By Roger S. Oldham
Pastor engagement specialist, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board
For some, this is a whisper of faith directed to the Lord, a declaration that their confidence rests in the Lord’s provision and protection in uncertain times.
They exercise prudence to minimize risk to themselves and others and take precautionary steps to fight the spread of the virus. They seek to rest in the promise of Isaiah 32:17.
For others, however, this is a battle cry, stated as a badge of honor during the present crises we are experiencing: the intersection of a global pandemic with widespread social upheaval, political turmoil, racial unrest and denominational disunity.
The advice of health care professionals and governmental leaders, charged to watch out for the public good, is scorned. Church leaders who heed these cautions are castigated as somehow lacking — lacking in faith, dominated by fear, deemed unfit to lead a vibrant community of believers in Jesus.
Polarization in a church setting is nothing new. In Paul’s day, believers in the church at Corinth, where he had served as pastor, factionalized themselves around personalities, practices, and ideologies. Some elevated their individual freedoms in Christ above other Christian virtues. They looked with disdain on those who appeared to be weaker in the faith.
Prompted by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle penned a series of correctives to this church. It is interesting that he did not berate the Libertines in the church, those who proudly wore their badges of liberty in Christ. In fact, he agreed with them.
Not once, not twice, not three times, but four times — twice each in I Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23, Paul affirmed that when they boldly declared their liberty in Christ, they were absolutely right!
But he didn’t stop there. He gently directed their thinking to consider that our freedom, which was purchased for us by our Lord (I Corinthians 6:20), is a nuanced freedom.
For each affirmation of freedom, Paul proposed an inbuilt caution:
• “All things are lawful for me,” the Libertines said. “But not all things are profitable,” Paul responded (I Corinthians 6:12a).
• “All things are lawful for me,” the Libertines said. “But I will not be brought under the power of anything,” Paul responded (I Corinthians 6:12b).
• “All things are lawful for me,” the Libertines said. “But not all things are helpful,” Paul responded (I Corinthians 10:23a).
• “All things are lawful for me,” the Libertines said. “But not all things build up,” Paul responded (I Corinthians 10:23b).
Paul had elsewhere written this profound truth: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). This echoes what Jesus told His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).
Paul’s four rejoinders in I Corinthians elevate this spirit of humility and love. We must not relish our freedoms through Christ more than we cherish our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In Christ, we have full and unfettered spiritual freedom. The Old Testament law was a protective barrier, warning of the deadly consequences of sin. Through Jesus’ redeeming and saving act, we have received a wonderful gift — the gift of the Holy Spirit who liberates. We do not celebrate the human spirit of unbridled freedom. We rejoice that true liberation has come through the guiding, nurturing presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
As we continuously yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit, He governs our seemingly unrestricted personal freedom by leading us to consider what is helpful to others, what builds others up in their faith-walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have an infinitely loving heavenly Father. We acknowledge our total dependence on Him. We trust the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us into the spirit of unity Paul prayed over his many dear friends in Corinth.
Faith, not fear, coupled with humility and love! Not a bad combination! Let us strive to build up the body of Christ during the many uncertainties we collectively face at this moment in human history. B&R