as all of God’s people in the new covenant.
The Gospel breaks down every dividing line we normally encounter: race, social status, economic background, interests, allegiances, etc.
Questions for Application and Prayer
1. James gets the chance to describe himself and uses the word “servant.” How would you describe yourself in one word? Would a close friend or family member use the same word to describe you? Pray and ask God to help you live the life of a servant today.
2. Who are you serving right now? Who might need you to start serving? Spend some time thanking God for the people who have served you or your family. Send them a message today and thank them for the role they’ve played in your life.
3. The opposite of humbly serving is selfishly seeking power and influence. How are you doing this in your life? Pray a prayer of repentance and ask God to help you move away from seeking power and influence and toward lovingly serve others.