Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Dr. Anne M. Cameron
July 1, 2012
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
Here on the cusp of the fourth of July we might take a moment and ponder, "What is the price of freedom?" The Bible only mentions the word 'freedom' 10 times in the entire New Testament, but what it has to say is profound. Let's see what Paul has to say about freedom in his letter to the Galatians:
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.
It was a sweltering July day in Muskogee, Oklahoma. A fresh faced young man approached the VA Hospital. The sign above the door read, "The Price of Freedom is Visible Here." This young man, David, strolled through the automatic doors and was greeted with a rush of cool air. On his way to check in with the volunteer coordinator, he wondered, What will she have me do today? Bedpans? Change sheets? Stock supplies?
She studied his eager young face from her chair at the nurse's station. Lowering her clipboard, she looked him up and down like a thoughtful judge just before issuing a sentence.
"You are in for a real treat," she said with dramatic sarcasm.
"Bedpans"...he knew it!
"No, not bedpans today. Something better. I'm assigning you to "Wild Bill" in room 314." She leaned over the desk and touched David softly on the arm, "He's ornery. He's angry. And he swears like a sailor!" She removed her hand and pointed at his door with her eyes and added, "Don't take it personally."
"What does he need?"
"Love," she whispered. "Lots of love. He hasn't had a visitor in three weeks."
Down the hall David went, locating room 314.
"My name is David; I'm a volunteer here." He approached the bed and stuck out his hand. The man in the bed spat, "What, are you kidding me?" It wasn't until then David saw Bill had no arms.
"I need a shave!" Wild Bill demanded. (Well, that's not exactly how he said it, but we are in church this morning!)
After gathering the proper equipment, David proceeded to shave. He was more tentative than he would have been on his own face. He was careful not to cut this poor wild man with no arms. He thought, "Would I trust someone else to shave me?"
After the last razor stroke, David took a towel and carefully wiped off a few dabs of shaving cream on Bill's earlobe and nostrils. Bill looked pretty good, and would be presentable to his daughter, on her way that very day to visit.
"There you are." David said quietly.
Wild Bill looked him in the eye and asked in a whisper, "Is it a good shave?"
Bill had no hands to caress or cradle his cheek, to feel his newly shaved face. So David took Bill's face in both his hands. Slowly and softly he let his fingertips and palm feel Bill's cheek from sideburns to chin.
"It is a GREAT shave."
That old ornery Wild Bill tried to say thanks, but tears ran trails down his now smooth cheeks. Neither spoke. The man with no hands had deeply touched the man with two, and there was love.
The volunteer David loved Bill through his act of service. David also loved Bill because Bill let him serve him.1 The price of love was visible in Room 314.
The biblical view of freedom is radically different from what most of us think of when we think of freedom. The Bible does not equate freedom with personal rights, choice, self-indulgence, or self-determination. What the Bible says runs contrary to these common, secular notions of freedom. How so?
First, the Bible says to be free, we must be obedient. The more obedient we are, the freer we are. Try talking your teenagers into that one! In the Bible, freedom is not "doing whatever we want to do." Instead, there is the "perfect law that gives freedom," the perfect law being taught and lived by Christ. (James 2:12)
Second, the Bible holds that freedom requires following Jesus' teaching, which can be pretty demanding and self-sacrificial. 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 8:32
Third, the Bible associates freedom with the very spirit of God: "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (2 Cor 3:17).
Here in Galatians, Paul combines these three ideas: freedom as obedience, truth, and the spirit of the Lord, and he makes the argument that we were given freedom in order to serve one another. He actually uses the word 'slave.' Paul makes the price of freedom visible in this passage:
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Why do we have freedom? Paul says it is so we might love one another. So we might be slave's to one another and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Use our freedom to become slaves to one another!? This goes against just about everything we learned in U.S. History or Government, doesn't it? We tend to think of freedom from encumbrances, not freedom for them! Who in their right mind wants to be a slave? "To be a slave" is not on most of our bucket lists, nor a desired career path for many.
Just for a minute, let's think about what "being slaves to one another" would look like. I would wait on you. I would anticipate your every need. I would put your needs above my own. I would ask for nothing in return. And here's the ringer: YOU WOULD DO THE SAME FOR ME!
This is a picture of the kingdom of God, right here, right now, on earth.
It is a picture of radical reciprocity, radical mutuality. It also is a picture of love.
Why are we given freedom? To love one another, to agape, to serve one another. Notice this is agape love, (not philia, friendship, not eros, passion, not storge, family relations). It is agape of which Paul speaks, the self-sacrificial love God has for us, and the self-sacrificial love God longs for us to give one another.
So we are given our freedom for one purpose, and one purpose only. To love others, to be "as a slave" to one another.
For the last few weeks we have been considering "Giving as a Way of Life." We have looked at giving without counting the cost. That was the story of "How many pigs is too many?" We have looked at the culture of scarcity and the culture of abundance. And we listened to our Lord's command, "You give them something to eat." Last week we considered the idea that we are given our life not to keep, but to spend, to give away. Today we consider what our freedom is for. And we see that the price of freedom is dear. It is the price of love. It is the price of serving another, with no expectation of return (like a slave).
Today we have considered what our freedom is for. And we see that the price of freedom is dear (as in costly---that's an old fashioned word for expensive---dear!), but it is also dear in terms of beloved. It is the price of love. It is the price of serving another, with no expectation of return (like a slave).
And so we remember the story of a man who served another man with no arms, and who received more than he gave. We remember how the price of love was made visible there in room 314, through his free act of service. And we also remember that sign above the entrance to that V.A. hospital. THE PRICE OF FREEDOM IS VISIBLE HERE. We want the price of our freedom in Christ to be visible as well.