Free?

Libertas is one of the buzzwords of Roman history. Loosely translating as freedom, or liberty, it is a concept whipped out by Roman emperors to promote their custodianship of the great city. One of my lecturers offered some handy advice: whenever you come across the term in the coinage, inscriptions or literature, stop. Consider what it really means. Don’t assume that the reference to the restoration of libertas in Rome is what you think it is.

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A quick disclaimer: I tried and failed to make this a short, snappy post. It continues my thoughts from my previous post: Philippians 4: Meta. My time in the bible this evening prompted some thoughts about freedom. Basically, where I am going is something along the lines of Galatians 5:13:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

For those noble in heart and strong in courage, and who haven’t succumbed to boredom already – the rest awaits.

“Freedom” is a confusing term. Some concept of having no rules. Does freedom refer to a lack of frustration To use a cliché is the fish truly free if liberated from water?

Christian freedom is intriguing Those in Christ have been set free, but are also given instructions. Creation groans to be liberated from its bondage to decay. The truth will set you free, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We are set free from the law. We are set free from sin, but made slaves to righteousness. What!? The theology brains can tell you that stuff; pick up a systematic theology.

I chatted about freedom in my recent post (see the link above) on Philippians 4, particularly on vv. 8-9:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I suggested that Christians can be pretty poor at this. That’s standard- we all suck at a lot of stuff. I wondered, however, whether some Christians play on the idea of “freedom” to justify a lack of discernment or self control. Do we perhaps chide other Christians for being prudish, squeamish or lame when they don’t watch movies with sex scenes? I have sometimes felt that the coarse, unwholesome joking that a lot of Christian guys get up to is unhelpful. How does freedom intersect with the call to dwell on those things which reflect God’s character?

Romans 14 is another good passage to read over. It speaks of disputes over matters that don’t really matter. Issues that shouldn’t cause issues. It seems to me that the “stronger” brother here is the one who has better understood and applied the principle of grace to their life. If you know that you have freedom to eat or not to eat, then do as you wish. But if people disagree, don’t make them feel bad – encourage them to follow their conscience, to the Lord. Even if you have to limit yourself to please their weakness.

Perhaps even more simply:

You know you have freedom on this issue. Their conscience (maybe wrongly) suggests to them that they don’t. Rather than looking down on them, getting frustrated, or standing on your rights, Just go with it. Do what helps them.

[Just a quick caveat – I am not saying you should compromise or go against your own conscience. Paul is firm, in this very chapter, that we aren’t to do that. Consider this; how might your frustration or suggestion that someone needs to “loosen up” be putting pressure on someone else to go against their conviction?]

So Romans 14 says you are free. But don’t do stuff just because you can. Do what is helpful, even if it is not pressing the scope of your own freedom to its extremes. Bring in the idea that triggered this whole post.

I was reading the end of Matthew 17 today.

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

This is a really interesting passage.It speaks of freedom. The children of the king are free from his taxes. It would be easy to force this anecdote too far, and be left guessing on a number of points. The heart of the message is this; God’s children are free. There is freedom there that Jesus can say even applies to the payment of tax. The children of God aren’t ultimately beholden to that. They’ve got friends, even a Father, in the highest of places.

Freedom.

But note; Jesus pays anyway. Flip, Jesus IS the real temple. He doesn’t need to pay the money he made, to someone he has put in authority, to keep the temple nice. He doesn’t need to pay to facilitate the priests and sacrifices when he himself is the eternal priest and perfect sacrifice. But he does it.

So what’s our excuse? We have great freedom! But surely we want to imitate Jesus here; don’t seek to give offence. Don’t be obnoxious or defiant in your freedom. Use your freedom to honour authority, and to be helpful. Don’t use your freedom to make a point, or to show other Christians who are more insecure (or perhaps more realistic, wary and discerning about what they put into their minds and hearts) that they are narrow.

Do use your freedom to further your relationship with God, and your mission? That’s a question that can be tough to ask. Reading it on my screen now doesn’t make me proud of my own efforts in that regard. To be honest, it’s pretty lacking.

So what should we do with our freedom in Christ? I think the bible speaks strongly. It is real freedom. Do what you want. But it isn’t the kind of freedom that means you should tell stories about your friend who won’t go out to the city with you, because they struggle with lust when they go to clubs. It isn’t a freedom which says “I am allowed to watch this, so people who think they shouldn’t are dumb and legalistic.”

Consider Philippians 4. Consider Romans 14. Consider pretty much anywhere the bible talks about freedom, love, sacrifice, or your mindset.

I hope that I have not appeared too hung up on this. It is something I’ve come across a fair bit, but that may not be everyone’s experience. I certainly do not want to play down the reality of our freedom. Nor do I want to say that we can never challenge people on their reservations – perhaps they are caught in legalism, and through the Spirit and prayer, God might bring them around.

When you think of your freedom, actually think about it. Libertas isn’t always what you assume.

The guiding principle? I think it’s something like this;

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

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One comment on “Free?

  1. Good stuff man, that was something I wrestled with a bit when first dating Lani who was an ethical vegetarian at the time. If someone believes something to be wrong (but the scripture says it isn’t) then to what extent do you correct them?

    I think the presumption in the text is that the other person has been told that what they don’t want to do is actually okay, maybe they even agree, but for whatever reason their conscience wont permit.

    I think then that this is not rebuking those who challenge brothers to think differently, whether they’re trapped in legalism or not. It’s more a rebuke against those who do it harshly, and those who act without any consideration at all of those around them. For instance, the guy (and there’s one in every church) who cant help but talk descriptively about meat every time he meets a vegetarian.

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