“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.” James 1:1
Why did James write his letter to the Jewish believers? We know it was written to his fellow brethren who were scattered abroad by the opening verses of the letter. Which read, “To the twelve tribes scattered abroad.” This phrase, “twelve tribes” refers to the twelve tribes of Israel and this was another name for the nation of Israel or the Jewish people. In this case specifically to Jewish believers in Christ.
This is a reference to those Jewish believers in Jesus who were scattered as a result of Stephen’s martyrdom. And the persecution of Christians started by Herod shortly thereafter. We can read about the harassment and turmoil in the book of Acts chapter twelve. James wrote his letter to emphasize godly behavior and godly living as a result of our faith in Christ. Jesus suffered and bled and died for us. We are called Christians because we claim to have faith in Jesus as our Lord and follow Him alone. Because we believe and accept Jesus as our Savior and as our God, we are called His disciples. The Bible tells us we are bondservants of Jesus because of our faith in Him. And what James is explaining is if we truly have faith in Jesus, then our lives should show evidence of the faith we claim to have.
If we look at the everyday life of the Christian there should be enough evidence for everyone to see that we are followers of Jesus. By looking at our life people should be able to tell that we love the Lord and that we study His word. Our love for God is another product of our faith stressed in James’ letter. In other words, our faith produces in us a strong love for God’s word. And a natural byproduct of studying God’s word and the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a change in our character. This change ultimately affects the way we live our lives. And what James explains in his letter is that real faith produces evidence of repentance and a changed life. In other words, if someone were to look at our lives before and after salvation, there should be a positive change in us. And James tells us this is the natural result of the love we have for Jesus. A love which is part of the free gift of salvation God has given to us.
“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:1-4
James in the first verse of this epistle calls himself a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Greek word used here is Doulos or a slave. So James, who was the half-brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem church. Who many claim was appointed the Bishop of the Jerusalem church by Jesus Himself and the other apostles, is calling himself a slave to the Lord. He is telling us and his audience he is not only a slave, but the lowest form of a slave, a bond-servant. Like many do today James could have started his letter with his long list of accolades. His impressive list of credentials, but he doesn’t! Instead, he introduces himself as a Doulos to the Lord Jesus Christ. A Doulos was a bond-slave who belonged to their master, they were their master’s property. When a slave was set free, they could if they chose to, willingly commit their lives to the master. If they loved their master that much they could agree to give up their life, their rights and everything they owned to be a lifelong slave to their master.
The person doing this would become the property of their master to do his will and his bidding for the rest of their lives. This is important for us to consider because many preachers today would have us believe this does not mean slave. That somehow this word means we can give our lives to our master and take it back whenever we want to and that is not the case. That is not what God means and not the message James wanted to convey to his readers. What James is telling us is that he willingly gave up his life to Jesus as His bond-servant. That his love for the Lord is so great, he has willingly with joy forfeited his life to serve his Master and King, Jesus. This is so very important for us to understand because when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior this is what we are saying to God. We are giving our lives over to Jesus and with all of our heart agreeing to become His bond-servant. To do His will, not ours! We are saying to Jesus, “You Lord are Master of my life come in, take all that I have and make my life yours.”
This is why Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthian church, that we have been bought with a price. We are no longer ours, but the Lords. Jesus purchased freedom for us with His blood shed for us at the Cross of Calvary. And when we confess Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we give our life over to Him. Jesus becomes our Master and we are the bond-servants of His kingdom. In addition, this shows us the heart of James. Because of the grace that was shown to him by God through Christ, James has been changed by the Holy Spirit. He now has a heart for God, a heart for Jesus and a heart for the lost and for his fellow believers. What James has shown us here in these opening verses is that he has died to self in order to live for Christ.