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Freed for Joyful Service

“13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:13-17).

You have probably seen a movie or media report about two world leaders meeting to discuss how they will work better together or how they will keep from going to war. Most of the time, an interpreter is involved, even when one or both of the world leaders speak the other’s language. Care must be taken to be sure each of them understands the other and, more importantly, what the other person means when he or she uses words with a variety of meanings.

When we read and hear the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is at work to interpret for us the Father’s good and gracious will in Jesus Christ. But our own biblical illiteracy may get in the way of the Holy Spirit if we insist on interpreting for ourselves what words mean according to our own experience, prior beliefs, or prejudices. Even English-speaking Bible scholars, who have great facility with the biblical languages, will disagree on how best to translate the words from Hebrew or Greek into English. For those of us without command of the biblical languages, it helps to look at several mainstream Bible translations (in other words, not from some sect like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons). Blessedly, in our day, we have online tools such as biblegateway.com and biblehub.com, which allow us to see several English translations of the same verse, one after the other. By looking at many translations, we can begin to grasp the nuances of the original text. I won’t bore you with how textual variants can also cause problems.

So…freedom, as St. Paul uses it in Galatians 5, is one of those words that needs interpreting. When you read chapter 5, you see how the apostle keeps drilling down on the word freedom to make clear what Christian freedom is and is not. I think of how very differently freedom is understood by the six generations living above ground in the United States. The oldest among us were shaped by the Great Depression of the 1930s and by World War II. They understand and use the word “freedom” quite differently than the so-called young progressives in Congress and on college campuses. St. Paul makes clear that freedom in Christ is freedom for others and not freedom from restraints, rules, or religion. In other words, the very oldest among us are closer to St. Paul’s original meaning than even older persons who identify as progressives.

Freedom in Christ is cross-shaped. By our Baptism into the Lord Jesus’ saving death, we receive the promise of freedom from our bondage to sin, death, and Satan. Martin Luther calls this “the “happy exchange” (der froehliche Wechsel) by which Christ Jesus takes our sin and death to His cross and gives us freely His life and righteousness. Baptized into our Lord Jesus’ resurrection, we rise from the preoccupation with self and the certainty of our death to share in the eternal life and love of the Triune God. The cross-shaped life, then, means daily dying to myself and daily rising to new life in which Christ now lives in me, praying, “Thy will be done.”

So…what, then, does that look like in congregational life and in our homes? It looks like joyful, humble service according to one’s gifts. It looks like people hungry to hear and understand God’s Word and to receive Christ’s true Body and most precious Blood always. It looks like fervent prayers that God’s will be done and not ours. It looks like the forgiveness of sins and gratitude for each breath in each moment taking hold and changing everyone. It looks like Jesus Christ, crucified for sinners, setting sinners free from self-absorption to Father-centered living.

So…the deeper we go into God’s Word; we grow into the likeness of the Servant Son. Reading Galatians 5, we can discern what freedom in Christ doesn’t look like…also.

Let us pray: “O Lord, open our lips, that we may bless your holy Name; cleanse our hearts from all vain, evil, and wandering thoughts; enlighten our understanding; enkindle our affections; that we may worthily and devoutly offer our prayers and praises to you, and be heard in the presence of your divine Majesty, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Before Praying the Office in “The Daily Prayer of the Church”, Philip Pfatteicher, xlv).

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

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The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 43 years and in May 2019 celebrated the 38th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity (www.societyholytrinity.org). In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.
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