Commentaries / Commentary
Happy Independence Day! A long 4th of July weekend will find many of us heading to the beach or the lake – getting out on the water, enjoying backyard BBQ’s with family and friends, heading to the town parade and dashing out to get the candy thrown out by the firemen, tossing the ball around on the back lawn, setting off fireworks, and flying the flag. For the majority of Americans, 4th of July is a sort of cultural holiday that represents what we most like about summer with a bit of patriotism thrown in for good measure. But how many of us really know the history of our independence? For how many of us has it become a romanticized tale of tea thrown in Boston Harbor and bloody footprints in the snow at Valley Forge? The truth is that, as in all endeavors where men and women fight for what they want, motivations are mixed, hearts are not always pure, and even though the end result may be “good” and even righteous, plenty of evil is done along the way. Thank God that He is sovereign despite ourselves! So, yes, a war was fought which gave us our “independence.” But what does this mean?
An illustration comes to mind. A few years ago, I spent six weeks in England and France working on organic farms and my time culminated in a 10-day horseback ride through the Pyrenees. I have grown up riding and I desperately wanted to do this ride, but it turns out that I needed a riding partner. Through a pretty miraculous turn of events I was paired with a woman from San Diego who also didn’t have a riding partner. In talking to her on the phone, I discovered she was a Christian and we agreed that the way this had turned out was really amazing because we would not have been able to do this ride had we not “met” each other (the company assured me that they never paired people up so this was really unusual for them) – for this was an “unguided” ride. In other words, every morning we were handed a map and were expected to show up at our destination before dark. I must say the maps were disastrous – translation issues were severe (as in “left” often meant “right”) so, needless to say, after a couple days of much delay, it was determined that we would no longer be unguided. Charlie was now along for the ride. Aside from the fact that we actually had much more of an adventurous ride with him than we would have had without him, he was quick to let us know that it’s only ever Americans who go for the unguided rides. ALL other individuals ask for a guide. As he told us, “Americans always think they can do it alone and without help.”
While many would argue that this independent streak is part of what makes this country great, it has also gotten us into a lot of trouble throughout our history and is also part of what helps define the “ugly American.” It is easily translated into “Don’t tell me what to do!” “I have the right to……” “I don’t care what you think, I’m doing this anyway…..”, etc. etc. Is this what our freedom has won us? Is this what “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (which actually has nothing to do with “happiness” in the way we define it today) means?
II Corinthians 3:17 informs us that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” However, Paul notes that he bears on his body the marks of Jesus that testify to His ownership over Paul (Galations 6:17). Essentially, Paul is identifying himself as a slave to Christ. The concept of voluntary slavery was not a new one. In the Old Testament, a bondslave could decide he or she did not want to be free after the legal six years of slavery. He or she could then have an ear pierced in a public ceremony to mark (irreversibly) this new lifetime relationship with the owner (see Exodus 21). As far as Biblical record, there is no account of a servant deciding to do this, so why would it be included in Scripture? Perhaps because it is a picture of an individual’s relationship with Jesus. Nancy Leigh DeMoss in her book Surrender observes that the psalmist made reference to this relationship when he wrote, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced….I desire to do your will, O my God” (Psalm 40: 6, 8). He was speaking prophetically of Christ. Christ came to earth and took the form of a servant (doulos is the Greek word used which defines the lowest form of a slave – see Phil. 2:7). In willingly taking on this role, Christ fulfilled the suggestion of Old Testament law and gave us a model to follow.
I find it interesting that the same word doulos is used by Mary when she responds to the angel Gabriel. She gave her intent to be a slave to the will of God, yet in our translations of the Bible we will read “servant” in place of the original word . (This subtle translation error has replaced most if not all of the occasions where doulos was written). Why? Because who wants to be a slave to another?! It is much more palatable to imagine that I can independently choose to serve God rather than fully giving myself over to Him and belonging to Him for life. I no longer get to make my own decisions and must rely on Him for absolutely everything. As Americans, we chafe at the very thought! It seems to go against everything we stand for and believe in, yet the truth is, real freedom comes in absolute surrender to Christ. It is the only way out of any kind of bondage and therein lies the paradox of Christianity. To be free is to voluntarily surrender what we perceive as freedom; to be free is to voluntarily choose to become a slave. To be free is to live joyfully under God’s laws. As C.S. Lewis wrote:
Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted. (The Problem of Pain, 41).
DeMoss shares in Surrender the following prayer by Leonard Ravenhill:
Lord, engage my heart today
with a passion that will not pass away.
Now torch it with Thy holy fire
that nevermore shall earth’s desire
invade or quench the heaven born power.
I would be trapped within Thy holy will,
Thine every holy purpose to fulfill,
that every effort of my life
shall bring rapturous praise to my eternal King.
I pledge from this day to the grave
to be Thine own, unquestioning slave.
I pray that this prayer would be our own and that as we celebrate this weekend the independence and freedoms that we enjoy as Americans, we would be stirred to fight for true freedom – to pursue Christ with passion in our individual lives and to promote and proclaim the Gospel of freedom to a hurting and enslaved world. Blessings and Happy 4th!
Mary E. Marshall
President, Peter Marshall Ministries, Inc.
The late Rev. Peter Marshall (1940-2010) was a Presbyterian minister who for over forty years gained national recognition as a preacher on Christian growth and discipleship.
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