Today is the Celebration of Independence for the United States. I have a second cousin who reminds anyone who greets him with “Happy Fourth of July!” that we are not celebrating a date, but an ideal. The United State’s grand experiment of democracy continues, with all of its faults and failings.
The same could be said about Christianity, which also has many faults and failures – first and foremost the desire for a Christian nation. I will continue to point out that Jesus, the Son of God, never desired to establish an earthly government. We hear him declare during his arrest, “Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will die by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” – Matthew 26:52-54
This coming week we will continue our series on the Book of Isaiah. The passage we are studying is often read on Christmas Eve,
“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders, and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Great will be his authority, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.” – Isaiah 9:6-7
It is in this reading that I hear what the work of the church is to be – peace, justice, and righteousness – Godly righteousness, not self-righteousness. It is the latter that Paul is speaking against to the Galatians.
Chapter 5 opens with “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Vs. 1). Paul is speaking against other missionaries who wanted to bring the Galatians under the constraint of a new religio-cultural system of domination.
Commentator Richard Hays shares the following in the New Interpreters Bible pg. 310
Paul’s letter is a clarion call to stand firm in the freedom won by Christ. Beware of confusing the freedom of which Paul speaks with nationalistic discourses about freedom nor about rugged individualism or an inner liberty of the conscience or the will. Freedom in Christ manifests itself through the formation of concrete communities where the old barriers of nation, race, class, and gender are overcome in communion at the one table. The freedom Paul proclaims is to be embodied in the corporate life of the church.
Freedom in Christ says, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ, who lives in me.” (2:20).
Freedom in Christ is a gift, not an achievement. Where freedom is so understood it leaves room for genuine diversity. We need not be bound by anxiety about pleasing others, or meeting expectations imposed on us by those who fancy themselves the guardians of order. We are accountable only to God, in whose service is perfect freedom. The freedom that we know now in Christ is a future-oriented sign, a foretaste, a pointer to the new creation.
So let us celebrate the Independence of the United States, but even more so the celebrate the greater freedom found in Jesus. Paul directs us how to best do that at the end of the 5th chapter, words that as a Christian and also as fellow citizens would be good to live by…
“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…By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:13-15, 22-26