James is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Jacob, which means supplanter, or one who follows. Several men in the Bible bore the name James; only two were possible authors of the book of James, but one was martyred in A.D. 44 , leaving James the half brother of Jesus as the only other possibility, within that time frame. This brother of Jesus became the recognized church leader in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-21). This speech, at the council of Jerusalem, very much resembles the wording of this text and therefore is taken as conclusive evidence of his authorship.
There is debate as to when James’ actual conversion took place. One thing we know for certain – he, with his other brothers, his mother and the disciples were all found together in the upper room constantly in prayer, following Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:13-14). What were their expectations at this time? Jesus had clearly told them not to leave Jerusalem but to “wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about” (Acts 1:4, Luke 24:49). Here was James, [obedient] servant of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 1:1).
It is interesting to note that James’ brother Jude also identifies himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude 1). Was it deference which prevented these men from identifying their relationship as half-brothers of Jesus? Looking at the meaning of James’ name, one can see how easy it would have been for him to take advantage of his relationship to Jesus, to perhaps even supplant Him as the leader of the new church in Jerusalem. By humbly identifying himself as a servant we see James does not live up to his name.
Was it because servanthood was a key principle in the new kingdom? Jesus said: ”….the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Peter instructed God’s elect to ”…use whatever gift he has received to serve others faithfully, administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). Paul asks the question “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe” (1 Corinthians 3:5) .
James was among those considered to be “Fathers” of the church. As such they led as they had learned leadership from Jesus, who actually humbled Himself in obedience (Philippians 2:8). Fathers today sometimes abdicate their leadership but the Bible gives us some pertinent pictures of what God expects. Leadership in the home isn’t much different from leading the church. There are children involved…children of God to be treated with dignity and respect. We are not to provoke one another, but to think of one another as better than ourselves (Romans 12:3, John 12:43).
Characteristics of James might be copied by believers today. He was obedient, and relied on God’s wisdom (1:5). Although he led the new church in Jerusalem he had a servant heart. He was a man of action as well as gifted with words (1:22-24, 27). He was affectionate and exercised the gift of encouragement (1:16, 19). James had learned that a good leader listens (1:19, 26), taking care that his speech does not offend the Lord or God’s people.
What is your attitude towards the privileged position you hold as a Child of God?
Are you content to emulate James as a minister of the gospel today? (We are each part of a royal priesthood -2 Peter 2:9).
Describe the key principle in the new kingdom Jesus is creating.