James: A Bondservant of Christ

When you write a letter, how do you start? If you grew up in the United States, you learned in school that you start with “Dear” and the name to whom you are writing. What if the person doesn’t know you? In that case, you give the reader a little introduction about yourself: who you are, your occupation (if relevant), and any other important background information. In Biblical epistles, the style is a bit different, but the idea is the same. When reading the epistles in the Bible, you’ll find that most of them start with the name of the writer, the recipient of the letter, and the author’s role in the Kingdom of heaven. For example, James starts out by saying “JAMES, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings” (James 1:1 [1]). If you look closely, you’ll notice that James, like most of the epistles, start out with being a bondservant or apostle according to the will of God. What does that mean? In short, James is introducing himself. For James specifically, what does that imply? In James’ epistle to the churches spread throughout the world, James starts his letter by backing up his claims by being submissive to the Lord.

To fully understand what James means by being a bondservant, we must look at the Greek and other uses of the word. That word for “bondservant” is doúlos, which means “a slave”— “properly, someone who belongs to another; a bond-slave, without any ownership rights of their own” (Bible Hub [2]). In Romans, Paul uses a verb form of the word to describe how our freedom through the grace of Jesus is becoming “slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). Therefore, James is affirming the idea that he doesn’t belong to himself and that everything he does under the authority of Christ. Nothing that James says or does is on behalf of himself because he doesn’t own anything, not even his own life; all belongs to Jesus! Anything that James does have is on lease from the Lord Himself.

What does ownership by Jesus imply? If you have taken AP English Language and Composition, then you have written a rhetorical analysis, which is an examination of the author’s use of words, line of reasoning, and context. In a few of my practice essays last school year, I wrote about how the author appealed to authority through mention of someone in power or of honorable reputation to gain support or back up his statements. When James says that he is a slave to Christ, he is backing up his words, which can be difficult to believe (because of pain or conviction), not by being the half-brother of Jesus or by being a leader in the church but by the Lord to whom all Christians must submit. If James spoke by his own merit, then there would be no reason to believe him. Since James is speaking on behalf of God, then all Christians must heed to the words that are about to follow.

What does that mean for me? From this verse alone, we see many ways we can apply the principle of being a bondservant. First, as we continue to study James during the school year, we can be assured that these words of the early church leader are “given by inspiration of God” (II Timothy 3:16). Therefore, we can know God’s Word and use it to change ourselves and the world to be Christ-centered, or as Paul put it, we can “be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:17). Secondly, we can take James’ example to live in submission to the Lord. Just as James gave all glory to God by those six Greek words (“a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1)), we can do all our actions to glorify the Lord, not ourselves or anyone else. In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Paul commands us to do just that in saying, “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23). If you have any responsibilities or personal projects, don’t accomplish them for yourself or for your parents or for any human, but do it to please Jesus, Who is your Master. So, if you, like me, get frustrated sometimes because of not being appreciated or having to do a task for your parents, remember that the goal isn’t to appease anyone but the Lord.

On November 18, 2018, Rebecca published, “Words are incredible. I love words. They hold so much power and can have such meaning if you use them right” (Reenders [3]). Indeed, words are so powerful that one word can have so much meaning with its denotation, connotation, and rhetorical context combined, and James proves that by all the implications of the word doúlos. He reminds his readers that he is speaking with the authority of Christ and that every aspect of his life is devoted to serving God. That is his thorough yet succinct introduction to this short yet profound letter. As we continue with this James series, I encourage you to submit to the Lord by following the lessons that we will learn from the Lord’s servant who lived two thousand years ago! Let’s commit to serving God with our all, doing every work with joy! We do, after all, belong to Him as not just His servants but as His children!


Jeremiah Yonemura

[1] Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. [2] “Strong's Greek: 1401. Δοῦλος (Doulos) -- a Slave.” Bible Hub, biblehub.com/greek/1401.htm. [3] Reenders, Rebecca. “Speechlessness.” Truth and Love Ministries, Truth and Love Ministries, 18 Nov. 2018, www.truthandloveministries.com/post/2018/11/18/speechlessness.

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