The letter of James was one of the first of the New Testament letters to be written. In it we can see the priorities and concerns of the early New Testament church, particularly among Jewish communities. The author is James, a prominent leader in the church in Jerusalem. He was one of the brothers of Jesus, and he was converted when he met the risen Saviour as mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.
It is worth noting how James describes himself as he begins his letter. He does not say that he was the brother of Jesus or that he had been brought up in the same home as Jesus. Instead he says that he is a slave of Jesus, but says so in a way that stresses the equality of Jesus with God the Father. The relationship with Jesus that James emphasises is that of servant and Lord rather than brother.
James had a wonderful encounter with the risen Jesus. Although we are not given any details, it is safe to conclude that the meeting had a profound effect on James as he discovered that the One he regarded previously as only a brother was actually the eternal God and the conqueror of death. James who had shared a home with Jesus in Nazareth and observed him making items as a carpenter now realised that his brother’s real home was heaven and that he could make universes quicker than the time it had taken him to make a piece of furniture.
The quality that stands out in James’ self-description is humility. Since he had been brought up with Jesus, James had lived with the perfect example of humility. He had observed how Jesus lived, the one who was gentle and lowly in heart. Together with humility, James also writes with authority because he knew who he was and what God had called him to do. And when he looked back to life in the home in Nazareth, he must have seen how Jesus also had authority that came from his awareness of who he was and what he had been called to do.
James was going to write to Christians undergoing difficulties. What kind of person can write to such people? One who is humble, but who can give words of guidance and instruction to those in perplexity. We always need leaders like this, who are imitators of Jesus in their character and who delight to describe his will for his disciples.