Freedom for What?
Paul reminds the Christians in Galatia that for them freedom is never an end in itself.
“You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants of one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” – Galatians 5:13-14
Recently I heard a talk on the poetry of the Civil War. The speaker read Henry Timrod’s “The Unknown Dead,” which contains the following lines:
“Beneath yon lonely mound—the spot
By all save some fond few forgot—
Lie the true martyrs of the fight,
Which strikes for freedom and for right.”
What made these words remarkable to me was that their author is a man often called the Poet Laureate of the Confederacy, and the freedom fighters to which he un-ironically refers were Confederate soldiers warring on behalf of southern secession and the “peculiar institution” of American slavery.
Perhaps I should not have been so surprised, since in our time, too, the cause of “freedom” is invoked on all sides of any issue. Whatever else we may be fighting for, we are always fighting for freedom; the freedom, namely, to do whatever it is we’re fighting for.
It was no different in Paul’s day. People were eager to claim their freedom. But Paul reminds the Christians in Galatia that for them freedom is never an end in itself. It always begs the question, “What is my freedom for?”
Those who seek to follow Paul’s freeing God are called not to jealously guard their freedom but rather to give it away freely in love for their neighbors.
God of Liberation, set us free from the fear that leads to self-indulgence. Teach us to spend our freedom generously in love for one another.
Vince Amlin is Associate Minister at the United Church of Gainesville, Gainesville, Florida.