In America the standard is "free speech." It's everywhere. Is Facebook wrong for throttling "free speech" for users or is it absolutely right for blocking what it deems "hate speech"? Should universities allow "free speech" on their campuses or should they be "safe spaces"? Should Christians be allowed to share the Gospel with whomever they want whenever they want or is it right for certain entities, government or not, to limit them? Is making a cake or flower arrangement for a "same-sex mirage" speech or not? What about, say, strippers or pornographers? Isn't that "free speech" and, therefore, protected? Lots of questions.
My aim here is not to answer any of them. My aim here is to ask a different one. And the question is not aimed at the general populace; it's aimed at you Christians -- people who believe the Bible and wish to follow Christ. As for the rest of you, have a nice day. This won't be of any interest or use to you.
We, as Christians who are American, really like "free speech." It entirely circumvents the kind of thing that happened to the first century Christians who were ordered not to share the Gospel. "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). So we hang on tightly to the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion that we enjoy and chafe when they threaten it. I will point out, however, that neither is biblical. You won't find them in the Bible. We have commands to follow God (religion) and to share the Gospel (speech), but no indication that the governments in which we find ourselves must give us the right to do so. Like the Apostles, it is entirely possible that we could find ourselves obeying God against the law, biblically speaking.
Having settled the fact that the Bible does not set down our rights to free speech or religion, I need to ask a question. How dedicated are we to our current freedoms? Christians can get just as agitated as anyone else when they see their constitutional rights being violated. "Hey, that's our right!" But is that biblical? Consider Scripture on the subject. Paul wrote in a couple of places about our freedoms. "I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean" (Romans 14:14). "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up" (1 Corinthians 10:23). We are told that that which is not specifically forbidden or commanded in Scripture is a matter of individual conscience. That's the doctrine of Christian Liberty. And we rejoice. Probably prematurely. Because that is not the end of Paul's story. Not at all. Paul said, "Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor" (1 Corinthians 10:24). He said, "Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak" (1 Corinthians 8:9). He instructed, "Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother" (Romans 14:13). In one breath he spoke of our freedoms and in the next he balanced them against our obligations to others. "If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy by what you eat the one for whom Christ died" (Romans 14:15).
There has been debate about what women wear and their responsibility for how men respond. One side says, "It's not their problem. They're free to dress and look like they want." The other side says, "Surely there is some culpability for knowingly enticing the response they don't want." And, of course, that kind of thinking is pure sexism. But that's in discussions with the world. Does Scripture say, "You should exercise your freedoms with impunity"? No. Scripture calls Christians to be willing to limit their rights and freedoms to that which is good for our neighbors. That is, the motivation is supposed to be love for others, not "what's mine." We may have the right to freedoms like free speech or wearing what you like. I'm not arguing that you don't. But Christians are supposed to be more concerned about others than about themselves -- their personal freedoms and rights (Philippians 2:3-4). When love becomes your driving motive, it changes what you do sometimes in the face of your rights and freedoms. Free speech? Sure. But just because you have the right doesn't make it right all the time. Not for Christians.
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