Living as the Israel of God - James 1:1

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Please Read James 1

There you are sitting there - a glorious summer day and you hear the familiar sounds of the ‘postie’ on his motor bike coming nearer to your home. You begin to wonder just what it is that you might get in the mail today. Perhaps it will be another bill, or maybe even a letter from a friend that has moved interstate. For many people these days there is that familiar sound of another email finding its way into their electronic inbox while they are working away at their computer. Will it be more Spam or mail from a family member on the other side of the world? Whether it is snail mail or email, you have mail, so you seek to retrieve it in the appropriate manner.

As you look at the envelope, or the subject line of the email, you see that what you have is something like this, ‘To the Christian out there from James.’ That brethren is essentially what you have when you pick up this book of the Bible this morning. You have a letter from James to the everyday Christian, set in its first century context, though still relevant to both you and I in the 21st century.

But there are other questions that now spring to mind as you consider this letter that has found its way to you. Who is this James that has written to you? Who exactly is this letter addressed to? What is the message of the letter? So let’s begin to address some of these issues this morning, with the last question being essentially what we will be looking at as we work our way through the letter over coming weeks.


1. James Who?

The first question that we need to ask ourselves then is, ‘just who is this James that wrote this letter?’

Well the Bible mentions a number of different James’ throughout the New Testament, including James the son of Zebedee, an apostle who was killed by King Herod around the year 44 AD (Mt 10:2; Acts 1:13; 12:2), essentially ruling him out as the author of this letter. There is also another apostle called James the son of Alphaeus (Mt 10:3; Acts 1:13), then a James the younger (Mk 15:40; Jn 19:25), and then a James that was the father of Judas, but not the Iscariot Judas (Lk 6:16; Acts 1:13). Yet none of these James’ are the author of this letter that is before us this morning.

The James that is our author is actually none other than the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, who in fact became the leader of the Jerusalem Church in those very early years from between 44 AD and 62 AD (Mt 12:46ff; 13:55; Mk 6:3). This James didn’t believe in Jesus early in his brother’s ministry (Jn 7:3-5; 1 Cor 15:7), yet by Acts 1:14 he is found with the early believers in the upper room (Acts 1:14). James rose to prominence in the early church (Acts 12:17) so as to lead the church in Jerusalem, being in fact one of the pillars of the church alongside Peter and John, and being clearly the leader of the Jerusalem church at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13-21; 21:18,19; Gal 1:19; 2:9-12). James’ life ended in 62 AD, Josephus describing his death and martyrdom in his writings. Josephus tells of how James was cast down from the Jerusalem temple at the instigation of the High Priest Ananias, stoned, and clubbed to death, having been accused of breaking the law by Ananias.

Here then is a man who was truly great in the early church, being not only a brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, but also a pastor in the Jerusalem Church, alongside Peter and John after the martyrdom of the apostle James in 44 AD. He also had seen the risen Christ, and was martyred for his unwavering faith and service to the Lord Jesus Christ. A pillar in the church at Jerusalem. What an amazing man of God was James! Few could rival him for achievement and advancement in the early church, yet notice what he claimed for himself.

‘JAMES, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1a),'

Does James seek to be identified as a pillar of the Jerusalem church? Does he seek to be identified as the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ? Does he seek to be acknowledged as the leader of the church in Jerusalem? No, these things though undeniably so are not what James calls attention to at the beginning of his letter. He doesn’t seek for himself any great title among men. He doesn’t seek to be called a bishop, or an elder, or a pastor, as though these were titles by which he could proudly pontificate or be addressed by, as though these titles were badges of deserved honour and praise among men. No, these were all legitimate titles by which James was rightly to be known by, yet he didn’t use them to gain the applause and praise of men. These were titles that described his role in the church as a servant of God and of the people of God, and this is what he describes himself as in this first verse of James - a servant.

He is the servant of God and Christ, a ‘doulos,’ or as it is correctly translated, a ‘slave.’ Previously he had been an unbeliever, someone concerned for his own agenda, but though he was most certainly the Lord’s brother still, and a pastor in his brother’s church, and would even become a martyr, yet he was still a slave. He wasn’t the one that should receive the accolades, for he was but his Master’s servant.

James recognized that he had been bought at the great price of His brother’s blood and was therefore not his own anymore (1 Cor 6:19,20), for now he was very clearly the property of the Lord Jesus Christ and of God. That was why he was a Christian, that was why he was an elder and pastor in the early church, and that was why he would become a martyr. He belonged to God, and it was therefore his duty to serve God in any way that He appointed, and for him that meant being a pastor in the Jerusalem church, and of being a martyr in 62 AD at the hands of an ungodly Jewish mob.

There was no pride in this man as he went about his brother’s business, just a determination to serve as God saw fit for him to serve. He undoubtedly knew that he had risen to a high position in the early church, that many people looked up to him, and that his writings that formed this letter would become one of the New Testament Scriptures, but yet having attained all this he yet recognized that he was just doing that which was simply his duty to do as a slave of Jesus Christ and of God the Father.

What an amazing testimony, and what a testimony that is so far removed from those of our own day where Christians are so quick to gain a hearing for their own attainments in order to gain the acclamations of men. And what an especially sad fact it is that elders and pastors so quickly fall into this category, of those who seek to gain praise from men and who desire to parade their titles for the whole world to see. These are men that are nowhere near the stature of James, who yet boast in their perceived abilities to lead the church or to serve in it. Oh that these men would do no more than acknowledge that the position they have is that of a slave of Christ, yes a willing slave, but still a slave none-the-less, and that the roles they have are those that have come to them through their Servanthood and Slavehood, and that having served they have merely done what is their duty. Oh that they would simply get on with their work in the Lord, seeking to elevate His great name and do good to the souls of men as bondslaves of Christ.

Brethren, no matter what role you have in the church, don’t lose sight of your servanthood and think that you have attained to a position in the church because of your perceived brilliance or worth, for you are but a slave of Christ having been bought at a price. Oh be done with the foolish attempts at self-elevation and pride, for that will be all you gain if that is your aim, a name in this world and none in the next. Such a nature and spirit is not consistent with the spirit of those that have been bought by the blood of Christ, for such are the willing servants of Him who has bought them, and all glory and praise is reserved for Him alone.

How do you see yourself Christian? You might be a pastor in the church, or you might be an important leader or teacher in the church, or you might have some great Christian role, but do you not recognize that it is the Master that has appointed you to these roles, having given gifts to men to serve in His church? You are a slave to God, filling the role that you currently have at the Lord’s pleasure. Remember your place, and seek to serve willingly as a slave of Jesus and of the Father. Fulfil your role in the church as a faithful servant and then you have done your duty.

Perhaps you belong to a slightly different category. Perhaps you don’t attempt to bring glory to your own name through self-elevation. In fact you may be a person that does very little at all, content to sit on the sidelines and perhaps even criticise those that do attempt to fulfil their role in the church. You don’t attempt to gain a name, but you also fail to fulfil the role of a servant of God, for you are only a servant of your own laziness and procrastination. You too need to be reminded that you are not your own, but that you belong to Christ and to the Father. You need to be reminded that you are to be up and to do your duty. There is no need for you to be warned about self-elevation, for you already consider yourself to be in charge, of your own life at least, being unwilling to submit to the Lordship of Christ and thereby serve Him as a servant.

But this is not James, for he recognizes his proper place as a servant of God. Here then is the author of this letter brethren, a fellow slave of the Lord Jesus Christ as you and I are in Christ, yet there is more to the authorship of this letter than that, for ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (1 Tim 3:16,17).’ You have here this morning then, a letter that comes from God through one of His servants to the everyday Christian, that you might become fully equipped for daily Christian living in the sphere of life in which you move in this world. Here is instruction from God that you might know how you are to live as part of the spiritual Israel of God.

Friends these are not the mere words of a man to a fellow man, or a slave to a fellow slave, but of the Owner of slaves to slaves through a slave. Christian, hear the message of James well and heed it well, for it is not just James that writes to you in this letter. God writes to each of you, as slaves that are to respond to their Master’s voice. These are the Words of He that owns you, hear them well and heed them as fellow servants and slaves of the Lord. Here are words that will train us, and that will direct us as to how we are to live while we live in this world as pilgrims going to a better country, and as is consistent with those that belong to God. So brethren, take note of the instruction that is given through this letter of James, for it is how your Master would have you live while here in this world. This is part of that servants manual known as the Bible by which servants are to direct and order their lives.


2. The True Israel

As we look at this book of James we see that it is in the format of a letter of the first century, as we see by other letters included in the New Testament. But to whom is it written? Are we right to assume that it is written to Christians in general? We certainly see that there is no specific person mentioned as its recipient, but to whom is it actually aimed?

‘JAMES, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greetings (Jam 1:1).’

So the first thing that is extremely obvious about this letter is that it is some sort of general letter, a letter that is addressed to no specific individual, yet to some specific group of people as is made clear in the first verse.

By a mere glance at the letter it can be assumed that James is writing to Jewish people that by some providence of God have been dispersed throughout the world. That is what you would seem to get by a superficial reading of the text. If this were the meaning of the text, you would then be thinking of those Jews known as the dispersion, those Jewish people spread throughout the world as a result of various invasions and exiles mentioned in the Old Testament. But as I say, this is merely something of a superficial understanding of the text, yet it does give us some idea of whom James is writing to.

James is certainly thinking of some group of people that have been scattered, who can in some way be likened to the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the ages. But who are these twelve tribes that James is writing about? If they are not the Jewish people then who are they?

Well the letter itself gives us some vital clues as we seek an answer to this question. Look firstly at James 1:2, ‘My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.’ Note that James calls these readers brethren. OK, that can be applied to the Jews, but then consider James 2:1, ‘MY brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.’ Now that sheds more light on the situation doesn’t it? These readers are obviously Christians, people that have exercised faith in the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation. Now there are more passages that we could look at in James to confirm this principle, that those addressed in this letter are undoubtedly Christians. Therefore the twelve tribes addressed here are not merely Jewish people scattered around the world, but are definitely Christian people that have been scattered in some way.

Now consider what group of Christians James could be addressing as scattered abroad. Do any come to mind? Clearly we need to search the Scriptures here for an answer. Also remember that James was the pastor of the Jerusalem Church when he wrote the letter sometime in the mid-forties of the first century. Consider Acts 8 and 11 for a moment:

‘AND Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles (Acts 8:1).’

‘Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord (Acts 11:19-21).’

Now these verses give us a great insight into just who it was that James wrote to in his epistle, for those that were scattered came from the church over which he had the oversight. These had been Jewish Christians from Jerusalem. More than likely the majority were Christians of Jewish origin that had been forced to flee persecution that had arisen from the time of Stephen’s death. So what you have here then is a general pastoral letter, that has been sent out to those that have fled this persecution, from their former pastor, exhorting them on how to live as Christians in their daily pilgrimage wherever they might now be.

Now also take into account these verses from the letters of Paul and Peter:

‘But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision , but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God (Gal 6:14-16).’

‘For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel (Rom 9:6b).’

‘PETER, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied (1 Pet 1:1,2).’

‘But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy (1 Pet 2:9,10).’

What Paul and Peter have said in these verses, and in many more besides, is that simply being part of physical Israel doesn’t make someone a part of the Israel of God, but faith and repentance does, through the decree of election. So what does all this mean for our study of James this morning?

What it means is that those whom James is addressing in this opening verse of his letter are not merely Jews, but those that are of the spiritual Israel of God who have been scattered by anti-Christian persecution. At this point in church history the majority were almost certainly Jews, yet they also included gentiles that had been joined to the Israel of God by faith and repentance. In short, James is not addressing the twelve physical tribes of Israel, but spiritual Israel by means of a symbolic phrase, pointing out to these dispersed people that collectively they make up the Israel of God, and because you make up the Israel of God this is how you should then live.

Now here is precious encouragement to us in this small church known as Northlake’s Reformed Baptist Church, for you are not the only ones that are Christians. Throughout the world, scattered among the world are those that make up the true spiritual Israel of God. You ought not to become discouraged because there are so few here, but rather rejoice for the Lord has still reserved a people throughout the world of which we are but a part. The full number will be saved, for none of the elect will be lost through the electing purpose of God, but all will be present and accounted for in the final day. The Bride of Christ will be there in all her resplendent glory, not one precious member of the body of Christ will be missing or be lost.

We need to remember that always, for otherwise we may become greatly discouraged if the Lord is pleased to leave us as a small local church called to faithfulness in a barren place. He may yet bless us and save many, but this is still an essential truth to remember, for God is building His church, even if it is scattered throughout the world. You are part of a larger body of Christians that make up the completed body of Christ, therefore do not despair but rejoice.

Here then is a general letter written to all those that make up the spiritual Israel of God, whether you be a Jewish believer or a Gentile believer. Here then is instruction from God through James to you as to how you are to live as the Israel of God in this world among whom you are scattered.

You are not to try and hide yourself among the world, but you are to live as the Israel of God wherever it is that God has placed you in His providence. This letter is for you in your home, in your work place and in your church. Here is instruction on how you are to regard the poor, how you are to endure trials, and how you are to use your tongue.

Dear ones, this Word meets you were you are at and expects you to live for Christ as His servant wherever that might be. There is no place where you are to take time out from your place as a servant - live as the Israel of God all the time. So let us then consider this book with a view to living as the Israel of God in this world. Amen.



UPDATED: 19 April 2014


Sermons - James

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