The Man and His Message
James 1:1, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”
Counterfeiting is a major problem in our society. Forged money, credit cards, jewelry, works of art, and virtually everything else of value are passed off as genuine to deceive the unwary. Consequently, valuable commodities must be carefully examined to determine their genuineness.
That is also true of the most valuable commodity of all- saving faith. A right relationship to the living, holy God of the universe with the promise of eternal heaven is incomparably priceless. Those who think they have it should carefully examine and test it to determine its validity. To be deceived by counterfeit money or a counterfeit work of art results only in temporal loss; to be deceived by a counterfeit faith results in eternal tragedy.
The master counterfeiter of saving faith is Satan. Disguising themselves as “angels of light” (2 Cor. 11:14-15), he had his servants deceive the unwary through false systems of religion, including false forms of Christianity. Thinking they are on the narrow path leading to heaven, those who are trapped in counterfeit religion or who simply trust in their personal concept of salvation are actually on the way to eternal damnation.
That deception extends to those within biblical Christianity who are deluded about their salvation.
To be deceived about one’s relationship to God is the most dangerous and frightening delusion possible. Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount our Lord graphically portrayed that tragedy in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Because of the ever-present danger of counterfeit faith, God’s Word continually calls for professed salvation to be tested for validity. In Psalm 17:3 David declared the results of God’s testing his faith: “You have tried my heart; You have visited me by night; You have tested me and You find nothing.” In Psalm 26:1-2 he pleaded, “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart.” He echoed that plea in the familiar words of Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Amid the chaos and desolation following the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah cried out to his fellow Israelite “Let us examine and probe our ways, and let us return to the Lord” (Lam. 3:40).
Through Ezekiel, the Lord says of the genuinely repentant man: “Because he considered and turned away from all his transgression which he had committed he shall surely live; he shall not die” (Ezek. 18:28; Ps. 119:59). Through the prophet Haggai, the Lord exhorted His people, “Consider your ways!” (Hag. 1:5,7).
The New Testament also repeatedly stresses the necessity of testing faith. John the Baptist challenged the religious leaders of his day to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Describing his ministry to King Agrippa, Paul related how he “kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20). He admonished the Galatians, “Each one must examine his own work” (Gal. 6:4), and the Corinthians, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
The intended and inevitable result of saving faith is a life of good works, and it was for that very purpose that Christ redeemed the church.
After declaring that salvation is by grace alone, the apostle Paul reminds believers that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). Titus 2:11-14, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” The writer of Hebrews warned his readers in Hebrews 4:1, “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” The fearful possibility of missing out on salvation calls for a stringent self-examination. When the writer of Hebrews illustrated the essence of saving faith he described the courageous obedience of Old Testament believers who demonstrated their salvation in lives of loyalty and faithfulness to God (11:1-39).
The first epistle of John marks many marks of genuine faith (1:6-10; 2:4,90 and must include obedience to God (2:3, 5-6; 3:24; 5:2-3). The redeemed are marked by not loving the world (2:15), by living a righteous life (2:29), by forsaking and avoiding sin (3:6,9), and by loving fellow believers (3:14; 4:7, 11).
But no passage of Scripture more clearly presents the tests of true and living faith than the Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus sets forth and extensive series of tests aimed at showing self-righteous Jews—typified by the proud boastful, self-satisfied scribes and Pharisees (see 5:20)—how far short of genuine salvation they fell. By doing so, He unmasked their false religion, hypocrisy and counterfeit salvation.
The sermon begins with the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-12), which delineate the attitudes that are to accompany genuine saving faith. Those attitudes include meekness, mercy, joy in persecution, humility, a sense of sinfulness and a deep longing for righteousness. The next section (5:13-16) reveals the outworking of Beatitude virtues in the lives of the truly redeemed who are as “salt and light” in the evil, dark, fallen world. Instead of being an influence for evil, they influence the world with God-given righteousness.
True salvation will be marked by genuine commitment to the Word of God (5:17-20), by external righteous behavior that stems from internal righteousness of heart (5:21-48), by proper worship (6:1-18), by a correct view of money and material possessions (6:19-34), and by right personal relationships (7:1-12).
Jesus concludes the sermon by describing two paths to eternal destiny- the broad one that leads to damnation and the narrow one that leads to life, which he exhorted His hearers to enter (7:13). He warned them to avoid false prophets, who sought to divert them onto the broad path that leads to destruction (vv.15-20) and described the frightening consequences of empty profession in light of certain coming judgment (vv.21-27).
It seems that James was profoundly influenced by the Sermon on the Mount—the truths of which he doubtless heard in person from Jesus either on that occasion or others—and many of its themes have parallels in his epistle. In fact, the book of James may well be viewed as a practical commentary on that sermon. Like His Lord before him, James presents a series of tests which the genuineness of salvation can be determined.
James 1:1, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”
The first verse of this epistles introduces us to the human author, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. The James who penned this epistle was the half brother of the Lord.
Surprisingly although His brother grew up with Him and observed firsthand His sinless, perfect life, Jesus’ brothers did not at all first believe in Him. John records their unbelief exhibited by challenging Jesus to reveal Himself openly. John 7:2-5, “Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world. For not even his brothers believed in him.”
Their unbelief bore sad testimony to the truth of Jesus’ declaration that a “prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household” (Mark 6:4). So strong was His brothers’ unbelief that they even though Jesus had taken leave of His senses (Mark 3:21) their unbelief lasted throughout Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.
But by the time those who believed in Him gathered in Jerusalem after His resurrection, something remarkable had happened. Acts 1:13 notes that the apostles were there, and verse 14 adds, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” What happened to change His skeptical, unbelieving brothers into devoted followers? Paul gives the answer in 1 Corinthians 15:7, nothing that after Jesus’ resurrection, “He appeared to James.” Doubtless as a result of that personal, post-resurrection appearance, James came to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The church was born on the day of Pentecost and James, although not an apostle soon became one of its key leaders. When Paul visited Jerusalem, he discovered that James as well as Peter and John were pillars of the church there (Gal. 2:9-12). Because the apostles were frequently away preaching the gospel,James eventually became the preeminent leader of the Jerusalem church. To borrow a contemporary term, he was its senior pastor. Following its miraculous release from Herod jailer, Peter ordered the astounded believers to “report these things to James and the brethren” (Acts 12:17) clearly indicating that James had become the one to whom important news was to be first reported.
James presided over the pivotal Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), which had been concerned to decide the momentous question fo whether salvation required obedience to the Mosaic law or was by grace alone working through faith. After much debate, Peter, Paul and Barnabas reported God’s gracious salvation of Gentiles through their ministries (vv.6-12). James then reinforced Peter’s point, handed down the council’s decision (vv.12-21) and most likely composed the resulting letter to Gentile believers (vv.23-29). Many years later, when Paul returned to Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey, James again appears in the presiding role. Luke reports that “after we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present” (Acts 21:17-18). The plurality of elders did not negate James’s primary leadership role, as equality of apostolic office did not negate Peter’s leadership of the Twelve.
Also known as James the Just because of his righteous life, he was martyred about 62 A.D according to Josephus.
In spite of his prominence, what stands out in the first verse of his epistle is James’s humility. He does not describe himself as Mary’s son and the Lord’s brother, refer to his position as head of the Jerusalem church, or mention that the resurrected Christ personally appeared to him. Instead he describes himself simply as a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Doulos (bond-servant) depicts a slave, a person deprived of all personal freedom and totally under the control of his master. Absolute obedience and loyalty to his master (who provide him with food, clothing and housing) was required of every doulos. In contrast to the andrapodon, who was made a salve, the doulos was born a slave. James had become a doulos by his new birth through faith in Jesus Christ.
James 1:1c, “to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.”
James was addressing all Jews who were dispersed abroad regardless of their tribal origins. In this context, abroad refers to any place in the world outside of Palestine. By New Testament times many Jews lived abroad.
From the message of the letter itself, as well as from James’s frequent addressing of his readers as brothers, it is clear that he is writing to Jewish Christians. It is likely that most of those believers were converted in or near Jerusalem and may have once been under James’s pastoral care to some degree. James’s primary audience were those Jews who had fled because of persecution and were still suffering trials because of their faith. To give them confidence, hope and strength to endure those trials, James gave them a series of tests by which they could determine the genuineness of their faith.
Greetings means rejoice or be glad and was a common secular greeting. But to James the word was no mere formality; he expected what he wrote to gladden his readers’ hearts by giving them means to verify the genuineness of their salvation. That, James knew, would provide great comfort to them in their trials, which Satan persistently uses to try to make Christians doubt they are indeed God’s children and fellow heirs with Jesus Christ.