Liberty Demands Civility

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Synopsis of Liberty Demands Civility •

Good and joyful day today to all Christian brothers and sisters on this the day the Lord has made. Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, or tea, or milk, or whatever is your favorite, we’re about to slice a piece of the Bread of Life, the Word of God. And today’s slice comes from a passage titled Christ Has Set Us Free

Galatians 5:1 So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. 2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ cannot help you. 3 I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey all of the regulations in the whole law of Moses. 4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

Before I continue with the rest of this slice of The Bread let me read what the commentator Matthew Henry had to say of this part of this passage…. No outward privileges or profession will benefit to acceptance with God, without sincere faith in our Lord Jesus. True faith is a working grace; it works by love to God, and to our brethren. In other words, as I have said many, many, times; you can’t good your way to eternal life. We are good because we wish to please God for all He has done; we cannot use our goodness to purchase our ticket. This is what the Jews were doing with their law of circumcision.

Verse 5 But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive everything promised to us who are right with God through faith. 6 For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, it makes no difference to God whether we are circumcised or not circumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. 7 You were getting along so well. Who has interfered with you to hold you back from following the truth? 8 It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. 9 But it takes only one wrong person among you to infect all the others – a little yeast spreads quickly through the whole batch of dough! 13 For you have been called to live in freedom – not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if instead of showing love among yourselves you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.

Friends, the United States of America is 237 years old. That’s a long time for a nation to remain free. But, when you look at our history in the context of world history America is just a CHILD among the nations. Egypt, China, Japan, Rome, Greece all make America’s history seem so short. Consider what a brief time we’ve really been here as a nation: When Thomas Jefferson died, Abraham Lincoln was a young man of 17. When Lincoln was assassinated, Woodrow Wilson was a boy of 8. By the time Woodrow Wilson died Ronald Reagan was a boy of 12.

There you have it. The lives of four men can take you all the way back to the beginning of our country, 237 years ago. We are so young. And yet we stand tall among these nations because of the principles on which we were established: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Now let me temper our thoughts with a caution: With freedom comes great responsibility. We are not free to live excessive lives. We are not set at liberty to pursue selfish ends. Our independence should not make us infidels. As Paul so eloquently put it: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.”

The Apostle Paul was a champion of liberty. He traveled throughout the Roman Empire starting churches. The Galatian church is no exception. In fact it might be the most important for it is there in the middle of the Empire that his message of Christian freedom was vigorously opposed.

Here is what happened: During Paul’s missionary journeys he founded several churches in Asia Minor. What is today the country of Turkey. These converts to Christianity, some of them Jews living in that area and others Gentiles, accepted the Gospel as Paul preached it. The essence of Paul’s message to them can be found in Galatians 2:16.  “And yet we Jewish Christians know that we become right with God, not by doing what the law commands, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be accepted by God because of our faith in Christ – and not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be saved by obeying the law.” A straight forward message of salvation by ….grace through faith.

The framers of our great nation were just as serious about their political and religious freedom. In fact they made little distinction between them. That is why the Declaration of Independence says that liberty is a right endowed not by nature but by God himself. We have been serious about liberty ever since. Patrick Henry said, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.” Thomas Jefferson with a bit of humor and absolute seriousness said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” And it need not be pointed out that the First Amendment to the Constitution is congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.

We are serious about freedom. Why? Because we are called to be free. Those are Paul’s words and they are deeply theological but they are the bedrock on which our country is founded. God gives humans freedom. We are made in his image free to live and think and act and in Christ he gives us freedom from the Law, the grace to be at liberty from our sins.

Now let us be sober for a minute. There always has been and always will be those who are opposed to freedom. Paul faced it in the actions of the Judaizers. Luther faced it in the Diet at Worms. Lincoln fought it on the battlefields of Gettysburg. Martin Luther King encountered it in the streets of Memphis. And John F. Kennedy in his Inaugural Address warned the enemies of liberty: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of Liberty.”

But it never ceases to amaze me why some people prefer tyranny, dictatorship, and control over democracy and freedom. I believe its because there are three kind of people in this world. The first two are related: there are those who have a need to control and then are those who have the need to be controlled. Then there is the third kind. He is the person who is free and insist that others are likewise.

So let’s celebrate our liberty but let us not forget to celebrate also our responsibility to civility.Great thinkers recognize this. See if you know who said the following:

“The choice before us is plain: Christ or chaos, conviction or compromise, discipline or disintegration. I am rather tired of hearing about our rights and privileges as American citizens. The time is come – it is now – when we ought to hear about the duties and responsibilities of our citizenship. America’s future depends upon her accepting and demonstrating God’s government.”   ??????????

“Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”?????????

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” ????????????

Finally, let’s quote Paul. The Apostle understood the inseparable link between liberty and civility. Chapter 5 verse 13: Use your freedo“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”   In other words: Freedom ought to be used to pursue good.

After Paul’s long defense of freedom in Christ he launches into the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The message here is clear. Liberty and civility are two parts of a whole. Alexander Fraser Tytler lived at the end of the eighteenth century, but his book The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic sends a chilling warning today. Tytler found that ancient democracies waned under the selfishness of human hearts. He wrote: “The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence”:     From bondage to spiritual faith;  from spiritual faith to great courage;  from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back to bondage.

You know as well as I that our nation has lost, in the last 20 years, a great deal of its gentleness, it’s kindness, it’s civility

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