“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Imagine if you had a famous sibling. For a moment picture what it must have been like to be the brother or sister of George Washington. When you introduced yourself to other people, would you follow up with, “and George Washington is my older brother.”? What if you were writing a book about George Washington, would you include the detail that you and he had shared a bunkbed together? Would you brag that you knew his favorite color was green? What would you do if you were the sibling of George Washington?
When we come to the book of James, we are looking at a copy of a letter written by a half-sibling of Jesus. While the gospels indicate that the siblings of Jesus failed to put their faith in him during His ministry, we find that following his resurrection, at least this one sibling, James, was finally converted to Christianity. Following his conversion, James quickly grew to prominence in the church, becoming one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.
As a leader in the early church, James was moved to write a letter to those who had recently come to faith in Christ explaining what was meant by the increasing persecution that they were feeling. As believers they were finding that there were very few allies to their new found faith. Those who had converted from Judaism found that their comrades in their former religion viewed them as enemies and were sending agents to hunt them down and imprison them. Furthermore, the empire that was supposed to be offering security had instead begun to torture and kill anyone who claimed the name of Christ. These were trying times for those who claimed the name of Christ, and James wanted to send a clear message of hope to encourage the believers that their faith was not in vain.
So why did James not spend a lot of time bragging about his physical relationship with Jesus? Perhaps because in these dire times the physical relationship with Jesus was not of primary concern to James. When James had put his faith in Jesus, he had joined something much more important than flesh and blood. His physical relationship may have garnered some respect amongst people who were concerned with those things, but his spiritual relationship to Jesus is what genuinely mattered before God. With that in mind, James, the brother of Jesus, begins his letter with a greeting that is equal parts humble in the earthly sense and justly proud in the spiritual sense. In humility he negates any physical relationship he had with Jesus as a brother, and in holy pride he acknowledges his joy-bringing heavenly relationship as a mere servant of Jesus.
In his epistle James begins with what matters most to him, his relationship to Jesus. Not as brother, but as servant. By doing this, James is indicating what should matter most to us. To James, it was that he was on right spiritual footing before God and Jesus, and for us it should be no different. Being the flesh and blood relative of Jesus sets no one apart from the rest. All have sinned. And all need to trust Jesus for their salvation.
Food For Thought: Does James begin his epistle by pointing to his relationship with Jesus? Explain your answer.