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.— New Revised standard Version
I wanted to write an article on “justice” this week, but I was led to this passage instead to wrestle with Christian practices that go against our society’s standards and to struggle with some questions I can’t answer today. Here’s what I’m hearing as this passage from the Word speaks to me.
Our society loves freedom, and we’re ferocious in defending our freedom against real or perceived limits to our freedom. Our news headlines are crowded with people insisting that their freedom has been unfairly curtailed. Yet Paul instructs us as Christians to use our God-granted freedom to give ourselves in service to others as slaves.
Our society thinks in transactions, in part to maintain our freedom. I pay this, I receive that. I do this for you, and you do that for me. I agree to work for a company, and they pay me a salary. We want to do the same with this passage: I do good work in service to others, God blesses me with freedom, and when my shift at serving others is done, I’ll go do what I want to do. That’s not what Paul is calling us to do when he uses the word “slave.”
God’s freedom provokes love and humility in those who listen to God’s leading, but human (and political) freedom will tempt us into prideful thoughts and hateful actions. Paul warned against this in the last verse of this brief selection. Those who succumb to pride and hate will be opposed and brought down by other prideful people motivated by hate. Pride leads to considering ourselves more deserving than others, but Paul explains that the “whole law” compels us to unconditional love for others.
Paul lays this out as plainly as he can, with no room for compromise. God chose to make us free, and our only appropriate way to receive this blessing is with humility and love for others. Our response of love is how God’s kingdom is built.
Like I said, this leaves me with unanswered questions, and I’m being pushed to more Bible study to refine those questions and understand their answers.
What are proper Christian expressions of humility in a culture that places such a high value on pride? How can Christian humility heal those who have been beaten down by society’s prideful arrogance to the point they are losing their sense of worth?
How do Christians work with humility to change our society’s deeply-rooted need generate pride in some by hate others that are “different?” How can Christians use our freedom to humbly love in ways to change laws, practices, opinions, and ultimately hearts?
What do I personally do in humble love as I wrestle with challenges and hurts in my life? I recently walked away from a church job because of the abuse I had been receiving for two years. I need to ponder Paul’s instructions as I work through my residual emotions. I need to challenge myself to face my sin when it was really just my pride that was hurt. Now that my life is calmer, I need to listen again for God’s directions that were so hard for me to hear and accept during my painful times. I need to love the one who hurt me and to love myself.
Accepting God’s freedom with humility and loving service isn’t easy. It clashes with society’s expectations and goes against our human nature. But we know following God is worth it, and we know God is eager to forgive and to help when our pride gets in the way.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.