For you were called to freedom, brethren; only [do] not [turn] your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
This verse is composed of three parts: (1) a statement about my status, (2) a rejoinder not to do a thing, and (3) what I should do instead of the thing I should not do.
(1) My status. Paul writes that the believer is called to freedom. The believer enjoys the greatest freedom in Creation: we are free to enter in to the presence of God. Much is said of the believer’s freedom both in scripture and in written devotional books, so I will not belabor it here. Suffice it to say that the believer is free indeed if The Son has set him (or her) free.
(2) A rejoinder not to do a thing. The most unsung freedoms we have are the freedoms not to do a thing. If I speak of being free in Christ, I will always have an audience ready to cheer me on. But the moment I begin speaking about how Christ has set me free so that I am free not to do things, people start to become confused and some will walk away entirely.
My freedom in Christ is in two forms: the freedom to do things like enter in to God’s presence or to love as Christ loves (more on that in the next section) and the freedom not to do things — for example to be able to obey the command “Go and sin no more.” This is not to say that I always (or even frequently) avail myself of freedom in this form, but I am free in this way. I am free to realize that I am being tempted and to simply decline the temptation (and to hurry off to somewhere else so the temptation does not ask again). I am free to look at hate and decide that I would — as Bartleby said — prefer not to. I am free not to do the things that hurt God’s heart. Where I was once enslaved to sin and therefore not free to decline to hurt the heart of God, Christ has given me freedom to refrain.
Paul tells me that I should not turn my freedom into a chance for license. I should not take advantage of forgiveness or the mercy of God. Just because I can repent and return and have fellowship restored does not mean that I should seek to do things that will break fellowship with God. On the contrary, I should seek not to do those things so that fellowship is unbroken.
(3) What I should do instead. Instead of turning my freedom into license, Paul writes that I should use my freedom to serve my brethren in love. The media has been rife with anger and hate and vitriol for the past week. This is nothing new, the media in the United States peddles such things because our flesh craves them and pandering to our flesh gets them (the “news” media) ratings. Mixed in with all of the vitriol being spewed and the anger and confusion and hatred have been stories of people lovingly serving one another.
That is what I am called to.
Christ, through Paul, does not call me to stir the pot any more than it already is: He calls me to lovingly serve my brethren. Am I free to shout from the rooftops? Of course. But it might be more loving to pray for those who are hurting right now and to make myself a shoulder to lean on and arms that will hold and comfort if anyone in my local church has been impacted. I cannot change the world — that is far beyond the scope of what God has called me to. But I can serve my brothers and sisters in love.
The immediate future is a time in which I foresee much use of freedom to speak. I have already seen much of that. Let me take my words to God instead. To my knowledge, no mind or heart was ever changed by internet indignation. But prayer has changed history. Let me serve my brethren in prayer and in other ways as God gives opportunity, but always in love and always making sure that I do not use my freedom as a license. I am just as free not to do thing as I am to do them.
And, best of all, I am free to love.