Free To Do What?

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“Signing of the Constitution of the United States,” Howard Chandler Christy, 1940 

Devotional for Friday, May 8

Galatians 5:13-15 (NLT)
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.

A very understandable anxiety over COVID-19 and its ensuing restrictions on life has triggered a national conversation about freedom, a debate that occasionally has turned ugly in recent weeks. Because the concept of freedom ties so directly to the basic principles upon which this nation was founded, we are asking questions like, “How far can the government go to force us to behave in certain ways?”

As Christians, we should be deeply grateful for the way freedom is defined in the Constitution. After all, freedom of religion is the first part of the First Amendment to the Constitution, the leadoff concept in what we call the “Bill of Rights.”

I personally think that from a constitutional perspective, we’ve seen quite a bit of government overreach. As a Christian, however, I hope we also retain the particular understanding of freedom given to us by a much older document, the Holy Bible.

We have to remember the Bible colors the concept of freedom in shades not immediately evident in our national documents. When we call ourselves Christian, we submit ourselves to this more nuanced understanding of freedom. Galatians brings this truth out particularly well.

In short, freedom for Christians comes with significant responsibility. We are to love people in a radical way, sometimes surrendering what we think of as our rights to benefit others. Christ was the ultimate example, surrendering his divine right to dignity and freedom from death as he gave us eternal life.

If Christians were to lead the way in demonstrating this attitude, and others were to mimic us, we might not need so much government intervention.

I will draw one of my favorite verses, Philippians 2:4, into the conversation: “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Some very old Greek manuscripts are more direct, eliminating the hedge words and stating the principle so it can be translated this way: “Look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

Let’s consider the wearing of masks in public as an example. We don’t wear masks for our own protection, we wear them because we might pose a risk to others around us. For a Christian, wearing a mask in public is not a statement of fear. Instead, it indicates, “I care about the people around me, even if I do not know them personally and the darned thing is uncomfortable.”

The general adoption of a Christian mindset about the wearing of masks might go a long way toward helping both the physically at-risk and people needing to get back to work. I’ll say this to business owners: In this current environment, when your employees wear masks or take other obvious precautions, I feel like you care about your customers, and when your employees don’t, I wonder why you are so callous.

Mask-wearing provides just one example. If you are a Christian with some decision-making capacity in this crisis—a politician, a business owner, a church leader—please, be sure you keep a biblical understanding of freedom in mind as you plan for the future.

Lord, may the well-being of others always remain foremost in our minds as we navigate our lives. Amen.

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