In a nation like the United States of America, we like to stress our freedoms, and we don’t like someone trying to suppress them. How often have we heard the remark, “this is a free country, and I can do what I want.” We don’t like the idea of someone dictating what we can and cannot do. When someone infringes upon our rights, then we can become outraged. We should be free to do what we want.
In the apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, he addresses this idea of freedom. Because of Jesus Christ, we have been set free. Whereas the people had obediently followed the law to maintain their relationship with God, in Jesus, that relationship was now made right by God’s grace. However, this new status before God did not give them the freedom to do whatever they wished or desired. Instead, the freedom in Christ Jesus had a higher purpose. In Galatians 5: 13, we read, “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.” According to Paul, we should use our freedom not merely for ourselves and our own needs and wants, but we should use our freedom to serve others.
As a people of faith, we are called to center our lives not around our own needs or what is best for us, but instead, make our living about meeting others’ needs. The question that we should ask in every situation is not, “how will this affect me” but rather, “how will this affect others?” Through love for others, we decide how to live our lives. Paul also states, “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” As Christians, we realize that life is not about placing us at the center but about putting others before ourselves and serving them. We are called to love our neighbor.
Now “love your neighbor” is a broad statement and rightly so. We tend to limit our neighbors to people just like ourselves. However, when we are called to love our neighbor, then there are no limits on who our neighbor is. Our neighbor may be a lot different than ourselves. We do not get to pick and choose our neighbor, but in Christ Jesus, every person is our neighbor. I love the signage that I sometimes see, which says:
Love Thy Neighbor
Thy Homeless Neighbor
Thy Muslim Neighbor
Thy Black Neighbor
Thy Gay Neighbor
Thy Immigrant Neighbor
Thy Jewish Neighbor
Thy Christian Neighbor
Thy Atheist Neighbor
Thy Addicted neighbor
God’s neighborhood is pretty big and diverse. As his followers, this is where we are called to live. As a result, we are always looking out for the interests of others before our own. In Christ Jesus, we are free to serve others by loving others the way that Jesus did. We are free to choose other people’s needs before our own. We are free to put others before ourselves. We are free to love in the same way that God has loved us: unconditionally. This is what true freedom looks like.