“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Disperson: Greetings.”
Yup. That’s it. That’s James 1:1. And I’m going to write an entire post about it. I think you’ll be surprised how blessed you can be from a verse as simple as this one if you take the time to dig in. I was.
First of all, if you haven’t already read the intro to James, please read Part One here and Part Two here. That will help with some of the background of who James is and why he’s writing to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.
Second, knowing what we now know from the background of the author, the historical setting, and the intended audience, we can put the pieces together. Here’s what I’ve journaled—please let me know if you have any further insights!
The blinking red light to me in this passage is James’ self description or self introduction as a “servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” As we’ve seen in the background and research, James was an unbelieving brother of Jesus. He was the family member saying that his big brother had gone coo-coo-for-co-co-puffs, and now we see him introducing himself as a “servant” of Jesus. We see him leading the church in Jerusalem and penning a book of the Bible. Pretty amazing transformation.
I dug a little deeper into the word “slave.” The original Greek is “doulos.” Click here to see the full Greek lexicon. As you can see this means a slave or a bondman. It also can be a metaphor for someone who gives himself up to another’s will. Wow. This word is used 120 times in the New Testament. If you follow that link, you can go ahead and take some time yourself to see the different times and uses of “doulos.” (Pretty cool to follow trails like this—this is my favorite thing to do when studying—I can get lost for hours)! For the sake of time I’m going to share the highlights of my journey.
1. implies absolute obedience
- no law but Master’s word
- no rights of their own
- absolute possession of owner/Master
- bound to unquestioning obedience
2. implies absolute humility
- not of privileges but of duties
- not of rights but of obligations
- lose all sense of self in the service of Master
3. implies absolute loyalty
- no self interest
- whatever is done is done for Master
- not about personal gain or preference
- all loyalty to Master
If you bristle at this list, then maybe it’s not a bad idea to ask yourself “Why?” I asked myself. Here’s my journal entry:
I bristle immediately at the term “slave” because the images and stories that are conjured up are horrific. Slavery is horrendous. It steals freedom, rights, dignity. It kills and destroys. It puts power in corrupt hands and destroys the innocent. I will not be enslaved! I want, no, demand my independence and freedom. It’s my “God-given right.” Or is it? I don’t know if I want anyone to be my Master. I don’t want that authority, those rules. I want to be the master of my own fate and the captain of my own soul. I don’t trust ANYONE to have that sort of power and authority over me. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. But maybe I am transferring the corruption of man to the perfection of the Trinity. God has proven Himself to be a Master unlike human masters. Historically, those in authority have abused their power taking advantage of and exploiting the weak. Maybe for me being a “servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” is about focusing on the Master and not the rules. This Master is good. There is no corruption in the Trinity. This Master loves me, serves me, looks out for my best interest and works for my freedom from sin and self and death. Being a slave/servant of God is an honor and privilege.
As I journaled I realized that I was transferring experiences of abused power to God—and in turn rebelling from Him and His rules. My “bristling” was because my perspective was off. Additionally, as I pursued this idea of “pride” in being God’s slave, I realized just what a privilege it is. The term slave/servant is a title used throughout the Old Testament for some of the most faithful servants of God. These servants found peace and glory in perfect submission to the will of God. (Click on any of the live links to read the referenced passage)
- Moses (1 Kings 8:53; Daniel 9:11; Mal 4:4)
- Joshua & Caleb (Jos 24:29; Num 14:24)
- Abraham, Isaac & Jacob (Deut 9:27)
- Job (Job 1:8)
- Isaiah (Is 20:3)
- the Prophets (Amos 3:7; Zech 1:6; Jer 7:25)
Here’s the bottom line and a quote from Barclay’s study on James:
“The only greatness to which the Christian can ever aspire is that of being the slave of God.”
Read that again. And again. And again. And when you bristle, remember that being a servant of God is a blessing, a privilege and an honor. It’s also a safe place where neither you nor I will be exploited, abused, or enslaved. In fact, on the contrary, being a slave of God sets us free. And when you bristle, remember the Greatest Bond Servant, Jesus. God isn’t asking anything of us that He, Himself, was not willing to do. Jesus served YOU, friend. And He’s served me. We better check ourselves. We can’t pray to be like Jesus without being willing to become slaves. Or, the alternative is that we can be slaves to the world and to human men and to created things (including ourselves—worshipping ourselves, our emotions, our “good deeds,” our desires above all and above everyone).
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
All from 1 verse. Sweet deal. Stay tuned for tomorrow when we look at James 2:2-4 and TRIALS!