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I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to I Corinthians chapter 7 and follow along as I read verse 17. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
17 However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
The 1995 academy award winning movie Braveheart is about the thirteenth century struggle of the Scottish people for freedom. William Wallace was the great leader of that struggle. He was betrayed and captured and taken to London and tortured to death. In the movie at the very end of his torture, Wallace shouted out one word. The word was "Freedom." Freedom is a word that Americans treasure.
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted a Declaration of Independence. Today we call it THE Declaration of Independence. It begins with these words:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation--
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--
We see in this preamble to the Declaration of Independence what the United States of America is all about. We believe that people are best governed when they are left alone. We believe that everyone should be able to do their own things as long as they are not harming other people. In other words, we believe in freedom.
Freedom does not begin in Washington D.C. It begins in our minds. The struggle for liberty is a struggle that is won or lost in the minds of people. It is a struggle that goes on in every generation. William Wallace was the symbol of that struggle in thirteenth century Scotland, and it was a victorious struggle. The Scots won their war for independence on the battlefield at Bannockburn in 1314. In 1781, American patriots under George Washington won their war for independence on the battlefield at Yorktown. But the struggle for freedom is not over.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Freedom is never finally won. It must be won anew by each new generation. What our forefathers won, with so much blood and toil, we can easily lose. We can lose it by indifference. If we say, "I don't care what is happening. Let the government in Washington run everything." That is the attitude of a slave, and if we are willing to be slaves, then I promise you that is what we will be, because someone will always make slaves out of people who are willing to be slaves.
And so we ask what part should we play in this ongoing struggle for freedom? John Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." What can we do for our country? Before we can answer that question, we must know what our country stands for and has always stood for. We cannot know how to defend American until we know what we are defending. We are defending the Declaration of Independence. We are defending the Constitution and the principles that are implied in these documents.
One principle is the providence of God. The Declaration of Independence closes with this statement: "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance upon the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." The signers of the Declaration of Independence believed in a God who created the world and who governs the world, and they looked to this God for their protection. Remember that in those days the thirteen colonies were in the midst of a war. Had the American rebels lost that war every man who signed the Declaration would have been hung for treason. Thus, by putting their names on this document, they were indeed pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Those were not just words, that is exactly what they meant.
They risked everything. And when everything is on the line, that is when we find out what we really believe. When the living is easy, we may speculate about many ideas and beliefs, but when the going gets tough, we get back to basics. The going was tough in 1776, and our forefathers made it clear that one basic was a belief in "divine providence." They believed that ultimately their destiny would be determined not by the will of King George III, nor by the will of the British Commander, Lord Cornwallis, but by the will of God. Our nation then was founded upon a belief in a God who is the Lord of history and the Lord of our lives. If we are going to do our part in the struggle for liberty, that is a belief that we must have.
The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence says that people are "endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights." This is an important principle. We have rights not because government gives us rights, but because the God who created us gave us rights, and since our God-given rights are "unalienable," they can never arbitrarily be taken away by any human government. No government has the right to oppress people.
But there is another side to that coin: If God gives us rights, God holds us accountable for our use of our rights. Today we say, "Be a good citizen." Our forefathers would have put it a bit differently. They would have said, "God has called you to be a good citizen, and you are responsible to Almighty God for carrying out that call." But Americans today no longer believe that. Or at least some do not. Some Americans do not believe in accountability to a sovereign God, and that is why we are becoming a society where many people do not care about the country.
Belief in God and citizenship go hand in hand. If no God governs the world, why should I keep the Ten Commandments? Why should I be a responsible citizen? If there is no God, there is no right or wrong. If there is no God, then all loyalties--to family, to community, to nation--are null and void. And that seems to be the way a lot of people believe today. They are not much concerned about God, and so it follows that they are not be much concerned about America. All they are concerned about is themselves.
Now if you read polls and surveys, you know that the vast majoridty of Americans believe in God. But sometimes we do not seem to believe in God’s providence. We do not believe that God is actually in charge. Most people believe in a wimpy sort of God who is off up there somewhere, but they do not believe in a God who is really there, who really does things.
But if many people have abandoned God, we have not. We still believe in a God who is Lord of history and lord of our lives, and we act out of that belief toward our country. Make no mistake about it; belief in God comes before belief in country. But because we believe in God we also believe in America. We are Christians first. We trust the mercy of Almighty God in Jesus Christ. And because we are Christians, we are also patriots.
We believe in a God who created the world, and who governs all human nations and societies, and that belief makes us aware of our place in God's world and of our place in our country. The Apostle Paul talks about this in ICR12:14-20 where he compares the church to the human body. As Christians we are all part of one body, the body of Jesus Christ. And as the parts of the body are all different--a foot, a hand, an eye--and as all have their place and function, so we Christians are all different, and all have place and function in that body of Christ, which is the church.
Now this scripture applies not only to the church, but to a community and a nation, and the first lesson we derive from it is: that everybody is not like me. Everybody is not called to do the same thing I am. Therefore I should let them do what they are called to do, and I should do what I am called to do. ICR7:17 "Everyone should live in the way God has assigned them to live."
Now in ICR7, the Apostle Paul has been given advice on how to live a Christian life, and he pauses in v17 to give us a general rule of living. He said that we all have different abilities and opportunities, and these abilities and opportunities represent God's call to us to live a certain way. And not to live another way. And the secret to happiness is to live the way God has called us, that is to live content with our abilities and opportunities.
For example, if God has called a woman to be a computer programmer, then she ought to be the best computer programmer she can be for the glory of God, and she ought to be content with that--because God has not called her to be a senator or a soldier, God has called her to be a computer programmer. On the other hand, if God has called her to be something other than a computer programmer then she is wasting her time tapping away on the keyboard because she will never prosper in that vocation.
Now you might say, wait a minute here. This is America and we have this ideal of unlimited freedom. We say. Anyone can be president, anyone can be an astronaut, and anyone can be a Professional basketball player. You can be whatever you want to be. Actually that is not true. I promise you that if you are not born with the right physical body, you are not going to be a professional basketball player no matter how much you want to be. And you can want to hold political office, but if you do not have the right support, I promise you, you are not going to be elected. Back in 1994, there was a young man who decided that he wanted to be governor. He put up a few signs and said, "Elect me." He wanted to be governor, but he did not get enough votes to even be noticed. As for being an astronaut, they will tell you up front you have got to have the “Right Stuff.” And if you do not know what that is then you need to see the movie of that same name.
Here is the point that the apostle Paul would make to us about freedom. The real freedom we have in our lives is based upon the abilities and opportunities we have. When we use our opportunities and take advantage of our abilities, then we have freedom. But if we let our opportunities slip away and waste our abilities, then in effect we waste our freedom
Jesus expounded upon this same subject in the Parable of the Talents in MT25:14-30. To one servant was given five talents, to another two talents, and to another one talent. The point of the parable was not that each servant had a different amount of money, the point was: What do you do with what you have? Do not envy the person with five talents, if you have only one, because God will not hold you accountable for what he has. God will only hold you accountable for what you have. Do not spend your time coveting other people's abilities and possessions. Concentrate rather upon making use of what you have. Remember God has not called you to do everything in life. Only some things. Concentrate upon what God has called you to do, and do not worry about the rest.
The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal, but it means only equality before the law. Since everyone has different abilities, obviously all men and women are not equal in every sense. Some people are smarter than others. Some can do things others can not. Some are tall, some are short. Some are strong, some are quick. Some are likeable, some are not. It is immediately obvious then that all people are not equally qualified to do everything. Therefore, as Christian patriots, our intention is not to make everyone equal--because we can never do that. Our intention is simply to produce a nation and a community where everyone has a place to use what God has assigned to them.
Now this is different from Communism. I realize that today Communism is no longer as a threat to America, but even so, it is still worth comparing what the Communists believe with what we believe. In theory, Communism believes in mass man. Everyone gets the same wages. Everyone is treated the same. Everyone is a ward of the state. Since everyone is treated the same, everyone is reduced to the lowest common denominator. Communism was sort of like network TV in the USA. Network TV must appeal to a broad general audience. It does so by appealing to the lowest part of the audience because that is the only way to be sure that everyone understands what you are saying. Communism acts the same way. It treats everyone the same from the lowest to the highest, which means it treats everyone as the lowest. If you level everyone to the same level, you must level everyone to the lowest level. Today all those countries that used to be in the Soviet Union have mostly given up on Communism. They have got the message over there that leveling everyone to the lowest level is not an efficient way to run a society. Over here, in the USA, we have had that message since 1776, but sometimes we forget. Sometimes we need to be reminded.
Sometimes we even hear this defunct message of Communism in the church. People will say that if we love everyone, we ought to treat them all equally. But that never works because people are not equal. It is not love to treat people as if they are something they are not. If we act that way, we live in a fantasy world. We never see real people reaching up out of their sinfulness to carry out the will of a real God. Christian love is a tough love that sees people as they are, and loves them as they are. Christian citizenship springs from this love and seeks for each person the right and privilege to be allowed to live as God has called them to live.
Because we are creations of God, we each have a place in God's creation, but we should not suppose that our place is somehow unconnected and isolated from others. This is part of the point that Paul made in ICR12 when he compared the church to a human body. To have a body all the members must all work together in unity and harmony. To have a nation, we all need to work together. Now you might say, well if freedom is our principle, then we are all going to go our own way and not work together. Unfortunately if we do that—if we all insist on going our own way and doing our own selfish thing, then we will wind up tearing the country apart, and no one will have any freedom. This is the paradox of freedom. We only have freedom when we work together with others to create a free society. If I am seeking only my freedom and I do not care about other people, and I do not help them, then they are not going to help me, and any tin pot dictator with a two bit army can take away my freedom—because I am alone.
The point is: that human beings are social animals. We live in society, in community. If we are going to be free, it must be as a part of a society or community. This is what the church has always said. We are part of the body of Christ, we are free. We are free in Christ, to live for God.
The same is true, though to a lesser extent, of the nation. We Americans have tremendous freedom because we are part of the greatest nation on earth. For which we thank God. We pray that God will continue to bless America, that God will make us the light of the world and the blessing of all humankind. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 7/23/03