Do You Know Who I Am?
Are you as annoyed as I am by people who name drop? I suppose all of us have done it at one time or another, but there are some folk who go out of their way to let you know whom they know. Continue reading . . .
Are you as annoyed as I am by people who name drop? I suppose all of us have done it at one time or another, but there are some folk who go out of their way to let you know whom they know. It’s almost as if their own personal value is enhanced by their acquaintance with someone they think you admire. You can almost hear them saying to themselves: “If she were to know that I know _______ she’d probably think I’m a big deal too. So I need to figure out a way to slip in a reference to _______ and make it sound as if we’re on a first-name basis. Surely that will impress her.”
What got me thinking about this was the opening verse of the epistle of James (“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” [1:1a]). There are no fewer than six prominent men in the NT named James, but only three of them could possibly qualify as the author of this letter.
James, the son of Zebedee, was the brother of John and one of the 12 apostles (see Acts 12:1-2). This is the James who was martyred when King Herod Agrippa had him beheaded in 44 a.d. But it’s fairly clear that the book could not have been written before 44, so this James is precluded. James, the son of Alphaeus, was another of the original 12 apostles (see Mark 3:18; Matt. 10:3; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). But few think he is the author.
The most likely candidate is James, the younger half-brother of Jesus (see Mark 6:3-6). He was the natural born son of Joseph and Mary and was, like the rest of his family (except for Mary) initially opposed to the ministry of Jesus. At one point he attempted to restrain Jesus from pursuing his earthly ministry. After the resurrection, we find James in Jerusalem, now a committed and loyal disciple of his half-brother. For more on him in the NT, see Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18.
The reason it’s important for us to know that the author of this letter was the half-brother of Jesus is because of the way in which he describes himself. Put yourself in his place for a moment. What a great opportunity to leverage your physical relationship to Jesus to gain traction with people whose respect you crave. In other words, you would almost expect James to seize the opportunity to name drop! If he really wanted his audience to sit up and take notice and seriously engage with what he is about to write, you might expect to hear him say something along the lines of: “Do you know who I am? I’m actually sort of a big deal. My brother is Jesus!”
But James does nothing of the sort. As far as he’s concerned, his blood relation to Jesus counts for nothing. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with being of the same biological family with the Savior of the World. It just means that it carries no weight in terms of whether or not his readers should listen to what he says. God the Father is not in the least inclined to elect James unto eternal life simply because he shared a common DNA with Jesus or ate three meals a day with him at the same table or regularly fell asleep with him under the same roof. There is no partiality with God!
The only thing James says about himself is that he is a “servant” or “slave” of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. Note that again. He doesn’t refer to Jesus as “my half-brother” (“So you better pay attention to what I have to say!”), but as the “Lord” to whom he owes unqualified allegiance, the “Lord” to whom he bows his knees, the “Lord” who has redeemed him and to whose glory and praise his entire life is wholly devoted.
Thus we see the heart and humility of this man both in what he doesn’t say about himself and what he does say. “If you are inclined to listen to what I say and heed my words, do it because my life belongs to the one who is my Lord, not because he’s my brother.”
There is, however, one more thing we know about James that might add a bit more weight to the importance of what he says.
According to the historian Eusebius, James was famous for his devotion to prayer. In one ancient document (Hegesippus, 160 a.d.) it was said of him that he would enter the Temple alone,
“and be found prostrate on his knees beseeching pardon for the people, so that his knees were callous like a camel’s in consequence of his continually kneeling in prayer to God and beseeching pardon for the people. Because of his exceeding righteousness he was called the ‘Just’” (H.e., ii.23).
People today desire to be known for any number of physical characteristics: a pathetic comb-over (a la Donald Trump), a fashionable new suit of clothes, a nose job, beautiful blue eyes, muscles, a flat belly, etc. James, on the other hand, would have been singled out for one thing: calloused knees! Now that’s something to be remembered for!
Who was James and why should we listen to him? He was a “servant” of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ who spent his life on his knees, interceding at the throne of his heavenly Father in the name, not of his biological brother, but that of his Lord, Savior, King, and Redeemer.
For what do you want to be known? Wealth? Power? Influence? The books you’ve written? What do you leverage when trying to impress other people? Would that we might consider only one truth regarding our identity, that we are “servants” of God and our Lord Jesus Christ!