This week, on July 4, we the people of the United States of America, wherever in the world we might be, will celebrate the 235th anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence. We will remember how, in the years leading up to this historic occasion, a group of men had a great hope for freedom from their mother country, Great Britain. They believed they knew a better way to run the British colonies in North America, if only they had the freedom to do it their way. And so, on this day 235 years ago, in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, they signed the document in which they declared the colonies to be a new nation – The United States of America. They still had to fight a war – a revolution – but four years later their hope for freedom was fulfilled.
Actually, they had only achieved part of their freedom. The part called political freedom. Over the past 235 years, we Americans have discovered over and over again, that there is another, more basic, kind of freedom. Without it, political freedom will eventually fail. It is the kind of freedom which the Apostle Paul talks about in the Biblical letter to the people of the churches in Galatia, located in what is today the nation of Turkey.
Paul’s letter was originally addressed to people of the Jewish faith who believed that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah (the Christ). These people had become the Christian church in that part of the world. His basic points are found in Galatians Chapter 5, verses 1-6 and 13-26. He tells the people “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”. The slavery he was referring to was not the ownership of human beings by slavemasters, which was not the situation of those people. The slavery he was talking about was their obedience to the strict laws imposed on them by their religious authorities.
Paul was faced with a difficult situation. On the one hand, there was a faction in the church which was teaching legalism. In order to be a Christian you had to obey these strict and sometimes physically painful (circumcision) laws. His position was that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which they believed to be a reality, they were set free from having to obey those laws as a requirement for their eternal salvation in heaven. “The only thing that counts is faith working through love.”
On the other hand, another faction was teaching libertinism. They had twisted Paul’s words to mean that they were now free to do anything they felt like doing. He had to remind them that this was not what freedom was about. While their salvation (eternal life in heaven) did not depend on obedience to religious or secular laws, this did not mean that moral restraints could be abandoned. “…do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence…”
Neither legalism or libertinism were part of God’s will. “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment – you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Obedience to the law had been replaced with faith in God and in human obedience to God’s commandment to love God and their neighbor. Previously, when Jesus was asked who is my neighbor, His response amounted to “anyone who needs to be served, and who God has given you the ability to serve.” In other words, all people are to love each other. If you love God and other people, then everything else, in terms or morality and ethics, will fall into place. But without love there can be neither freedom or salvation.
To put it another way, what Paul was talking about was not just political freedom, but freedom with responsibility. And regardless of your religious or spiritual faith, even if you say you have none, Patty and I (Ray) believe that what Paul teaches about freedom with responsibilty applies to all people and all nations all the time.
Today many people in the Middle East and North Africa are hoping for freedom from the rule and control of their despotic leaders. In Tunisia and Egypt they have achieved their hope for political freedom. In Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Iran the they continue to hold out hope, even as the fight continues in their nations. Indications are that the people of other nations also have hope for their political freedom. In fact, it seems that there always have been and are today, those who are hoping for freedom. However, the message written by Paul 2,000 years ago still applies today. Whenever people hope for their freedom, they must be sure that they are not just seeking the ability to do whatever they feel like doing, but what will be good for all of the people of their nation and for the world. We believe that requires that they seek Gods will and and respond to Him with love.
The same applies to the United states of America. It has been said that this nation is a great experiment in how to be the kind of nation God created us to be. A nation receiving, demonstrating, and sharing His love with each other and the world. Sometimes we’ve done that well. Other times not so well. The experiment continues in these times when so many of our government and political leaders are spending too much of their time condemning each other for the benefit of themselves and their political parties, rather than cooperating and compromising for the good of the people they have been elected or appointed to serve. Our hope is that they will follow Paul’s God- inspired advice and exercise their freedom to turn from their self-centered ways, seek God’s will, and use the power He has given them to do what He shows them as to be the right way. But it’s not just government and political leaders who need to do that. We all must practice Freedom with Responsibility, demonstrating love for each other and for the world. To the extent that we all do that, our hope for the continuing freedom of the United States of America will be fulfilled.
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site.This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.