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Principles of Freedom
Coming this week is July 4th, the day when we celebrate our nation’s independence from King George and the British Empire. It was the time when we gained our freedom, and the most notable freedom is that of freedom of religion.
But today I’d like to take a different look at this whole idea of freedom and some principles that come from it.
Although times have changed, not much else has. Slavery still exists in many countries and in many other ways.
There are bonded laborers which affects at least 20 million people around the world who are forced to work to repay a debt. Unfortunately the books are so cooked that it’s often paid off only after several generations.
To provide for their families, in some countries children are sold by their parents. Unfortunately, and not known by the parents, most of them are forced into the sex trade.
Yet when we talk about slavery, our minds return to the horrendous acts of the early history of our nation, and while progress has been made from the Emancipation Proclamation to the Civil Rights Movement, there is still much to do.
Now this is not a black and white issue, because people of all colors have seen such travesty throughout the ages. And the church, God’s community, is made up of all races, Jew and Gentile, all economic stations, free and slave, and both genders, male and female.
However, if I were to pick two people out of God’s community to speak to this issue, it would be Joseph, son of Jacob, in the Old Testament, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. of our own generation.
Joseph was a young man who was given dreams by God, which really didn’t sit well with his family especially his brothers who sold him to some slave traders heading towards Egypt.
In Egypt he was recognized for his ability to interpret dreams through the power of God, which allowed him to reach the political height of being the second highest-ranking official in the land.
In the 20th century there was a young black pastor from the South that also was known for his dream. His name was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So prominent in our mind is this dream that all you have to say is, “I have a dream,” and most would immediately identify it with Dr. King.
It was these two men’s dreams that defined the destiny of a people. For the Jews it saw them saved and living in the land of Egypt under the protection of Joseph. For the African Americans, Dr. King’s dream saw the rise of civil, social, and economic rights for a people who had been cast into poverty because of their race.
Yet, in looking at what Dr. King said, it wasn’t just for one people group but for all.
“Let freedom reign. Let it reign from every village and hamlet, from every state in every city. Let it see the day when all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestant and Catholic will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old spiritual song, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.’”
Yet these dreams not only defined the destiny of their people, but it also caused both of them to be imprisoned. Joseph spent time in prison for a crime he never committed, as did Dr. King. In fact, Dr. King was arrested over 30 times for non-crimes.
What is fascinating in both these men’s lives, and that which goes to the heart of our study on freedom is how they responded once their freedom had been taken away.
Joseph established an extreme amount of credibility that saw him actually in charge of the entire Egyptian nation. And while so much was done against him, he never retaliated.
Ten years after Joseph’s release and ascension to power, his father, Jacob, sent his sons to buy grain to sustain the family during this time of great famine. And while they never recognized Joseph, Joseph definitely recognized them. Can you imagine what was going through his mind? Here are his brothers who so wronged him and they were completely in his power.
How easily would it have been to have them taken out and beaten, imprisoned, and even killed? What we’ve learned over the years is that hurt people then to hurt other people. But Joseph chose another route. He chose the principles of freedom we’ll be discussing today rather than the cruel principles of the world.
Not only did Joseph give them provision and clothing, but he also took them off the hook. Joseph knew what the inside of a prison cell looked and felt like, and the last thing he wanted to do is to return to it in his heart and mind. He didn’t want to be re-imprisoned by his own emotions. Therefore, he chose the path of reconciliation and forgiveness, and the spirit of liberty that accompanies that choice.
Joseph chose the freedom Jesus offers us, the freedom to choose love over hatred, forgiveness over resentment, and grace over revenge.
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 NKJV)
Dr. King also lived by these principles and made the same choice as well. Even after 30 imprisonments, false accusations, 50 death threats, a stabbing, his home fire-bombed, and bricks thrown at him and through windows of the churches he was speaking, he believed and taught reconciliation, not revenge. He took the higher road and the biblical principles of freedom.
At every civil rights march he would read to the people from the Bible, lead them in prayer, and would say, “In the power of God, we will overcome someday. Our cause is right. Our purpose honors God … (and) our means of overcoming all this injustice must honor God as well.”
Freedom is the prevailing cry of the world today. And it’s only through the freedom that Jesus provides that make a person truly free. But unfortunately most resist the message because of the mistaken belief that Christianity is an obstacle to freedom.
History, however, records otherwise. Christians have always stood against repression, standing up for the poor, the oppressed, and the underprivileged. This is at the heart of the Messiah’s purpose to preach the good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, and proclaim liberty to the captives. (Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1-2)
Wherever the Christian faith and principles of Scripture have been adopted and employed, liberation of ignorance, disease, and oppression has occurred.
And while there have been exceptions to this, the reason is because people made Christianity into a religion instead of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s where a long list of dos and don’ts restrict a person’s faith.
But Jesus want’s everyone to live a lifestyle of freedom, rather than that of bondage. Part of that lifestyle is the freedom to choose how to live this Christian life. However, that freedom can lead to legalism. So, the question arises, “How are we to chose?” “What rules are we to live our lives by?”
But it’s not about a bunch of rules because God doesn’t want us to build our lives upon the pettiness of rules, but rather upon the greatness of His principles for freedom.
So let’s take a look at these principles.
1. The Principle of Improvement
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12 NKJV)
To say this another way, even though something may be permissible, it may not always be beneficial, therefore, we choose not to be mastered by it.
The principle asks, “Does this make me a better person?” Paul is saying that everything, outside of sin, is allowable because we have been set free, but not everything is beneficial.
It’s asking if what we’re doing is constructive or destructive? Is it helping our Christian walk and witness, or hindering it? Is it useful, or useless?
Many things in this life are not necessarily wrong; they’re just not necessary. Life is way too short to waste it on non-essentials, on those things that really don’t help us make the most out of this life.
Being beneficial says that while something may be good, is it the best?
The second thing this verse asks, “Do these things control us, or do we control them?” This involves everything we do, and nothing is outside of its scope.
Whatever controls our lives is a god to us, and the very first commandment in God’s top ten is that we are to have no other gods before the Lord God. Therefore, if it takes control away from God, then it’s not the most beneficial, and goes against this principle of improvement.
2. The Principle of Integrity
“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men–as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.” (1 Peter 2:15-16 NKJV)
Peter is saying we’re to live in freedom, but not use our freedoms as a cover up for evil. If what we’re doing bothers others, then we should avoid doing it. We should also stop making excuses and rationalizing them away.
Like Adam and Eve back in the Garden. We’re trying to hide ourselves from God. We’re trying to cover up with excuses, and the Bible makes it clear that whoever covers up their sin will never prosper. (Proverbs 28:13)
We need to stop using excuses to cover up what we know is wrong, and stop rationalizing it away. Even through we’re free, we’re not to use this freedom as a cover up for evil. The Principle of Integrity is all about being open and honest. It’s about being transparent. If we’re ashamed of what we’re doing, then we really shouldn’t be doing it.
Even if what we’re doing is perfectly okay, like sitting down to a gallon of ice cream, if we can’t sit down and eat the whole thing with a clear conscious, then it’s probably best we don’t. (And it also helps keeps the waistline down) The Bible says that if it’s not of faith is then a sin. (Romans 14:23)
It may be a legitimate thing we’re doing, but if we can’t do it with a clear conscience, then we shouldn’t be doing it, because it is wrong to us.
Now, please understand, while it may be wrong for us, it’s not necessarily wrong for someone else, and we never should put our feelings and conscience upon them, but if it’s wrong for us then we need to cut it out.
3. The Principle of Influence
There are legitimate reasons to limit our freedoms so that we don’t hurt someone else.
In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul deals with the principle of influence in a debate that was raging over what a person could and couldn’t eat, specifically meat that was on sale because had been offered as a sacrifice to the different gods of that city.
Some Christians saw this as too good of a deal to pass up seeing they didn’t believe in these other gods in the first place. But there were others within the church that felt that buying and eating this meat was just another way of partaking of false religion. So a fierce debate ensued.
Therefore, Paul had to deal with this problem, and in the process gave this principle of influence.
“But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:8-9 NKJV)
Paul is telling us to watch how we use our freedom, and that there are times when we need to limit our freedom because of how it negatively influences others. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that when we knowingly cause others to stumble in their faith, then we are in sin. (1 Corinthians 8:10-12)
This is probably one of the most difficult principles to keep because it has within it the possibility of falling into the trap of legalism. Because it has to do with the idea of offending.
This spirit of offence is dealt with in a sermon, “Satan’s Strategy Against The Church,” that can be found on Living Waters Fellowship’s website: https://www.mesquitelivingwaters.com/2016/01/24/satans-strategy-against-the-church/
But has anyone noticed that Jesus never stopped what He was doing because it offended people. He offended people by healing on the Sabbath, and going into the houses of sinners to share God’s love. In fact his hometown of Nazareth was offended by what He said from God’s word.
Not everyone is going to agree with what we say or do. We just need to make sure that it’s in line with God’s word. I have people who tell me their offended because I don’t wear a suit and tie on Sunday, or that I don’t teach the Bible the way they think it should be taught. I also offend people because I have another view of church or doctrine than they do.
People get offended over all sorts of stuff. So here’s a question. If your car offends me, should you sell it? If your house offends me, should you get rid of it? While this may seem ridiculous, I mean it to be, because this has nothing to do with what Paul is saying.
A stumbling block is any action or word that causes another Christian to fall back into a sinful life style. It has nothing to do with whether they agree or disagree, approve or disapprove. It all has to do with whether it’s causing someone to sin.
We have freedom to do what we want, but if that freedom causes another to stumble and fall then we are to limit it. That’s true freedom, because if we’re not free to limit our freedom, then it’s not truly freedom, and we’re not really free.
Further we need to be careful not to bring our own cultural norms into this debate. Back in the late 1800s D.L. Moody preached against three great sins: ruffled shirts, women chewing gum, and whistling. But then he would go light a cigar after the sermon was over.
The principle of influence is to enjoy the freedom we have in Christ, but not to flaunt it whereby another may fall back into a sinful lifestyle.
4. The Principle of Love
“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13 NKJV)
Paul says our freedom is not to be an excuse or license for self-indulgence. Freedom is not a permission slip. Far too often people know what they’re doing is wrong, yet do it anyway thinking that God will forgive them.
This is not a freedom; it’s an abuse. Yes we have freedom, and yes God will forgive, but freedom isn’t a license to continue, because where there is no change, then there really isn’t any forgiveness.
Love is the real issue, because when Jesus sets us free, we’re set free from sin and death, but in the same breath Paul says that we’ve been set free to serve others in love.
Love is then the regulator in all issues of freedom. In everything we do and in all our decisions we make, it’s not just about what’s right, but what is loving as well.
Listen to Dr. King
“I have decided to stick to love. I know that love is ultimately the answer to mankind’s problems. So I’m going to talk about it wherever I go. I’ve seen too much hate … Every time I see it … I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. So I’ve decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you’ll find it through love. “
Hatred paralyzes life. Love releases it. Hatred confuses life. Love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life. Love illuminates it.
These principles of freedom are what Jesus modeled in both His life and in His death for us.
People are here with hurts that have happened in the past, and they are still being held in bondage to hatred, bitterness, and revenge. What they are doing is trading their Christ purchased freedom for slavery.
To unlock these prison doors and break the chains of slavery we need to choose light over darkness, love over hate, and reconciliation over revenge. And guess what, we’re all just one decision away from real freedom.
We can be set free from the power of sin and death over our lives, and Jesus Christ purchased that freedom when He chose to die upon the cross. It’s the freedom you receive when you ask Him into your life to be your Forgiver, Savior, and Lord.
Dr. King said we’re to move forward with divine dissatisfaction.
“Let us be dissatisfied until that day when no one will shout anymore white power, when no one will shout black power, but when everybody will shout God’s power.”
My prayer today is that we will all leave here with such divine dissatisfaction. A divine dissatisfaction with the way things still are, not only in regards to race, color, ethnicity, poverty, and injustice, but also with the way things are preceding in our own lives that has brought us back into slavery that Jesus purchased us out of.
Today, ask God how He wants you to use this freedom, and ask Him to show you the way, truth, and life of true freedom.
We are only one decision away! What will that decision be?
Wednesday Evening Bible Study