Humility is good for all
The book of James opens up in a very interesting way. It starts with the words “James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…” What I find so interesting about this particular opening is its humility. Many people believe, as I do, that the James who wrote this book is the brother of Jesus himself. This makes his opening all the more remarkable.
What I find interesting is the way he introduces himself. Rather than name dropping and playing up on the fact that Jesus is his brother and using that to elevate himself over those Christians to whom he writes, he simply says that he is a bondservant of God and of Jesus. He does not put himself in a position of superiority nor does it put himself in a place where he demands by his own virtue or relation to Jesus that his audience listens to him. It is true that James, as an inspired author of this New Testament book, is revealing to his audience words from God and things which they need to know. However, he is not saying that the authority rests within himself; he properly identifies himself as a servant of God acknowledging that his authority belongs to God.
Humility in authority is one of the key concepts which Jesus taught his apostles and one of the things which James will touch on later on in his book starting in chapter 3. Jesus was asked about authority and who would be the greatest in His kingdom in several passages. One of those passages is found in Matthew’s Gospel. The mother of two of his disciples (James-who died in Acts 12 and John) came to Jesus seeking a high position for her sons in His kingdom. When the other disciples heard about it, they were not too happy, each of them possibly wanting such positions for himself.
In Matthew 20:25, we see Jesus responds to this by saying: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
The world’s standard tells us that the Boss is one in charge. Why? Because he is the boss! Parents sometimes even resort to the dreaded “Because I said so!” when pestered (exasperated?) by a child’s insistence over this or that.
Jesus’ standard in exercising authority is one of service. While passages show Jesus’ authority (e.g. Matt 28:18-20; Eph 1:20-23), others show his service both while on earth (John 13:1-10) and in Heaven (Hebrews 7:25). He exemplified his ultimate act of service by “giving his life a ransom for many.” So when James opens his letter to his Christian audience and identifies himself as a bondservant I see a humility that would be good to see among all people in authority.
It is true that certain roles by definition are vested with authority but ultimately all authority comes from God. As such, all who are under God should recognize, as James does here, their servitude to God and His authority. Governments, parents, teachers and elders in the church are all given authority by God in the role that they play. As servants of God all of us are to listen to those authorities in as much as they rule within God’s laws. (Acts 4:19-20) But those in such authority are to recognize that they, too, are servants and need to exercise such authority following the example of Jesus–that of service.