James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. (James 1:1)
In Revelation 1 the Apostle John had a vision of the glorified and risen Christ, seeing him dressed in a robe reaching to his feet, girded across his chest with a golden sash. His head and his hair were white like wool, like snow. His eyes were a flame of fire and his feet were like burnished bronze which is made to glow in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand were seven stars and from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was shining like the sun in all its strength. John, when seeing this awesome and glorious vision, fell at Jesusí feet like a dead man (Rev. 1:13-16). The glorified Christ personifies the vision he has for his church, and that vision includes the holiness of his people and the propagation of the gospel to all the nations of the world. His white hair symbolizes his holiness and we are to be holy as he is holy (1 Pet. 1:14-16). His eyes are like laser beams that see into the hearts of every man, performing laser surgery to eradicate the cancer of sin that robs him of his glory in his people (Heb. 4:13). His feet move swiftly to bring salvation to all who believe and judgment to all who do not (Isa. 52:7-10, Nahum 1:2-3, 15). His voice roars with the glorious gospel proclamation, like the mighty roar of Niagara Falls (Ezek. 43:2). The seven stars in his right hand are the angels or messengers of the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 1:20) which are called by him to take the gospel to all the nations (Luke 24:45-49, Acts 1:4-8). The sharp two-edged sword is his holy Word that saves and sanctifies on the one hand, and judges and condemns on the other (Eph. 6:17, Heb. 4:12, Rom. 10:13-17, Rev. 19:15, 21, 2 Thess. 2:8). The shining of Jesusí face represents the glory of God that is to shine on all the people of God (Num. 6:24-25, 2 Cor. 3:12-18).
The one who wrote the epistle of James is not James, the son of Zebedee, or James, the son of Alphaeus. He is the younger brother of Jesus, who earlier, along with his other relatives, had thought Jesus to be insane (Mark 3:21), who had mocked his claims of Messiahship (John 7:5). But James saw the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:7) and everything changed for him. He became a well respected leader in the early church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18, Gal. 1:19; 2:9), and was martyred, sentenced to death by stoning, though apparently this was thwarted. Finally he was thrown from the temple and beaten with a club until he died. Most scholars believe the Epistle of James was the first book written in the New Testament canon, perhaps written as early as 40 to 44 A.D., certainly before Paul began his ministry in Antioch, culminating in his first missionary journey (45-48 A.D.) and his second and third missionary journeys to Europe and Asia Minor, modern day western Turkey (50 A.D.ff).1 Many scholars believe James wrote early because there is no reference to the Jewish/Gentile controversy of Acts 15 or Galatians. The Epistle of James is also very Jewish (words like synagogue, royal law of liberty, early and late rain, Abraham, Rahab, Elijah), suggesting the church had not yet expanded to the Gentile world. Finally, James is writing to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad. These are Jews who have converted to Christianity, perhaps when in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, having listened to Peter preach the gospel. They also may have been part of the diaspora mentioned in Acts 8:1ff.
Note what James the brother of Jesus, the one who thought his brother insane, who mocked his claim to being the Christ, calls himself ó a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. At least four types of slaves existed in Jamesí day ó criminals, those who worked the fields, those who served in households, and those who served in imperial palaces. Though the degree of hardship would vary according to the kind of servitude in which a slave lived, the common denominator in all of them was ownership. They did not have freedom. They were owned completely, in every way, by their master. James is calling himself a slave of God, a slave of his brother, One whom he now calls the Lord Jesus Christ! James knows he has no rights. He belongs lock, stock, and barrel to Jesus.
This concept of slavery, that you have been bought with a price, the blood of Christ, means you are not your own, that you belong to Jesus (1 Cor. 6:19-20), that you are to glorify God with your life. James wrote his Epistle to draw the church back to the revival culture of Acts 1-12. He has a zeal for biblical holiness, something that was already waning in the lives of these Jewish believers. The theme of Jamesí epistle is holiness or sanctification. We so easily return to the folly of our former lives (Psa. 85:8), much to our detriment and the weakness of the church. James calls us to look at every trial with joy. He moves us to be doers of the Word, not merely hearers. He rebukes us for showing partiality to the wealthy or well connected. He exposes our hypocrisy of faith. He reveals our impotence, made manifest in our inability to tame our tongues. He makes known the source of our quarrels and conflicts. He declares our arrogance. He judges our injustice. He unveils our prayerlessness.
On the one hand, we are justified by faith, through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Our sins are taken from us as far as the east is from the west. Praise the Lord! But on the other hand God calls us to be holy, to obey him, and none of us does that as we ought. The writer to the Hebrews says that without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). Our weakness in the American church can be traced back to our lack of experiential, practical holiness. The world does not take us seriously because we are not taking Godís call to holiness seriously. We are failing in our two-fold purpose as the church ó to propagate the gospel to the world and to obey him in all we do. Failure by one church or a group of denominational churches causes Jesus to remove his Spiritís presence and power, to vomit us violently out of his mouth (Rev. 2:5; 3:16).
Are you a slave of Jesus? If you are in Christ, if you are a true Christian, then you must answer, 'Yes.' You have no option. You are drafted into Christís army. Your job, therefore, is to obey him in all he commands, drawing upon the life of Christ within you (Rom. 6:1-13, Col. 3:1-5). You have no choice but to surrender everything to Jesus ó your time, money, health, reputation, family, job. You do not belong to yourself. You belong to Jesus. Begin everyday with these words, 'Jesus, you own me. I belong to you. Hereís my life. Take me, use me today as you will. Give me the grace to sacrifice myself for you and others, to deny my own desires for self-aggrandizement.'
1. Halleyís Bible Handbook, page 559.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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