This year's 4th of July celebration reminds those of us living in the USA that we are blessed to live in a nation where we have so much freedom. However, it seems that most of our celebration is focused upon "freedom from" rather than "freedom for."
"Freedom from" is our celebration that we are freed from living under the authority of monarchs or dictators. We celebrate being freed from certain laws or rules or regulations. We enjoy being freed from restrictions, and certainly the 4th of July reminds us to celebrate our "Freedom from."
"Freedom for" is a deeper appreciation that we are free -- but free for a purpose, for a level of significance, for a mission in life. As Christians, we believe that we are freed from our sin, our guilt, and our past in order to be freed for serving, giving, and living for Christ. In Paul's letter to the Galatians he reminds them, "For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). He is urging the Galatians not to yield their freedom by becoming attached again to their old religious laws. He says to them, "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, that you have come to know God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits? How can you want to be enslaved to them again?" (Galatians 4:8-9). Paul is astonished at how quickly they have given up the freedom of faith and returned to old habits, old laws, and old superstitions. Paul wants them to have "freedom from" all of that.
And yet Paul is also urging the Galatians not the misuse their "freedom from" as an excuse to avoid responsibility. He says, "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" (Galatians 5:13-15). There is a real sense in which "freedom from" is rather meaningless until it leads to "freedom for." Just being freed from rules or hurts or past events does not really make us free. What makes us truly free is having a sense of purpose in life that is larger than ourselves. Freedom is not just being freed from obligations to others, it is discovering that freedom gives us a willingness to serve, to offer our lives for others, and to care more for the needs of others than for ourselves. We do such serving, giving, and loving not because it is a requirement (another law), but because we are freed from self-concern in order to have other-concern.
I think of this contrast between "freedom from" and "freedom for" every time I hear someone proclaim, "It's a free country, isn't it?" Usually such an exclamation comes when an individual is declaring their "right" to do whatever they want to do, regardless of the consequences for others. Often such a focus upon "freedom from" actually leads a person to become enslaved again. So, someone declares, "It's a free country, isn't it?" to defend their smoking habits, or their drinking habits, or their involvement in other destructive activities or attitudes – somehow not noticing that they are quickly becoming enslaved to such things.
A focus upon "freedom for" might help us to avoid becoming enslaved again to bad habits, fads, and self-indulgence, because "freedom for" reminds us that we are free -- but free for a purpose.
And so I pray ...
Lord, keep our nation, the United States of America, free. But also remind us that we have freedom for a purpose. Forgive us for misusing our freedom, and teach us the freedom of Christ who emptied himself of all self-indulgence and gave himself for us. Amen.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner