To the 12 tribes in the Dispersion, Greetings.
James opens his letter, in verse 1, with this:
“To the 12 tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”
Then he jumps right into it. We would expect in any other letter like this, as we see in Paul’s letters, something more. Some statements about how he misses them, or longs to be with them, or how thankful he is for them.
But James is quick to get into his content.
HOWEVER, there is a lot here in this opening statement. And we could see it as a theme of the entire book…
“Twelve Tribes” of course refers to the original configuration of Israel. God separated them into 12 tribes, each with its own identity. But at the time of James’ writing, those 12 tribes didn’t exist. At least not in a distinct way.
Commentaries say that this phrase had become a kind of Jewish colloquialism. It was a way referencing their Jewish, cultural identity as God’s chosen people. James chooses it here on purpose.
These people had been violently persecuted, the temple destroyed, and they had been scattered as a result. They no longer lived in culturally protected areas. They were living among the pagan world, among people that did not think like they thought, act like they acted, or worship the same God.
And so James is out to remind them of who they are. To remind them that though they have been separated from home and each other, their identity has not been changed.
You could make the case, that everything that follows in his letter from here is James putting definition on what it looks like to live out of this identity.
They are God’s people. They are the living stones that Peter talks about making up the new temple, the Church. They are disciples of Jesus, the Messiah. They are ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. They are friends of God. As Jesus said, they have been born again – new creations in Christ.
James is telling them that how they live should not betray, or war against, their true identity in Christ.
So he says,
- Don’t be double minded. That’s not who you are now.
Bridle your tongue, use it for building up not tearing down. That’s what God does.
Don’t treat people differently based on distinctions God doesn’t make.
Serve the poor and the outcast because that’s what Jesus does.
Lessons from Parenting
One of the things that I’m continually learning as a father is to discipline my children without teaching them internalizing their mistakes so much that they think that their sin is all that they are.
I want them to know the difference betwe en discipline and punishment. Punishment is about justice. It’s about paying for your sin. Discipline is about training. It’s about learning not to sin again, because that’s not who you really are. You are a new creation, you have the Spirit of Christ in you. So, I say things like “You’re better than this. God made you for more than this.” Instead of, “Why do you always do this?” or “When are you going to ever get this?”
I think God wants us to get the same thing. It is the essence of what we mean by the process of sanctification. You are becoming what you already are in Christ. You are learning to live out of your true identity, and not your old dead one.
What do you confess about yourself, to yourself? Who do you think you are? If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that he is risen from the dead, then you have be re-created with a new identity as a holy, loved, welcomed, child of God.
Maybe what we need to do is learn to agree with God about what He says about who we are.