From Skeptic to Sold Out

James is one of those fast paced, hard-hitting, anti-snowflake kind of book that speaks of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and then calls you and me to do something about it.

I find that sometimes I have a hard time with blunt people. Unless I know and understand the person behind the words, blunt can seem rude, obnoxious, arrogant or condescending. So, perhaps the best place for you and I to start our journey through James is to get an idea of who is writing and why he is writing.

James 1:1 || 1 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]

Who is James?

It is believed that this James was the brother of Jesus. Jesus had several brothers, actually. James was the second oldest born to Mary and the first oldest born to Joseph.

Matthew 13:55 || 55 Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. [NLT]

Can you imagine being the brother of Jesus? How would that have been? One might think that being in the same household as Jesus, it would be natural for his family to believe in Him.  However, at times, his family thought he was out of his mind:

Mark 3:20–21 || 20 One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. 21 When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. [NLT]

Brothers and sisters never tease or say anything mean to each other, do they? We know we shouldn’t, and we get in trouble when we do, but sometimes we can be mean. James and his brothers were mean to Jesus:

John 7:2–5 || 2 But soon it was time for the Jewish Festival of Shelters, 3 and Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, where your followers can see your miracles! 4 You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” 5 For even his brothers didn’t believe in him. [NLT]

Basically, James and his brothers were taunting Jesus, even mocking him saying: “If you are to special, prove it!” James was a sceptic to begin with. However, after Jesus rose from the grave, he appeared to James.

1 Corinthians 15:7 || 7 Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. [NLT]

Apparently, this post resurrection appearance was enough proof to convince James that Jesus was the real deal. We don’t really know if it was the crucifixion or any of the events leading up to the post-resurrection appearance that convicted James, but we do know that from that point going forward, there is a different description of James.

An apostle.

James, the Lord’s brother was an apostle according to Galatians 1:19

Galatians 1:19 || 19 The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord’s brother. [NLT]

A leader.

Later we find out that James became a leader in the church on Jerusalem, which was a church of Jewish Christians.  [Acts 12:17; 15:13–21; 21:18]

Galatians 2:9 || 9 In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. [NLT]

From doubter to disciple; persecutor to preacher; skeptic to believer.

Why does it matter?

James was someone who observed from close up and was skeptical. He was not quick to jump on the bandwagon. However, when Jesus was revealed to Him as the Messiah, James committed 100%.

There is nothing wrong with being skeptical! Some of us here are skeptics by nature. However, when confronted with the truth of our sinfulness and Jesus sacrifice for us, our response should be one of wholehearted commitment.

James is therefore writing as one who has tested the facts and found God to be true, so he writes in strong language to persuade his listeners to take the Lord and their salvation seriously and live their lives wisely, as part of God’s bigger narrative.

Who is he writing to?

James is writing to his Jewish bothers and sisters in Christ. To those people who were born Jews and born again by faith in Jesus.

He is writing to those that are scattered outside of Israel. They were not geographically located in Jerusalem. We can assume that the majority of them were scattered because of the persecution of the church that was recorded in the book of Acts:

Acts 8:1 || 1 Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria. [NLT]

Acts 11:19 || 19 Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. [NLT]

These were people acquainted with persecution and trials! James is writing to them to encourage them in their trials and remind them that there is more to this life than their situation. Also, that life does not revolved around them – even though they are saved AND Jews!

This Jewish audience would have been familiar with the narrative of the Pentateuch and would be familiar with God’s mission of rescue and restoration. So, you should expect references to the Pentateuch, though you might not get much of an explanation. James is simply helping them connect the dots of their beliefs in God with their current circumstances.

Why does this matter?

The intersection of faith and action is one that you and I face daily. Whether we know the entire narrative of the Bible or just pieces, if we have been born into the family of God by placing our faith in Jesus, we are new creations – remade to reflect God to the world around us.

That means that our daily routines, our words, our interactions with others and how we choose to use our time and resources all matter.

Regardless of where God scatters us, we are His church and we have the blessing and joy of living life for Him – sometimes we just need to very blunt, practical advice on how to do it. THIS is the book of James.

How does James identify himself?

How many of you like to read books? If it is an author you don’t know, what do you do? Check reviews? See who has endorsed the book? Read the flap with the “about the author” info?

So-and-so has 3 degrees in bibleology, has served in leadership in their church for 120 years, written over 6,000 books and speaks 45 languages including Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic.

I have a book I just read that states this about the author: director of church multiplication for 2 national organizations, is a teaching pastor at a multi-site church, co-author of a best selling book, has a M.A. in global leadership from a leading seminary and has served and pastored in churches ranging from 100 to 50,000 across Canada, Korea and the US. Oh, and he has his own website. 😉 You know how books have the little paragraphs of endorsement by other “famous” people? This book had 25 of them!

If James opened his letter the way we endorse books, it might have read something like this:

“James, the blood brother and closest relative to Jesus, first son born to Mary through Joseph, the Risen Messiah. Leader, apostle and pillar of the original church in Jerusalem. Jew by birth and believer in Jesus by the grace of God.“

And the letter would be endorsed by Peter (the ROCK of the church), John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) – pillars of the church in Jerusalem.

  • James does NOT identify himself as the brother of Jesus.
  • James does NOT identify himself as a leader of the church in Jerusalem.
  • James does NOT identify himself as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, like Paul sometimes did.

James identifies himself this way:

James 1:1 || 1 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]

Slave? What?! Your version might read “servant” instead, but the meaning is the same. In today’s culture we view slavery as bad and serving as acceptable. In bible times, you could actually offer yourself as a slave to someone to pay back a debt. It was not the same, ugly version of slavery it evolved into that we finally did away with.

Instead of claiming his pedigree from his bloodline, he claims the sacrifice and blood of Jesus as his claim to fame. Instead of stating his position in the church, he states his position in God’s kingdom – as a servant of the living God.

Also note, he was a servant of God and Jesus. God would be of first significance to a Jew. To name Jesus here is to show that James sees the two as equal. It also shows that James went from doubter to disciple of Jesus.

I cannot help but wonder if we would be able to sell any books if we simply had, “So-and-so, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus”? Would we buy the book or would we say, “Nope. Not qualified.”

Why does this matter?

First, because we need to recognize that our authority, position and message come from God and Him alone. While our education may certainly give us greater understanding or ability, it is not a replacement for God, nor is it more significant than what God can teach us.

Second, because our position as Christians, and especially those of us whom God has placed in leadership of the church, must always be one of servanthood and not privilege.

When I need to be called by a certain title (the Right Reverend, Senior Elder, Teacher Mike) then I am looking to be validated by man, not God. I am also elevating myself and not God.

When I need to be acknowledged by anything such as my degrees, title, position, money, possessions, clothing, job, family – I am looking for validation and worth from others. While validation is always welcome, our true validation comes from God.

Our privilege is a be servants of the Most High God.

GRACE MOMENT

Though James calls himself a servant, and through we desire to be faithful servants of God, God does not save us to enslave us. God does not seek after us just so he can have more slaves to do his bidding.

John 15:12–17 || 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17 This is my command: Love each other. [NLT]

Jesus sees us as friends, not as slaves, because we can know what the Father wants and we have God’s spirit in us.

The Father sees us as children, as HIS children:

1 John 3:1 || 1 See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. [NLT]

We do not have kids just so we can have servants (though they may THINK that is the case at times!). We have kids se we can love them, teach them, invest in them. They have responsibilities because they are part of a family, as each member of a family does. That does not make them slaves, but it does mean they will be expected to serve others in their household and probably also in the community.

Our choice to submit ourselves as slaves is one of humility in allowing God to teach us, bless us, love us and use us for HIS purposes in this world. To be a servant of God and Jesus, is to submit to God’s leadership and mission of restoration through Jesus and to make that the #1 mission in our lives.

James 1:1 || 1 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]

I love how God can take what we say, and the way that we are wired, and use that in a special way for His glory. James, who not only doubted Jesus, but also told him to prove he was special, eventually follows Jesus and then encourage believers for generations to come to prove that they, too, are something special because of Jesus.

It is my prayer that in the weeks to come, that God will use this book of James to confront us, counsel us and conform us into the image of our Savior. That you will see the way God has wired you, and how He wants to use you to prove to the world that Jesus changes lives.  

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NCF was started in 1987 to minister to the growing population of Fort Drum and Jefferson County. Located in Carthage, just minutes away from Ft Drum, Lowville and Watertown, it is a blended congregation of local and military folks, single soldiers, young families and grandparents.

35206 Sayre Road
Carthage NY 13619
PO Box 823
Carthage, NY 13619
315-493-3958