“Where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.”—2 CORINTHIANS 3:17.
1, 2. (a) Why were slavery and freedom important subjects in the apostle Paul’s day? (b) Who did Paul say is the Source of true freedom?
THE early Christians lived in the Roman Empire, where people were very proud of the laws, system of justice, and freedom that they had. Yet, that powerful empire relied on slaves to do most of the hard work. At one point, about 1 out of every 3 people in the Roman Empire was a slave. Certainly, slavery and freedom were important subjects for the common people, including Christians.
2 The apostle Paul often wrote about freedom. But he was not trying to fix this world’s problems, which many people of that time wanted to do. Instead, Paul and his fellow Christians worked hard to teach people the good news of God’s Kingdom and to help them understand how precious the ransom sacrifice of Christ Jesus was. Paul told his fellow Christians where to find the Source of true freedom. He wrote: “Jehovah is the Spirit, and where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.”—2 Corinthians 3:17.
3, 4. (a) What did Paul discuss in the verses before 2 Corinthians 3:17? (b) What must we do to have the freedom that comes from Jehovah?
3 In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentioned what happened to Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai after he had been in the presence of an angel of Jehovah. Rays of light were shining from his face! When the Israelites saw Moses, they became afraid, so he covered his face with a veil. (Exodus 34:29, 30, 33; 2 Corinthians 3:7, 13) Paul explained: “But when one turns to Jehovah, the veil is taken away.” (2 Corinthians 3:16) What did Paul mean?
4 We learned in the previous article that Jehovah, the Creator of all things, is the only Person who has absolute, unlimited freedom. So it makes sense that there is freedom in the presence of Jehovah and “where the spirit of Jehovah is.” But Paul said that if we want to have this freedom, we must turn to Jehovah. This means that we must have a close relationship with him. The Israelites in the wilderness saw things only from a human perspective, not from Jehovah’s viewpoint. It was as if they had a veil over their minds and hearts. They wanted to use their new freedom to satisfy their own desires.—Hebrews 3:8-10.
Even someone who is in prison can have freedom
5. (a) What kind of freedom does the spirit of Jehovah give? (b) How do we know that someone can be a slave or in prison and still have the freedom Jehovah gives? (c) What questions do we need to answer?
5 The freedom that the spirit of Jehovah gives is more than freedom from being a slave. That spirit brings much greater freedom than humans ever could. It can free us from slavery to sin and death and from slavery to false worship and its customs. (Romans 6:23; 8:2) What an amazing freedom that is! Even someone who is a slave or in prison can have this freedom. (Genesis 39:20-23) Sister Nancy Yuen and Brother Harold King were each imprisoned for many years because of their faith, yet they still had this kind of freedom. You can watch them talk about their experiences on JW Broadcasting. (Look under INTERVIEWS AND EXPERIENCES > ENDURING TRIALS.) Now let us answer two questions. How can we prove that our freedom is very precious to us? And how can we use our freedom wisely?
THE FREEDOM GOD GIVES US IS VERY PRECIOUS
6. How did the Israelites show that they were not grateful for the freedom that Jehovah had given them?
6 When we receive a precious gift, we are grateful to the person who gave it to us. Yet, the Israelites were not grateful for the freedom that Jehovah gave them. Only a few months after Jehovah freed them from Egypt, they started to crave the food and drink they used to have there. They complained about the manna, the food that Jehovah was providing for them. They even wanted to go back to Egypt! For them, ‘the fish, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic’ were more important than the freedom that Jehovah had given them to worship him. No wonder that Jehovah became very angry with them. (Numbers 11:5, 6, 10; 14:3, 4) This teaches us an important lesson.
7. How did Paul apply his own counsel found at 2 Corinthians 6:1, and how can we do the same?
7 Paul warned all Christians not to become ungrateful for the freedom that Jehovah has given us through his Son, Jesus Christ. (Read 2 Corinthians 6:1.) Paul was imperfect, a slave to sin and death, and this made him feel terrible. Still, he said: “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Why did he say that? Paul 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.” (Romans 7:24, 25; 8:2) Like Paul, we should never forget that Jehovah has freed us from slavery to sin and death. The ransom makes it possible for us to serve our God with a clean conscience, and this gives us real joy.—Psalm 40:8.
8, 9. (a) What warning did the apostle Peter give about how we should use our freedom? (b) How could someone use his freedom in the wrong way?
8 We should not only say that we are grateful to Jehovah, but we should also be careful that we do not use our freedom in the wrong way. For example, the apostle Peter warned that we should not use our freedom as an excuse to do wrong things. (Read 1 Peter 2:16.) This warning reminds us of what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness. Today we also need this warning, perhaps even more so. Satan and his world offer many desirable things to wear, eat, drink, and be entertained by. Clever advertisers use beautiful people to make us think that we have to buy things that we do not really need. It can be very easy to be tricked by the world into using our freedom in the wrong way.
9 Peter’s counsel also applies to more serious matters in life, such as what education, job, or career we choose. For example, young ones today feel pressured to work very hard so that they can be accepted to the best universities. Many people tell them that if they get higher education, they will get good jobs, make a lot of money, and be respected. Those people may show them information that seems to prove that those who graduate from a university will earn more money than those who graduate from high school. Higher education may seem like a very good idea to young people when they have to make choices that can affect the rest of their life. But what should they and their parents remember?
10. What must we remember when we make choices in personal matters?
10 Some may feel that because these matters are personal, they should have the freedom to choose whatever they want as long as it does not bother their conscience. They may think of Paul’s words: “Why should my freedom be judged by another person’s conscience?” (1 Corinthians 10:29) Although we have the freedom to make our own choices about our education and our career, we must remember that our freedom has limits and that all our decisions have consequences. That is why Paul said: “All things are permissible, but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23; footnote) So even though we have the freedom to make choices in personal matters, what we want is not the most important thing.
WE USE OUR FREEDOM WISELY WHEN WE SERVE JEHOVAH
11. What is the reason why Jehovah has freed us?
11 When Peter warned us not to use our freedom in the wrong way, he said that the right way to use it is “as slaves of God.” The reason Jehovah has used Jesus to free us from slavery to sin and death is so that we can use our whole life to serve Him.
The best way to use our freedom is to use our time and energy to serve Jehovah fully
12. What example did Noah and his family set for us?
12 The best way to use our freedom is to use our time and energy to serve Jehovah fully. Doing this will protect us from letting worldly goals and personal desires become the most important things in our life. (Galatians 5:16) Think of what Noah and his family did. They lived in a violent and immoral world. But they did not get involved in the goals and activities of the people around them. They chose to stay busy doing the work Jehovah had given them to do. They built the ark, collected food for themselves and the animals, and warned others about the Flood. “Noah did according to all that God had commanded him. He did just so.” (Genesis 6:22) As a result, Noah and his family survived the end of that world.—Hebrews 11:7.
13. What has Jehovah commanded us to do?
13 What has Jehovah commanded us to do today? As Jesus’ disciples, we know that God has commanded us to preach. (Read Luke 4:18, 19.) Today, Satan has blinded most people and they do not realize that they are slaves of false religion, material things, and the political system. (2 Corinthians 4:4) Like Jesus, we have the privilege to help others get to know and worship Jehovah, the God of freedom. (Matthew 28:19, 20) Preaching to others is not easy. In some places, people are not interested in getting to know God, and some even become angry when we preach to them. But since Jehovah has commanded us to preach, we should ask ourselves, ‘Can I use my freedom to do more in Jehovah’s service?’
14, 15. What have many of Jehovah’s people decided to do? (See opening picture.)
14 It is encouraging that many of Jehovah’s people have realized that the end of this system is very close and have decided to simplify their lives and start pioneering. (1 Corinthians 9:19, 23) Some pioneer in their home area, while others move to congregations that need help. In the last five years, more than 250,000 have started pioneering, and now there are over 1,100,000 regular pioneers. How wonderful it is that so many are using their freedom to serve Jehovah in this way!—Psalm 110:3.
15 What helped them to use their freedom wisely? Consider John and Judith, who have served in several countries for the past 30 years. They explain that when Pioneer Service School began in 1977, the students were encouraged to move and serve where there was a greater need. To reach that goal, John and Judith needed to keep their life simple. So John often changed his job. Eventually, they went to preach in a foreign country. What helped them to overcome difficulties such as learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture and climate? They prayed to Jehovah and relied on him to help them. How do they feel about serving Jehovah in this way for all these years? John says: “I felt that I was immersed in the best activity I’ve ever known or experienced. 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 used their freedom wisely?
16 Some, like John and Judith, can pioneer for a long time. Because of circumstances, others can pioneer for only a little while. Still, many volunteer to work on construction projects around the world. For example, about 27,000 brothers and sisters came to help with the construction of world headquarters at Warwick, New York. Some came for two weeks, some for a few months, and others for a year or longer. Many of those brothers and sisters made sacrifices in order to serve at Warwick. They are wonderful examples of people who have used their freedom to praise and honor Jehovah, the God of freedom!
17. What can we look forward to if we use our freedom wisely now?
17 We are grateful that we have come to know Jehovah and that we have the freedom that comes from worshipping him. Let us prove by the choices we make that this freedom is very precious to us. Instead of using it in the wrong way, let us use it to serve Jehovah as fully as we can. Then we can enjoy the blessings Jehovah promised for the time when this prophecy will come true: “The creation itself will also be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.”—Romans 8:21.