The Humble Servant
James 1:1, “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The author of The Letter of James is James the half-brother of Jesus Christ. In Mark 6:3 James is mentioned along with the other brothers of Jesus, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?” Since James is listed first among the brothers, we can assume that he was the oldest next to Jesus.
What is astounding is that even though he grew up with Jesus and had a front row seat to Jesus’ sinless life, he and his brothers and possibly his sisters did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. John records this unbelief in John 7:2-5 when His brothers challenge Him to reveal Himself, “Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near. Therefore, His brothers said to Him, ‘Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If you do these things, show Yourself to the world.’ For not even His brothers were believing in Him.”
This is a sad commentary and sad testimony to the power of unbelief. In Mark 6:4 Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.” So strong was their unbelief that they thought Jesus was crazy. Mark 3:21 records His brothers and other family members as trying to take “custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” This unbelief on the part of his family apparently lasted through the rest of Jesus’ life and ministry.
After His resurrection that all changed. In Acts 1:13-14 we read that Jesus’ brothers were gathered with the other believers after Jesus had ascended to heaven: “When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
What had happened that changed James’ mind and that of his brothers? 1 Corinthians 15:7 gives us the answer, “then He appeared to James, and to all the apostles.” Jesus personally appeared to his brother James and James became a believer.
The church was born on the Day of Pentecost. James would have been present then, and even though James was not an apostle, he became the leader of the church at Jerusalem. In Galatians 2:9-12 Paul speaks of his journey to Jerusalem after he had been saved and he records the importance of James, “James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas and right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to be circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor – the very thing I also was eager to do. But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.” After Peter’s miraculous release from jail, Peter wanted to make sure that James was the first who was told. Acts 12:17 says that Peter told them to “report these things to James and the brethren.”
In Acts 15 James presides over the Jerusalem council. The council helped decide that salvation was by grace alone then followed by works, and not by the following of the Mosaic Law. James most likely wrote the letter that Paul took with him to be read to all the churches regarding what the council had decided. Years later after Paul returned from his third missionary journey Acts 21:17-18 records, “After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.” Even though there was a plurality of elders in the church at Jerusalem, James was clearly the primary leader of the church.
The overriding characteristic that stands out in regards to James is his humility. Here in verse 1, as he is identifying himself, he doesn’t describe himself as the son of Mary, the brother of the Lord Jesus, the head of the church in Jerusalem, or that Jesus had personally appeared to him. He simply describes himself as “a bond-servant.” The Greek word that is used here is the word doulos which is always translated as slave. A slave is a person who is deprived of all freedom and they are totally controlled by their master. The word doulos also refers to a slave who was born into slavery. James, upon his rebirth, was born a slave to his Lord Jesus Christ. What an outlook to have on your life. In a world where we are constantly reminded of our rights, it is good to remember that as Christians we are just a slave to the Lord and His purposes. What a joy!