“Liberal” Is Not a Bad Word

credit to npr.org
credit to npr.org

What do you think about when you hear the word liberal? I was raised to equate the word with all sorts of negative qualities, and I imagine many of you were too. It was a word that denoted an enemy of truth: “His views are too liberal.” It was a word to discredit political enemies: “Don’t vote for that liberal candidate.” It was a word to identify those congregations: “We can’t visit there. That’s a liberal church of Christ.”

When we use the word liberal, we create all sorts of negative imagery fostered by the past twenty or so years of political culture wars. But this post is not about politics or political philosophy. It is not about sound doctrine or church institutionalization. It’s not about church daycare or charities. It’s about individual Christians being liberal the way God is liberal.

Take a look at a portion of the Sabbath law in Deuteronomy 15:12-15 (NKJV):

If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and serves you six years, then in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. And when you send him away free from you, you shall not let him go away empty-handed; you shall supply him liberally from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your winepress. From what the LORD has blessed you with, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.

Under the Law of Moses, if I owed you a huge debt, I could indenture myself to you as payment. Then, every Sabbath year, those who owned these indentured servants were to let them go free, but it didn’t stop there. The masters were to liberally supply their former servants from their own blessings. The servants in no way earned this favor; their service was paying off a past debt. Instead, this was supposed to remind both servant and master of God’s blessings to His people. As God was generous to His servants, so His people should be generous too.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

– James 1:2-5 (NKJV)

God is liberal with His gifts for us today as well. Not just in the knowledge of His word, but God is liberal in grace, in forgiveness, and in goodness. All good things are from Him, and He pours His grace and forgiveness on us when we cannot earn it or deserve it (see Romans 5). Like the servant in Deuteronomy, we are undeserving of the gifts He bestows upon us. We have a debt of sin we cannot possibly pay, but God liberally grants us grace and redemption in His Son. We should, therefore, be as liberal with our own gifts.

This means we forgive when we don’t feel the other party deserves it. This means we show kindness and goodness to all around us. This means we assume the best when someone is at their worst, and it means we give of our time and resources to benefit others. The first and easiest way we can practice God’s grace is to give — to individuals, to families, to churches, to charitable causes. We can give our money. We can donate food, books, clothes, and other blessings. We can donate our time. If we cannot liberally give of our physical blessings, how will we ever share our spiritual ones?

I’m a conservative Christian, and I seek to conservatively practice the faith brought by Jesus and practiced by His disciples, but we cannot allow conservatism to become a stumbling block. While we seek to conservatively preserve God’s way and prevent worldly influences from corrupting the gospel of hope, let’s also take note of the ways we should be liberal — in our giving, in forgiveness, with grace, with goodness.

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; m he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; o he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Romans 12:6-8 (NKJV)

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