Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You. Psalm 119:11
Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. Psalm 119:105
I have used these two verses deliberately, as I begin to unpack the reality of what freedom is.
So much of our culture, believes, acts out, pushes the idea that freedom is simply the removal of restraint. That the ultimate act of freedom is to be able to do whatever one pleases. (this is actually the definition of selfishness - not freedom! - it is also one of the least free ways to actually live.)
I will not get into the philosophical debate of the various positions this subject polarises its proponents into. Rather, I want to move (leap) into some definition that may at first seem counter intuitive to our human driven perspectives.
Let me suggest that we feel the most safe, and thus free to be ourselves, when we know and experience unconditional love.
Love that has nothing to do with my performance or lack thereof.
If love is offered or withheld based upon what I do, or how I behave, I am no longer free to be who I want to be. I would then feel pressured to change my behaviour to make the other love me. The need to feel love(d) is built into each of us, and must be satisfied for healthy human development.
Thus, it is important to define what love is. This is best defined in the Bible in an amazing chapter - 1 Corinthians 13. Of particular interest are verses 4~7 paraphrased alongside.
When we experience love that looks and behaves like that, we are able to be ourselves, without fear of punitive or hurtful repercussions. Let me suggest that an environment permeated with love like this is a place where I can begin to be free and experience freedom.
Every care giver to a small human quickly recognises the importance and value of loving those in our charge while exhibiting and modelling these characteristics.
Boundaries are necessary - may I suggest, vital!
So many believe, and thus act in defiance of any external constraint. Yet it is simple to prove that any functioning community must have a shared set of rules about what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
We have thus developed laws and enforcement systems for those laws. Put another way, we have a motive, the lowest form simply being the hope of reward and/or the fear of punishment.
For some this resolves to a sense of duty, a moral obligation. This unfortunately may feel anything but free. The thing we discover is that what fuels our motive is critical.
Simply obeying or following the rules can thus be a drag. Hollywood has made millions of $$s exploring the removal or ignoring of constraints in almost any imaginable situation. Unfortunately, they often show outcomes that seldom play out in real life.
For most of recorded history we have seen the outcomes and rewards of well governed society, with laws that guide or proscribe unacceptable behaviour.
The ten commandments are one such system that outline the things which will keep us on a well defined path. This set of behavioural rules allows the others in our community to live in confidence and safety.
We can therefore have freedom to live and make choices, however, we must all comply and live within the constraints imposed by the agreed upon rules.
Failure to follow these rules, negatively impacts others within the community. Hence we mostly have chosen to elect governments that are tasked with defining, establishing and enforcing these rules for the benefit of all.
For many centuries, even millennia, much of the world has lived with a shared set of understandings (world-view) about the world we live and function in. Changes to our community's shared worldview has historically been slow. More recent decades have seen significant changes in these worldviews, much of this influenced by the pervasive and relentless impact of media and communication systems. We now have the availability of near instantaneous communication across the entire planet, accessible to nearly everyone, with every person able to have their say, and say whatever they please.
Truth has been relegated to the back benches. In fact, there are many that believe that truth is relative. A slippery slope leading to lie justification and the inevitability of mistrust. A sad place to inhabit.
We now consume huge amounts of media content, all of which influences, affects and alters our worldview.
The incredible good news is that the Creator God has met both conditions necessary for Freedom - sustainable, safe and fully satisfying freedom.
Creator God so loved, that He sent His Son Jesus to (re-)introduce us to Himself with an unconditional love that fully meets the definition identified earlier. Also to demonstrate what this freedom looks like, when lived out, like He intended from the beginning.
He has also provided all the instruction necessary for each of us to learn and know the boundaries needed for this freedom to work for all of creation.
This instruction manual (a little like the owners manual if you will) is called the Bible. Still the best seller, year after year, world wide - despite concerted attempts to eradicate and destroy it, despite repeated attempts to make it illegal in many parts of the world.
Yet so few actually understand the need to embrace this book in its entirety; to spend the time and energy needed to let it be the light needed to guide our path.
The longest chapter in the Bible uniquely covers the attitude and methodology needed to correctly consume and embrace its contents.
This chapter contains nearly 7x the average number of verses per chapter @ 176 verses. This single chapter is more than 1/177th (0.57%) of the entire Bible which contains 1189 chapters.
In this chapter we find certain words used more than half the time they are used in the entire Bible. We also find that this chapter uses a multitude of apparent synonyms to reinforce and underscore its message.
So what is being said?
The author in 22 sections of 8 verses each, named after each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, proceeds to repeatedly declare His love for, and the benefits of, walking in the way, obeying the law, testimonies, precepts, commandments, judgements and statutes contained within.
The Hebrew word translated as "law" used in the first verse is torah torah and refers to the statute or precept most particularly those contained in the Pentateuch or Torah, the first five books of the Bible. While this word is used some 219x in the Old Testament, it is repeated 25 times in this chapter. From this first verse we see that blessed are those who walk according to the ways of this law.
The "way" is used 13x and refers to the path or road travelled or trodden, the course of life.
I would like to draw your attention to three key words:
Commandments : those things we must do!
Statutes : the how behind what we do
Testimonies : the stories, rehearsal of what has been done
The word translated testimonies is used 14x in this chapter out of the 26x it is used in 25 verses - over half the times it is referenced in the Bible. This word relates to the testimony of a witness. Thus testimonies are related to actual witnessed events.
"For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" Revelation 19:10 NKJV
What is the testimony of Jesus? I believe this is simply the telling, putting breath to, the stories about Jesus. Obviously those stories recorded in the Bible about Jesus, who He is and what He did, are a significant part of this. The apostle John writes that there were many more deeds and words than what we have recorded. John 20:30,31.
As Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, then His desire, and the power to see miracles like those recorded, is a foretold reality.
The spirit of prophecy when released, spoken, shifts temporal reality and invites the supernatural power of God to work a miracle.
I recently heard Bill Johnson speak about this. In his talk he gave a number of examples of where he told stories of significant healing and as he spoke and described what had happened previously, the same healing started taking place in the gathering. This has occurred numerous times.
I believe this two things are necessary for us to begin the journey into true and lasting freedom.
We must be reconciled to our creator and sustainer YHWH. The Bible clearly talks about this, most particularly through the recorded words of Jesus. John 3 tells us, we must be born anew.
The promise is, that having turned from going our own wilful way and changing our minds to agree with His way (see Gospel? Metanoia) that we get a helper that will lead us into all truth.
Our world-view needs to shift and come into alignment with how God sees and decrees things should be.
This is hugely assisted by reading and hearing what God has revealed to us in His story as uniquely recorded in the Bible.
As we make a practise of reading and re-reading the revelation of God through this amazing book; and like the author of Psalm 119 said in the quoted verses at the start of this page: we will walk in the spirit and the freedom we were created for.