Thursday, October 10, 2013

Christian Freedom and Love

"A truly emancipated spirit like Paul's is not in bondage to its own emancipation." ~ F. F. Bruce

I like how succinctly Bruce describes Paul's outlook on Christian freedom, particularly the freedom described in 1 Corinthians 10. I think we often get so caught up in the idea of Christian freedom that we are in bondage to it. That sounds like a paradox, I know, but think about how we react sometimes: when we know we are free in grace to act a certain way or participate in a particular activity, we often insist on being able to practice that freedom no matter how it affects someone else. Often times we become so attached to certain rights that we become a slave to those rights--we must be allowed to exercise them or we feel deprived. Paul did not see it this way. He knew that he was free in Christ, and he knew, as he states in Galatians 5:1, that he did not have to submit again to a yoke of slavery. But, his heart was captured by God's grace and love to such a degree that he was not in bondage to his own emancipation--he did not feel like he must practice his freedom at all costs. He did not feel like he lost something if he chose to forego a freedom for the sake of another. He was free to enjoy his freedoms when it was proper and curtail his freedoms when it would help his fellow man. As he states just a few verses later in Galatians 5:13, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

There is a beautiful example in Acts of what effect such an attitude towards freedom can have. In Acts 15, the apostles and many elders met in Jerusalem for a council to determine what was to be done with all the Gentile Christians pouring into the Church and the mess that the Judaizers had caused. After deliberation and speeches from Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and James, the council decided that salvation did come by grace through faith alone (Ac. 15:9-11) and that they need not impose the Mosaic Law on the Gentiles. However, when they wrote about their decision to the Gentiles they did send a decree--"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality." (Acts 15:28-29) Now, that does not sound like it fits with Jesus' declaration of all foods clean (Mk. 7:19), Paul saying we should not submit again to a yoke of slavery (Ga. 5:1), or Paul's assurance that one can eat whatever is set before them without worry (1 Co. 10:27). That sounds like the Law. However, if we take it in context with what is going on at the time and the outlook of Paul (the deliverer of the message) on freedom, we come to a different conclusion. In that context, we can see that the command was intended to warn the Gentile believers not to alienate their Christian Jew brothers or their Jewish neighbors through practices they would find offensive (cf. Ac. 15:21). It was a request from wise, godly men to value love of their brothers and neighbors over the practice of Christian freedom.

Now, the point I am getting at is the result of this letter from the apostles--that is, the result of valuing love for our neighbor over the practice of our own freedoms. Acts 16:4-5 says, "As [Paul and Barnabas] traveled from town to town, [Paul and Barnabas] delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers." I added the emphasis on "so" to show what was happening. The result of the letter, with its commands to be sensitive to the weaker brother, was growth in faith and numbers. The preaching of salvation by grace through faith alone and the freedom to curtail freedoms in love, showed sensitivity, grace, and love to others that resulted in great growth in the Church.

I think that is a wonderful example of what a mature outlook on Christian freedom can result in. May God by His grace work in us this type of attitude.

By His Grace,

1 comment:

chris hutchinson said...

Very, very helpful and well put, brother!