Freedom is a big deal. In my country (the United States of America), many people died to free its citizens from being subjects of another empire. Even today, there are those who fight, and sometimes even give their lives, to preserve the freedoms that are encoded into our laws.
In fact, the Bible talks about the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ (see Galatians 5:1, for instance). Jesus bought us freedom from having to earn our salvation (which we can’t achieve by ourselves), giving us freedom to do good works (out of our love for God) and freedom to live our lives as God intended (full, complete, and with purpose).
However, even those who are earnestly following God – and have spiritual freedom – still sometimes find themselves lacking other kinds of freedom. Throughout history, those who are listening to God sometimes find themselves without social or personal freedoms. If you read the book of Acts, or the letters of Paul, you will find that early followers of Jesus spent a fair amount of time in prison, or otherwise had their freedoms curtailed. A review of history and even current events shows that Christians have continued to live under limitations from hostile governments and other groups. (The amount ebbs and flows, depending on decade and locale, but Satan continues his battle against the church, despite Jesus’ defense of it.)
In that light, consider the patriarch Joseph, who was sold into slavery in Egypt – far from his home and family – by his brothers (Genesis 37:28). Now, I’m not saying that Joseph was perfect, especially at the earlier stages of his life (when he appears to have been a little insensitive to others), but he was given prophetic messages from God and seems to have followed Him fairly diligently.
Even when Joseph was sold into slavery, though (the very antithesis of freedom), God was with Joseph, and Joseph’s life as a slave became fairly privileged (see Genesis 39:1-6). I’m not saying that Joseph had unlimited personal freedom, but things weren’t all bad. Then, Joseph gets wrongfully accused by the wife of his master (when he won’t violate their marriage), and gets thrown into jail. As if being a slave wasn’t far enough from being a free man, now he’s in prison!
Even here, though, God takes care of Joseph. Here’s a summary:
The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The LORD was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.
Genesis 39:23 NLT
Here, I think that we can safely say that Joseph was actually better off than certain others who were not slaves or in jail. Why? The verse above tells us, “The LORD was with him…”. Nothing is more important than that. We can read the rest of Joseph’s account, how he was promoted to second in command of Egypt, and saved countless lives not only in that nation, but also within his own family. However, even without this “happy ending”, knowing a God who is perfectly holy, glorious, loving, and faithful is still worth any amount of pain that we may experience here on earth.
Unlike Joseph’s success, his brothers failed him (and their father) when they sought to kill him, and even when they conceded to sell him as a slave instead. I think that we could say that Potiphar’s wife had a moral failure. Countless persecutors of people who follow Jesus Christ are on the opposite side of the truth (and the Truth, who is Jesus Himself). All of these people had (or have) the personal freedom to do the wrong thing (after all, God doesn’t force us to obey Him), but they fail when they act contrary to how they were created to live. They flunked the test when it came to choosing the right thing to do.
In the end, Joseph was a successful prisoner (after being a successful slave), by going along with God’s plan. The “free” people in his life weren’t really free from their sins (see Galatians 3:22), as they gave in to their selfishness and doing the wrong thing, causing harm to others (mainly Joseph in these cases, but sin’s negative effects are hard to contain to just its original recipients).
So, how about you? Would you be willing to have limited (or no) personal freedom in exchange for spiritual freedom? This is a terrible choice, and not one that I want anyone to have to make, but it is a reality for some Christians today. For those who have the privilege of having both kinds of freedom (personal and spiritual), it is probably still good for us to consider this situation, and choose ahead of time what our priorities are. Hopefully, for many of my readers, the biggest personal freedom that we will give up if we boldly serve Jesus Christ is to become unwelcome at certain kinds of parties, but it’s still worth thinking about.
(By the way, if you are following Jesus, don’t let false teachers take away your freedom, either. See 2 Peter 2:19-20 and 2 Corinthians 3:17.)
Some day, all those who have accepted God’s offer to return to His family will be truly free, in all aspects of their nature. Until then, may we seek freedom of all kinds for all people, but prioritize the freedom that is most important.
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.
Romans 8:18-21 NLT
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.