This morning I was struck by a comment made by the brother of Jesus. James writes: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ to the twelve tribes who are scattered abroad, be well.” (personal translation) In particular, I was moved by the fact that James did not use his status as the brother of Jesus to command attention or endorse his letter. Instead, he describes himself as a servant.
I queried my own soul and found that I do not conceive of myself as a servant. Words like church planter, theologian, and writer came to mind. Words that reflect my self-identity, words that are not servant. How do you think of yourself, honestly? What words come to mind first?
The significance of James using the appellation servant is at least twofold. First, he conceived of himself as a servant of God and Christ. In fact, the Greek reading goes like this: “James, God and the Lord Jesus Christ, servant…” We are meant to make no mistake about his allegiance and devotion. It is not to his office, to his church, to his ministry or to his family; it is to God and Christ. James’ view of Jesus is not that of a mere blood brother, but sees him in the exalted place of co-divine and co-regent with YHWH. It is in the acceptance and service of the great triune God that James finds his identity.
Second, James’ servanthood is evident in its expression to the community of faith, caring especially for believers who have been scattered through persecution from Jerusalem into the world. His letter is for the oppressed. His heart reaches out in grace. His words are in service to God and to his fellow followers of Christ.
May God redefine my identity to be servant first, to God and Christ and to others, not as a church planter or theologian.