Our team at Avenue Church is preaching through the letter of James. There is always more content than can make it in the sermon. I will be regularly blogging through the book of James as a way to go deeper.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. (Jas 1:1)
Who was James?
A James in the New Testament was the leader of the Jerusalem church. Paul states that James was “the brother of the Lord.” We see in the Gospels (Matthew 12:46-50) that Jesus’ mother and brother wanted to speak with him while he taught. This brother would have been a half-brother (different fathers)- but a brother nonetheless. John 7:5 clearly states that “not even his brothers believed in him.” While Mary experienced a divine birth announcement with Jesus and witnessed Jesus turning water into wine, his brothers had a more challenging time wrapping their minds (and hearts) around the idea that Jesus was something special.
Something changes after the resurrection. James, and brother of Jesus, goes from “not believing in him” to becoming the church’s leader in Jerusalem. What happened? One has to think that James was present for one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Like Thomas and the disciples, that would be transformational. The letter of James is of interest because it is written by a skeptic turned believer through an encounter with Christ.
James begins his letter without paying attention to his position as Jerusalem’s church leader. Rather than appealing to his authority, he appeals to his devotion to Jesus. He calls himself a “servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word the NIV translates as “servant” is the Greek word “doulos,“ which literally means “slave.” In Biblical times, a slave was the property of their master and did the will of their master.
There are many challenges with the word “slave” or even “servant.” Actual slavery still exists in the world today. In America, we are aware of the sin in our past of the Transatlantic slave trade, where an estimated 12.5 million people were taken from Africa and taken to the New World. Is there a better way to understand James’ own term that has such a negative connotation today?
In An African Commentary on the Letter of James, J. Ayodeji Adewuya writes that in the Yoruba translation of the Bible, the word “iranse” is used here for slave. Iranse means “messenger” and can have the connotation of an apprentice. As a messenger, James is an emissary for Christ. He is sent on a mission to represent Jesus to the world. As an apprentice, James is on a continual, life-long pathway of becoming more Christlike. One never ceases to grow, serve, or live as a disciple.
This is our posture or lifestyle as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We are emissaries of Jesus- sent on a mission to represent Jesus to the world. We are to follow or obey the teachings and commands of God. As an apprentice, we are continually learning from our Master. We watch, listen, then do the things that Jesus did. This will be a lifelong pursuit for each person on the discipleship pathway.
- Have you moved from doubt to belief in Jesus? What convinced you?
- What word best describes your life as a disciple: Messenger, Emissary, or Apprentice?
- How are you called to represent and reflect Jesus to the people in your sphere of influence?