Study Notes

James 1:1-4


The Lord used approximately 40 authors as He inspired the 66 books of the Bible, and they were all very different people. John was a fisherman, Matthew was a tax collector, Luke was a doctor Samuel had grown up in the Jewish temple as a prophet, while Moses grew up in the Egyptian palace as royalty, and Daniel grew up in Babylon as a slave.

But there are two authors in the Bible that lived a life that none of the others would have dreamed or could have experienced: growing up with a big brother that was God Himself.

1:1 James

James: One of four sons that Mary and Joseph had after the immaculate conception and the miraculous birth of Jesus Christ in her virginity.

When Jesus began His teaching ministry at about the age of 30, He taught the Word of God from boats, in fields, on mountaintops, and at synagogues. There was a synagogue in His own hometown of Nazareth. Mark tells us,

Mark 6:1-3 ...and He came into His home town; and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, "Where did this man {get} these things, and what is {this} wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?" And they took offense at Him.

Jesus was the oldest of five boys growing up in the home of the local carpenter. Nothing had set him apart physically from his brothers, so how did He have such an incredible ability to teach, to minister, and to perform miracles? They couldn't get past the fact that they had watched this man grow up since He was a toddler, they refused to believe in Him. Jesus told them,

Mark 6:4 ..."A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his {own} relatives and in his {own} household."

It wasn't just His hometown that refused to give Him honor, but also His household. For the apostle John tells us,

John 7:5 ...not even His brothers were believing in Him.

They did not believe in Him - at least not until they saw Him raised from the dead! Three days after their half-brother Jesus was arrested, tortured, and publicly put to death, He appeared again alive. Now they knew - now they believed! At least two of them did, anyway. Although we do not know the fate of Joses and Simon, we do know that James and Jude went on to be born again, to become apostles preaching the gospel, and assume leadership positions in the early church.

We read that three years after Paul was saved, he said,

Gal. 1:18-19 ...I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother.

James was an apostle, and, apparently, became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. For it was he who, fourteen years later, spoke authoritatively at the Council of Jerusalem when Paul and Barnabas were being accused by the Judaizers of preaching a false gospel.

The name of James actually became synonymous with the church of Jerusalem. Paul wrote to the Galatians of a visit of Jews from that church, referring to it as "the coming of certain men from James" (Gal. 2:12).

Jude, when he wrote his epistle, appealed to the authority of James when he wrote, beginning the Bible book with,

Jude 1 Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James...

A brother of James, but a bond-servant of Jesus Christ. It is interesting that James made the same reference to himself.

Bond-Servant Better Than Brother

James writes that he is "a bond-servant of God." A bond-servant was a particular type of servant, or slave. He was one who had committed to a certain life and master.

Remember that although a Jewish person might become a slave due to having committed a crime or gotten into debt that he couldn't pay back, God's law prevented Hebrews from being slaves for more than six years.

It said,

Exod. 21:2 "If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment."

But there were times which the slave would consider his upcoming freedom and think, "You know, life is good here. Three square meals a day, a roof over my head, a master who loves me and treats me well... Why would I want to be set free into a world where I have no job, no family, and no assurance of a life that would be near this good?" And so God made provision for this circumstance as well.

Exod. 21:5-6 "But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,' then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently."

The servant became a bond-servant - one who voluntarily chose to serve for life. A bond-servant of God is the same: he is one who has committed his life and put his freedom under God's control. Someone who has chosen to be a servant of God for life.

The half-brothers of Jesus did not write, "James, brother of Jesus Christ," or "Jude, a guy you'd better listen to because I grew up with Jesus and we shared a bunk bed in Junior High School." They knew that being His bondservant was a higher position than being His brother.

Remember that Jesus had taught this during His earthly ministry. Matthew tells us,

Matt. 12:46-50 While He was still speaking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. And someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." But He answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold, My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother."

"Oh, to grow up with Jesus living in the house," we think. "How wonderful that would be! What a close relationship we would have!" But Jesus said that the closer relationship is found in doing the will of God. In other words, the bondservant is closer than the brother.

Twelve Tribes Dispersed

James addresses his letter to the twelve tribes dispersed abroad. Remember that the Jewish believers in Christ had been scattered when the persecution broke out against the Jerusalem church. It began the day that Stephen was stoned to death. Luke writes in Acts,

Acts 8:1 ...And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles

James wanted to encourage and exhort them to be aware of how they were living, now that they had spread out into the land of the Gentiles. What kind of witness would they be? How would their lives be lived while they proclaimed the name of Christ? Would they be practicing what they preached, or would they be accused of hypocrisy? This is what James will focus on in the majority of this letter.

1:2-4 Joy in Trials

The people James is writing to had it tough. When they came to Christ, they were hated by their brethren, called cult members and heretics. Then the opposition became violent. The Jews persecuted them for proclaiming the name of Jesus.

Now that they were scattered abroad, many of them experienced persecution because they were Jews. And even those who managed to avoid those kind of trials experienced the same difficulties that this life offers each us.

But he tells them to consider it all joy. Every difficulty, every trial, every test, should be considered joy.

In Greek, the word "consider" carries with it the meaning of authority. It literally means to "be a leader, or have authority over." You are the boss - oh, not of your circumstances, but of how you respond to them. You can't control whether someone crashes into your car when it's parked in the lot. But you have the control and authority to choose whether it will rob you of your joy in Christ or not. You can't stop bad things from happening in this life, but you can stop it from bumming you out.

This applies to everything - every single thing. It is ALL to be considered joy. I looked that word "all" up in Greek as well, and - sure enough - "all" means "all."

The end result of choosing joy in the midst of trials, testings, and difficulties is that you will grow exponentially as a Christian. When your faith is tested and you pass the test, you gain endurance, you grow in the strength of your faith.

When you first become a Christian, you're just a spiritual baby, so God gives you baby tests. But the longer you walk with Him, the more intense the testings are - you don't think about the simple faith tests any more - you've grown above them, they don't shake you anymore. Your victory through the early testings produced endurance.

I think of tests of faith like math tests. When you started elementary school, they gave you math tests: "2+3=? 1+2=?" They were tough, but you grew to know how to pass them. Then in the higher grades came more math tests: multiplication and division. And you conquered those too. Then in higher grades came "x=y squared -1." And you suddenly realized, "they're never going to quit giving me math tests! They just get harder every year!"

The testing of your faith is the same, but it has a purpose: to make you complete. Listen, the math tests each built on one another. You learned addition, and you don't think about it anymore, because you're busy using it to solve the algebra problem. Faith is the same way - you build a foundation and then stand on it.

David had tremendous faith in God, but it was a faith that grew by being tested. Before he had the faith to trust God when Saul's entire army was seeking to kill him, he had to first have faith enough to face Goliath. And before he had the faith to face Goliath, he first had to have faith enough to face the lions or bears that would attack his sheep.

Moses was another man of great faith. Again, that faith grew progressively. First, he had to trust that God was leading. Then he needed to believe that God would give miraculous testimony. All that testing had to produce endurance in Moses' faith before He could put him in front of the Red Sea, with three million frightened people being chased down by Pharaoh's chariots.

Our lives are the same - each trial, each test, strengthens our foundation, increases our endurance, enabling us to survive the next step.

And that is why the Lord will one day say to we who endure,

Matt. 25:21 ..."Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master."

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