Once again, we’re about to celebrate America’s declaration to the world that we would be a free and independent nation, that our people would be able to exercise their God-given rights, including the right of self-determination and the liberty to govern themselves. The King of England had a different view of our announcement and somehow missed the whole thing about it being a lofty and noble ideal worthy of banners and fireworks and stuff like that. He had some different fireworks in mind. He saw our Declaration of Independence as a declaration of war.
Freedom is a compelling concept, but it involves more than one perspective, doesn’t it? One man’s freedom may represent another’s provocation for conflict. Freedom is a powerful idea with implications in different directions. It can represent the most noble of causes, but can lend itself to manipulation and seduction. The pursuit of freedom can be twisted so as to result in the ultimate loss of the very liberties that were sought in the first place.
Jesus had some things to say about this idea, and John records one of the most familiar of His comments on the subject:
“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ ” (John 8:32 NKJV)
His detractors didn’t like that. They resented the inference that they weren’t already free; and even though Israel was a conquered and occupied Roman province at the time, they declared that they had never been in bondage to anyone. Interesting. Freedom is a term that can be, to say the very least, a bit paradoxical, and one that is often defined by very different perspectives.
A Costly Acquisition ~
At this very moment, nations, tribes, religions, races, and other classifications of people groups are embroiled in every kind of conflict imaginable. They battle over religion, ideology, economic policies, and a myriad of other issues and special interests. One side or the other, and sometimes both, are declaring that their actions—some of which involve horrific, humiliating, and murderous treatment of other human beings—are justified because they’re done in the interest of freedom.
A religious civil war has been raging for years in Iraq and Syria, and our minds and hearts are stunned by the stories of fanatical hatred and random brutality. School children have been abducted in Nigeria and, very likely, have been offered for sale as slaves. Oppression and persecution of Christians and certain sects of other religions are rampant around the globe and are growing in this country on an almost daily basis.
Freedom is a sought-after commodity and a powerful motivator everywhere. Huge crowds have taken to the streets all over the world rebelling against some kind of bondage and seeking some coveted aspect of freedom. Human carnage stains the face of this planet in every quadrant—a majority of it created by someone’s desperate and frantic effort to escape some set of circumstances or rid themselves of some kind of oppressive authority. Sadly, in all too many cases, their fight for freedom only succeeds in exchanging one definition of misery for another.
God’s Distinctive Approach ~
God offers a concept of freedom that is radically different from that embraced by the general culture. The core principle is unfolded in the story of a former slave that the Apostle Paul befriended during one of his visits to Rome. This runaway slave’s name was Onesimus, and he apparently decided that escaping from his master was his only path to freedom. No details are given about the escape or how he and Paul met, but his story (Philemon 1:1-25) reveals a vital truth about freedom. The freedom his heart longed for was not circumstantial—it was relational.
Paul eventually sent Onesimus back home to his master, but that’s not the most remarkable thing about the story. When he returned home, nothing had changed about the situation he had been willing to risk his life to escape. He was still a slave, and Philemon was still his master. He was still required to serve his master as directed, whether he liked it or not. The differences were relational, not circumstantial, but the difference that those relationships made was profound.
Onesimus had become Paul’s friend, but he wasn’t Paul’s only friend in the story. Philemon, the runaway’s master, was also Paul’s friend, yet Paul did not use the friendship for leverage to get Onesimus freed. He only asked that Philemon receive him not just as a servant, but as a brother. Onesimus returned with nothing but a letter and a promise from two newfound friends, Jesus and Paul—both of which offered a similar promise.
Relationships Can Alter Nothing and Change Everything ~
Paul said to Philemon, “If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account” (Philemon 1:17-18 NKJV). It’s the same deal Jesus made about us with God the Father when He offered Himself on Calvary’s cross.
Onesimus craved freedom. Did he find it? If so, when? Was it as a runaway slave in Rome with a death sentence on his head? Or was it when he willingly went back home to serve his master as though he was serving the Lord?
It’s fascinating how our view of “serving” changes when God’s redemptive love is applied. Oppression can become opportunity and overseers can become “family”. All the strife and bloody conflict in history have never been able to offer anyone the transforming freedom that Jesus offers. How different would our circumstances look as we celebrate another Fourth of July if we saw freedom through the lens of relationships instead of conflicts? Maybe the freedom we really crave is not hiding behind something we have to fight against, but a gift from the One we’re called to live for?
© 2017 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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