Christian liberty, therefore, is simply this, that we willingly walk in the narrow confines of God’s commandments and find our happiness there. To our flesh this sounds like a paradox: a liberty which subjects itself to the cruelest taskmaster possible. Our flesh often rebels, kicks the traces, breaks away from the narrow limits of the law. In fact, when the law says, “Do not touch!” we say, “I want to touch; who says I can’t?” There is always the urge to test the wet paint sign, or deliberately to oppose the “Keep off the grass” sign by walking on the grass. Just as the lion is prodded to anger when aroused, so also our human nature reveals the lion in us when confronted with God’s commandments.
That is where our spiritual tension comes in: the struggle to do the good, while our inclination is evil. Only by grace do we learn to say, “O how love I Thy law; it is my meditation all the day.” Let me give just two examples of what I have in mind. Consider, for example, a fish that you draw out of the narrow confines of a fish tank. You take it from the tank; you give it the whole wide world in which to move about; yet that fish immediately begins to gasp and struggle. If you keep it in that kind of freedom too long, it dies. Thus also a child of God must live in the atmosphere of God’s Word and His church. A child of God must breathe the spiritual air of the church. For to live apart from God is death. Or another example. When you plan a long trip, you obtain a road map which you study carefully. On your trip you refer to the map constantly, in order to remain within the narrow confines of the map, no matter how appealing the side roads may be. For you know that you will never reach your destination unless you follow the map closely. Thus the psalmist had learned to say, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light upon my path.” The child of God walks at the hand of his heavenly Father, and is safe, ever sure of his destination. He can confess, “And I will walk at liberty, because Thy Word I keep.” Or as Asaph expresses it, “Thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.”
To apply this to our churches and to our times, I refer once more to I Peter 2:16. The main thought in the context of this verse is that we must submit to those whom God has placed over us. Although Peter wrote in a time of religious persecution by the magistrate, Peter still maintains that God set the magistrates over us; and we must submit to them. Moreover, those in authority must be esteemed by us because of their divinely entrusted authority. We may never use our Christian liberty as a cloak of maliciousness, as an excuse to defy their authority. Office bearers must consider this very seriously. You know, as I do, that elders and deacons are not very highly esteemed in the church. Members tend to call them by their first name, to regard them as their equals, and even to criticize them quite freely. We stare ourselves blind at their faults, and ignore the fact that Christ deemed them worthy to serve in His office. Christ calls them as His ambassadors, places them over us, vested with His authority to speak and act in His name. Elders are ambassadors of the King, who must be feared for the sake of their office. They open and close the kingdom of heaven. Even ministers are under their authority. Deacons represent our merciful High Priest. Through them Christ comes to us, bringing His gifts to the poor and His compassion to the afflicted. Therefore it is the duty of the office bearer to live an exemplary life, to rule his family well, and to be faithful in His office always.
This authority of Christ must be maintained by Christian discipline in the congregation. One of the first evidences that Christ has withdrawn from a certain congregation is that Christian discipline is no longer exercised. Elders sometimes tend td be lax in exercising the keys of the kingdom because they are aware of their own ‘imperfections. Often a double standard is applied in the church. Children and young people are, as it were, free from discipline. They are considered young, foolish maybe; but they have a right to have their fun. They are allowed to speak disrespectfully of the magistrate, the police, their teachers, the minister, and even of their parents. The parents tend to overlook this by saying, “I was not so good either when I was young,” as if to imply, “And I still turned out well.” We have the solemn duty to walk in love to the Lord our God, to live by faith, and seek God’s glory. That is the whole duty of man. Children, young people, are no exception to that rule. We may be sound in doctrine; but if we do not live our doctrine, we will certainly suffer disaster in our generations.
In conclusion, I want to refer once more to Galatians 5:13. The entire section from vss. 13-16 reads: “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This H say then, walk in the spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” The figure used here should not be slighted. Like cannibals, we tend to eat, to devour each other. Scripture points out to us that, if we love God, we manifest that love by loving the neighbor. Loving the neighbor does not begin in China or Singapore, but at home. Our closest neighbors are our own husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, as well as the next door neighbor. My chief concern is thedisintegration of the home. It takes a lot of money to pay for a nice home, an automobile or two, an occasional vacation, a few luxuries, and besides all that, our church budget and school tuition. The result is that father has to keep his nose to the grindstone to keep the wolf from the door, and often mother has to step in and earn an extra income also. If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that this is all an excuse. We do not need all the luxuries we strive after. Just because everybody else has those luxuries, it does not mean that we really need them. Our parents never had all the conveniences we have. They worked often ten or twelve hours a day, six days a week. They walked to work, to church, to buy groceries. They rarely, if ever, needed a vacation. Yet they were happy. And they had time to spend with their families. The winter evenings found the family happily gathered around the glowing coal stove. Today many families do not even have one daily meal together. We complain, “It cannot be done!” We prefer not to ask, “Why not?” Even when the family is at home, where is the togetherness? One watches TV, another sits in her room, another is busy elsewhere. I know, we shrug our shoulders and say, “It’s the times.” But I assure you that the main ingredient for a happy home is lacking: love, love for one another, so that we enjoy each other’s company and want to be together. We seek the things that perish; and we neglect the one thing that is all-important, love revealing itself in companionship. What good does an expression of love do when it is not evident in reality?
The day is not far off when we shall have to give up all these things we cherish most highly. Soon we will not be able to buy or sell without denying our faith. Soon we will be confronted with the question: do I stand for the cause of Christ, or do I join Antichrist? In that day we might find ourselves already deeply involved in Antichrist. Disintegrated homes do not help us to prepare for that day. Yes, God preserves His church. He is Abraham’s God, and the God of Abraham’s seed. That is our comfort. But eternal vigilance is the price we pay in a covenant family. This begins with the office bearers in the church. We do well to take heed to ourselves and to the flock entrusted to us! Many first shall be last, and many last shall be first!