“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (from Galatians 5).
“…Through love become slaves to one another.” That is one challenging mandate. The Apostle Paul is interpreting the teachings of Jesus, the one who set him free. He’s writing to new Christians in Galatian churches, to help them more deeply understand the freedom Christ has provided for them, and the direction toward which that holy freedom points them. Freedom means we have choices.
Of course, sometimes things happen to us that are not our choice. Reportedly, John F. Kennedy was once asked how he became a war hero, and he responded, “It was entirely involuntary; someone sank my boat.”
You’re in a car at a traffic light and someone rear-ends you. You’re a great employee but your company downsizes and you lose your job. You continue to face challenges because of your home life as a child.
Our circumstances and experiences can limit our freedom. They mold us, and they define our immediate emotional reactions; but circumstances and experiences do not define us completely. They do not prescribe how we choose to respond to a certain situation. Daily we decide what we do with the freedoms available to us.
We could choose what Paul calls, “the works of the flesh.” He says they “are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” Paul’s list reminds us of the ways we use our freedom for self-indulgence, but he also points out that when we do that, we imprison ourselves. We don’t intend to go down a dark path. We think, “Just this once won’t hurt,” or, “It will be different for me.”
Mark Douglas says, “…Paul’s problem with the flesh is not that it desires but that its desires are disordered; it wants the wrong things or wants good things in the wrong way—usually too much or too little…. Disordered desires enslave us to our passion …” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 3, p 186).
Tori Amos sings a song called “Crucify” in which she describes using her freedom for self-indulgence: “I’ve been looking for a savior in these dirty streets/Looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets/I’ve been raising up my hands/Drive another nail in/Just what God needs/One more victim.
“Why do we/Crucify ourselves/Every day/I crucify myself/…And my heart is sick of being in chains.”
Is your heart sick of being in chains? Only when our hearts are sick of being in the chains of these “desires of the flesh” can we begin seeking and finding the freedom in Christ.
Paul says we do this by replacing “the works of the flesh” with “the fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Interested in freedom? “There is no law against such things,” Paul says. We find surprising freedom in being “slaves of God” and, “through love … slaves to one another.”
Freedom to be slaves is a choice each of us makes for ourselves. Parents cannot make them for our children; partners cannot make them for each other; friends can drop hints but only we decide when we will make a change.
Thomas Huxley said, “A man’s worst difficulties begin when he is able to do as he likes,” and yet, our greatest joys begin at exactly the same place. What will you do with your freedom?
Donna Hopkins Britt is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Roanoke’s Downtown West: 608 Campbell Avenue, SW; web site, calvaryroanoke.org.