Author: self designation: “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” James was called James the Just. He was the brother of Jesus. Leader of the church in Jerusalem. Written most likely in the mid 40’s. We don’t know much about where he was or the circumstances surrounding the writing of this letter like we do about Paul’s letters.
Recipients: “12 Tribes” This is a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel who come from the twelve sons of Jacob, who’s name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with God. It was a reminder to the people that he was talking to of God’s redemptive plan from the beginning… That they are a part of this plan to restore all things to himself. He is drawing a people to himself. This is reflected in Christ’s ministry in that he chose twelve disciples to reflect the twelve tribes. This term later became a way to refer to the church as well. Collectively, the Covenant people of God.
“of the Dispersion” Most likely he is talking to Jewish Christians who were living outside of Palestine. There were dispersions in the OT where the Assyrians and Babylonians scattered the Jewish people away from their homeland. If you recall at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell and Peter got up to preach his first gospel message, who was there? There were People from all over the place that had come to Jerusalem for the Passover, and each one heard the Disciples speaking in their own native language. And about 3000 were converted to Christ that day. Well, when they went back to their homes, what did they do? They shared the Gospel with those at home, and started churches in their homes. So the literal meaning of this is the jewish converts that were living outside the physical borders of palestine. While that is important, it is also important to remember that there is a metaphorical use of this term as well. We are the ones who are a part of the covenant people of God. we are the ones who God has brought to himself. We live outside the physical boundaries of Palestine, sure, but we also live outside the boundaries of our eternal home. We are dispersed in this world that is ever increasingly reminding us that we are not at home. We are dispersed, and scattered.
Much of this letter is written to remind and instruct the readers that they are not of this world, and that God has saved them not just from something, but to something. They were not simply saved from the punishment of their sins, they were saved to holiness, and love, and radical lives of service and love towards one another.
This morning, I want to look at something in this one verse. There are times when we look at what the text says explicitly to us as directives, and there are also time we can learn things from the example of those who are writing the scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This morning is the latter. I want to look not just at what he is telling us with the words he uses, but I want to look at what he says IN the words he chooses…
Who are you? Think about it for a minute. Who are you. When I ask you that question, what pops into your mind? Cause our world is full of people who designate themselves by all different signifiers. Are you your job, or are you your sport, or are you your race, or your gender, or your sexual orientation, or maybe you are your greatest accomplishment, or your worst mistake? What is it about you that makes you you. and when you look into the mirror, what is it that reflects back at you? Now, think about it for a minute, because how you answer that question has significant bearing on how you will live your life. Listen to me, if you are living your life based on your past performance, whether that be good, or devastating, you will live a miserable life, because you will never be able to maintain the consistent standard that you set for your life based on whatever that thing was. So, if you were an amazing high school athlete, and now you are a fat old man like me, two things will happen, you will increasingly glorify your own past performance, while at the same time getting worse in your current performance. Now, lets say, you are on the other end of the spectrum and live your life in regret, or in shame for something you did that brings shame to your heart, or maybe you were under pressure from Parents, or others to perform in a certain way and were never able to live up to their expectations. So now any time you mess up, you are only living up to their expectations of a loser, cause that is what losers do, or if you excel at something, you are like Debbie downer, its only a matter of time till you screw it up right? Or lets say you identify yourself with your current role in life. maybe you are a Mother, what happens when your kids grow up. If you are a husband, what happens if you lose your wife? if your a runner, what happens when you lose your legs? You get the drift? Or lets try something close to home, what if you identify yourself by your political party? What happens when they lose the election? Just saying… My point is this, what you think about when you envision, or describe your own identity, has huge implications on how you live your life.
Why does this matter? well, to be honest with you, James is going to say some tough things to us in this book. He is going to talk about issues that spring out of our core identity. He is going to confront our tendency to treat people differently based on who we think they are, and he is going to confront our prayer lives, he is going to confront how we speak to one another, how we relate to the world, how we deal with suffering as well as other stuff. And here is the kicker. If we don’t get our identity straight from the first line of this book, we will become what he is telling us to do instead of doing these things because of who we are in Christ. You get what I am saying? We are a people who are hardwired for lists, and hoops and tests, and things that we can do to make sure we are in God’s will. So when James says that faith without works is dead, we are going to say, “ok, if I don’t have works, I need to do some works, then I will prove my faith” when in fact what we need to do is focus on asking God to build our faith and our identity in Christ, and then watch as the works flow out as the evidence of the faith that is in you.
So here is what I want us to hear in this very brief verse that we are looking at this morning.
Our identity must be completely rooted in Christ as our Lord.
- James was Jesus’ Brother….. Who worships their brother as Lord? Furthermore, wouldn’t you mention that as you introduce yourself?
- James was a Leader of the Church in Jerusalem… He was a big wig, wouldn’t he mention that?
- James identified himself as a bondservant… A slave. This means he has given up his rights willingly to serve one master, his Lord.
Our identity in Christ means that we are away from our home land.
- The people he was writing to, were not identified by their present place of residence. They were dispersed, spread out, spread thin, remote.
- The fact that they were dispersed meant that they were scattered, and not the majority. These people did not have ruling authority in their place of residence, neither by government, nor by culture.
- The hope for a dispersed people is to be reunited…
Who are you?
- Is Christ your Lord? Do you ask him before you make decisions? Did you ask him to lead you and tell you who to vote for in the voting booth? Or did you figure you knew? Do you rely more on your own logic and reason than you do the Word of God?
- Do you identify yourself more with your activities than you do with your true identity? That can be church too.
- If the answer is no to either of those questions, let me ask you to consider something, you may not be saved. You may be playing church and putting on a good face and making yourself feel better, but you may not be a believer. Or, you may be a believer who needs to relinquish more of your life to Jesus. You see, all of us at some level, have more you need to hand over to Jesus…