by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Study # 4 September 10, 1997 Harlingen, Texas
Thesis:A significant grasp of James' message is only possible when the hermeneutically significant issues of his mindset of servanthood are embraced.
Introduction:There are at least three highly significant problems in the typical American believer's approach to the Scriptures. The first is the enormous subject of 'agenda conflict' in which most people do not even realize that their war is with God; the second is the enculturated view of slavery which most American believers do not even attempt to unseat in their own world-view; and the third is the rather cavalier approach taken in interacting with the Word of God--ignoring the fundamental issues of hermeneutics. In his opening words, James briefly alludes to the first two issues as foundational to all real Christianity. And, though he makes no allusion to the third problem, it is an assumption of all Scripture that when God speaks, creatures have an obligation to be diligent to understand what He means. James' allusions to the first two issues are brief, not because they are insignificant, but because they will be further developed in the body of his entire letter. This evening we want to consider hermeneutically critical issues of James' mindset as the author of this letter.
I. The Significance of James' Self-Description in Respect to What He Did Not Say.
A. He did not give any precise self-identification beyond his name.
1. The implication is that he was well-known to his readers and required no further words.
a. Illustration: When I sign my e-mail to family members I just sign my first name...to make sure they know which family member sent the letter.
b. Illustration 2: When Michael sends us a letter or an e-mail, he signs his full name; a matter that has arrested my attention because it is so unnecessary.
2. A second implication is that he and his audience shared a rather large commonality.
a. This can be a difficulty for understanding because of the automatic mental process of putting words into a context.
1) Typically words are put into the context of greatest sensitivity...both positively and negatively.
2) Without controversy, this is where almost all misunderstanding arises.
B. Particularly, he did not assign any of the typical 'status' terms to himself.
1. This may imply that what he had to say was going to be difficult enough for his readers to accept without any of barriers to acceptance that go along with status competition.
2. It may also imply that he simply wasn't into self-elevation for good or ill.
II. The Significance of James' Self-Description in Respect to What He Did Say.
A. He used only the word 'slave' to describe himself.
1. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that the primary connotation of the word is that of dependent obedience.
a. The first of the issues is dependence; a methodological concept regarding need-fulfillment.
1) The independent must take responsibility for their own needs.
2) The dependent must simply accept the provision made for them.
b. The second of the issues is obedience; a methodological concept regarding agenda-fulfillment.
1) The obedient are in submission to the agenda of another.
2) The disobedient are attempting to foist a foreign agenda upon the lord.
2. The issues of dependence and obedience carried the same connotations then as they do now... with the exception that there was a stronger cultural reinforcement then than now.
a. Man has not changed, nor have his methods of dealing with his lusts and fears.
b. Slavery has never been an idealized idea apart from Christianity.
B. He used the word 'slave' in respect to two different Persons.
1. The first Person he considered Himself a slave to is 'God'.
a. This is a generic term that deals with a very general, unspecific, concept of deity which depends entirely upon a specific text for specific meaning.
b. However, it does introduce the issue of final sovereignty.
1) This is an agenda-focused matter.
2) This is also an omnipotence-focused matter.
3) It, at least, puts forward the idea that there is no greater Competitor, or Sovereign.
2. The second Person he considered Himself a slave to is the 'Lord Jesus Christ'.
a. This title/name defines the specific focus issues.
1) "Lord" addresses the agenda in terms of guiding principles.
a) A 'lord' could be appealed to in view of principles, even though he is seen as the final authority.
b) A 'despot' simply decrees.
2) "Jesus" focuses upon God's life-focus from the direction of gracious provision of need. This name addresses man in his despair with hope.
3) "Christ" focuses upon God's life-focus from the direction of shared (Christ is a sub-sovereign) life through valid compulsion of righteousness and holiness. This name addresses man in his arrogance with summons.
Conclusion: James addressed the issues of agenda-conflict and comprehensive slavery in his opening words so that we might see what the issues of temptation really are.