The book of James

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings
James 1:1

There is so much packed in this one little verse!  A handful of words with a truckload of meaning.  I am reading through James with some twenty-somethings this summer and here's what we unpacked from James 1:1....

James - the author of this book is the (half)brother of Jesus.  He didn't become a Christ-follower until later in his life -- possibly after the resurrection of Jesus.  But he went on to become the leader of the NT church, known for his prayer life.  Can you imagine growing up with Jesus as your older brother?  Talk about pressure of having a perfect older sib!!!

James describes himself as a bond-servant.  What is that?  Does that conflict with Jesus saying "I no longer call you servants but rather friends"?  Of course Scripture does not conflict with itself so we need to find out what a bond-servant is to understand why James uses that term.  The Old Testament explains it to us in Exodus 21:1-6.  The Law given to Moses established that slaves were to be set free after six years.  (I'm not going to debate  the Bible's stand on slavery in this post -- this is just to explain why James called himself a "bond servant").  If, however, after serving for six years, the slave freely decided that he would rather remain in the service of his master, then he would receive a piercing of his ear which distinguished him as being bonded to his master for life.  Obviously, that would have to be a remarkable master to entice him to serve rather than to be free!  In his epistle, James is making that claim -- that serving Jesus is so far preferable than being without Him, that he chooses to bond himself to his Master for life.  What a tribute to Christ...what a testimony to the world.

"To the twelve tribes" - this is a reference to the nation of Israel and specifically to those who have been spiritually adopted into the family of Abraham.  James's epistle is written to believers; it is not an appeal to the unconverted Jew.

"Who are dispersed abroad".  Some translations use the word "scattered" instead of "dispersed". When I think of the word "scattered", it brings up images of my floor of my closet or the legos in the playroom or some other disorder.  "Dispersed" is a much better term! The Greek word is "diasporo" which means "to sow as seed".  It is an agricultural term that conveys the idea of deliberate placing of seed in a chosen place so as to produce optimal results.  What a choice of words for God's people!  At the time of James's writing, they were being persecuted for following Christ. Attempting to find safety, the believers often moved from one area to another.  James is encouraging them that their locations are not by chance but rather intentional placement by God to further the progress of the Gospel as well as to achieve His transformation of them into the likeness of Christ. 

"Greetings" -  This Greek word, "chairo", is more than a simple salutation.  It conveys a desire for blessing on the recipient and carries the meaning of joy....but not any ole joy - rather joy as a result of God's grace.  What a great segue for the next section of the letter!

A handful of words.  One little verse.  Lots to chew on for the next few days. 

Does my life testify to the world that my Master is so incredibly awesome that He is worth giving up my life for?  Do I acknowledge that every single place He plants me - regardless of whether I would have chosen it myself - is a deliberate placement on His part?  One that He intends to grow me into His likeness and show the world the fruit of His labor?  And, can I embrace the life-giving truth that real joy is a result NOT of my circumstances or my desires being met or people behaving like I want them to....but rather, only because of His grace?

Thank you, dear James.  You said an awful lot in a little bit.  Thank you.