Posts Tagged 'Freedom'

Panic Podcast: The Gospel in Galatians, Part 4

Good Friday morning! It’s almost the weekend, can you believe it? We made it through another week; thanks for making mine a little better. Let’s not waste any time, because we’re in the fifth chapter of Galatians, and it’s a powerful chapter. God bless you, and may He change your life with this study.

 

 

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1 Corinthians, Part 2

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I have long said that the greatest gift God gave human beings, outside of salvation, is the ability to make choices; our free will. No other creation has a free will. Animals are slaves to their instincts; we are free to make choices. Of course, without Christ, all people are slaves to sin, but they still have a free will – they can choose which sin to commit and when.

For the Christian, our glorious free will is a double-edged sword. It brings to mind a famous saying that nobody is exactly sure who said first:

With great freedom comes great responsibility.

Some people attribute it to Abraham Lincoln. The rule of thumb is this: If you’re not sure who said what, always stick with Churchill. Whoever said it, it’s true. We have this free will but we have a tremendous responsibility to use it to make the right choices and the choices that result in God being glorified.

Paul had a lot to say about this to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 8, he devotes considerable time to the matter of Christian liberty in regard to eating meat which had been offered to idols. It seems odd to us today, but this was problem splitting the Christian community in Corinth. Today we have different grades of steak for example, and back in Paul’s day they also had different grades of steak, the top grade being steaks that came from the local pagan temple – steaks that had been part of an offering made to one pagan god or another. Naturally, we don’t have this problem today, but the principle laid down by Paul is brilliant and stands the test of time –

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9 NIV)

In other words, even if something is neutral, don’t do it if it causes a “weak brother” to stumble. So we have a free will, and we have great freedom in Christ, but there is a limitation on our liberty if our liberty causes another distress.

Actually, Paul touches on this important issue several times in 1 Corinthians; obviously it was a big problem there. Here’s how he stated it earlier in his letter –

I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV)

And later –

I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23, 24 NIV)

Verse 24 is really the key: nobody should seek only their own good, but we should be mindful of others and what’s good for them.  That delicious steak from the pagan temple down the road may be your favorite, and there may be nothing wrong with it, but if you enjoying it causes another believer to stumble, then you’d be wise to settle for a Philly steak and cheese sandwich when he’s around.  It’s a bummer for sure, but it’s the right thing to do.

Paul was one who practiced what he preached. As an apostle and itinerant preacher, he had rights like any apostle or any itinerant preacher – the right to feed himself and cloth himself; the right to be paid for his ministry. But apparently his right to payment had caused problems in the Corinthian church, and so after laying down the general principle we noted a moment ago, Paul then applied to himself –

What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:18 NIV)

If getting a check for his services was causing problems, then Paul was more than willing to forego the check and preach for free to keep the peace. That’s the apostle practicing the very principle he had laid down for the Corinthians to practice. In verse 19 he goes a little further –

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. (1 Corinthians 9:19 NIV)

That’s Paul, the libertarian writing! He had all this freedom, yet he willingly reigned it in when he had to so as to win as many converts as he could; for no other reason. But this was not an idea that originated with Paul; it’s a Biblical idea that even our Lord practiced in His earthly ministry –

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. (John 10:17, 18 NIV)

Freedom from all, slave to all.

Paul had all this freedom, he owed no man or group of people anything, yet he willingly conformed himself to certain groups in order to save them. The four “groups” included: Jews, those under the law, those without the law, and the weak.

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22 NIV)

Paul’s being “all things to all people” did not destroy his conscience before God. He was able to avoid legalism (9:20) and libertinism (9:21). What seemed by some to be compromise or weakness on Paul’s part was in reality the exercise of his Christ-centered ministry. Some people misunderstood him, but Paul knew exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it.

Self-control is the key

The key in winning people for Christ, and the key in living a life that is righteous and that glorifies God is self-control. Self-control is essential in using your free will properly. The Corinthians had shown that they had very little self-control. They got the “freedom and liberty” part of the Gospel right, but not the “self-control” part.

To help them understand what they needed to do to correct their lack of self-control, he wrote this –

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24 NIV)

Self-control is at the very heart of winning the race of life. It takes self-control to live mindful of the needs of a weaker brother, for example, and to choose to reign in your freedom. It takes self-control to not eat the better cut of steak. It takes self-control to preach a sermon and not take payment.

Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. (1 Corinthians 9:26 NIV)

Paul fought smart. He used his mind, he kept a cool head. Paul took many things into consideration. Most Christians don’t. Most Christians are like inexperienced boxers, flailing around, looking ridiculous, punching at nothing, never landing a spiritual knockout. The Corinthians were like that.

Being wide awake and self-controlled isn’t easy; it takes considerable effort, as Paul well understood –

No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:27 NIV)

Paul was a man who had been gloriously set free from the law and from the guilt of his sins. He loved the new freedom he had in Christ. But he loved to win even more. So he was willing to do what it took to win the race of life.

Up to this point, Paul has shown us that an excessive stress on Christian freedom can present a stumbling block to weaker Christians. Not only that, to always insist on your own personal liberty – to always claim your rights – can be a detriment to the ministry of God’s Word. With chapter 10, he continues this idea with a new problem added to the mix: an undue display of personal liberty may cause spiritual decay and could lead to big problems in your own Christian experience.

A warning from history

You can learn a lot about the present from looking at the past. So Paul turned to some Hebrew history –

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. (1 Corinthians 10:1 NIV)

Whenever Paul says things like, “I don’t want you to be ignorant” to somebody, he knows they really are ignorant. The church at Corinth was a large church made up of both Jews and Gentiles, and Paul is talking to the Jewish part of the church. They, along with Paul, shared a common history; they all descended from people, Israel, who had escaped from Egyptian slavery by crossing the Red Sea.

They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:2 – 5 NIV)

When Paul wrote about these people being “baptized into Moses,” he’s not suggesting that Moses held a big baptismal service before crossing the Red Sea. He’s using the Greek word, baptizo, in the sense of “identification.” So, to put it another way, all the people who crossed the Red Sea were following Moses and had been identified with him. By faith, Hebrews tells us, Israel crossed the Red Sea. But we know the people themselves had no faith; they wanted to go back to Egypt; they were fearful. It was Moses who had all the faith and the people essentially rode his coat tails to safety. It was Moses who did all the work for the people.

They not only followed Moses, but they had all the spiritual advantages Moses had. God cared for and looked after all of Israel in the desert. He fed them. He protected them. He led them. God never left his people. Yet, as Paul wrote, He wasn’t pleased with them.

These five verses are important because they show us how sinful people really are. These Hebrews had been set free from the bondage to the Egyptians; they were given liberty they never earned and what did they do with it? Paul hints at their sins as a way to admonish the Corinthians for being the same way –

Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. (1 Corinthians 10:7 – 10 NIV)

The people of Israel had all the freedom that the Christian has – and they freely participated in the blessings of God. Think about all the people who come to church, sing the hymns, and enjoy the presence of God. Not all of them are true believers. Some are not. Just like Israel.

So to the people in the Corinthian church, enjoying their new-found freedom in Christ and enjoying the riches of God’s blessings, Paul issued a stern warning that we would do well to pay attention to –

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:11, 12 NIV)

In other words, you may be neck deep in sin, yet still going to church and still enjoying God’s blessings with no punishment in sight. Hence the admonition: If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall. Just because the hammer hasn’t fallen doesn’t mean God hasn’t noticed and it doesn’t mean He’s turned a blind eye to your sins.

Paul’s overriding purpose in these verses is to demonstrate that freely participating in the things of God, including enjoying the freedom we have in Christ, comes with a moral responsibility to live responsible, self-disciplined lives. Whether in the Old Testament or New, moral behavior was an absolute requirement for the observant believer.

Only One Way

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In our politically correct hobbled society, the real challenge for the faithful is explaining the concept upon which both the Old and New Testaments rests: the exclusivity of true faith. In Exodus 20, we read the Ten Commandments. In the original Hebrew, they aren’t “commandments” but “statements,” and the first two statements God made are these:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2, 3 NIV)

That last statement galls many in a society that preaches a kind of moral equivalence of all world religions. One religion is just as valid as the other. One god is just as valid as another. Yet this is not what the one true God says.

And God spoke all these words… (Exodus 20:1 NIV)

It wasn’t Moses who concocted the notion of monotheism, it was God Himself who stated it: He is the ONLY God and man is to worship ONLY Him. There isn’t a lot of inclusivism in God’s first statement.

Over in the New Testament, the Son of God said something similar:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6 NIV)

God didn’t get any more inclusive during the centuries between Moses and Jesus, that’s for sure! There is only one way, not many ways to God. However, as exclusive as true faith may be, it is open to anybody who would simply believe.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16 – 18 NIV)

Exodus 20:2

The Ten Commandments is a document that has changed the world for the better. As important and as influential as the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence may be, they are eclipsed by the Ten Commandments. According to God Himself, the fact man ought to worship only Him is the first step toward making the world a better place in which to live.

Depending on whether you are a Jew or a Christian, the first commandment will be different. Remember, in the original Hebrew, these are statements not commandments, and the first statement God made is this declaration:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exodus 20:2 NIV)

All the other commandments (or statements) rest on this one. It states in unambiguous terms that it is God who is speaking, not Moses or any other man; that what follows are God’s statements and not somebody’s opinions. This was important for the Israelites to know because, as God went on to state, it was He who delivered them from bondage in Egypt, not some human being, and because of that, the Israelites were in His debt. Because He did such a great thing for them, they needed to pay attention to His wishes, and His wishes included living by the following commandments.

This was a revolutionary concept which we call Ethical Monotheism; the notion that there is one God (Monotheism) and He is the Source of ethics and morality – or He dictates what is right and what is wrong. Why was this revolutionary? Just stop and consider the time in which Moses gave Israel God’s Ten Commandments: man was worshipping all kinds of gods, from gods that controlled the weather to gods that looked like animals. Every religion had their own code of right and wrong. What the people of God needed was what God provided: an objective morality that transcended human ideas and opinions.

If you take even the quickest glance at the Commandments, you’ll notice that most of them have to do with how we treat others. That’s included in the definition of Ethical Monotheism. God is concerned with how believers treat their fellow man. Not a single commandment has to do with what a believer should do for God. For three centuries, the Israelites had been exposed to the religion of Egypt which was all about what man should do for his gods. In the centuries to come, they would be surrounded by other pagan religions that also taught that man had to do many things to satisfy his gods – things like feeding them or sacrificing other people to them. But the Ten Commandments declared that what the one true God wants most of all is that His people treat all people well. Yes, even those commandments about not having false gods or not carrying God’s name in vain are about morality because how we treat God cannot be divorced from how we treat other people.

A new world

It’s not that God was building a new religion with His Ten Commandments or statements, it’s that He was building a new society that would mirror His vision of what real freedom was. Just how important is freedom to God? It’s the salient point of the Ten Commandments!  He began, not with a declaration that He created the universe – an impressive act to be sure – but with the declaration that He set His people free from slavery. That’s how much God hates slavery and how important He thinks freedom is.

Jesus thought freedom was pretty important, too. But for the Christian, it isn’t freedom from slavery to another man per se, it’s freedom from sin and all kinds of oppression.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31, 32 NIV)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 NIV)

The authors of the Magna Carta and the Founding Fathers of America based their views of freedom on the Biblical fact that God wants all men to be free. That’s why, for example, the Liberty Bell has only one sentence on it, and it’s not a quote from Washington or Madison, but part of a verse from the Bible:

Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. (Leviticus 25:10 KJV)

God, the author and giver of the Ten Commandments, makes it clear that the way to a free society; the way for any human being to live in freedom, is by simply following His Commandments or statements. In other words, freedom God’s way has nothing to do with being able to do whatever you feel like doing. If the Ten commandments teaches anything, it’s that real freedom comes from exercising self-control.

Exodus 2:3

The second Commandment, by Jewish reckoning is this one:

You shall have no other gods before me.

It goes on to forbid the making and worshipping of idols or images. On the surface, it sounds like God is discouraging the reverence of things like totem poles or icons or statues, or the worship of false gods like the weather or fertility gods, or the Greek and Roman gods and so on. However, that’s a very limited view of this commandment. In our time, most people don’t worship the weather, although we talk about it all the time. Most people don’t worship statues or Zeus or Ra. But this Commandment is not irrelevant, in fact there’s a reason why it’s Commandment number one or two, depending on whether you are a Christian or a Jew. In our sophisticated age, there are just as many false gods as there were during the days of Moses. Things like money, popularity, power, celebrity, politics, education, beauty, love, art, flag, family, talent, health, the environment, all these things are the false gods of today, and the worship of false gods is the greatest hindrance to peace and goodwill on the earth.

In a sense, the rest of the Commandments descend from this one. God makes it plain that He and He alone is the only God and that He is alone is to be worshipped. But this should not be taken as a prideful or demeaning statement. It’s a logical one. If there’s only one God, then He is the one God who deserves to be worshipped. Furthermore, think about these things:

One God means there is one human race. Though we may all look different and speak different languages, we have all come from one Creator, or one Heavenly Father. In that sense, every human being is the brother or sister of every other human being.

Because we have the same Father, all people are equal; no one nationality or society is intrinsically more valuable than the other. That doesn’t mean every society is the same or every society is a good society. It means that in God’s eyes, no matter where you may live, what language you may speak, or what the color of your skin is, you are important to God and you are known personally by God.

And the fact that there is one God means that there is one moral standard for all people. These Ten Commandments, for example, were given by God to the Israelites, but since they came from God, they are good for all people. So if adultery is wrong here, then it is wrong over there. And because there is only one God, you can’t go to another god to get justification for your adultery.

A similar thought is expressed throughout the New Testament.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. (John 3:16, 17 TLB)

By “world” in these verses, “people” is meant, not the planet on which they live. God loves the people of the world so much, He sent His only Son to save them.  He wants very much to save them – to spare them the condemnation to come.

Both Testaments also insist that when man worships anything or anybody other than the one true God, bad things will surely result. This isn’t a religious superstition, it’s the ground rule God has established. Some of those bad things are obvious. When man worships power or money or race, his life becomes corrupt and he hurts those around him. Even the worship of very good things, like family or art or even classical music can inspire great evil. The example often cited for this is the movie A Clockwork Orange. In it, men rape and murder while classical music is playing. Education is another god of this age. But some of the most educated men in Germany came up with Hitler’s “final solution,” proving a great education is no guarantee of good character. Love is a gift from God, but it can become a false god that harms people. Think about how love of country, for example, when exalted above love of God, has resulted in horrible evil being committed against others.

This is why keeping God in the very center of our lives is so important. Worship of the one true God brings perspective to our sometimes very confusing lives. It may seem strange to you that this Commandment to worship the one true God results in better human beings and a better community, but it really shouldn’t. Like any parent, our Heavenly Father takes great joy in seeing His children live decent, moral, and ethical lives. And like any parent does, when His children behave, God blesses them.

Yes, Biblical faith is exclusive. There is only one God and only way to reach Him – through a living relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. The freest people on earth are those who have been set free from the bondage to sin by Christ.

So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free. (John 8:36 TLB)


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