“Where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.”—2 COR. 3:17.
1, 2. (a) Why were people in the apostle Paul’s day concerned with slavery and freedom? (b) To whom did Paul direct people so that they could gain true freedom?
PEOPLE of the Roman world, among whom the early Christians lived, prided themselves on being champions of law, justice, and freedom. Yet, much of the power and glory of the Roman Empire was built on the backs of slaves. At one point, some 30 percent of the population were slaves. Undoubtedly, slavery and freedom were topics on the minds of the common people, including Christians.
2 The letters of the apostle Paul have much to say about freedom. However, the objective of his ministry was not social or political reform, the very thing people of that day were seeking. Rather than looking to any human ruler or agency for freedom, Paul and his fellow Christians worked hard to help others learn the good news of God’s Kingdom and the incomparable value of the ransom sacrifice of Christ Jesus. Paul directed his fellow believers to the Source of true freedom. In his second letter to the Corinthian Christians, for example, he clearly stated: “Jehovah is the Spirit, and where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.”—2 Cor. 3:17.
3, 4. (a) What led up to Paul’s statement found at 2 Corinthians 3:17? (b) What must we do to enjoy the freedom that comes from Jehovah?
3 Earlier in this letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke of the glory of Moses when he descended from Mount Sinai after being in the presence of an angel of Jehovah. Upon seeing Moses, the people became fearful, and Moses put a veil over his face. (Ex. 34:29, 30, 33; 2 Cor. 3:7, 13) “But,” Paul explained, “when one turns to Jehovah, the veil is taken away.” (2 Cor. 3:16) What do Paul’s words mean?
4 As we learned in the preceding article, Jehovah, the Creator of all things, is the only Person who enjoys absolute and unlimited freedom. It stands to reason that in the presence of Jehovah and “where the spirit of Jehovah is,” there is freedom. To enjoy and benefit from that freedom, however, we must ‘turn to Jehovah,’ that is, come into a personal relationship with him. The Israelites in the wilderness did not view Jehovah’s dealings with them in a spiritual way. It was as if their hearts and minds were veiled and hardened, focused only on using their newfound freedom from Egypt in a physical, or fleshly, way.—Heb. 3:8-10.
5. (a) What sort of freedom does Jehovah’s spirit bring? (b) How do we know that physical bondage need not diminish the freedom Jehovah provides? (c) What questions do we need to answer?
5 The freedom that is associated with the spirit of Jehovah, however, is more than liberation from physical slavery. Far beyond what human efforts can hope to achieve, the spirit of Jehovah brings liberation from enslavement to sin and death, as well as from slavery to false worship and its practices. (Rom. 6:23; 8:2) What a glorious freedom that is! A person can enjoy the benefits of such freedom even when imprisoned or enslaved. (Gen. 39:20-23) This was certainly true of Sister Nancy Yuen and Brother Harold King, both of whom endured years of imprisonment for their faith. You can see and hear them relate their experiences on JW Broadcasting. (Look under INTERVIEWS AND EXPERIENCES > ENDURING TRIALS.) We need to consider, though, how can we show that we treasure our freedom? And what can we do to make wise use of this freedom?
VALUING OUR GOD-GIVEN FREEDOM
6. How did the Israelites show a lack of appreciation for the freedom that Jehovah gave them?
6 When we realize the true value of a costly gift, we are moved to show our gratitude to the giver. The Israelites did not appreciate the freedom that Jehovah bestowed upon them when he delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Within a few months of their deliverance, they began to long for the food and drink they once had in Egypt and complained about Jehovah’s provisions, even wanting to return to Egypt. Just imagine, they put ‘fish, cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions, and garlic’ above their God-given freedom to worship the true God, Jehovah. Is it any wonder that Jehovah became very angry with his people? (Num. 11:5, 6, 10; 14:3, 4) What a lesson for us!
7. How did Paul act in harmony with his counsel found at 2 Corinthians 6:1, and how can we do likewise?
7 The apostle Paul urged all Christians not to take for granted the freedom that Jehovah has kindly given us through his Son, Jesus Christ. (Read 2 Corinthians 6:1.) Recall the misery and pain of conscience that Paul suffered because of feeling captive to sin and death. Yet, he gratefully declared: “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Why? He explained to his fellow Christians: “For the law of the spirit that gives life in union with Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (Rom. 7:24, 25; 8:2) Following Paul’s example, we too should never take for granted that Jehovah liberated us from the bondage of sin and of death. By means of the ransom, we can serve our God with a clean conscience and find real delight in doing so.—Ps. 40:8.
8, 9. (a) What warning did the apostle Peter give about using our freedom? (b) What dangers confront us today?
8 In addition to expressing gratitude, however, we should be mindful of never misusing our precious freedom. The apostle Peter warned against using our freedom as an excuse for catering to our fleshly desires. (Read 1 Peter 2:16.) Does that warning not remind you of what befell the Israelites in the wilderness? And the danger is still with us, perhaps even more so. Satan and his world offer ever more alluring choices in dress and grooming, food and drink, recreation and entertainment, and a host of other things. Clever advertisers often feature attractive people deceptively promoting as must-haves many things we really do not need. How easy it is to fall prey to these ploys and to misuse our freedom!
9 The counsel by Peter also applies to more serious aspects of life, such as a person’s choice of education, employment, or career. For example, young people in school today are under much pressure to qualify for enrollment in elite institutions of higher education. They are led to believe that advanced education opens the door to high-paying and prestigious jobs, and statistics are often presented to show the gap in earnings between graduates from such institutions and those who completed only basic schooling. Faced with choices that can deeply affect their entire life course, young people may find all of this very enticing. What should they and their parents bear in mind?
10. What do we need to bear in mind when exercising our freedom to make personal choices?
10 Some individuals may feel that since choices in these matters are personal, they should have the freedom to choose what they please as long as their conscience permits it. Perhaps they have in mind Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians about food: “Why should my freedom be judged by another person’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:29) While it is true that we have the freedom to make personal choices regarding our education and career, we need to remember that our freedom is relative and that all decisions we make have consequences. For that reason, Paul prefaced his statement with these words: “All things are lawful [or, “permissible,” ftn.], but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” (1 Cor. 10:23) That certainly helps us to see that there are far more important factors to consider than our own preferences when it comes to exercising personal freedom in all aspects of our life.
WISELY USING OUR FREEDOM TO SERVE GOD
11. For what purpose have we been set free?
11 In his warning against the misuse of freedom, Peter also pointed out the objective. He urged us to use our freedom “as slaves of God.” Thus, the real purpose for which Jehovah, through Jesus, has freed us from the law of sin and of death is for us to live a life of dedication “as slaves of God.”
12. What example did Noah and his family set for us?
12 The best way to protect ourselves from misusing our freedom and thus becoming enslaved again by worldly ambitions and desires is to be fully absorbed in spiritual pursuits. (Gal. 5:16) Consider, for example, the patriarch Noah and his family. They lived in a violent and immoral world. Yet, they kept free from being entangled in the desires and pursuits of the people around them. How did they manage to do that? They chose to keep busy in all that Jehovah had assigned them to do—build the ark, store up food for themselves and the animals, and sound the warning to others. “Noah did according to all that God had commanded him. He did just so.” (Gen. 6:22) The result? Noah and his family survived the end of that world.—Heb. 11:7.
13. What commission did Jesus receive and in turn pass on to his followers?
13 What has Jehovah commanded us to do today? As disciples of Jesus, we are well-acquainted with our God-given commission. (Read Luke 4:18, 19.) Today, the vast majority of people are still blinded by the god of this system of things and are in bondage—religious, economic, and social. (2 Cor. 4:4) It is our privilege to follow Jesus’ example of helping people to come to know and worship Jehovah, the God of freedom. (Matt. 28:19, 20) That is not an easy work, and there are many challenges. In some lands, people are becoming more indifferent, some even hostile. The question that each of us should consider is, ‘Can I use my freedom to give greater support to the Kingdom work?’
14, 15. What kind of response to the preaching work is seen among Jehovah’s people? (See opening picture.)
14 It is most encouraging to see that many have sensed the urgency of our times and have simplified their lives so as to share in the full-time ministry. (1 Cor. 9:19, 23) Some of them serve within their local territories; others move to where the need is greater. Records show that in the last five years, the average number of regular pioneers has grown to over 1,100,000 and more than a quarter of a million worldwide have been added to the ranks of full-time preachers. What a splendid result of making wise use of the freedom to serve Jehovah!—Ps. 110:3.
15 What helped these brothers and sisters to make wise use of their freedom? Consider John and Judith, who for the past 30 years have served in a number of countries. They recall that when the Pioneer Service School began in 1977, the emphasis was placed on being willing to move and serve where the need was greater. To keep their focus on this goal, John says that he changed jobs many times in order to maintain a simple lifestyle. Eventually, when they arrived in a foreign country, they found that praying to Jehovah and relying on him helped them to overcome such obstacles as learning a new language, adjusting to a new culture, and enduring difficult climates. How did those years of service affect them? “I felt that I was immersed in the best activity I’ve ever known or experienced,” John says. “Jehovah became more real to me, as a loving father would be. Now I understood better what James 4:8 means: ‘Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.’ I knew I had found what I was looking for, a satisfying purpose in life.”
16. How have thousands with limited circumstances used their freedom wisely?
16 Unlike John and Judith, others have circumstances that allow them to serve full-time for only a short period. Nonetheless, many seize the opportunity to volunteer in theocratic construction projects around the world. For example, when world headquarters was being built at Warwick, New York, some 27,000 brothers and sisters offered their services—anywhere from two weeks to a year or longer. Many of them put their life on hold to serve there. What a wonderful example of using their God-given freedom to praise and honor Jehovah, the God of freedom!
17. What glorious future awaits those who now use their God-given freedom wisely?
17 We are grateful that we have come to know Jehovah and can enjoy the freedom that true worship brings. May we show by the choices we make that we treasure that freedom. Instead of squandering or misusing it, let us use our freedom and the opportunities it brings to serve Jehovah to the fullest extent possible. If we do so, we can look forward to enjoying the blessings Jehovah has promised when the words of this prophecy are fulfilled: “The creation itself will also be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.”—Rom. 8:21.