You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
"Called to be free".
It is a curious notion that one might be called to be free. Freedom, after all, is the great desire as well as the great seduction. Freedom is the power to turn choice into action. That such power might be anything but a gift seems almost absurd.
Yet we are told that freedom is a calling. How can this be?
A Commandment Given
When we are called, we are summoned. We are commanded. We are required. This is the very essence, the core meaning, of what it is to be "called".
As we are called to be free, freedom is not merely a gift, but a mandate. There is expectation laid upon us that we will embrace freedom, and make use of it.
Freedom is a commandment given.
The command is a simple one: "Choose". In every situation we are faced with options and alternatives. In every situation we are faced with choices, of which we must pick one. As we are called to be free, we are commanded to make that choice.
These choices make freedom a most dangerous concept. With each choice we not only initiate our own actions, but we set in motion all the consequences arising from that action. As consequence flows inevitably from our own actions, there can be no freedom from consequence. As we choose our own actions we of necessity choose our own consequences, be they good or bad.
Freedom is dangerous, but if we are called to freedom we cannot avoid the danger. We do not have the luxury of not choosing, of not acting. We are called to freedom, therefore we must choose--left or right, up or down, this way or that way--and we must contend with all that follows from that choice.
In this, freedom is also paradoxical. If we elect not to choose, that election is itself a choice, complete with its own course, actions, and consequences.
We are called to be free. We are commanded to choose, and we cannot refuse.
How Shall We Choose?
Since we must make choices, it follows that it is in our best interest to always choose wisely. Who would willing choose that which yields only bad consequences, or more bad consequences than good?
How, then shall we choose? How can we be assured of more good than bad outcomes to our choices?
As anyone who has had too much to eat or drink, and suffered the unpleasant aftereffects can attest, unrestrained indulgence has some very direct bad outcomes, all of which are foreseeable. Choosing to surrender to the impulses of the moment yields more bad outcomes than good.
A thoughtless word or insensitive remark can quickly earn us the enmity of our neighbors, and can turn friends into enemies. Choosing to disregard those around us thus also seems likely to yield more bad outcomes than good.
Taking whatever we want, merely because we want it, will quickly create a variety of legal and other complications in our lives, none of which can plausibly be considered "good" outcomes. Choosing to despoil the property of others again is likely to yield more bad outcomes than good.
Wanton indulgence, self-centeredness, and simple greed are quite clearly not the choices that will give us the outcomes we desire. Momentary pleasures invariably turn into lasting pains.
Yet simply denying ourselves momentary pleasures by itself yields no pleasure at all. If the alternatives are momentary pleasure or no pleasure, then even lasting pains might be seen as a worthwhile exchange.
Neither indulgence nor denial of the impulses of self are choices which can assure us of more good outcomes than bad. For such assurance, we must look beyond ourselves, beyond those momentary impulses. Following this reasoning to its conclusion, the "good" choice must invariably be one which takes into account the people around us. Choosing wisely means thinking of friends, of family, and of community as we make our choices.
On even a mercenary basis of trading favor for favor, kindness for kindness, we can see the logic of this. If we extend ourselves on behalf of our neighbors we are not unreasonable in expecting our neighbors to extend themselves on behalf of us--and is not such reciprocity the very basis on which communities are built, and even friendships founded?
Yet even without explicit reciprocity, cultivating an awareness of the needs and desires of others is far more likely to inspire similar awareness in others than casual disdain. Not everyone will repay kindness with kindness, but no one will repay contempt with kindness.
Whatever we choose, we raise our chances of good outcomes if we extend our thinking to the wider world around us as we choose.
Lead By Example
If we assert a premise that consideration for others is our best bet for positive outcomes in our own lives, what assurance have we that an act of generosity on our part will be repaid with generosity from others?
We have no assurance whatsoever. Our generosity may or may not be repaid in kind. Those whom we help may return scorn and contempt instead.
How others respond to our actions is not a choice we get to make. We invite the consequence by acting, but we never have the luxury of choosing the consequence that will follow from an action. Our ability to choose our consequences is limited to our choice of actions.
This limitation is applies to everyone, however. The response of others to our actions is a choice--and therefore an action--for them. The challenge each of us faces to make choices which maximize good consequences in our lives is the same challenge for all.
As the response to our actions is a choice for others, so too is our reaction to that response a consequence for others. If generosity is not met with generosity, what motive have we to remain in the company of such people? If generosity is met with scorn, why would we not remove ourselves from such people?
If we remove ourselves from such people, one certainty that exists is that we will not be in position to offer them generosity when they need it, Another certainty is that they will need some generosity at some point. There can be little doubt that this is the order of things for everyone.
If we take the initiative, and show generosity without assurance of receiving it in return, we will be at least some of the time disappointed. Some of the time we will be well rewarded. At all times we will promote the ideal that generosity is beneficial to everyone. Even if we only persuade but one other person of this, by so doing we increase our chances of receiving generosity in return for our own.
We maximize our chances for this good outcome by leading by example, and showing generosity without knowing the outcome.
As we are called to be free, as we are commanded to choose, our best fulfillment of this command--and our best service to ourselves--is to be generous, and serve one another humbly in love.
That is how we choose well.
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