Whenever I draft correspondence at work, whether in a formal letter, email, or memorandum, I always identify myself as “Grant H. Wilson, Assistant City Attorney.” Identification of name and title is important in a professional environment, primarily as a courtesy to the recipient, who should have no question as to the author and purpose of the correspondence. This signature identifies me as the author, and signifies that the correspondence has been written in my professional capacity as an attorney for the City of Tuscaloosa. It is not a personal or otherwise informal correspondence; rather, it is correspondence made in the course of conducting City business.
In contrast, an email sent from my personal account or a personal letter contains a less formal signature, sometimes “Grant Wilson,” but usually just “Grant.” My text message correspondence, which is the way most people communicate electronically these days, is even less formal, typically with a short message and no signature at all, because the recipient generally knows who I am.
How we identify ourselves in correspondence oftentimes depends upon the context. It is interesting, therefore, to look at how New Testament writers identified themselves, particularly in the epistles. The epistles are letters, and just like today, a letter written in the first century usually contains a signature. James, in his letter to the twelve dispersed tribes, identifies himself as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This signature is interesting to me because of who James was. James, as an influential leader in the early church, could have used a more prominent title to attach importance and consequence to his words. James, as a likely witness to the resurrection, could have mentioned this amazing fact in his signature to impress his readers. James, as Jesus’ brother, could have mentioned his familial relationship to establish an authoritative tone and to increase his own standing in the early church. Rather, James very simply identifies himself as “servant.”
James’ signature confirms authorship, and it establishes a general purpose for the correspondence: to convey a message in the context of submission to God and Jesus Christ. On a more conceptual level, however, James’ signature indicates profound humility on the part of the author. Despite James’ standing in the early church, he was content to be identified as a servant. I think therein lies an important message for twenty-first century Christians.
We often hear talk of the American dream. In America, you can be anything you want to be, but only if you are willing to work for it. This idea is only partly true, of course, and while it is sometimes comforting, it can become a frustratingly elusive objective that we chase from an early age. I do not begrudge success, and I certainly would not discourage anyone from pursuing a dream. The scriptures say where there is no vision, the people perish. However, if all of the trappings of our comfortable lives were stripped away, and if the American dream was but a mirage on the horizon, would we be content to identify ourselves simply as servants God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ?