“James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes dispersed among the nations: Greetings” (James 1:1).
The book of James was written by one of Jesus’ brothers. But when he introduces himself, he doesn’t bother mentioning that. Why do you suppose that is? The answer could completely transform the way you live your life today.
The author of James was almost certainly Jesus’ brother. Yet he makes no mention of that in the opening greeting where writers established their credentials. Why not? You might expect he would make much of it. “James, from the blessed womb of Mary, from the household of Jesus, sibling of the Holy One.”
He doesn’t mention being Jesus’ brother because being it was irrelevant in establishing his spiritual authority. Growing up in the same house with Jesus and having the same blood in his veins was an interesting claim to fame from an earthly perspective, but spiritually it is no credential at all. You could be a brother of Jesus and not even go to heaven. God’s kingdom is a spiritual family, not a blood family.
If you think you are a Christian just because you were born and raised in a Christian home and you went to church all your life, think again.
“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63 ).
The home you grew up in counts for nothing. Going to church all your life, in itself, counts for nothing. Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to MacDonald’s makes you a hamburger.
“ … We regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).
Flesh and blood relationships are not what matter in the kingdom of God.
“While Jesus was still talking to the crowd … someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ he replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50).
Think about this. Placing your faith in Christ gives you a greater position than if you had given birth to Jesus.
James decides his blood relation to Jesus isn’t worth mentioning, but notice what he does mention:
“James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1).
The credential that gave James credibility, the thing about him that really mattered, was the fact that he considers himself a slave of God and a slave of Jesus, whom he calls “Christ” (Messiah) and “Lord.” James’ authority came not from Christ’s sibling, but from being his slave. Prior to the moment James presented himself to Jesus as a subject to his King and a slave to his Master, James was just another lost soul on his way to hell.
Contrary to how it hits our modern ears, the claim that James was a slave of Jesus Christ was not a lowly claim. It was a claim to a high office.
According to Ephesians 6:6, all believers are to live as slaves of Christ. But when used as a title, “slave of Christ/God” refers to a spiritually prestigious role. In ancient culture it was a high honor to become the personal slave of a king or dignitary. Only the most revered names in biblical history held the title “slave of God.” The phrase is most often applied to Moses. It is also used of Joshua, the Patriarchs, Job, Samuel, Isaiah, the prophets, Jude, Timothy, David, Daniel, Peter, and Paul. And in the book of Isaiah, the ultimate slave of the Lord is the Messiah himself.
“Slave of God” is a title for select individuals chosen by God to be his spokesmen and to lead his people. And that’s exactly what James was. By Acts 15 James had become arguably the most influential and respected leader in the entire worldwide Church.
Everyone looks to something in life as a badge of honor (fame, money, some skill or accomplishment or possession, or, in James’ case, his calling as Jesus’ slave). Which things in life are you prone to think of as badges of honor that determine whether your life is a success or failure? And how would it be different if your only answer were, “Am I a slave of Christ?”
Leaders in the kingdom of God carry that title because God wants to make much of the fact that what they say is exactly what God told them to say. And that’s what a slave is—someone who does what his master wants rather than what he wants.
And while that title isn’t applied generally to all believers in this age, it is applied to believers multiple times in the book of Revelation. It will be the final vocation for all Christians (Revelation 22:3). Our destiny is to have that high position that the Apostles and Prophets had in this life—to be people characterized more than anything else by the fact that we do and say exactly what God desires.
The more we live for the will of God now, the more we grow into our destiny. And as we make progress in that direction, we move lower in the world’s eyes even as we rise higher in the household of God.
As often as you can remember today, aspire to true greatness, consciously striving to function as a slave of Christ, doing nothing but his will all day long.
“… James … ” (James 1:1)
James was a very common name, so it’s significant that this James provides no further identifier. Not James the son of so-and-so, or James from this city or that city—he just says, “I’m James” and expects everyone in all the churches around the Roman Empire to immediately know exactly who he was. That tells us this had to be a James who was very prominent and well known in the early church. It is famous James, which narrows the possibilities to two: James the Apostle and James the brother of Jesus.
If it had been the Apostle, we would expect him to mention that Paul and Peter do in their epistles. Also, James the Apostle died very early on, in Acts 12. It’s much more likely the author is James, the brother of Jesus.
And that’s easy to believe once you study the book because his language and way of teaching is so similar to that of Jesus. No other writer in Scripture sounds more like Jesus than James. Almost every point James makes can be found clearly stated in Jesus’ teachings. His phrasing, the topics he chooses, and his style are so similar to the way Jesus spoke that many scholars wonder if a lot of the statements in the book of James are actually quotations from Jesus that weren’t recorded anywhere else.
“… To the twelve tribes … ” (James 1:1)
There are three views on what James meant by the phrase twelve tribes. Some say it refers to all Jews. Others say it refers specifically to believing Jews. And others suggest the meaning is spiritual Israel (the Church).
The first view can be ruled out because the book assumes the readers to be believers. For example, in 2:1 James assumes the readers have faith in Christ.
The third view (a spiritualized use of “twelve tribes” to refer to the whole Church) would be consistent with the way Peter writes. However, unlike 1 Peter, James has a very Jewish flavor. For example, in 2:2 we see that their meetings took place in synagogues.
It appears, then, that the book is addressed to Jewish Christians. However, this is not to imply that there is a different gospel for Gentiles and Jews. There is one gospel for all, and any other gospel is a false one (see Galatians 1:8).
And there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile with regard to salvation (Galatians 3:28). The idea that Paul taught grace and faith (but not repentance or obedience or law), and Jesus and James and Peter taught repentance and law and obedience (but not grace and faith) does not hold up. Jesus taught salvation through grace alone (Lk.18:12-14). So did James and Peter and John (Jas.2:1, 1 Pe.1:1-5, 1 Jn.5:1). And Paul taught repentance (Acts 17:30) for both Jew and Gentile (Acts 20:21), and that true faith will obey the commands of God (1 Cor.13:2), and that we are not free from the law of Christ (1 Cor.9:21). There is only one message for all believers.
Most likely, James addresses Jews because at the time he wrote, the gospel had not spread to the Gentile world in any significant numbers. James was probably the first book written in the New Testament. Most scholars date it in the early 40’s, before Paul went on all his missionary journeys spreading the gospel in the Gentile world.
The book is addressed to believing Jews, but everything in the book of James applies to all believers.
 The only other New Testament writer to use the term “slave” as his only credential was Jude, who was another of Jesus’ earthly brothers.
 The word here is doulos, which refers to someone who was purchased and owned by his master. So “slave” is a better translation than “servant.”
 Revelation 1:1, 2:20, 7:3, 19:2,5, 22:3,6.