When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go free, for nothing... But if the slave plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go free,' then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl;and he shall serve him for life.'
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.'
Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, 'If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.' They answered him, 'We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say, "You will be made free"?' Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.'
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
(Exodus 21: 2, 5-6; Luke 4: 16-19; John 8: 31-36; 2 Corinthians 3:17 -- all RSV)
Most Sunday afternoons before I was married, our living room was the scene of a theological battle. My father was an amateur theologian and my fiance was a theological student, but they were seldom in agreement. The conflict ranged far and wide throughout the scriptures and beyond, but in the end it usually focussed on one major point of contention: Is liberty the basic component of the Christian gospel or is love?
My father contended that liberty must have priority for it is impossible for love to flourish unless it is free. Love cannot be forced or manipulated. It cannot truly be love unless it is love freely given. Even God does not force his love upon a resisting person.
On the other hand, my fiance argued that love must take first place for it is only out of an attitude of love that liberty can be'granted. As long as there is self-interest or suspicion or rivalry, we will try to force people to our own ends. When we truly love people we are willing to grant them freedom. After all, is it not the proof of God's prior love for us that he allows the freedom to accept him or reject him?
It was a circular argument, a bit like the chicken and the egg. Each quality is dependent on the other. In fact, they must be coexistent if they are to exist in any absolute sense. Love is the atmosphere in which true liberty exists, while liberty creates and increases the opportunity for love. Paul tells us that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. His presence liberates us from the human bonds which enslave us. He is reflecting the manifesto of Jesus in Luke 4: 18. Does this mean that where there is no liberty, the Spirit of the Lord is not present? That could be a sobering thought. But Paul also tells us that the Spirit of the Lord produces certain qualities in our lives and the foremost of these is love. Love, liberty and the presence of the Holy Spirit seem to go together.
This kind of thinking worries some people. Surely without a code of law, human weakness will run riot and the Christian's life will collapse into chaos.
Yet love is not wishywashy. It is tough. Our love restricts our liberty and prevents it from bursting out into selfish licence. If we love our Christian brothers and sisters we will not try to force them into our mould as though we alone had access to the Spirit of God. We will care enough for them to set them free to work out God's plan for them, whatever that may be.
Love will not allow us to exercise our liberty in such a way as to harm another, even it if means we have to make sacrifices ourselves. Love will not allow us to be judgmental or divisive. We are not free from our brothers and sisters, but free for them. In the same way we are not free from the world, but we are free for the world.
Our love for our Lord releases us into his service. When we bow the knee to him he does not take our freedom from us, but he wills us to be free. We show our love by surrendering to his will and in that surrender we gain a freedom we had never dreamed of.
As always, the truth lies in paradox. The old illustration in the book of Exodus expresses it all. No-one is more free than a voluntary slave. Yet even there Jesus has the last word. We may see ourselves as slaves, but God sees us as his children -- free children in his household.
Everything depends not on our merely reacting, but rather upon our learning to undergo that transformation of vision that took place in the eyes of Jesus when he looked at his enemies, upon seeing in the functionaries and fanatical ideologists the hidden brothers and sisters of our Lord, for whom he died and whom he bought with a great price.
If we allow him to give us that vision we shall experience a miracle: will become inwardly free from the other's oppression and our witness will gain in authority. Nothing like this ever happens anywhere else in the world with its law of retaliation. It happens only where Jesus Christ rules and calls us to the freedom of those who love.
Helmut Thielicke, The Freedom of the Christian Man
If freedom is truth in action and if Jesus Christ and God are one, then freedom in the [fie of any Christian must be simply God in action. God in action, freeing the human mind from the need to follow the herd, from the need to despise, from the need to prejudge, from the need to love inadequately... God in action on behalf of our release from all that binds us, from all that makes us stupid, insensitive; from all that makes us mimics, erratic halfdoers, living only on the surface and in the margins of life.
Eugenia Price, Where God Offers Freedom
The commandment 'love your enemies' has always constituted a certain offence to the ordinary human mind. In the first place, how can anybody command me to love? Is not love a spontaneous act which occurs of itself quite independent of any external pressure? So how can I be enjoined to love, of all people, my enemies?...
When Jesus prayed for them and thus broke through to love for his enemies, this was not based upon an act of will that led to victory over himself. It was rather the result of a new way of seeing, a real act of seeing... He saw through and beyond the functions they were then performing against him and recognised in them the real human design that God intended, namely children of his Father in heaven and thus his brothers.
Helmut Thielicke, The Freedom of the Christian Man
Why then, doesn't Jesus Christ free Christians to disagree in love, to shun prejudice, to be sensitive, to share the sheer joy of knowing God? Why is it then that the one common indictment against us by the rest of the world is, that we tend to huddle in our parlours in self-righteous intensity over the God who said he came to set men free to live their lives in his strength and his love and his balance?
Eugenia Price, Where God Offers Freedom
Four tests of freedom:
1. Are you overly concerned about what others think of you?
2. Are you willing to become involved in the world's problems?
3. Are you primarily interested in others for what they can do for you?
4. Are you concerned about who is going to get the credit?
Freedom is a gift which God gives his people when they accept his love for them in Jesus Christ.
The authentic mark of the Christian style of life is that we live in God's freedom and transmit it to others. Yet we find ourselves living all too often not as free persons but as slaves. We fear to live freely because it means risking rejection, ridicule, the loss of others' love. We pretend, posture, cover up and live dishonestly. It is tragic that so many of us who have talked about God's unconditional love in Christ still continue to live closed lives before friends and fellow Christians.
Bruce Larson, Setting Men Free
A Christian is the most free lord of all and subject to none. A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all and subject to everyone.
Pledge taken by the members of the non-violence movement led by Dr Martin Luther King:
1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
2. Remember always that the non-violent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation, not victory.
3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.
5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free.
6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
8. Refrain from violence of fist, tongue or heart.
9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain of the demonstration.
Martin Luther King
When you most belong to him, you most belong to yourself. Lowest at his feet you stand straightest before everything else. Bound to him you walk the earth free. Fearing him you are afraid of nothing else. You bow to him, but you do not bow to anything else. You are God's freeman, for you are God's slave. The strongest persons are those most surrendered to God; the weakest persons are those most surrendered to themselves.
E. Stanley Jones
I love, I love my Master, I will not go out free,
For he is my redeemer; he paid the price for me.
I would not leave his service, it is so sweet and blest;
And in the weariest moments he gives the truest rest.
My Master shed his life-blood my vassal life to win,
And save me from the bondage of tyrant self and sin.
He chose me for his service and gave me power to choose
That blessed perfect freedom which 1 shall never lose.
Frances Ridley Havergal
Lord God, whom we freely choose to love and serve, we are astonished that you should choose not only to accept our service, but also to grant us total freedom as your sons and daughters. Help us to live in that freedom with love as our aim.
Teach us that freedom is not something to be grasped for ourselves, but something to be given freely to others. Since you do not bind burdens upon us, teach us not to bind burdens on others. Instead let us share the ministry of Jesus -- proclaiming good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and liberty for the oppressed. Let the year of Jubilee begin!
May God, whose freedom is absolute and whose nature is love, teach us to show the world the freedom of the children of God. May the love of Jesus motivate our actions, and his mind control our thoughts. May the Holy Spirit find liberty in us so that his will may be done in our lives as it is in heaven. Amen.
Rowland Croucher, ed., High Mountains Deep Valleys (Albatross/Lion), chapter 48