Freedom Is Not Free


Each year on July 4th our nation celebrates its independence, which was first declared by the Continental Congress on this date in 1776.  The freedoms we enjoy as Americans are special in the history of the world, for no other people have had such personal control of their own lives, and of their national destiny, as we do.  Many act as though these freedoms are just inherently ours, like the air we breathe.  And, like the air we breathe, they treat these freedoms as though they cost nothing.  A cursory survey of our nation’s history shows that this is not the case.

When the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence they pledged their lives, their wealth, and their sacred honor in pursuit of freeing the colonies from the domination of the British.  Most of them lost much, if not all, of their wealth during the course of the eight years it took to win our independence.  Since that time, our freedoms have cost us dearly in the lives that have been lost in defense of them.

Since the Revolutionary War, U.S. military deaths have totaled more than 1.3 million.  More than 1.5 million have been wounded in action, and over 38,000 are still listed as missing in action.  These numbers may seem unreal to some of us, but to those whose loved ones are among the dead, they are more real than anyone else can imagine.  Ongoing conflicts around the world continue to add to these numbers.  The bottom line is that freedom is not free.  It is a costly pursuit, perhaps the most costly pursuit in human endeavors.

In Gal. 5:1 Paul said, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”  The yoke of slavery to which Paul referred was the Old Testament Law, which was nailed to the cross by our Lord (Col. 2:14).  The freedom of which he spoke is the freedom from the bondage and consequences of sin.  When one is baptized into Christ, he clothes himself with Christ, and is made a son of God, a descendant of Abraham, and an heir according to promise (Gal. 3:26-29).

Being set free from the bondage of sin, the Christian no longer struggles under its weight and burden.  Some Christians, however, like those Americans who forget the price paid for their freedoms, treat their newly found spiritual freedom as though it cost nothing.  Consequently, they abuse it.  Paul anticipated such an attitude and warned the churches of Galatia not to go there.  In Gal. 5:13 he said, “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.”  Our freedom in Christ lays great responsibility upon us, and that responsibility is directly related to the cost that was paid for it.

Our spiritual freedom was purchased with the most precious price that has ever been paid in the history of the world.  It was paid for by the blood of the one and only Son of God, who sacrificed His life in order to atone for our sins.  Had this price not been paid, we would still be in our sins, and we would have no hope for eternity.  It is because this price is so dear that we must honor it by obeying God’s will.

We often say that the value of an item may be determined by its cost.  In this case, our freedom from sin is the most valuable commodity that man has ever known.  Therefore, let us show respect for the price that has been paid for our salvation by obeying the gospel and by serving the Lord faithfully until He comes again.  Let us show by our obedience that we understand that freedom is not free.

A Small Fire


Each year in the state of California firefighters are on edge as the last days of summer transition toward fall.  This is one of the warmest times of year in the Golden State, made so by the frequent occurrence of what they call “Santa Ana winds”.  These are hot winds that blow in from the desert, driving down the humidity and creating an environment that is perfect for wildfires.  These wildfires often begin in rugged areas of the foothills and quickly spread, often burning thousands of acres before they are contained.

Some of these fires are started by lightning strikes, or a traffic accident in which a vehicle catches fire, but many erupt from incredibly small points of ignition.  Sometimes a campfire that has been left smoldering will trigger a wildfire.  Other times a blaze will begin from something as small as a cigarette being thrown from a passing car.  The point is that it doesn’t take a large source to create an inferno that causes a massive amount of destruction.

This phenomenon is a living example of the warning James gave regarding the use of our tongue.  In Jas. 3:1-12 the Lord’s brother spoke of the dangers associated with our speech.  He began by warning that not many should become teachers because they will receive stricter judgment.  This warning has to do with the content of what one teaches.  If one’s teaching leads others astray, he will pay dearly in eternity for having done so.

Much of the rest of James’ warning has to do with the kinds of things we may say to each other that create discord and conflict.  In Jas. 3:5-6 he said, “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.  See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.”

Many of us grew up hearing and saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  As much as we might like to believe this saying, the unvarnished truth is that words do hurt.  They often hurt far worse, and for much longer, than any physical injury.  Families and friendships have been irrevocably torn apart because of things that people have said to or about each other.  In such cases, James’ words are literally proven to be true.  The small fire of a hurtful statement results in a forest fire of destruction in that relationship.

None of us appreciates having hurtful things said to us or about us.  When this happens we carry the hurt with us for a long time.  Sometimes, in spite of our most noble desires or intentions, we never get over it.  Yet, how often are we guilty of doing the same thing to another?  The hurt we feel when we are on the receiving end of such comments should remind us to be more careful when we speak.

This is where the simplest principles of Christian living should apply.  In Mt. 7:12 Jesus said, “In everything, therefore, treat people in the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  In Col. 3:17 Paul said, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  To speak or act in the name of the Lord Jesus means to do those things in a way that is consistent with everything He taught.  Saying hurtful things to others neither treats them as we would like to be treated, nor is it consistent with the Lord’s will.

If we live according to these principles, we will honor our Lord in everything we say and do, and our souls will be secure.  If we live by these principles, we will keep our tongues in check, and we will not be guilty of starting any forest fires among our family, friends, and acquaintances.  Surely, we can all agree that living like this will make for a much better world.

A Lily Among Thorns

The Song of Solomon is a love song.  It extols the virtues and joy related to marital intimacy in a series of alternating declarations of a husband and his wife.  The song is filled with beautiful imagery drawn from nature that describes both the wife, and the anticipation and exhilaration of marital love.  This imagery is presented in a discreet manner that raises this song far above the crude and tawdry expressions of ungodly people.

One of the most profound statements in this love song is also one of the most simple.  In SS 2:2 the husband declares, “Like a lily among the thorns, so is my darling among the maidens.”  This brief statement encapsulates the essence of marital fidelity.  In the eyes of this godly man, his wife is the most beautiful of all women.  To him she is so beautiful that all other women are unsightly in comparison.

This does not mean that this godly man does not see or appreciate the physical beauty of other women.  Instead, it affirms the place that his wife occupies in his heart.  He is so focused on her, and is so committed to her, that no other woman can draw his attention or his desire.  His devotion to his wife is so deep and pure that he cannot conceive of being unfaithful to her.

This is where the rubber meets the road in terms of marital relationships.  When a man and a woman decide to marry, they must become as singular in their vision of each other as the godly man in Solomon’s song.  The typical marriage vows contain the promise that the couple will forsake all others and keep themselves only for each other.  Unfortunately, many make this solemn promise only to begin breaking it within a short period of time.  What most would be unwilling to admit is that infidelity usually begins with nothing more than a look.  When a man no longer sees his wife as a “lily among thorns”, he is opening up his heart to the kind of impure thoughts that can lead to unfaithfulness.  He is dishonoring his marriage vows, and dishonoring the woman to whom he made those vows before God.

Solomon’s song is not the only place in scripture where marital fidelity is extolled and enjoined upon us.  From the very beginning, when God made Eve and gave her to Adam, it has been God’s divine plan that one man and one woman should be married for life, and faithful to each other until death.  When the Pharisees asked Jesus about their traditions concerning divorce, the Lord replied that such things were not a part of God’s plan (Mt. 19:3-9).

When Paul wrote about the qualities that should characterize elders in the church, one of the key elements was that an elder must be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2).  The force of Paul’s statement, however, is not just the number of times a man might be married, but rather his attitude of heart about his wife.  The Greek construction that Paul used literally means that an elder must be a “one-woman-kind-of-man”.  In other words, he must be a man who sees his wife as a lily among thorns.

This is a high and noble and worthy standard.  It is a divinely ordained attitude that must be taken seriously.  The temporal blessings for doing so are great, as Solomon’s song clearly suggests.  On the other hand, the temporal consequences of not doing so are terrible.  The physical and emotional wreckage caused by marital infidelity cannot be overstated, and the spiritual and eternal consequences are even more severe.  Solomon warns that one who pursues such will not go unpunished (Prov. 6:23-29).  Therefore, to keep ourselves from sin and from condemnation, and to properly honor the woman he married, let each of us always look upon his wife as a lily among thorns.

Show Hospitality


The book of Hebrews is a treatise on the superiority of Christ.  This superiority is summarized in the opening words of this letter.  In Heb. 1:1-2 the scripture says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”  Throughout this letter the inspired writer expounds on this superiority.  He shows the Lord to be superior to the angels, superior to Moses, and superior to all the prophets who preceded Him.  The capper to this argument is the superiority of the Lord’s sacrifice, and the superiority of His covenant to the Law of Moses.

The purpose of this letter was to encourage Jewish Christians to not go back to the trappings of the Law of Moses.  They had been liberated from that law when they obeyed the gospel, and they needed to be growing in the faith in Christ in order to become mature.  At the end of this letter the writer offers a variety of exhortations.  Each of these exhortations underscores the superiority of Christ and the higher standard to which Christians have been called.  One of the first exhortations of Chapter 13 is particularly interesting, and is worthy of our consideration because we are generally not living up to it today.

In Heb. 13:2 the scripture says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  Like much of what is written in the book of Hebrews, this statement has an Old Testament reference underlying it.  In Gen. 18, Abraham entertained three men who happened to pass by his tent.  These men were very likely God the Father, the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit, who were on their way to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  In other instances, Gideon was visited by an angel of the Lord (Jdg. 6), as were Manoah and his wife (Jdg. 13).  In each case the visitors were invited to wait while a meal was prepared for them.  After serving the meal, the visitors went on their way, after delivering God’s message for that particular occasion.

This Old Testament antecedent is the basis for the exhortation to “show hospitality to strangers” in Heb. 13:2.  The Greek word that is rendered “hospitality” in this verse literally means love of strangers.  We who are Christians are commanded to demonstrate this kind of love because of whose we are.  Of course many of us consider ourselves to be hospitable because we are friendly, and we warmly greet visitors to our worship assemblies.  However, hospitality is much more than this.  It is not coincidental that in each of the Old Testament precedents for hospitality a meal was prepared and served to the strangers.

Unfortunately, few of us today are as accommodating to strangers as in these Old Testament examples.  The sad truth is that we rarely host our friends for a meal, much less complete strangers.  The key, however, is in v. 1 where the scripture says, “Let love of the brethren continue.”  Brothers and sisters in Christ may be strangers, but because they are fellow Christians, we should show our love for them.  In the context of Heb. 13, this means inviting them for a meal, at the very least.

If we begin to show this kind of hospitality, we will become much closer as a body of believers in our local church, and we will also be an encouragement to fellow Christians with whom we are not yet acquainted.  The superiority of our Savior, the superiority of His sacrifice, and the superiority of His covenant, requires a higher response from us. Therefore, we must not neglect to show hospitality.

The Oracles of God


The responsibility of teaching God’s word must not be taken lightly.  It is serious business and must be thoughtfully and humbly considered before we engage in it.  James, the brother of the Lord, warned his readers that not everyone should become a teacher.  In Jas. 1:3 he said, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”  His point was that teachers will come under greater scrutiny from God because of the influence they wield over their students.  This truth was graphically illustrated by the Lord in one of His criticisms of the Pharisees.  In Mt. 15:14 the Lord said of them, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.  And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Nevertheless, we are commanded to teach each other.  This is the divinely inspired prescription for the propagation of God’s word and it must not be ignored.  In 2 Tim. 2:2 Paul told Timothy, “The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  As we consider what Paul commanded, we can see God’s wisdom at work.  Knowledge of His word is perpetuated by teaching it from one person to the next, and from one generation to the next, until the end of time.  If we obey this command, there will never again rise a generation that does not know God or the great things He has done (cf. Jdg. 2:10).

The second aspect of God’s wisdom is seen in the first clause of Paul’s command.  He told Timothy to teach the things he had heard from Paul himself.  Timothy was not free to teach whatever he thought was best.  He was constrained to teach only what Paul had proclaimed.  He was also constrained to teach everything that Paul had proclaimed (cf. Acts 20:27).  This is a limitation that has often been ignored or overlooked by those who stand to teach others.  This flaw in human character is why James warned that teachers will incur a stricter judgment.

Peter addressed this issue in 1 Pet. 4:7-10.  He said, “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.  Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.  As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace; whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.  To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.” (ESV)

The bottom line is that any time one stands up to teach or preach, he must do so as one who is conveying the very words of God.  The Greek term translated “oracles” in v. 11 is a word that is often used to refer to the scriptures or to words that God Himself has spoken.  So then, when one stands to teach he must teach the very words of God.  He is not at liberty to alter or omit or add to anything found in the scriptures.  He is not at liberty to bind his opinions on others, but must faithfully proclaim only that which is found in God’s word.

In the Old Testament, the phrase “Thus says the Lord, appears more than 2,000 times.  In each case the prophet then relayed exactly what God had commanded him to speak.  Prophets who failed to do so fell under condemnation.  If God was so particular with these men, who served under the old covenant that was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14), how much more so will He be with those who serve under the covenant of Christ?  Therefore, let us speak only the oracles of God in all we preach and teach.