Summary: James identifies himself, his Lord and his audience in the introduction to his epistle. What is your identification?
1. Identity in the world (James)
2. Identity in the Lord (a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ)
3. Identity in the church (to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting)
This morning we’re going to be starting a new series in the book of James. Before we read our text this morning, I want to spend just a few minutes telling you about the book itself. James is a very unique book. It is one of the few books in the New Testament that wasn’t written by an apostle. Even though there were two apostles named James, neither one of them wrote it. Instead, it was written by James, the half-brother of Jesus. By nearly all accounts, this was the first book written in the New Testament. It was probably written between 44 and 49 AD, just a handful of years after the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord. Another way to put it is that James wrote this letter sometime before the time of the events in Acts 15. The book of James is unique in the way it’s written. It’s unique because James was a pastor. And it’s written the way a pastor would write. After his opening salutation, James starts by giving us an introduction. His introduction gives an overview of what the book is about. He tells us that his entire letter is going to be about testing our faith. And then he moves into a discussion of at least nine different specific tests of our faith. And finally, he concludes like a pastor would. He concludes with a way for those in the church to restore those who’ve failed the tests. When you really study the book, you begin to see that each one of those discussions is really an exposition of something James has heard before. Each test that he discusses is like a sermon on words he had heard so many times before—the words of his half-brother, Jesus. And then as you look closer, you realize that not only is this an exposition on the words of Jesus… it is an exposition on some very specific words of Jesus—the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve just finished a study on the Sermon on the Mount, haven’t we? So I can think of no better way to follow that study, than by looking at James’ exposition of it. Think of it this way—over the next several weeks, you’re going to hear my sermons on James’ sermons on the greatest sermon ever preached. But before we get to any of James’ sermons, we’re going to look at who he was.
Our passage this morning is a short one. It’s a short one, but it’s a very important one. There might not be a lot of deep theological content in it, but it does something very important. It identifies the author to his readers. James doesn’t hide who he is. He wants everyone to know. What about you here this morning? Do you let people know who you really are? Maybe you don’t really know who you really are. That’s what this morning is about. Who are you? What is your identity? When you walk out of this place this morning, I want you to be able to identify yourself the right way. In order to do that, we’re going to look at three aspects of your identity. The first aspect of your identity is your identity in the world.
James started off this verse in a simple way. He started it off the same way we usually introduce ourselves. He started off with his name. “Hi, I’m James.” Our name is what the world knows us by. How many times have you ever heard someone say something like, “You’d better watch out for those so-and-so boys—they’re a rowdy bunch.” See, your name is how you’re known by the world. It tells your history—your reputation. Sometimes it can be hard to live up to your name. Sometimes it can be hard to live your name down. But really, even though your name ties you to your family name, it speaks even louder of your own reputation. James was that way. His name spoke of his identity in the world. So who was James? What was his identity in the world? Well, first, James came from a good home. He was born to Mary and Joseph after Mary gave birth to Jesus. You have to believe that James had a good upbringing. After all, he was raised by the parents who God entrusted His only begotten Son to. Not only did he have a good upbringing, he had a good education. There are a few ways we know this, but the primary way is in the way he wrote. James wrote in an almost classical form of Greek that was only used by well-educated people. The letter that we have in front of us was written in some of the finest Greek of the New Testament. The difference between James’ Greek and Peter’s Greek was kind of like the difference between Shakespeare and the newspaper. He had a good upbringing, a good education, and had good common sense. A good education doesn’t necessarily mean good sense, does it? People who have common sense but no education keep simple things simple. People who have education and no common sense make simple things complicated. But you can tell if a person has both, because they are able to make complicated things simple. As you read his letter, you can tell that James had both. His common sense shows in all of the simple illustrations he uses. Illustrations like fire, a horse’s bit and bridle, a ship’s rudder. Illustrations that make complicated issues simple to understand. James had a good upbringing, a good education, good common sense and a really good Brother. Think about it. His big Brother was God in the flesh—Jesus Christ. He was probably physically closer to Jesus than any other man. What a benefit! As a matter of fact as far as his identity in the world, James had all the benefits in the world. A good home, good education, good sense, good brother. He walked physically as close to Jesus as anyone possibly could. But guess what? He was lost. He had all that going for him and he was still lost. John 7:5 says that Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe Him. Mark 6:3 says that Jesus’ family, including James, was offended at Him. In Mark 3:21, even though the King James says “friends” it really means family. It says Jesus’ family tried to grab hold of Him because they thought He was crazy. According to his identity in the world, James had every benefit in the world and still did not recognize Jesus for who He is. Whatever your name is. Whatever kind of upbringing you’ve had. Whatever kind of education you’ve had. Whatever kind of common sense you have. However closely you’ve physically been to God’s people and His church. None of that really matters. None of that will save you. None of that will give you right standing before God and a right relationship with Him. It didn’t for James and it certainly won’t for you. The bottom line is, James’ identity in the world was that he was lost. Is your identity in the world that you are lost this morning? If it is, it doesn’t have to stay that way. James’ didn’t. James’ identity was also in the Lord. The second aspect of your identity is your identity in the Lord.