UNDERSTANDING JAMES 1:1
1. No one knows exactly who this James is. The author doesn’t say “James son of …” or “brother of…”, so we rationalize, and guess, but no one really knows, many believe it is Jesus’ brother, who had not been a disciple during His ministry.
2. James isn’t really named James. His real name is Ya'aqov, or transliterated as Jacob.
3. This letter is written to the Jewish believers, likely those who were first converted directly from the apostles' early preaching after receiving the Holy Spirit during Pentecost, and the subsequent years of rapid growth in the faith. However, they had been scattered from Jerusalem as a result of intense persecution.
4. It is believed this James is the same James that was put in charge of the local church in Jerusalem.
James 1:1 nasb
"James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Yeshua, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings."
James refers to himself as a "bond-servant" to Yeshua. Many of us read this with preconceived ideas about what servanthood is. Most of those are formed by our modern culture or recent historical context. Most, if we are honest, generally view this word with a negative mindset. The However, the Biblical description and understanding of this term would likely surprise most of us, and might offer some insight revealing what exactly James and other apostles meant when they said they were "bond-servants."
Before we get too far into exploring James' statements at the opening of his letter, it is critical we understand what Biblical servanthood really means. One misunderstood fact is Hebrews had the choice to enter into a servanthood agreement. These contracts were entered for a number of reasons. One common motivation was financial. In some cases an individual couldn’t pay a debt so they would “sell” the debt to another creditor, then work for that person until the debt was paid. These contracts obviously could be easily abused, but in His wisdom YHVH put strict restrictions on implementation. For example a person could only enter into a servanthood contract for less than 7 years, and they were required to be freed on the 7th year, the year of Jubilee. Other prohibitions and restrictions were placed on "masters" to limit their control or abuse of their servants. For example, while punishing servants was allowed, abuse, harm, or injury was not allowed. These actions required the master repay or even set free a servant in certain circumstances. If a master was repeatedly abusive legal action could be taken, but a servant was allowed to flee and anyone who found this servant was required to care for them and should not return them to their master. In addition, when leaving their servanthood obligations the masters were required to bless them upon their departure, ensuring their future success and hopefully providing them the means to get back on their feet once they were released from their servile contract. These behaviors and requires stand in start contrast to what we know or believe about servanthood in a modern context.
However, James doesn’t just refer to himself as a “servant” he says “bond-servant”. We need to define that term Biblical before we begin.
Exodus 21:5-6 net
5 But if the servant should declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ 6 then his master must bring him to the judges, and he will bring him to the door or the doorpost, and his master will pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever.
There are a few things we need to understand about this verse.
1. Officials and witnesses were required to entire into a permanent bond-servant relationship. In addition, the judge must determine whether or not the servant’s declaration was sincere or coerced. They were required to protect the servant’s well-being, not the master's will.
2. When the servant goes to the “judge” they are going to a very public place and making a very public proclamation of their intention to stay with their master. The judges “sat in the gate” of the city so they could be found easily. This was not an agreement made behind closed doors with a limited number of witness. It was in the city gates where everyone came and went, meaning at any given point dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people could witness this proclamation.
3. The doorpost or door is the gate of the city. Again, this was a very public action that the judges and the people of the city were witnesses. Additionally, to some degree it was nailed to the door post of the city, as if to declare everyone in the city would be responsible for holding each party accountable for the servant's well-being and the master's integrity. It was a form of blood covenant, and that blood was left on the doorpost of the city as a constant reminder of their agreement.
When James calls himself a "bond-servant" he's not saying he is a slave, he is saying that he choses to remain a servant of his Master, Yeshua by choice, for the rest of his life, because he loves his Master. James doesn’t just privately make this declaration, just like the bondservants of his day, James declares his servanthood to the world in his letter. James' confession echos the teaching of Yeshua in the Gospels:
Matthew 10:29-33 net
29 Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 30 Even all the hairs on your head are numbered. 31 So do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows. 32 “Whoever, then, acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever denies me before people, I will deny him also before my Father in heaven.
Jesus not only says that we should publicly acknowledge our servanthood to Him, but He says this after promising to care for us when we do. He commits to us that He is a good Master who will care for our needs and values us.
The Bible discusses servanthood many times, and we should dig a little deeper into this topic if we are to understand James' claim to its fullest and properly apply that understanding to our lives today. We will break down key concepts about Biblical servanthood, and explore their implications. 1. Their life is no longer their own, they follow the will of their master as they willingly relinquish their own will. While for a period of time they willingly gave up their life in service to another person, that did not mean they were no longer people, or that they were the property of another person. This distinguisment must be understood clearly.
Exodus 21:16- Do not steal men
2. They urgently go about the work of the master without excuse, and rightly fear and love their master as they obey. This is possible because a master was required to care for and love their servant. Exodus 21:26-27- harmed servants were to be released from their obligations
3. Their work is to bring glory or fame to their master in reverent humility.
Matthew 24:46-Blessed is the slave is the master finds at work
Colossians 3:22-24-Bondservants obey your masters, which honors God
Malachi 1:6-Honor YHVH just as a servant honors their master.
4. The servant benefits from the arrangement, even though this is not the primary goal of service.
Deuteronomy 15:13-15-When they are released, send them away with abundant goods and blessings
All of these concepts are repeated in the Scriptures. The parallels between the commands of the Old and the lessons of the New should help us better understand the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.
1. A servant's life is not their own.
Out of all the Biblical concepts about servanthood, this one may be the most difficult to understand and to bring into practical living. The difficulty largely comes from our own unwillingness to choose to submit to someone or something else. However, we will blindly hand over our lives, wills, and alliances quite easily in many circumstances. While servants willingly enter into contract with their masters in the Biblical model, once they agree to that covenant the servant agrees that their life will be used for that master's purposes only. For that 7 years, the servant does not have a distinct identity apart from their master.
John 12:25-26 esv
25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 esv 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.
John 4:34-35 esv 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”
Yeshua and the apostles make it clear the cost of Biblical servanthood is everything. We lose our life, our own purposes, our self-determination, and our will. These expectations do not come without promise or reward. When we give up our life, He gives us new life eternally. When we lay down our will and purposes for His, the Father will honor us. When we chose to allow the Master to determine our identity and purpose we discover our worth and are able to glorify God fully and joyfully. When we consider the worthiness of these choices the decision to become a servant to Yeshua seems far less like an unjust and oppressive system and more like a loving response to a good and just Master who seeks our well-being. Yet, in the modern way of looking at our relationship with God, we are too often led to believe we are the master, and He is serving us.
True, Biblical servanthood is a purposeful commitment, in response to His demonstration of love and mercy, to lay down everything we are for His will, purpose, and glory. The servant seeks and does the will of the Master, dying to themselves and their own plans and glory, and live to the benefit and glory of the Master. We must love the Master with such ferver that everything else in comparison is rubbish, the Master is everything to us and for us.
2. Servant does the work of the master.
Once a person choses to enter into a servanthood covenant, they willingly accept the work and role the master selects for them in His house. Yeshua takes this concept a step further and implores us to not just be about the Master's business, but to do it with excellence and conviction. In other words, the servant does not willfully enter into covenant with a master then begrudgingly sloth about barely executing the tasks given. Instead, there is a passion to commit not only to compliance but and eager dedication to the Master who paid their debt in full.
19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Click on the verse reference above to read the entire parable)
The master is getting what he paid for in the servanthood relationship, the Master pays the servant's debt, the servant works for the master until the debt is paid off or for 7 years. However, in Yeshua's parable the master is expecting the servants to make him money, not just pay off the debt. Consider for a moment why the servant would ever work to make more money for their master? Could it be that as the master succeeds, the servant reaps the benefit of the master's success? Could be out of love or a sense of loyalty or responsibility for the master willingly paying their debt? Maybe it is a reflection of their own personal sense of pride or worth to work in a way which reflects positively on their character and integrity? Maybe the servant is working for a future reward, prize, or recognition. The reality is the parable doesn't describe the motivations for the servants, but that doesn't mean we should not evaluate our own motives when entering into a servanthood relationship with our Master, Yeshua. The reality delivered in this parable is the Master expects us to bear fruit and multiply.
John 14:23-24 nasb
23 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 24 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.
This verse may on the surface seem disconnected from our study, but it offers a glimpse into what our Master expects from His people...Obedience. Why? Because those acts of obedience are the demonstration of our love to the Father. The only way we participate in this servanthood relationship with our Master is to love Him enough to commit our lives to obeying Him, just as the bondservants did in the Bible. What's amazing is the reward of this covenant relationship isn't just mantaining our servant status with a righteous and good Master, it grants us the rights of sonship and brings us into the house of the Master as adopted children. Yet if we scorn the Master, reject His instructions, and refuse to obey His commands, then we reveal our hearts and expose the truth that we do not love Him. In that case, not only will we not become adopted sons, we will be excluded from the house of the Master even as servants.
John 5:30 esv 30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”
Yeshua Himself reinforces this idea, that any servant of YHVH must do the will of YHVH and not their own will. Time and time again we see the Messiah submit fully to the will of the Master, and even through great struggle and hardship, Yeshua willfully lays down His life in accordance with the will and plans of YHVH. What makes us think that we are free from that same heart toward God? The apostle Paul discusses this topic wonderfully many times but he makes some interesting points in his letter to the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, 8-13
1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful...8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
Paul says people should regard the apostles not with some special titles or recognition, but as "servants of Yeshua." Then he follows that immediately by saying servants should be found faithful, echoing the teaching of Yeshua and the behaviors guided by the instructions given to the Israelites in the Torah. Paul doesn't stop there though, he goes on to describe what this servanthood looks like to those on the outside. He says they are "last of all", "like men sentenced to death", spectacles, fools, weak, disrupted, hungry, thirsty, poorly dressed, buffeted, and homeless. He finishes his description by saying they are like the "scum of the world" and refuse. The crazy thing is Paul says in other letters, that he is joyous in this revelation, having left all the glory and wisdom he once knew because he knows his Master, and He is finally serving Him in spirit and in truth. Are we the kind of servants who would willingly accept this kind of life and status for ourselves? Would you be willing to be the "scum of the earth" to all around you, if it meant being a bond-servant to YHVH?
In all of this Paul's most compelling words are at the beginning, "Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.'" The world can call us whatever it wants, but if the Master calls us "faithful" and we follow and commit our lives to His will and not our own, then we will truly be bond-servants of YHVH as Paul and other great men and women of Scripture were as well.
Defining the work of the master:
This may seem obvious, but few people I have met in churches across this country could tell me what the "will" of the Master is or what "work" He would have us do. Before we move on with our study, we should take a few minutes to explore the answer to this question.
James 1:25-27 esv
25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Matthew 25:34-36 esv
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’...40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
Matthew 28:19-20 nasb
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
There are dozens of scriptures throughout the Bible we must explore to discover the length and breadth of what it is the Master wants us to do, but these verses certainly give us a solid foundation to begin with. James, the self-proclaimed "bond-servant" says the work of truly "religious" people is to take care of the orphans and widows and be set apart and holy from the world. Yeshua says feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned are part of the work of the Master. Finally, Yeshua also tells us the work of the Master is to make more disciples...to "multiply", just like we learned from the earlier parable. These concepts are summaries of more detailed instruction offered by YHVH in the Torah, and we as faithful servants, but be responsible to know the will of the Master and seek to accomplish that will as He instructs and guides us.
The end game of all this work is the glory of our Master, YHVH, the growth and multiplication of disciples in His kingdom, and His righteous instructions being taught and lived out by those who put their trust in Him. Understanding our role as bond-servants is the Gospel message. We owe a great and insurmountable debt, it was purchased with a great price by the master, and if we love Him and honor Him then we will not only do His will because we love Him, but we will bring others along to do His will as well.
If we are faithful servants to our master, as James is, then we must seek out the work of the Master and faithfully execute that work. When we do, it brings glory to our Master as people see not only His goodness, mercy, and love, bust also His justice, faithfulness and righteousness.
If you have enjoyed this blog post, check out part #2 of our Bond-Servants series at the following link. Also, consider becoming a subscriber as a means of supporting the work we do which is reaching people all over the world.