Nowadays it seems freedom and fireworks always go together. In our day and age, when you talk about freedom, you can be sure fireworks will follow. Not the Fourth of July kind, mind you. Rather, the kind of fireworks that erupt when different people's "freedoms" conflict. No matter what the issue -- almost all talk of freedom, rights and power seems to lead to fireworks of conflict. Of course, Paul and his church in Galatia would sympathize.
Paul and the Galatians are up in arms about what Christian freedom is. They cannot seem to agree about the shape it should take in the Galatian church. Differing understandings of freedom lead to fireworks. For in Paul's day, just as in our own, power and conflict go hand in hand. Freedom and fireworks belong together.
Of course, it is easy to see where the conflict comes from. After all, for us, freedom means choosing for ourselves. Liberty is being in the driver's seat. For folks like you and me, freedom equals the power to choose. There is a bus in a large city that bears testimony to our perspective. In most busses, riders must push a red button on a pole to signal the driver to stop and let them off. In most cases pushing the red button causes a bell to ring and a sign to light up just over the drivels head. When the bell dings, the sign flashes: Bus Will Stop. Yet on one city bus somebody had crossed out this standard message and scribbled their own on the sign. Now for the benefit of its freedom exercising ridership the sign flashes: Ring or Ride: You Decide!
Yet this attitude is not just confined to big city busses. Just think about how we view our freedom to choose in every day terms. At least once a week we drive down to the supermarket, shopping list in hand. After wrestling with some grocery cart we start strolling down the aisle ready to exercise our freedom. Being the smart shoppers we are, we have shelf upon shelf of choices to make. Check out the potato chips. What should it be this time -- regular, nacho flavor, or how about these light ones with half the calories? Roll on into the soup aisle and the choices get only greater. What will it be for supper tonight -- chicken noodle, cajun creole, or perhaps bean with bacon? But our freedom does not stop there. We pull into the checkout lane and discover even more choices to make: whether cash or check or perhaps oven bank card!
It is clear that in our everyday lives we are free to make choices. So for us the definition is clear -- freedom means choosing. Liberty puts us in the driver's seat. For us freedom means the power to choose.
The problem is, freedom can turn into a tool of evil. In big and small ways evil can work through our free choices. Evil can use our freedom as a tool. Listen in on how Paul warns the Galatians: "If you bite and devour one another," he warns, "take heed that you are not consumed by one another." Then Paul goes through his litany of how evil makes use of the Galatians' freedom -- fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dis-sension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like. You can almost feel the chaos that unbridled liberty unleashes. Absolute freedom can corrupt, absolutely. Remember viewing the uprising in Tienanmen Square in China a few years back on TV? We all watched breathless as students called for change in the dictatorial Chinese government. We remember Chinese students marching up and down the square. We even watched as one young man stared down a tank armed only with his convictions. Thanks to Western news agencies beaming the story by satellite across the world, we enjoyed our freedom watching them on our TVs.