February 17 I Saturday
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…”
While there is some discrepancy, it is assumed that James, the brother of Jesus, wrote the epistle bearing his name. If so, this makes for an interesting question: Why did James not bolster his reputation by opening with, “James, the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ?” He could have easily basked in the glory of being conceived in the same womb as Jesus or brought up in the same house, but he did not.
After his conversion, James had acquired a prominent, respected reputation in Christian circles. He was already an important figure within the church and could have opened his letter with, “James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem.” In fact, Paul writes of James as a pillar of the church alongside Peter and John (Galatians 2:9). The recipients of James’ letter, the persecuted Jewish believers around the Roman world, would surely have responded favourably to a letter that began with an appeal to James’ authority within the church and as the brother of Christ.
Instead, James refers to himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Even the word “servant” is not a strong enough translation. The Greek word used is doulos, which literally means “slave.” The New Bible Dictionary explains what this meant in the first-century Roman world. It says, “Under the influence of Roman law, a slave was usually considered to be a person, male or female, owned by another person without rights and, like any other form of personal property, to be used and disposed of in whatever way the owner may wish.”
This description is not very palatable in our minds today. History, including Israel’s own, clearly reveals the barbarous ways slavery has been an abuse of freedom and dignity, yet this is how James characterizes himself in relation to his Lord. James recognized that after becoming a Christian, he was now purchased by Christ, without rights of his own, but to be used and dealt with in whatever way his Lord wished. This is how James was content to be known—not as the half-brother of Jesus or a leader in the Jerusalem church, but a slave of his beloved Master.
Our reputations before others are irrelevant before the cross. There is nothing wrong with being known for our family ties, accomplishments or our positions, but ultimately our identities are to be found in our relationship with Christ. He is our Lord; we are His servants, and rather than being restrictive, serving Christ grants us freedom and upholds our dignity, because it is under His authority that we are equipped, prepared and sent out to accomplish His work.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for letting concerns over my reputation dictate what I may or may not do. I am Your servant, ready to do Your work by Your power within me. Thank You, Lord.
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