On Name-Dropping and Being a Servant of God

Name-dropping is a popular way to impress others—even among Christians. To casually mention our association or loose acquaintance with a prominent person may immediately enlarge our perceived worth or influence in the eyes of those whose respect we crave. But James, the half-brother of Jesus himself, doesn’t succumb to that temptation. Instead, he calls himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

James 1:1

Scripture informs us that James was one of at least six half-siblings of Jesus, the biological children of Joseph and Mary (Matt. 13:54-56). Though a half-brother, James was a blood relative of Jesus Christ just the same. Yet, never does James drop his half-brother’s name but instead introduces himself merely as “a servant of God.” He does not endorse himself as “James, the blood brother of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah; chief leader and spokesperson of the church in Jerusalem; defender of the gospel of grace; called an apostle by Paul himself” even though all of that is true (Acts 15:13, 19; Gal. 1:19; 2:9). On the contrary, James works hard not to draw attention to himself.

The term servant is best translated “slave,” which is the literal meaning of the Greek word doulos and “indicates full subjection to the authority of another.”[1] By referring to himself as such, James acknowledges that he no longer belongs to himself. He is owned by God; he is now the property of Jesus Christ, his new master. But this was not always the case. Even though James and his brothers daily witnessed the sinlessness of Jesus, as well as his miracles (such as turning water into wine, John 2:12), they did not believe in him as Messiah. It appears that none of them did until after Jesus was crucified, buried, and risen (John 7:1-5; 1 Cor. 15:7).

 But notice the titles that James now uses to describe Jesus. He is the Lord Jesus Christ. James has gone from being a skeptical, unbelieving brother to a humble worshiper.

  • Lord means Jesus was now his master.
  • Jesus highlights the reality that James recognized his own need for the Savior.
  • Christ is the title which equates Jesus with being the anointed one, the Messiah.

This is the one whom James now serves! Surely this new spiritual relationship to Jesus supersedes anything James ever had before, merely because he was his earthly brother. Servant of God is James’s new identity! The same is true for every Christian.

 As a follower of Jesus, you are a servant of God. You are a doulos whose ideal attitude is described by Jesus in Luke 17:10, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” Walking in obedience to your new Lord is the logical outcome of your faith, which is the theme of the one inspired letter of James. Throughout his letter to suffering believers. James expresses heartfelt concern about the need for authentic faith to bear godly fruit in the believer’s life. In short, true faith produces obedience, which is consistent with the teachings of Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John (Matt. 7:15-23; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:8-11; 1 John 2:3-6).

You are under new ownership; your master is Jesus. Now you are called to “no longer live for [yourself] but for him who for [your] sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). Your high and holy calling is also your identity—you are a servant of God Most High.

[1] Kurt A. Richardson, James, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman Holman, 1997), 53.

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