James 2:5-7 & 12-14. [NIV]
√ Re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken
5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?…12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
It’s only a few days until the celebration of our nation’s freedom. We’re in another time of turmoil about freedom now, but this time it’s not our own. This time we’re confronted by the object lesson of current events demanding we consider who deserves to be free, what freedom demands of them and how much we’re willing to invest of what God has given us so they can be free? We are dependent on the mercy of God triumphing over the judgment of men as we struggle to find answers to those questions. Many others fought in 1776 for the freedom we celebrate this week but here’s God’s challenge for us to consider now.
“Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?”
Our challenge is to have mercy for the reality of physical need not judge the integrity of their desire to be free of tyranny and oppression. Our nation was built by many other people who were judged ineligible and exiled from their home, but by the mercy of God’s grace they were given a second chance to invest their lives and resources “in order to form a more perfect Union.” Were they perfect? Of course not!
This is the truth of freedom then…and it’s still the truth of freedom now. God will hold us accountable for our actions “because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” It makes no earthly sense that “mercy triumphs over judgment” but it makes no heavenly sense that we have exploited the poor and honored “the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong.”
Lord help us! Help us this July 4th of 2019 to “speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.” Lord make us so “rich in faith” that we can honestly promise we’ll invest our blessings in others seeking freedom and in your truth that “mercy triumphs over judgment.”
NASB Philemon 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
6 and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.9 yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—10 I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment,
16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Philemon is clearly the wronged party in this story of slavery and freedom. The slave Onesimus has effectively stolen his “property” simply by running away from him. Onesimus ran away hoping to find freedom in the crowded city of Rome. God had a different plan to teach him about a different kind of freedom from a man “now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” The Apostle Paul writes of “my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment.” Onesimus found his freedom in the faith of Christ from a man in chains.
God led Onesimus to Paul in that crowded city. It was receiving grace and freedom that made it possible for him to return to the master he’d run away from. It was receiving grace and freedom that made it possible for Philemon to accept Paul’s word that Onesimus has become part of the fellowship of faith and “more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
What began as a story of slavery and freedom God turned into a blessing of grace and freedom for both Philemon and Onesimus.
Psalm 7:6 Arise, Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice. 7 Let the assembled peoples gather around you, while you sit enthroned over them on high. 8 Let the Lord judge the peoples. Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High. 9 Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure—you, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts. 10 My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.
The NIV describes this Psalm as a “Shiggaion of David.” The specific character of such a Psalm is no longer really known but perhaps it means a “wild, mournful ode.” It certainly is a picture of a man who is so confident in his relationship with God he’s free to advise God and demand action. It sort of feels like David is bossing God around doesn’t it? David trusted so completely in God’s Sovereign reliability there was nothing he ever felt he had to hold back. He had an aggressive faith and a uniquely personal relationship to God. That’s the connection between this Psalm and our story.
God ultimately chose to intervene in his global creation through the life of Jesus and with the Holy Spirit for one specific reason: to make that same kind of freedom, personal relationship and aggressive faith with the all powerful, all knowing, ever present God available to each of us.
Romans 8: 1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
My whole theme for this year’s Big Event has been Blessing. I have practiced what I preached about trying to use my voice to bless others as I went about my Christmas preparation. It’s been a revelation to me that if your mindset is to do that, opportunities just seem to pop up where saying “God bless you”…for whatever…seems natural and right. It bears repeating all year long..
Your Savior has been born! Remembering the Big Event has come to an end. Now I’d like to introduce you to the grown-up Jesus of Romans 8. This is the Savior with treasured gifts for you this Christmas morning; forgiveness, freedom and fulfillment. I know this Jesus well.
I had a very special dream as a relatively new believer more than half a lifetime ago. Jesus had come to take me to see something with him. He held my hand as we looked at a grotesque museum style head-and-shoulders statue sitting alone on a pedestal in the room. It wasn’t until we were leaving and I turned to take one last look at that ugly thing that I saw it was me. That was “my” dream but It has a reality that’s become my blessing for you this Christmas Day.
You have a grown-up Savior who loves you enough to hold your hand while you take one last look at who you “were.” It’s time to open those gifts of forgiveness, freedom and fulfillment. That is no longer who you “are.” Your Savior has been “born again” into your heart’s memory this December. Merry Christmas and God Bless One Last Look.