By Archbishop Dr. Thabo Makgoba
Freedom and liberty are hall-marks of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as Paul stresses to those to whom he writes: freedom from having life ordered by rules and regulations that we are incapable of keeping, and freedom from the consequences of such failures, and freedom from the wider power and consequences of sin and death.
But today Paul also reminds us that liberty does not mean license to behave in whatever ways we feel like. In the last chapter Paul has promised to give up meat, to avoid upsetting people through eating what was sacrificed to idols. Now he reminds the Corinthians how he also supported himself while he was with them, giving up any expectation that they should support him and Barnabas (let alone wives, with whom other apostles traveled). Yet he expresses frustration that by curtailing his freedom, his rights, they have devalued him and his teaching, and taken it all for granted.
But nonetheless, he will keep on doing all this to promote preaching the gospel, which he feels impelled by God to do. He is prepared to be ‘all things to all people’ so that his hearers may more readily grasp the good news of Jesus Christ. And, like a runner in a race, he will not give up doing the right thing – and nor, he says, should we. All of us should have such dedication.
Our Old Testament chapters recount similar dedication to doing the right thing among the exiles returning to Jerusalem to restore life and worship in Jerusalem, first in the reigns of Persian emperors Cyrus and Darius, and later under Artaxerxes. They do not resort to the bullying and bribing exercised against their efforts to rebuild the temple, but trust in the Persian authorities to see justice is done.
And once again they were able to worship in the Temple, conscious of being in the presence of the Lord, ‘lifting up their hands in the sanctuary’, as today’s Psalm says.
Are there areas in your life where you might choose not to exercise your freedom as a Christian, so as to help others find, and grow in, the faith? And, in contrast, are there areas where you take for granted, or exploit, such commitment in others?
Consider how Christians can work with the political systems of your own society, in order to pursue freedom of religion, and uphold justice.
Lord Jesus, you gave up the glories of heaven to save us. Help me to not to ‘demand my rights’ but to strive for the prize that comes through sharing your good news. Amen.
Archbishop Dr. Thabo Makgoba is the archbishop of Capetown, South Africa.