Galatians 5:1, 13-15
The Rev. Adele Langworthy & the Rev. Robert Langworthy
Jesus is the great liberator. He frees us from all kinds of oppressions. But He frees us to compel us to love.
Yet, let’s appreciate how Jesus frees us. Because of Him we don’t have to keep God’s commandments well enough and measure up to a standard we doubt we can reach, we don’t have to pay the debt of guilt we’ve built up by all our wrong deeds, and we don’t have to worry about: the past, because we are forgiven; the future, because He gives us the sure hope of heaven; or the present, because He is with us each step of the way.
Jesus frees us from having to do enough good things to impress a righteous God and win Him over.
Thus we are free to do whatever we like.
But some choices are wise; and some are foolish. For it is still a cause and effect world, and our actions have consequences.
An instructor who taught people how to jump from airplanes and parachute to the ground – yes, some people think this is fun! – used to try to grab the attention of his students by saying, “You are free to ignore my instruction and enjoy jumping from an airplane one time – just before you die. Or you can listen carefully to my instructions and do exactly what I tell you – and then you will be fee to enjoy jumping from airplanes the rest of your life!”
So, even if we are free to do anything, it is wisest to do the best thing. The best thing, the Bible tells us, is to follow Jesus in the way of love. Over and over again, the Bible says that the happiest people are the most loving people. Jesus said, “It is more blessed [that is, a happier thing] to give than to receive!”
We live more wisely and love more freely as we get closer and closer to Jesus. He rubs off on us and puts into our hearts what is on His heart. What is on Jesus’ heart is helping people, uplifting their spirits, meeting their basic needs, and supporting them in their positive development of themselves. Jesus so loves to love us that He compared Himself to a servant – or, as some Bibles translate it, a slave. But He is not a slave who is forced to serve whom He serves, but out of love gladly and freely blesses whom He serves.
Julie Andrews is an actress who is the star of Pastor Adele’s two favorite movies: Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews is also a singer. She once sang a song whose lyrics run like this: “I want to be happy, but I won’t be happy, ‘til I make you happy too.”
Jesus wants to be happy, but His happiness hinges on our ours. When we are wise and we walk with Him in the way of love, we, like Jesus, delight in making the lives of others better and we become happier when we succeed.
God doesn’t want any of us to become someone’s slave – that is, a person who has not choice in the matter. “For freedom Christ has set us free,” today’s scripture tells us. Neither does God want us to become enslaved to our feelings of the moment, our bad habits, or the momentum of the way we’ve always been.
In another sense, God does want us to become slaves, slaves to love. This scripture tells us that God wants us “through love [to] become slaves to one another”. God never wants a human being to enslave another, or lord it over another human being. Thus, being a slave to love doesn’t mean we will always do what other people ask or tell us to do. It means we will, out of the love we’ve picked up from Jesus, always do the best thing we can for them – even if that best thing may deny their request, thwart their wishes, upset them or make them angry at us.
To love someone is to care about them, and to care about them is to do what you can to make them and their lives better and better.
We, Adele and Rob, have grown to love each other a bit like that. It takes a while to abandon to “self-indulgence” (that means, doing whatever I, Adele, feel like at the moment) and to love Rob as much as I love myself. And I, Rob, have had the same struggle. But the two of us have made great strides forward in learning to love one another. (By the way, the month after next we will be celebrating our silver wedding anniversary. That means we will have been married 25 years!)
I, Rob, have found that it can be hard work to love someone as Jesus loves them. It involves not worrying about how much you are giving in the relationship in comparison to how much the other person is giving. For years before we were married, both Pastor Adele and I successfully balanced a check book. We started out with both of us filling out the check register, but the way I do it was not the way Adele did it and bothered her. So she offered to do all the balancing of the check book. And she did not mind doing more than her share, because it was good for our marriage. Likewise, for years before we were married, both Adele and I washed dishes. We started out with both of us washing the dishes, but the way she did it was not the way I did it and bothered me. So I offered to do all the dishwashing. And I did not mind doing more than my share, because it was good for our marriage. To love someone is to quit keeping score. But it is hard to love someone as Jesus does.
It is also hard in another way. Each of us has to put up with the other one’s nonsense at times, and just endure it. Each of us has to be good to the other one even when the other is not being particularly good in return. Each of us on occasion has to sacrifice our wishes, ease or comfort in order to do for the other what is best for them.
We may make some sacrifices when we love like Jesus; but we end up far freer and happier than when we only think of ourselves. And it is so freeing to get ourselves off our hands and get caught up in the pleasure of making a positive difference in the life of those around us.
We are free when we love, because we are then following our hearts, as Jesus has remade them, and we are then becoming our true selves, as Jesus has remade us. To truly be oneself is the fullest freedom of all!
In other words, we are most free when we are slaves to Christ and the purposes of His love. “For freedom Christ has set us free!”