Freedom. What a wonderful word that is.
Thinking nationally, we celebrate freedom every July 4, which is just a few days from now. July 4, 1776, is, of course, the date of our declaration of independence from Great Britain.
As we know, freedom did not come immediately. What followed was a long and difficult war with Great Britain. Only with the completion of the war did we really have national freedom.
Even then there were problems as we struggled to form what had been thirteen separate colonies into a unified country. That was accomplished with the United States Constitution. As we know, the Constitution defines our country’s government, dividing it into three branches that are designed to check each other so no one branch becomes overly powerful.
Developing the Constitution was itself a struggle. In fact, the one thing that assured its passage was the promise to add to it what is called the Bill of Rights. A list of rights individuals have against government interference. Under Great Britain, there had been few rights. The king set the policies and procedures. To keep the same thing from happening here, the Bill of Rights was added to the U.S. Constitution.
We are familiar with the rights guaranteed. Among them are freedom of religion, press, speech, assembly, and petition, the freedom to keep and bear arms, the freedom to not be forced to house soldiers in our homes, the freedom against unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom from excessive bail, and the freedoms of receiving a speedy trial by jury, not being forced to testify against yourself during a trial, and not being tried for the same crime twice.
It at least seems some of our freedoms are in danger. For instance, some in our minority communities claim they never have enjoyed many of the freedoms just mentioned. In reaction to that, it seems whatever is said that is not currently politically correct puts the speaker in danger physically or economically.
We have a boatload of problems in our country, yet freedom is a wonderful word. Let’s pray about and work for a continuation of freedom for everyone.
However, no matter what happens nationally, there is another kind of freedom that is even better. One guaranteed to last, no matter what. It is spiritual freedom.
That freedom is not from a foreign country, but freedom from sin. Freedom from the devil, who continues to fight against us in his attempts to keep us slaves to sin.
It, too, came at great cost. Not a cost to us, but to Jesus. We can have spiritual freedom, not because of anything we have done, are doing, or will do, but because of what Jesus did. The price He paid when, almost 2000 years ago, He allowed Himself to die a horrible death on a cross. He allowed Himself to be the sacrifice for sins - our sins - everyone’s sins - so that whosoever accepts Him and His sacrifice can have spiritual freedom. Freedom from the devil and sin.
And guess what. Just as there are things we need to do to keep our national freedom alive, including prayer and doing what we can to guard against those who wish to take our freedom away, so there are some things we are to do to maintain our spiritual freedom.
Let me be clear. Jesus’ sacrifice and our acceptance of Him is all that is needed for us to have spiritual freedom. But in the Bible there are instructions of how we are to use spiritual freedom. How we are to live so we will continue to be excited and thankful for that freedom, thereby keeping it fresh and alive in our own lives and in the lives of others.
Three Bible instructions will be covered in this message. The first is Galatians 5:13. “For you were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.”
A few weeks ago the message included a review of a problem in the early church in Philippi from those called gnostics. They were and are found places other than Philippi as well.
One of the beliefs of gnostics is that the body is evil. The teaching is that since the body always has been evil and always will be evil and cannot be controlled, it should, according to gnostics, be excused from whatever is done, including evil things.
Another false teaching is that a person is not complete until he or she has experienced everything life has to offer, including all the bad things life has to offer.
Both those teachings became a free pass to engage in any and all sins. The more the better, according to the false teachers, thereby giving God more opportunities to forgive.
Those teachings - those false teachings - violate what Jesus taught about proper living, which calls for using our bodies, thoughts, and emotions to honor God and help people, which is the point of Galatians 5:13. Yes, sins can be forgiven. They will be forgiven when the sinner repents and asks for forgiveness. But doing bad things is not the point of spiritual freedom. What Jesus wants is for His people to rise above sin, which will happen when we correctly use spiritual freedom. When we use it as freedom to do what is right.
What is right? The verse has two examples, which are love and being servants of one another. Those two go hand in hand. I doubt you can do one without the other. But what does it mean? Here are just three ideas.
Be a friend. As has been said over and over again since mid-March, being a friend can be difficult during times of isolation, but one more time I say how impressive it has been and is to hear of all the calls, texts, emails, letters, and cards that have traveled around our congregation. I hope everyone has felt part of the congregation, even in isolation.
It is nice having a friend. It is a privilege to be a friend. That is one example of using spiritual freedom for the benefit of others.
Another is helping those in need, which some of us are again doing each month with serving lunch at the People’s City Mission. The people who stay at the Mission have problems. They need help. We serve food and offer smiles and encouraging words. Of course it is difficult for the residents to see our smiles since we are now wearing masks, but the point is that we who serve at the Mission are showing we have the freedom to love and serve others.
Another way to love and serve others is to mourn with those who mourn. We do that through the prayer chain. Of course not every request has to do with death, but there is mourning that goes along with other things like illnesses and relationship problems and other difficulties of life.
In verse 15 there is a warning against “biting and devouring one another.” That is destructive use of freedom. Instead - verse 14 - “love your neighbor as yourself.” That includes lovingly serving others. Doing that is one way to properly answer the call to spiritual freedom.
Another way to use our spiritual freedom is in I Peter 2:16. “Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as servants of God.”
“Pretext for evil” again means to live in whatever sinful ways you want, claiming it does not matter because you can be forgiven later. That is taking wrong advantage of what Jesus offers. That is also risky because wantonly disobeying God while hurting others can cause a rift that you may decide is more fun than obedience, which could lead you to turn your back on God.
We are not to use our Jesus-earned freedom to condone or do evil. We are instead to use the freedom, not only to love and serve others, as we just discussed, but also to love and serve God.
How is that displayed? Well, it includes accepting His Son Jesus as Savior. It includes reading His word. Not only reading, but studying and thinking about what is in the Bible, then putting what is known to use in how you live. It includes praying, staying in touch with God, asking Him to help you be spiritually strong.
Other ways to display love and service to God are listed in verses around I Peter 2:16.
Verses 13 and 14. “Be subject to every human institution.” That includes our government’s leaders. There does not seem to be a lot of that going on right now - but it is what we are to do in exercising our spiritual freedom. We are to do that even if no one else joins us.
Verse 17. “Honor all men.” I looked up “honor” and found these definition. Regard with great respect, pay respects to, fulfill or keep an agreement.
We are to treat all men - and all women - well. With the respect due to all who, like us, were created in the image of God. I am no better and I am no less than anyone else created by God. The agreement I have with all others is to love and serve them.
Honor all men. That is one way to display love and service to God. Another is to “love the brotherhood.”
The brotherhood - and sisterhood - refers to fellow Christians. We are to be known for our love for one another. When the rest of the world seems to be ganging up on us, we should have each other’s backs, encouraging one another, helping one another, and maybe at times correcting each other, but always in love.
“Fear God.” As always, in this context, fear does not mean to be afraid. It means to highly revere God. To love Him so much the main desire of life is to know Him, obey Him, worship Him, serve Him.
In fact, doing that will lead to honoring all people, loving fellow Christians, and, next on the list, “honoring [respecting and praying for] the emperor.” The leader.
Spiritual freedom is to be displayed in our love and service to other people. It is to be displayed in our service to God. Both are possible through acceptance of Jesus, who, early in His ministry, explained that among His many benefits, He is the source of spiritual freedom. For that, Luke 4, beginning with verse 16.
This passage comes shortly after Jesus survived the temptations given to Him by the devil, which happened shortly after Jesus was baptized, which was the start of His earthly ministry. Soon after that, Jesus was in Nazareth, where He had grown up.
On the day recorded, Jesus went into the Jewish synagogue, which was His custom. That day He stood up, indicating He wanted to read. What was handed to Him was the writing of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.
Jesus turned to Isaiah 61:1-2, which has these words. “The Spirit of the Lord in upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor [the poor in spirit who are downtrodden by life], to proclaim release to the captive [captives of sin], and recovering of sight to the blind [both physical and spiritual blindness], and to set at liberty [to give freedom to] those who are oppressed [physically and spiritually].”
Jesus read those words, closed the book, gave it to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes were on Him and He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in Your hearing.” With those words, Jesus claimed to be the hope for all the ills of life. Jesus claimed to be the one who would be and now is source of spiritual freedom.
* * * * *
It will not be long before fireworks will start to be heard. Actually, we have had some go off in our neighborhood already, including June 4. That was only a month off. I guess it is easy to get confused.
Whether you like fireworks or, like me, do not, let’s remember to be thankful for the national freedom we have. Even with the problems we have, there are very few countries anywhere of anytime that have enjoyed as much liberty as we have in this country. Even now, when it at least appears there are all sorts of threats to our freedom coming at us from all sides, let’s celebrate what we have, and let’s pray for our freedom to continue.
But as stated at the start of today’s message, there is a greater freedom we have. It is spiritual freedom, earned for us by Jesus. Let’s also be thankful for our spiritual freedom, which is ours when we accept Jesus.
May our thanks be displayed by our knowledge God is the source of spiritual freedom, by how we serve God, and by how we love and serve others.
Let’s pray. Lord, You have blessed us so abundantly with national freedom. Thank You for that privilege which has made our lives easier than so many others have experienced in history and now. Help us to not take our national liberty for granted. Help us to remember to pray it will continue, even during our present time, which is so troubled.
Thank You even more for the spiritual freedom You make possible. What a gift that is. Not by anything we have done or do, but what You did by becoming the perfect sacrifice. A gift that is a reality for all of us who know You as the Savior. Help us to also not take our spiritual freedom for granted. Lead us to be thankful to You, to be active in serving You, to be devoted to loving and serving others.
We thank You for both our national and spiritual freedom. Help us to be worthy of both, now and in the future. Amen.
The closing song for today is Come, All Christians, Be Committed. We will sing two verses. One more will be today’s benediction.
Come, all Christians, be committed
To the service of the Lord.
Make your lives for Him more fitted,
Tune your hearts with one accord.
Come into His courts with gladness,
Each His sacred vows renew,
Turn away from sin and sadness,
Be transformed with life anew.
God’s command to love each other
Is required of everyone.
Showing mercy to another
Mirrors His redemptive plan.
In compassion He has given
Of His love that is divine;
On the cross sins were forgiven;
Joy and peace are fully thine.
Lord, help those of us who believe in You to come to You in praise and adoration. Help our worship of You to be worthy, knowing You alone are the source of grace and love. We give You glory for Your Spirit and Your word. Lead us to keep telling Your Gospel story to others until all have heard Your name. And yes, thank You for the freedom to do all of this. Amen.