Some things need to be remembered! In the Bible there are many times where God exhorts us to remember things that are of importance. Once such location is in the book of Deuteronomy. Five times in Deuteronomy, the Lord through Moses told Israel “Remember, you were slaves” as He gives them various commands and requirements.
The first time (5:15) is in the context of keeping the Sabbath day. They were to remember that they were slaves, that it was who God brought them out and because of this, God commanded them to keep the Sabbath, a day to remember God and their relationship with Him.
The second time (15:15) in the context of how Israel was to treat their slaves and deal with the poor, God again says “you shall remember that you were a slave” therefore “I command you this today”.
Then, again, in three more passages (16:12; 24:18,22) God tells them to “Remember they were slaves” as he gives them commands regarding festivals, loaning to brothers, how to treat the poor brothers and how to treat strangers.
So how did Israel do with this exhortation? Did they remember? In the New Testament, John records this conversation between Jesus and the Jews:
Joh 8:30-34 As he was saying these things, many believed in him. (31) So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, (32) and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (33) They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (34) Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.
Apparently, they did NOT remember that they were once slaves. Did that present a problem? Yes, it did. Here’s why:
In Matthew, Jesus tells us that first and second greatest commandments are the foundation for the whole law and the prophets.
Mat 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (37) And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38) This is the great and first commandment. (39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
I find it interesting that the foundation of all the commandments of the Law, all that the prophets said was Love. Love of God and Love of your neighbor as yourself” So it should not surprise us that, in the above passages in Deuteronomy, God talks about how they are to honor Him and how they are to treat their fellow man. There is something about them having been slaves that ties to these commands.
I will suggest a few things that happened, or could happen, in forgetting that they were slaves:.
First, they did not honor God as they should: In Mt 15:3 Jesus says that they broke the commandments of God by their traditions. Imagine that! They had developed a tradition which they enforced on others but that violated a commandment of God. In Luke 12:15-21, Jesus gives a parable of a rich man who was indeed rich but not towards God. His substance was not used for God’s honor nor to help his fellow man…God called him a Fool.
Second, they treated their fellow man with contempt. The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans (Jn 4:7-9) and no doubt it was because they thought of them as unimportant people. They didn’t so well with the poor, tax collectors, and sinners either. Jesus also told a parable in Luke 18, for the specific reason that some considered themselves to be righteous and held others with contempt (18:9).
Third, they might not become a forgiving people. Chapter 18 in Matthew deals with forgiveness. Peter thought 7 times was a good thing, which seems to be more than most people would do. Jesus points out that it is not limited and again, tells a parable emphasizing the need to forgive our brother. He ends it with the warning that: If we do not forgive our brother from our heart, that God will not forgive us.
Do not think for a second that the exhortation to Israel to “Remember that you were slaves” does not apply to us. Actually, I think it applies even more to us. Because while Israel was in physical bondage, we were in spiritual bondage and slavery.
Rom 6:17-20 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, (18) and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (19) I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (20) For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
It is when we remember that we were slaves to sin and freed through the blood of Christ and our obedience to the Gospel of Grace that we will be motivated to worship God in great gratitude for His Grace and sacrifice. We will also in compassion treat our fellow man with the love that they need realizing that God showed that same love to us. This allows us to preach the Gospel, with all of its warnings and exhortations, in compassion and kindness, motivated by the remembrance that we were once slaves of sin as they are now.
If we forget that we were once slaves, not only will we not Honor God and treat our fellow man with love, we may find ourselves once again enslaved by sin.
Remembering that we were slaves will help us to serve our God and fellow man.
But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh. (Jas 3:8-12)
Perhaps this should be a warning to us. I honestly have to ask if it the case that man cannot tame the tongue or chooses not to tame the tongue. It probably makes little difference in the long run; the fact is that we need to bring even the tongue under control and by doing so, we bring ourselves under control.
God’s word offers us many instructions on the proper use of the tongue. We, of course, have to be willing to put it into practice. Again, we see the need to have action in our walk of faith. We need to bring the “want to” into line with The Faith. “So speak and so act as those to be judged by a law of liberty.” (James 2:12)
That the tongue is full of poison and can cause lots of destruction was discussed in the last post. In this one, James gives us an example of the characteristics that the tongue has: Inconsistency, hypocrisy and even a lack of love.
Here James gives us an example of a great truth: You cannot Love God if you do not love your neighbor. This time he shows it by the improper use of the tongue. Who is your fellow man? A soul created in the image of God. In the case of those who are Christians, he is a saved soul and an heir of the promises of God (2:5), in the case of the unsaved; he is a lost soul in need of the Gospel (words of Good news-not curses).
James is astonished. All this comes from the same mouth: Blessings and Cursings? A question you might hear asked after a profanity laced tirade is “Do you kiss your wife with that mouth?” or something like it. James says these things “ought not” to be. “Ought” carries with it idea of moral requirements. Phrases like ‘speaking out of both sides of your mouth” or “forked tongue” all hold the idea of a tongue that says one thing one time and different the next time.
Even nature shows this principle. In Ashland, Oregon there is a park called Lithia. There are drinking fountains there that tap into the sulfur/mineral water at Lithia Park. When I lived there during my 3rd grade school year, I would go there for a drink (it was a novelty) and the water was always awful. Every time I tried it, it tasted the same-an awful mineral taste. It never changed. You couldn’t go one day and get sweet refreshing cool water and the next day rancid, sulfur tasting water.
After 20 years, I went back for a visit. I went to try the water (the inner child calling I suppose) and guess what? It was just as awful. It hadn’t changed. In the same manner, you don’t go out to the grape vines and pick figs, nor collect olives off of a fig tree.
What God has created has a purpose. The tongue was created by God and has a purpose too. When used for its purpose God receives Glory. Things that are good to do with the tongue are praise God, bless others, encourage others and speak words of grace seasoned with salt. Speaking truth in love is what we are supposed to do. We are to speak in the name of the Lord, speak forth the oracles of God.
When things are not used for the purpose God made them problem result. In the case of the tongue, we have corrupted it’s purpose. We ought not to turn what God has meant to be used for good into a tool for tearing people down: Gossips, slanders, curses, words that tear down and don’t build up. Paul tells us
“But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,” (Col 3:8-9)
Question: Since James started out this chapter by talking about teachers, how does this section of tongue use apply to them?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Maybe James is expecting some protesting from his audience. Maybe he expects them to say that they are not showing partiality, that James misunderstands. They might protest “Custom or respect requires some special treatment for the rich person.” As I said in my last post, if the President were to visit, you could welcome him saying “Mr. President….” and this would be respectful of the position. But, to fawn over him because of his influence or the prestige of having him in your congregation is something James would have us guard against, especially when another brother of lower estate is shuffled off to the overflow seating….why not give him your seat next to the President?
Anyway, James says “Well, if you really are doing the royal law, then good” however, he doesn’t drop it there. Recognizing that this audience might not be letting his words sink in, that is, they are not being “swift to hear, slow to speak”, he still adds the warning: If you show partiality, it is a sin and the Law tells you the same thing.
Which law you have to ask? Which law indeed? The law of Christ or of Moses? In this case, (though I think he refers to Moses’ law) the two overlap. The 2nd greatest commandment that Jesus talked about with the Pharisees is the Royal Law that James mentions and under either law, when you do not show the love for your neighbor that you would show for yourself, you sin. Showing partiality is a sin in God’s eyes.
Peter had this problem and Paul rebuked him in Gal 2. It was the judgment of some Jewish Christians that Gentiles should not be eaten with. When they showed up, Peter got caught up in it and then so did Barnabas. Barnabas! Even the son encouragement (cf Acts 4:36) was drawn into a less than encouraging situation.
James indicates that no mercy was being shown to the poor brother. Instead evil thoughts and judgment dishonored him. However, the problem with the dishonored brother is not just a problem for the poor brother. (Hopefully he will look past it and boast in his exaltation. James 1:9) There is now a problem for the judge, the brother showing partiality; he is now condemned and condemned as a lawbreaker. Worse, he showed no mercy to his brother, what mercy should he expect from God?
Lord willing, We shall continue this thought tomorrow…..