A Slave to His Brother?
Read James 1:1 (ESV)
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
If you were in James’ position, what would have made you hesitate to believe that Jesus was the Messiah? What evidence would have convinced you that He was?
Imagine that after growing up with your brother for 30 years, he starts to claim that he is equal to God. He had always been a little “too perfect” and honestly, you resented that a little. Now, he’s gaining a huge following, teaching these radical ideas, rebuking and refuting the religious leaders of the day, and even performing miracles! How would you react? Would you think he’d gone mad? Would it feed your resentment? Would you be curious? Would you ever call yourself his slave?
In today’s verses, we are reading the words of one of Jesus’ half-brothers, James. What strikes me is what James willingly calls himself in his introduction. He identifies himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The idea of a servant here is one of a “bondservant” which is someone who sells themselves into permanent servitude. He is saying that he has chosen to be his own brother’s slave for life! But even more than that, he is acknowledging that his brother is God!
To be sure, James didn’t always feel this way. In John 7:4-5, we see Jesus’ brothers coaxing Jesus to go up the Feast of Booths and show all of the people His miraculous works. They said, “‘...If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him.” Jesus’s half-brothers are listed in Matthew 13:55 as James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (Jude). We don’t know their motives for sure but since the Bible says they didn’t believe him yet, we can assume that challenging Jesus to put on a public spectacle of His miraculous power was some sort of litmus test to determine if He was who He said He was—the Messiah. But Jesus knew that the time was not right yet. Jesus wanted to follow God’s timeline. He didn’t feel like He had anything to prove to His brothers.
So how did James go from not believing Jesus to declaring himself a bondservant of Him? He experienced the risen Christ himself. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, Paul mentioned that appearance: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me” (emphasis mine).
James believed that Jesus was who He had claimed to be when Jesus appeared to him personally after His resurrection. After that, whenever James is mentioned in Scripture, it is with full devotion.
We see him in the upper room prayer meeting in Acts 1:12-14: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (v. 14, emphasis mine). In Acts 15:13-22, we see that James held a leadership role in the early church. He proposed a solution to the question of whether or not Gentiles needed to follow the ritual laws of the Jews and to establish a plan for how Jews and Gentiles could fellowship together both as believers in Christ. His proposal was supported and accepted by the apostles and elders. This shows us that James was held in high regard and respected by the other disciples and early church leaders despite his initial unbelief.
Friends, once James accepted the resurrection of Jesus as fact, he was all in and fully devoted. He understood that his brother was who He said He was after all—the Messiah and the Lord God. James was willing to sacrifice the rest of his life in service of Jesus’ Gospel and His Church.
Here’s something for you to ponder and pray about. Have you fully accepted Jesus’ resurrection as historical fact? If not, have you thoroughly investigated it? If you have, has the significance of the resurrection fully sunk in? Are you ready to be fully devoted to Christ henceforth and forevermore? Are you willing to be His slave for life?
Lord Jesus, I know that You are who You say You are—the Messiah and my Lord. Because You live and because You redeemed me through Your sacrifice on the cross, I lay my life down for You. Like James, I am Your servant and You are my Master—all the days of my life. Amen.