Broadcasting now. Watch Live.

James: First Lessons

Tom Pennington James 1:1


Well, it's my joy this morning to take you, for the first time, (of what I'm sure will be a number of months of study) to the book of James. We begin a wonderful letter in the New Testament. And this morning, I want us just to begin to get a glimpse of the richness that we're going to taste over the next weeks and months together.

In our culture, there're a number of things which are humorous, really, when you step back and consider them. I think one of the funniest is the commercials for drugs that have only recently become allowed. We've all been barraged and had our lives constantly inundated with "Buy this drug. It will solve all of your problems." But what I think's hilarious about the drug adds is: they spend about five seconds talking about the great value of this drug; and then there are fifteen to twenty seconds, of all of the disclaimers, and all of the provisos that the attorneys make them put in about: "Yeah, this drug is going to help you, but here's a list of the things that it could do to you, many of which are far worse than whatever it is you're going to take that drug for." While I think it's humorous, I'm grateful to live in a country where drugs are regulated. 'Cause, if you've done any reading, you've realized that in developing countries, one of the most troubling problems they face is counterfeit drugs.

This week I read an article by the BBC. They reported that in 1995 and 1996, mothers in Haiti went to the store, hoping to buy a medicine, a pediatric medicine that would relieve the fever that their children were experiencing. And they would purchase this pediatric medicine, and take it home to use it. And in fact, the results were tragic. The manufacturer in Haiti had made up the medicine. He imported what he thought was a pharmaceutical glycerin, to use as a suspension for the medicine. But in fact, this glycerin was a counterfeit. The manufacturer took the product without testing it, and the results were absolutely tragic. Over those two years, at least eighty-eight children died from taking this medication for their fever. And they think there were almost certainly more fatalities in rural areas which went unreported. Absolutely tragic to think that a child with a fever would take a medication intended to help them and make them better; but in fact; because it is a counterfeit, a deadly counterfeit, it ends up taking their lives.

As tragic as that is, it's much more tragic to consider that the same thing happens constantly around us, not in the medical world, as much as in the spiritual world. In our families, in our churches, and sadly, sometimes even in our own individual lives, we embrace a counterfeit. And the results are far more devastating, because what we embrace is a counterfeit faith. We are clinging, with the hopes that what we have embraced is the real thing, only to discover when we stand before Christ, that we have embraced, not the real thing, that will be a salve and a cure to our souls; but we have embraced a counterfeit, which is absolutely deadly to our souls.

There are several kinds of counterfeit faith that theologians list and that the Bible records. The first is what we call natural faith. This is the faith you and I demonstrate and exercise every day, in the natural affairs of life: from the faith that that bench you're sitting on will hold you up, to the faith that a multi-ton metal aircraft will actually take off the runway. It's not really faith. A lot of people think that's faith, but it's not. Martin-Lloyd Jones, the great English pastor, said that, "Really all that is, is a belief and a confidence in the laws of mathematical probabilities. You've sat on benches before. You've seen others sit on benches. And most of the time, those benches have supported the people. And so, there is a law of mathematical probability that says, It'll probably happen again. That's not faith."

There's another kind of faith that is a counterfeit. This one's much more common. Theologians call it a historical faith: that is, an acceptance of the historical facts of the Christian faith. There're people all around this country, today, and all around our world, and perhaps even here in this congregation, who have this kind of faith. They believe that Jesus existed. They believe that He was who He claimed. They believe that He died the death that the Bible says He died. And they believe that He's now ascended, in the presence of God. And they think that, that faith is going to save them; when in reality, that is a counterfeit for the real thing. The devils believe that.

There's a third kind of counterfeit faith the Bible records: it's a temporal faith, a temporal faith. It is a keen, short-lived interest in spiritual matters, often accompanied by a really strong emotion. You see this in people who make professions of faith in the moment of an emotion, and walk an isle, or sign a card, make some profession of faith, and then they're gone,.and you never see them again. Jesus talks about this kind of faith, when He gave the parable of the soils in Matthew 13. He said there would be those who would receive the seed, the Gospel, and they would spring up as if they were the real thing. But suddenly the thorns, and the pressures and affairs of this life would choke out that seed; looked like it was going to be the genuine thing. But it was a temporal faith, a temporary faith.

Because of the danger of exercising a counterfeit faith, Scripture constantly calls us to examine the reality of our profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Paul does this constantly in his letters. But I think the most famous of these is at the end of his second letter to the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 13. He writes this to these people whom he loved. Now remember, Paul had ministered in this congregation for a period of months. He had sent them the letter that we have in our Bibles, known as 1 Corinthians. He had made another visit there. He'd, in addition, sent a second letter that we don't have in our Bibles, called the severe letter, that's referred to in 2 Corinthians. And now, he's written them a third letter that we have, called 2 Corinthians. He knew these people. He had taught them. And yet, at the end of this third letter, listen to what he says, in verse 5: "Test yourselves, to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-unless, indeed, … [you've failed] the test?" He goes on to say, "We don't fail the test." And it's our great hope and prayer that you won't fail it either, but examine yourselves!

The same desire that we examine our hearts was found in the ministry of Christ, also. No clearer picture of Christ's call for self-examination is found in the Sermon on the Mount: that great Sermon that's recorded for us in the Gospels, particularly in Matthew 5, through Matthew 7. And when Christ comes to the end of that great sermon, He says, "It's time to evaluate yourself." And he tells the parable of the two lives built on different foundations. Both built the same kind of house. They both looked like the real thing. But one of them was the wise man who built on the rock. And the other was the foolish man who built on the sand. In that passage, when I ask people, "What's the rock?" their immediate response is, "Jesus." Read it again. That's not what Jesus says. Jesus says, "The life built on the rock is the life that hears my words and does them. And the life built on the sand is the one who hears my word and doesn't do them." Jesus said, "Examine yourself." If there's not a pattern of obedience in your life, then you've built a house on sand. And it won't stand the judgment. That's the message of the Sermon on the Mount.

Today, we begin our study of the book of James. And James was deeply influenced by the Sermon on the Mount. His letter lives and breathes with the teaching of Jesus. Now there are no direct quotes of the Sermon on the Mount, here in James. But there're more than twenty allusions to that sermon. And that's why the point of this epistle is really the same as the end of the Sermon on the Mount, and it's this: we must examine the genuineness of our faith. Keye and Young, two great commentators on this book wrote, "It is not enough to be a Christian, if this fact does not show in one's conduct." You see, James' epistle is a series of tests, to see if our faith is a living, saving faith, or if we have, instead, embraced a counterfeit: a counterfeit, non-saving deadly faith. And as you go through this book, you see test after test unfold of the genuineness of our faith.

He begins in 1:2, with a test of how we respond to trials. In verses 13 - 18, there's a test of how we respond to our own lust, to our own fallenness. In verses 19 - 27 of chapter 1, there's a test of how we respond to the Word of God. And on and on it goes, through the flow of the book. We'll see as we go through this book. It's a call to examine our faith. Is it real, or is it counterfeit? Is it life-producing, or is it deadening?

James wrote this letter between 46 and 49A.D. It was the first New Testament book that was penned and circulated. Chronologically, it should go first, and not Matthew. It gives us a glimpse of life in the church before the ministry of the apostle, Paul, very Jewish, in character. In fact, in 2:21, James refers to Abraham, our Father. The book of James is filled with more than forty allusions to the Old Testament. James is the only New Testament author that refers to God by the Old Testament name, "Lord Sabaoth." But it's also a time of transition, when James writes. He called the assembly, like this one, where we've gathered today, he called it two different names. In 2:2, in the Greek text, he refers to it as a synagogue. And then in 5:14, he refers to it as the church. So, it was in that time of transition, as Jewish believers were beginning to learn the ramifications and implications of the ministry of Christ to their Jewishness.

This morning, we're going to begin our journey through this book, by looking closely only at the first verse, together. Let me read it to you. Of course, it's the introduction to his book: James 1:1.

James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

You know, we tend to skip over these introductory verses to the epistles. But they're often filled with deep theology and profound personal experience: and this one, more than most. In this brief, introductory verse (really just a greeting) James, provides us with our first deeply spiritual, theological lessons. I want us to look at these lessons today.

The first lesson is this: God is sovereign in salvation. God is sovereign in our salvation. Notice, he begins, simply with the name, James. That's all he tells us about his identity. So, we have to ask the question. Who exactly is this person, whose letter has ended up as part of the canon of Scripture? The fact that he doesn't think it necessary to explain who he is probably means that he was well-known among the first-century Jewish Christians.

If you were to search the New Testament, you would find that the word "James," (the name, "James") occurs some 42 times in the New Testament. And if you sort through all of those occurrences, you'll come up with the fact that they're really only four possibilities for who this person could be. The first is James, the son of Alphaeus, the apostle. He's also called "James, the less." We know nothing more about him than what I just told you, except that he's listed as one of the apostles. It's very unlikely that he would have been the author of this book, because, he doesn't clarify who he is, and he would certainly have needed to; because he had such a low profile on the history of the church.

The second possibility is also in the list of the apostles: James, the father of Judas. This man is only mentioned as the father of one of the apostles. That's his only claim to fame. There's no other mention of him in the New Testament. Neither of those seem to be real possibilities.

But that brings us to the third James. This one is a possibility. His name is James, the apostle, the son of Zebedee, the brother of John (obviously, one of the notable apostles). When you hear the apostles listed, he's always in the first of the list, near the very beginning. But we know that this James (James, the brother of John, one of the sons of thunder) this James died in 44A.D., at the hand of Agrippa (Herod Agrippa, in Acts 12:2): had his head cut off from him. That was too early to have written this letter. And so, we know, it's likely that he did not write it.

That leaves us with only one James in the New Testament, who could have written this letter, and been well-known enough not to need to clarify who he was. He's called, in Galatians, 1:19, "James, the Lord's brother," one of the earthly brothers of Jesus Christ. Turn over to Mark 6. This is where we first meet this man. Mark, 6:1:

Jesus went out from there, [we're told] and came into His hometown. [He's returning to Nazareth: local boy made good.] and His disciples followed Him. Verse 2: [And] When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, "Wheredid this man get these things? And what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands?" [Don't we know this kid? How did this happen?] Verse 3, "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. [Now there's a powerful lesson here in the response of the hometown crowd to Jesus: "A prophet has no honor in His own country."]

But what I want you to see is Jesus' family, the family with which He grew up. We're told, here, He had four brothers. James is one of those brothers. We're also told he had sisters, plural. That means there were at least two. So that, there were a minimum of seven children in the home in which Jesus grew up. And if he had more than two sisters, (we're not told how many) but the law of averages being equal, he probably had more than two sisters. So, it might have been an even larger family, in which Jesus grew up. The question is, as you look at this expression, "brothers and sisters," In what sense were they his brothers and sisters?

Well, three answers have been historically offered to answer that question. The first is the answer Jerome gave. Jerome, the early church father said, "It literally means 'cousin.' Jesus was cousin to these people." This remains the primary Roman Catholic position. The problem with this view is that Greek has a word for "cousin," and the New Testament authors didn't choose to use it. In addition, the word "brother," which they did choose, is never used for "cousin." So, this is not a biblically valid option.

There's a second option that's often given: and that is that these brothers and sisters were Joseph's children by a previous marriage. Now that would mean that Jesus was the youngest in the family, and the only child connected to Joseph and Mary. This solution, by the way, was originally proposed to protect the concept that came a couple hundred years after Christ, called the "Perpetual Virginity of Mary". The Catholic Church teaches that Mary was perpetually a virgin: was never involved in the physical relationship in marriage. In addition to denigrating the sanctity of the physical relationship in marriage (which Hebrews says is not defiled, it's holy before God), there are a number of problems with this view that these were Joseph's children by a previous marriage.

First of all, there's no mention in Scripture. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it erases Jesus' claim to be the King, to be the rightful King of Israel, the descendant of David; because if He wasn't the oldest, then the oldest boy had that right. It also doesn't match the New Testament picture. In the Gospels, you see the boy, sort of tagging along with Mary, wherever she goes. And it's only when you get to 1 Corinthians 9:5 that we discover that they have wives, and that they're leading their wives along. Their wives are traveling with them. And so, the picture you get from the New Testament is that Jesus was the older; and they were, in fact, younger. That's the implication.

So, that brings us to the third option, and the one that I think that is most in line with what the Scriptures teach, and that is: these brothers and sisters were born to Mary and Joseph after Jesus was born. You see it in Matthew 1:18, where we're told, "Before Joseph and Mary came together, she was found to be with child." Of course, "coming together" is a euphemism for the physical relationship in marriage. And we're told that before they came together, she was found to be pregnant. The obvious implication is that there was a time later, when they did consummate their marriage. Matthew 1:25: "Joseph kept her a virgin until she gave birth to Jesus." Again, the clear implication is that they were a normal husband and wife after Jesus was born. Luke 2:7 says Jesus is called, there, "her firstborn son." That implies there were other children that followed Him.

Think about this for a moment. This means that James was born to Mary and Joseph after Jesus was born. Now, his name appears first in both of the lists of Jesus' brothers in the New Testament. That means that he was probably next to Jesus, the oldest in the family. It's possibly James was only two to five years younger than Jesus. His given name was Jacob, from which the English name, "James" comes. He was undoubtedly named after the patriarch, Jacob. But think about the home in which James grew up. What incredible opportunities!

Joseph, their father, apparently died after Jesus' visit to the temple, when He was twelve years old, but before Jesus began His ministry at thirty. Because Joseph is there when he's twelve, but there's no mention of Joseph anywhere in the Gospels during the ministry of Christ. So, it would've been Jesus' responsibility, at Joseph's death, as the oldest son, it would have been His responsibility to do two things: first of all, to be the leader in the family business. That's why back in Mark 6:3, you saw they referred to Jesus as "the carpenter," because He would have taken on the family responsibility. He had a lot of siblings to care for. It would have been His duty to take that role in the Jewish home.

Also after Joseph's death, however, it would have fallen to Jesus, as the oldest man in the family to teach His younger siblings the Scripture. He would have taken on the role of the surrogate father in the family in a Jewish home. His responsibilities are outlined in Deuteronomy 6, where fathers are told to teach their children to "talk of the things of the Lord when they walk by the way, when they sit down, when they rise up." It's supposed to permeate daily life. You know, this is incredible to me, because it reminds me that Jesus had the same responsibility that I have as a father. Oh, He wasn't the natural father of those children. But it was His responsibility to be in the place of their father, to help bring them up, to teach them. He set around the dinner table with at least six children, and the responsibility for those lives. No family ever had a better teacher, a more consistent example, a more perfect model of God the Father than that family had.

No young man, like James, ever had a better example, in a surrogate father, of holiness, and life devoted to God, being treated fairly in every way. And yet, whenever it was that James first became aware that His older brother claimed to be more than the human son of Mary and Joseph when he heard that, at whatever age, he rejected it. James and his brothers absolutely refused to believe that their older brother, Jesus, was, in fact, Israel's Messiah, the Long-awaited One. Moreover, they thought He was crazy.

Turn to Mark 3 Mark 3:20 Mark writes, "When Jesus came home," (now this doesn't mean to Nazareth, now. Jesus has established His home in Capernaum.)

… [When] He came home [to Capernaum], and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. [The press of the crowd, in light of Jesus' teaching, in light of His miracles, is so great, that they can't even manage to stop to eat.] Verse 21: "When His own people heard of this," (now this is a reference to His family, and you'll see it even clearer in a moment.) "they went out to take custody of Him;" [That's an interesting expression. The word "take custody," the Greek word, is used in other places in the New Testament "to arrest." They went out to seize by force Jesus. Why?] The end of verse 21: "for they were saying, 'He has lost His senses.'" [He's out of His mind! He's crazy! Have you heard what He's saying? Have you heard what He's teaching? This is our older brother! Who does He think He is! You see this clarified as you go.]

The story's continued in verse 31. They finally arrive in Capernaum, where Jesus is.

Then His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him and called Him. [The] … crowd was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You." Answering them, He said, "Who are My mother and My brothers?" Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers!" For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother."

No, James didn't accept Christ. He and his brothers actually thought Christ was. "out of his mind." You see their attitude reflected even more clearly in John 7. Now we're just six months before the crucifixion. Three years, around three years, Jesus has now ministered. John 7:1,

After these things, Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near. Therefore His brothers said to Him, "Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If [and there's the key word.] If You do these things, show Yourself to the world." [There is in these words a sort of biting sarcasm. There's a resentment, a bitterness. And you see the reason in verse 5] for not even His brothers were believing in Him.

Those four boys rejected claim to Jesus Christ. How sad it must have been for Jesus, to have His own family reject His claims. That may well be, by the way, why at the cross, as Jesus is dying, He gives John, the apostle, the responsibility to care for His mother. We know that Jesus, in His earthly life, voluntarily restricted the use of some of His attributes. And it may well be, that He'd restricted His knowledge, in some ways, so that He didn't know that His brothers would ever believe in Him. It makes no sense to ask John to care for them if Jesus knows, at this point, that His brothers, in just a few days, are going to respond and believe. And so, it may well be, that He died thinking that those He loved, those He poured out His life for, those He cared for, those He taught, those for whom He worked to provide food on the table, would never believe in Him, would always reject Him.

You know, I find great comfort in this, for those of you who find yourself in difficulty with your children. Perhaps you've had a child walk away from the faith, turn his, or her, back on all you tried to teach them. Jesus understands that. He experienced that, firsthand.

But after the resurrection, Paul tells us that Jesus made a special point to appear to His brother, James. We find that in 1 Corinthians 15:7. We don't know whether it was at that point that James, at that moment, that James came to the faith, or not. But what we do know is that by the time Jesus ascended, and the disciples gather in the upper room, we find James and his other brothers with Mary in that upper room. Listen to Acts 1:14: "These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers." At this point, all four of those boys, into whom He poured His life, have come to believe in Jesus, as Lord and Savior.

What's the point of all this? Listen carefully. This is crucial to get. James did not come to believe in Jesus Christ because He grew up in a home with godly parents. He did not come to believe in Jesus Christ because he had a perfect example, in a leader. He did not come to believe because He heard the truth taught and explained by the world's greatest teacher. He did not believe because he knew about Jesus and His claims. He did not believe because he saw Jesus perform miracles. He did not believe, even though he lived with Jesus for twenty years. He did not believe, and listen carefully to this: He did not believe, even because he saw the resurrected Christ.

How do I know that? Well, remember what Abraham says to the rich man, in the story in Luke 16? The rich man wants somebody to rise from the dead, Lazarus to rise from the dead and go and tell his brothers. And Abraham says, "No, that's not necessary. If they won't hear the Law. If they won't listen to the Word of God, neither will they believe, though what? Someone rises from the dead. It wasn't seeing Jesus resurrected that brought James to life, to believe in Jesus. So, what was it? Why did James finally believe, after all of that?

Well, listen to his own explanation in James 1 James 1:18, James writes, "In the exercise of … [God's] will, He brought us forth by the word of truth…." There it is: God is absolutely sovereign in salvation. It was by the working of His will. "It was His decision … to bring me to life by the word of the truth." James understood that God is sovereign in salvation in a way that you and I will never experience. He lived in the same home with Christ, yet rejected Him, until God chose to grant him life. Now, I don't know why God, in His Providence, didn't save James and his brothers earlier, but I do know this. It provides for us a powerful illustration of the depravity of the human heart: to sit around the table, to walk by the way, to work together with the Son of God, and to reject Him. And it also provides a powerful illustration of the power of God in salvation, because James says, "God willed it, and He spoke it, and I came to life."

You know, there're a lot of lessons for us, here, in this wonderful expression of James and his life. James' experience should motivate us to pray for the salvation of those we love, who aren't in Christ; because only God can give life to a dead heart. It's not going to be your arguments. It's not going to be your logic. It's going to be - the working of the poserGod. It also should motivate us to share the Word of God with those we love; because what does James say here, in James 1:18 was the tool God used? It was the word of truth. It wasn't even seeing the raised Christ. You should never lose hope. The person in your life, who doesn't believe, no matter how long you prayed for them; no matter how much you shared with them. Perhaps it's a spouse. Perhaps it's a parent a family member, a friend, a co-worker. If God can save James, after almost twenty-five years of living with Christ, hearing Him teach, and yet, rejecting Him, and even thinking He was crazy, out of His mind, then God can save anyone. James wants us to know that God is sovereign in salvation.

There's another powerful lesson in this opening verse. It's that God is sovereign in our service. He says, "a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." This is all James tells us about himself. He could have said, "I'm the brother of Jesus Christ!" He could have said, "Let me tell you about some of the things that happened in our home, when I was growing up." But he says, "All you need to know about me is that I'm a bond-servant. The Greek word is "doulos" (slave). "I'm a slave." "Literal bondage to the authority of another" is what this word describes. One lexicographer writes, the term emphasizes the "supreme and absolute authority of the master, and the entire submission of the slave." "I'm a slave!" But this expression also has honor in it.

You see, in the first-century world, a slave of a wealthy and influential person was often treated with more respect than a poor, free person, because of the person they represented. In fact, this expression, "a slave or a servant of God," is used in the Scripture to refer to some of God's greatest leaders: to Moses, and to David, and to Paul, and to Peter, and even to Christ, Himself. So, when James starts with this expression, "I'm a slave of God and of Jesus Christ," he's saying, "I come to you in humility. I have nothing to offer. I'm just a slave. And I also come to you with the authority of my Masters." James says, "I'm a slave."

And notice he's a most unusual slave, because he's a slave with two masters. "I'm a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." You see, these names together draw up the Old and New Testament revelations of the nature of God. He says, "I serve the God of my fathers, whom I knew and learned about in the Old Testament. And I serve the expression of Him in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ." It's a clear testimony to the Deity of Christ. James Hebert, in his commentary writes, "For a strong, monotheist, like James, it would have been unthinkable to name Jesus Christ as equal to God if he rejected His true Deity." Notice how James refers to his brother. These three names sort of fill out the expression, Jesus. He says, "I'm talking about the man in whose home I grew up. But He's Christ. I've come to embrace this Man as Israel's long-awaited Messiah." And He's Lord, Master. This speaks of full allegiance, and whole-hearted service. He says, "I serve the Lord Jesus Christ, my half-brother. I'm His slave."

What was the form that James' service to Christ took? Well, I don't have time to take you in detail. But let me just give you a quick rundown, a quick overview of the ministry of James. First time we see his growing role in the church is in Acts 12. You remember Peter was arrested, and then ultimately was freed by an angel. And he goes to the house where they're praying for him. And he says, "Go tell James and the leaders of the church." That's because James had become the primary teaching elder in Jerusalem: what we would call the senior pastor. He was the senior pastor of the church in Jerusalem. In James 3:1, he refers to himself as a "teacher."

The apostle, Paul, three years after his conversion, travels to Jerusalem. And he stays for two weeks with Peter. We're told about this in Galatians 1. And that's the first time he meets James. But then, some eleven years later, Paul returns to Jerusalem. And by the time he returns, in Galatians 2:8, we're told that James has become a "pillar" of the church, along with Peter and John, the apostles. By the time you get to Acts 15, James is the unquestioned leader of the Jerusalem church. He's now served as the senior pastor for some twenty years. And in Acts 21, when Paul brings the financial gift for the saints in Jerusalem, he reports to James and to all the elders. So, James' ministry to Christ was primarily in the church in Jerusalem. But his ministry and influence went far beyond that. You see it in several places in the New Testament. And of course, his influence comes to us through this letter that's been included in the Scripture. He was such a man of integrity that history calls him, "James, the Just".

Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that just a few years after the incident in Acts 21-on, James was stoned by the religious leaders in Jerusalem. When James was martyred, he had served for almost thirty years as the pastor of the Jerusalem church: thirty years of faithful ministry to Christ, his half-brother and his Lord. But all of that service wasn't James' doing. And this is what he wants us to know. He says, "I just do what I'm told. I'm a slave of Jesus Christ." The application to this point is clear: and that is, throughout Scripture, every believer is referred to by this term, "a slave of Jesus Christ".

Is that how you think of yourself: as a slave of Jesus Christ? If you're a believer, it's how you should think of yourself. Do you understand that your life is not your own; that you have been bought with a price? You have to come to understand that you're a slave; that God has a place of service for you in His church! You don't have the right to opt out. You don't have the right to make decisions for yourself, to decide where you'll go and what you'll do. You're a slave of Jesus Christ.

These are the first lessons we get from James: God is sovereign in our salvation, and God is sovereign in our service.

Finally, God is sovereign in our circumstances. He writes to the twelve tribes, who are dispersed abroad: "Greetings." Since, in the first century, letters were rolled, not folded, it made sense for both the one writing the letter, as well as the recipients, to be listed first, so that you could only unroll a little of the letter, and see who it was from, and to whom it was sent. Here, James tells us to whom he writes. He says, "the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad." Twelve tribes, for 2,000 years before James wrote, had described, "Jacob's dozen and their descendants." We're talking about Jewish people. And since James' ministry was exclusively to Jewish people in Jerusalem, it makes sense that they would be the audience in his letter. But it's also clear, from the contents of this letter, that he wasn't writing just to Jewish people, generally. He was writing to Jewish Christians. Notice 2:1: "My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism." He's writing to people who have embraced Jesus Christ as their glorious Lord.

But he tells us something else about his audience, back in 1:1. They're Jewish Christians, who are dispersed abroad. In the Greek text, he uses the technical term. You probably heard it before: "diaspora". We get our English word, "dispersion" from it. The Greek word has two words together, two compound words form this word. Part of it is "through," and the other part of it is "sowing," "sowing through." It's as if these people have been scattered to the wind, like seed. What even could have caused that? Well, really two events. If we had time to trace it, I'd take you back to Acts 8. The first four verses describe the persecution that'd begun under Saul (eventually the apostle Paul) some fourteen years before James writes his letter. So, some of the Jewish people had left James' congregation as a result of that.

But more recently, look at Acts 12. This is probably the persecution in which these people fled. Acts 12:1,

Now about that time, Herod (Herod Agrippa) the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James, the brother of John put to death with a sword.

He launches into a full-scale persecution of the church. And as a result, the people of God scatter. So, James is writing to people who'd had their entire lives uprooted by persecution. They'd lost their homes, their wealth. They'd been excommunicated from the Jewish community. They'd been separated from their extended family, and they're now living in pagan countries around Israel: countries like Phoenicia and Syria, where they fled from the persecution.

By the way, this explains why James doesn't have more doctrine in his letter: because, he'd taught them as their pastor for many years. They knew the truth! Now he's admonishing them to do the Truth! "Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only." That's why this book is imminently practical. But, back up to verse 1, again. James wants these people to know that the circumstances in which they find themselves weren't an accident. Their circumstances have been perfectly scripted by God. You see it in James 1:2 and following: where he talks about trials, and he talks about them coming from the hand of God. In James 4, he talks about God's sovereignty in prosperity. So, whether you are prospering, or whether you're in trouble, your circumstances are in the hand of God. God is in control. You see a hint of this, even in how he greets them. See the word, "greetings" at the end of verse 1. Literally, it's a command to rejoice. He's saying, "Rejoice!" He picks that theme up again in verse 2: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials." You see, although this was a common salutation in the first century, under inspiration, James charges this ordinary greeting with rich, practical insight. He says, "In the middle of your God-ordained, God-directed circumstances, whether its trouble or prosperity, recognize that God is in control, and you can rejoice."

Underlying this opening verb, and this entire letter, there is the reminder that God's sovereignty rules over our circumstances. Do you understand that? Do you understand that basic foundational truth that nothing happens in your life, that doesn't come to you from the sovereign hand of God? Whether it's trouble, or whether it's prosperity, whatever you find yourself in, today? It comes from God! You say you believe it. But let me ask you, "How do you respond when difficulties come?" As you often hear me say, "Behavior betrays belief." The way you act, the way you respond is an expression of what you really believe.

Do you believe that God is sovereign in all the affairs and circumstances of your life? If you understand these first lessons (God's sovereignty in salvation; God's sovereignty in your service; God's sovereignty in your circumstances), then you're ready to sit at the feet of James, the half-brother of our Lord, and learn from him.

This is a rich letter. We'll learn some of the clearest, most direct, and life-changing truths in all of Scripture, from the pen of James. And what an amazing Teacher he had, as he sat in his own home, as he worked in his own home, and heard the lessons poured into him, that he then takes and pours into us.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank you for these powerful lessons from the pen of this man, who providentially grew up in the home of our Lord. Lord, we thank you for the reminders of your sovereignty. You are God. And You rule over this world. You do whatever You please. Lord, help us to learn this lesson, even this morning as we begin this wonderful journey through this rich book.

Lord, I pray for the person here this morning, who, like James, has been exposed to the truth, perhaps all their lives. And yet, they've rejected it, never responded. I pray that this morning would be the morning when you speak life into their hearts, and they would turn in faith and repentance to Jesus Christ, and embrace Him, even as James did, to your glory.

We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.


James: First Lessons

Tom Pennington James 1:1

Bridge Over Troubled Water - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 1:2-12

More from this Series



James: First Lessons

Tom Pennington James 1:1

Bridge Over Troubled Water - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 1:2-12

Bridge Over Troubled Water - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 1:2-12

Bridge Over Troubled Water - Part 3

Tom Pennington James 1:2-12

Hook, Line & Sinker - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 1:13-18

Hook, Line & Sinker - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 1:13-18

Look in the Mirror! - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 1:19-27

Look in the Mirror! - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 1:19-27

Look in the Mirror! - Part 3

Tom Pennington James 1:19-27

Look in the Mirror! - Part 4

Tom Pennington James 1:19-27

Pride and Prejudice - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 2:1-13

Pride and Prejudice - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 2:1-13

Your Faith: Dead or Alive? - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 2:14-26

Your Faith: Dead or Alive? - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 2:14-26

Your Faith: Dead or Alive? - Part 3

Tom Pennington James 2:14-26

Your Faith: Dead or Alive? - Part 4

Tom Pennington James 2:14-26

Watch Your Mouth! - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 3:1-12

Watch Your Mouth! - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 3:1-12

Wisdom from Hell vs. Wisdom from Heaven - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 3:13-18

Wisdom from Hell vs. Wisdom from Heaven - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 3:13-18

Wisdom from Hell vs. Wisdom from Heaven - Part 3

Tom Pennington James 3:13-18

Wisdom from Hell vs. Wisdom from Heaven - Part 4

Tom Pennington James 3:13-18

Wisdom from Hell vs. Wisdom from Heaven - Part 5

Tom Pennington James 3:13-18

War and Peace: Learning to Deal with Personal Conflict - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 4:1-10

War and Peace: Learning to Deal with Personal Conflict - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 4:1-10

War and Peace: Learning to Deal with Personal Conflict - Part 3

Tom Pennington James 4:1-10

War and Peace: Learning to Deal with Personal Conflict - Part 4

Tom Pennington James 4:1-10

War and Peace: Learning to Deal with Personal Conflict - Part 5

Tom Pennington James 4:1-10

War and Peace: Learning to Deal with Personal Conflict - Part 6

Tom Pennington James 4:1-10

A Rush to Judgment

Tom Pennington James 4:11-12

God Rules! - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 4:13-17

God Rules! - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 4:13-17

God Rules! - Part 3

Tom Pennington James 4:13-17

Filthy Rich

Tom Pennington James 5:1-6

When Life's Not Fair - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 5:7-12

When Life's Not Fair - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 5:7-12

Prayer For All Seasons - Part 1

Tom Pennington James 5:13-18

Prayer For All Seasons - Part 2

Tom Pennington James 5:13-18

Prayer For All Seasons - Part 3

Tom Pennington James 5:13-18

Search & Rescue: Every Believer's Mission

Tom Pennington James 5:19-20

Test of Perseverance in Trials - Part 1

Jonathan Pendrich James 1:2-12

Test of Perseverance in Trials - Part 2

Jonathan Pendrich James 1:2-12