A Family Affair

At daybreak He called together all of His disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. Here are their names: Simon (He also called him Peter), Andrew (Peter’s brother), James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot), Judas (son of James), Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed Him). Luke 6:13–16 (NLT)

My paternal great-great-grandfather died soon after his 49th birthday. His widow was left to raise their seven children who were still living at home, ranging in ages from 3 to 17 years. My great-grandfather, John Calvin Winter, at age 13, together with his elder 17-year-old brother, assumed much of the responsibility in caring for the family farm in Central Pennsylvania and otherwise assisting their mother in the support of the family. In 1906 a local historian wrote of John Calvin, “it was through this that he developed those traits of persistency and industry which afforded him an equipment for his subsequent useful and successful career.” As the years went by, he formed a “general contracting and building business” that achieved considerable success and, to quote the historian, “the fruits of his labors are visible in the many ornamental edifices, business and residential, which adorn the city, and have given it the modern air which attracts the gratified attention of the visitor.” (Don’t you love the way they wrote in the early 20thcentury!) His sons joined him in the enterprise, as did his grandsons (which included my father). It was a family affair, that not only enjoyed commercial success, but also was “among the foremost in the advancement of every worthy enterprise” — including higher education and the furtherance of the gospel message.

Such was the pedigree of the apostle James, the elder brother of the apostle John. James grew up along the Sea of Galilee, probably in the town of Capernaum. His father, Zebedee, led a successful fishing enterprise which included both of his sons, as well as hired men. James and John were not the only members of Zebedee’s family that chose to follow Jesus that day. We read in Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40 and John 19:25, that their mother (Zebedee’s wife) — Salome — also was among those who traveled with Christ — following Him even to the cross. Salome was probably one of the women mentioned in Luke 8:3 “who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and His disciples.” And those resources, more than likely, came from Zebedee’s fishing enterprise.


The family apparently not only had financial means, but they were also a family of influence that even extended to Jerusalem. The fact that the apostle John was permitted access into the home of Caiaphas the high priest (John 18:15–16) is indicative of the position that the family enjoyed among Jewish society.

James walked intimately with Jesus. He, together with his brother John and Simon Peter, were the three apostles that Christ often drew aside to join Him up close and personal. It was those three that He permitted to enter into the home when He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mark 5:37–42). On the Mount of Transfiguration, only they were invited to witness His conversation with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1–7). And it was these three that Jesus chose to draw nearer with Him in intercession that night at the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–46) before His betrayal and arrest.

The special relationship that James (and John) had with Jesus prompted Salome to ask if her sons might sit in places of honor on the right and left hand sides of Jesus. Little did she know what she was asking, for James would, in fact, be the first apostle to be martyred as a follower of Christ by King Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1–2).

Even his martyrdom underlines that he walked steadfastly with Jesus. He walked with Him not only when Jesus said “Yes” — “walk with Me to Jairus’ home”, “join Me on the Mount of Transfiguration”, etc.; but perhaps even more importantly, he walked with Jesus when He said “No” — “I will not prevent you from being martyred”. James was prepared to follow Jesus no matter where He led and no matter the cost.


James followed Jesus with his whole heart, as did the other members of his family. He followed Him with passion. As a matter of fact, Jesus referred to James and his brother, John, as “Boanerges” translated “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17) in light of their fiery eloquence and quick temper. Perhaps it was His loving rebuke to their impassioned plea to “call down fire from Heaven” to destroy the people of a Samaritan village who had snubbed Jesus (Luke 9:44–45). In this instance they were allowing their fiery passion for Jesus to blind them from the mission of Jesus — a mission that unbeknownst to them would subsequently lead to a spiritual awakening across Samaria soon after Pentecost.

Yes, James experienced a unique relationship with Jesus as an intimate as he responded to the call to follow Him. But it was a family affair. God’s call on His life was not only for him personally; it was a call on the entire family — each one ministering in a unique way — each one fulfilling their respective part in the mission of Christ.

And that is a truth we must hold onto today. Just as my great-grandfather was uniquely equipped and gifted for the work for which God created and called him, that work and that calling was not in a vacuum — it involved his entire family. It had implications which led to specific assignments for each of them — and in many respects still is.

How is the Lord leading you to follow Him? It will never be in isolation. It will always be in the broader context of the body of Christ — and will include those who are closest to you. God’s call on you will require you to make adjustments — and most likely will require those around you to make adjustments as well. So watch, not only how He is leading you, but also how He is leading those who are close to you. And follow Him intimately, follow Him steadfastly, and follow Him wholeheartedly. The impact will be much further reaching than you can ever imagine — reaching to the generations that follow — even those (if Jesus tarries) you will never know on this side of eternity.

Copyright © 2018 Kenneth A. Winter All rights reserved.