This commentary on James 1:1 and the life of James are my notes from a sermon series I preached through the book of James. It has not been proofed for grammatical errors. I present it to you as-is.
If this is your first time here, my name is Jeff and I’m one of the pastors. This year we are going to spend a lot of time in a section of the Bible called James. It is full of practical truth for life. To get us started we are beginning with a two part series called Real Life, Real Faith. Today we are going to take a look at lessons from the life of James for real life. Next week, we are going to examine some principles of real faith for difficult times.
Before we get started I want to introduce you to a Biblical subject called the inspiration of Scripture. The inspiration of scripture refers to the process by which God oversaw the composition of Scripture through its human writers in such a way that they recorded its message exactly the way God wanted it recorded, without error or omission. One of the amazing and awesome aspects of God giving us His Word was the level of detail and precision that God used. In the original writings, God made sure that we had exactly what He wanted us to have down to the each word and each mark. Let me show you this.
- Notice carefully what 1 Corinthians 2:12-13 says about the individual words of Scripture, “And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. 13 When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths” (NLT). God could have given us general concepts. Instead God made sure we had the exact words He wanted us to have because each word of God is important and significant.
- Let me show you one more statement about the detail of God’s inspiration of His Word. Jesus said something interesting in Matthew 5:18, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished” (CSB). God oversaw each letter and each stroke of His Word. He was perfectly detailed in giving us what we call the Bible. The phrase “smallest letter” refers to the Hebrew letter yodh, which looks like an apostrophe (‘). The “stroke” refers to the tiny distinction between two Hebrew letters. An equivalent would be the distinction between the O and Q. Only the little “tail” or stroke distinguishes the Q from the O. Jesus is emphasizing that all the details in Scripture were under God’s control.
I’ve said all that to say this. When you read a verse like James 1:1 you can skip over it and not realize that God is saying more than what appears. There is something significant about verse 1 if you know what you are looking for, because every word, every phrase, and every statement are inspired by God and is useful for teaching, correcting, and training in God’s way (2 Timothy 3:16).
With that said let’s take a look at James 1:1 which says, “This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad. Greetings!” (NLT). That does not look like much, but there is much there for life. At first glance it is a normal way of greeting in a letter during that time. Today we would say “Dear Jeff” at the beginning and then sign our name at the end “Sincerely, James.” In Bible times they placed it all up front telling you who the letter is from and who the letter is meant for. That’s from a human perspective.
From a divine perspective God is actually saying a lot more. At the very beginning God, through James, is already giving us some insight into how to face life when life gets difficult and tough. After this opening statement James dives right into the reality of trials, difficulties, and problems in life.
From James opening statement we are given several insights into how to face life, no matter what it brings.
Face life as a servant of God.
Number one, face life as a servant of God. James describes himself as “a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (NLT). James means exactly what He just wrote. He describes himself as “a slave of God.” The New Bible Dictionary gives a good description of this word “slave” (doulos). It says, “Under the influence of Roman law, a slave was usually considered to be a person (male or female) owned by another, without rights, and – like any other form of personal property – to be used and disposed of in whatever way the owner may wish.” Now listen, that alone makes it very interesting that James would be content with describing himself this way, as a slave… especially, when you think about the other titles he could have chosen.
- He could have chosen “James, the leader of the church at Jerusalem.” This is a position Luke gave him in Acts 21:18.
- He could have chosen “James, a pillar of the church.” This is a title Paul gave him in Galatians 2:9.
- He could have chosen, “James, an apostle.” Another title Paul gave him (Gal. 1:19).
- He could have chosen, “James, the Lord’s brother.” Another title Paul gave (Gal. 1:19).
But here in James and before he talks about how to deal with the trials and tribulations of life he introduces himself as “a slave of God.” This is a humble attitude. Paul echoes this humble attitude when he said, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:5-7, CSB).
James approached life as a person who was completely committed to God’s will. He saw himself as a slave, someone who belonged to God… someone to be used by God as God saw fit… complete humility.
You are able to say, “God created me, bought me, saved me, loved me and blessed me with Himself and a wonderful place in heaven. Therefore, I will honor Him by giving myself completely to Him, surrendering everything I am and all that I have to His service. I belong to Him!”
Face life as a worshiper of God.
Number two, face life as a worshiper of God. James begins this letter dealing with real life problems by reminding himself and us there is a “God” and He is “Lord.” Notice in verse 1 the many different descriptions He gives God.
- God – He is God, the One to give you strength when you are weak, hope when you are discouraged, wisdom for tough decisions, grace when you need forgiveness, and encouragement when you are down for real life.
- Lord – He is Lord. He is the One who is in charge when life seems chaotic, the one who can calm the seas, walk on water, do the impossible and make a way when there seems to be no way.
- Jesus – He is Jesus. This name points to Him being savior. They will give Him the name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He saves you from the penalty of sin, the power of sin, and eventually the presence of sin.
- Christ – This name points to being the anointed one. The Messiah. The deliverer.
As you go through life, face it humbly knowing that you are “a slave” but you serve a great God who is the Lord Jesus Christ. With Him you can face any mountain, any valley, any crisis, any problem, any trial, and any storm that may come your way.
You are able to say, “Jesus is my God, Lord, and Savior. Therefore, I will worship Him with all my being and commit myself to bringing Him glory for who He really is. I adore Him!”
Face life as an encourager of God.
Number three, face life as an encourager of God. James addresses the “twelve tribes” of “Jewish believers.” Without going into great detail behind the history of these two phrases, all you need to know right now is James was writing to a large group of believers because he cared for them and loved them and wanted to see them glorify God and experience the abundant life Jesus had bought for them.
When you become a follower of Jesus, when you become born again, the Holy Spirit moves into your life and begins a work in you that causes you to grow in your love for believers and the church as a whole. 1 John 3:14 puts it this way, “If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead” (NLT). When you love someone, you want to encourage them and inspire. This is why James wrote this letter to these believers and to you. He wants God to use him to encourage the believers.
This is where you are able to say, “God has given me His Holy Spirit that is teaching me to love other believers (His family) and to find ways to encourage them and inspire them throughout their journey. I will be used by Him!”
Face life as a soldier of God.
Number four, face life as a soldier of God. James is writing to the “twelve tribes” of “Jewish believers” who have been “scattered abroad.” For some believers they were scattered abroad because of a job, business, illness, and other normal ways of why people move away. But for some of them, they were scattered abroad due to their faith in Christ, they had been persecuted away from their home, their friends, their jobs, and their families. Many of them felt like they were in a spiritual battle fighting their own temptations, struggling to make the right decisions during trials and troubles, and dealing with their own discouragement, anger, and doubt.
This is one reason why later James will say in James 4:7, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (NLT). James knows the devil is after the believers to steal, kill, and destroy them in way possible. The same is true for you. You are in a battle and you must face life like a soldier of Christ.
This is where you are able to say, “God has warned me about a real enemy called the devil. However, God has equipped me with everything I need to resist him and experience victory in my life. I will fight for Him!”
Face life as a rejoicer of God.
Number five, face life as a rejoicer of God. James begins this letter by saying “Greetings!” This word “greetings” (chairein) 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 encourage those who read this letter, like you and me.
By saying, “Greetings,” James is saying what you are about to read is good news. It’s good news because it’s God’s plan to help you face the temptations in your life, to walk through the trials and troubles in your life, to help you treat people fairly, to help you speak words of encouragement, to help you draw near to God, to guide you in praying, and to learn what it really means to live by faith in a difficult world.
This is where you are able to say, “Regardless of what my circumstances are and what people say about me, I will rejoice in my God and what He has done for me. I will thank Him!” This echoes what Jesus said in Matthew 5:11-12, “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven” (NLT).
- Of these five qualities we looked at today, which one speaks to you the most? Which one do you sense God is telling you to work on in your life?
- James had a confident relationship with Jesus as His Lord and Savior. Would you like to have Jesus as your Lord to help guide you through life?