Paul is giving us a picture of what real freedom is. He is telling us what it means to live in the freedom of the Holy Spirit, a freedom that is best expressed in service to one another.
To understand today’s Scripture passage, we need to know the context in which it is given. Paul is giving us a picture of what real freedom is. He is telling us what it means to live in the freedom of the Holy Spirit, a freedom that is best expressed in service to one another.
In verses 13 and 14, Paul tells us, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” This is what real “freedom” does. It does not kill, steal, commit adultery or lie in the selfishly presumed name of “freedom.” True freedom is not governed by things like fear, or greed, or jealousy, or wrath, for it is not of the flesh. Rather, the freedom that Paul is talking about here is always understood in relationship to the good of the other. This freedom is the exact opposite of the false freedoms that the world promotes. The “freedoms” conceived by those who indulge the flesh are prone to using the other as a means to the gratification of the self. This is nothing less than an abuse of the freedom that God has so generously given us. It is this false sense of freedom that results in things like abortion, which is not just a crime against the most innocent of “neighbors,” it is a crime against our very humanity, as well as God’s love.
God calls all Christians to “walk in the Spirit.” When we are walking in the Spirit, we are no longer in pursuit of the instant gratification of the flesh, rather, we are living in accord with the law of God to love as he loved. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, it is because we see them as God made them. We find our greatest happiness in serving our neighbor, rather than being served by them. We love the other because we can see the image and likeness of God in them, no matter how disguised it may be by their woundedness.
The flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with one another in our hearts. We know that conflict personally in the depths of our consciences. We fall short of the law of God more than we care to remember, but because we have both God-given intelligence and faith, we can see the wisdom of what Paul is saying here. In faith, and with the aid of God’s grace, we can develop the habits of courage that are necessary for us to live more effectively in accord with God’s law of love. To desire to do so is already a matter of holy humility. God can work with us in humility. It is the walls of our selfish egos that cabin, crib, and confine us from hearing and responding to the wisdom of God. Pride enslaves us. Humility liberates us to be true persons for others. In this freedom we find our truest happiness.
Lord, help us to “walk by the Spirit” more each day. Help us to turn away from the fleshy understandings of freedom, so that we may become more truly free to love all others as you loved us. Give us the grace to become real and true lovers of your justice and mercy, forgiveness and compassion toward all. Help us each day to live more in accord with your true freedom so that we can become the disciples that you have called us to be. We pray all of this in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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