Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Well, since we’ve come to that time of the year when it’s mandatory to celebrate freedom, maybe it’s appropriate to think about such things as freedom and liberty. You do know that the 4th of July Holiday is just a few days away? I know the 4th is about barbeque, fireworks, parades, and summer sales, but still . . . Maybe it would be a good thing to talk about freedom, especially at a time when some of our freedoms seem to be in danger.
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of Worship
- Freedom from Want
- Freedom from Fear
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called "new order" of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
It’s good to celebrate the freedoms we have as Americans and to be proud of our country. And yet, I always find it difficult to preach on the Sunday before the 4th, because it’s too easy to merge nationalism and faith. It’s too easy to think of ourselves as the New Israel and to believe that we’re so special in God’s eyes that we deserve special blessings. But the truth is: God is God of all the Nations and all the peoples and God loves us all equally. And as far as freedom goes, Paul understood quite well that true freedom had nothing to do with political freedom.
We are free in Christ and therefore, no matter the circumstances, we’re to stand firm in that freedom and never again submit to any “yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). It’s good to remember that Paul wrote this word of encouragement to people living under Imperial Roman rule, and so he has in mind a spiritual freedom that transcends all other forms of freedom. Of the four freedoms that President Roosevelt outlined, the one that is most related to what Paul has in mind, is the “freedom from fear. Don’t let others enslave you with their opinions and their rules and their regulations, because it will be fear that will enslave you to their views.
1. Freedom to Serve
It may sound a bit contradictory, but Paul says you have been set free so that you might choose to serve. Paul understood the lure of self-indulgence; that urge to gratify our desires no matter the cost to others or ourselves. Consider for a moment, the buffet table; the ones you can find in Las Vegas. The choices are overwhelming, and you have to try everything. This makes it really hard to stop, because you want to get your money’s worth, even if you pay for it later by getting really sick. This isn’t the kind of freedom Paul has in mind. What he has in mind is freedom from legalism. In this context he tells the Galatians that it isn’t the circumcision of the flesh that saves you, but rather it’s a transformation of the heart.
Because you’re free in Christ from the bondage of legalism, choose to serve your neighbor. It’s your choice; you can do otherwise, but if you’re truly free, you will serve and love your neighbor as yourself. Now in this country of ours, if we follow this call to freedom, then our acts of service will have definite political consequences, because we will put others before ourselves.
2. The Fruit of Freedom
There’s a reason why we have laws – we seem to be inclined to indulge ourselves rather than serve our neighbors. Paul tells us what freedom gone to seed looks like, and it’s not pretty. Freedom gone bad produces such things as idolatry, anger, strife, jealousy, factionalism, carousing around, and things like that.
3. Freedom and Responsibility
If we truly want to be free, then we’ll need to pay special attention to the ninth of these fruit of the Spirit. Freedom without self-control is anarchy and it will cause everyone, including ourselves, a lot of grief.
You might find it a bit ironic, but without freedom there can be no responsibility – If I’m not free how can I be responsible – and yet the more freedom I have, the more responsibility I have. As Paul says elsewhere: “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12). If self-indulgence is our goal, we won’t stop to consider how our choices affect others. When that happens our freedom – whether as individuals or as nations -- becomes destructive.
Yes, it’s a good thing to celebrate our freedoms as Americans, and it’s appropriate to defend those freedoms, but more importantly, it’s imperative that we remember that to be truly free is to serve our neighbors in love, and that goes way beyond being an American.
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
5th Sunday after Pentecost
July 1, 2007