Updated: Sep 27, 2021
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.