How often do we skip the first couple of sentences when reading a book of the Bible? While preparing to teach the book of James I was intrigued by his opening sentence and decided maybe I shouldn’t just skip it. James opens with this line:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. – James 1:1
It’s a great opening because it sets the tone for the whole letter. James is a cut to the chase, here’s the point kind of guy and the opening gets us moving in that direction immediately. But that’s not what struck me most about these words. Instead, I considered that James’ words were powerful because they represented his voice.
Every follower of Jesus on earth has a unique voice. James was no different. If we want to be effective and be heard, we must discover our voice and use it to speak clearly. Two major identifiers mark James right from the beginning of the letter.
First, James establishes his personal identity. He is a “servant of God” and a servant of “the Lord Jesus Christ”. No mistaking his loyalties or persuasion right from the outset.
I’m reminded of my cousin coming to me two years ago wanting to talk. He was searching in his spiritual journey and wanted me to help him along the path. I was clear with him from the outset. I told him, “I will gladly help you with one caveat: I will actively attempt to point you to Jesus Christ. I will talk about Jesus, bring everything back to Jesus, and make it all about Jesus. If that’s not ok then I can’t help you.” It was ok, and he soon discovered Jesus himself and his life has never been the same.
What was important in that exchange was setting my personal identity with Jesus. As His followers, we must daily and continually identify ourselves with Him. Some people will be offended by this, but we must remember that Jesus told us in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”
When we choose Jesus we are forever marked as His children. That is our primary identifier. It is now who we are. The new has come and the old has passed away. Like James, we must clearly define our personal identity with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, James describes his tribal identity. He is writing his letter to the “twelve tribes scattered among the nations”. Who are the “twelve tribes”? Jews, the people of Israel, but specifically James is writing to completed Jews who follow Jesus.
In Matthew 24:14, Jesus tells us that “the gospel of the Kingdom will preached in all the world as a witness to all nations.” Nations in this verse is the Greek word “ethnos”. We get our English word “ethnic” from this word. While this may refer to a political entity, as we think of the term “nation” in modern terms, it is more often referencing cultural groupings. This is important because we all walk within certain cultural groupings.
My first two years in college were spent studying music at Ouachita Baptist University. Music theory is one of the first, foundational elements you’re taught as a musician. It’s essentially learning a new language of notes, rhythm, sounds, and terms that allow you to instantly communicate in a deep and meaningful way with another musician. Because of this education I can now speak with other musicians anywhere in the world and we can communicate through the power of music. This makes one of my tribes the tribe of musicians.
You are a member of a tribe too, whether you knew it or not. Whatever your hobbies, interests, culture, or even (in America anyway) skin color, can open doors for you to speak to someone else in a unique language. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22 that he learned to “become all things to all people in order that I might win some to the gospel”. Paul understood that his voice as a member of a tribe could open doors for him to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with members of that tribe.
USE YOUR VOICE
If you know Jesus your personal identity is in Him, and as a human on planet earth you have at least one (probably many more) tribal identities. Your identities mark and strengthen the message God has given you. It’s up to you to speak out and use your voice to do good in the world and make a difference. Nothing makes a greater difference in people’s lives than meeting and knowing Jesus Christ, and you have a voice that unlocks doors no one else can open.
Use your voice. Share Jesus where only you can. Make your mark for the Kingdom.