Set free to love and serve

Chains broken
Photo by Elias Sch

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. … 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. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. … Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:1, 13-15, 24-25).

These are not easy words for the church in Galatia to hear, nor for us today. Paul wrote this letter to Jewish believers who were teaching Gentile believers that they needed to follow the letter of the law in order to follow Jesus. In addition to correcting them, Paul was also calling them to find freedom in Christ. Since the Jews who believe in Jesus as their Messiah struggled with a split identity—growing up with strict adherence to the Torah and, now, celebrating their freedom in Christ—it’s no surprise that they also struggled with how a Gentile could now become a part of the family of God.

This tension divided the early church, and Paul wrote to urge them that their faith was no longer centered around the law but, rather, Jesus, who fulfilled it. Their former directive was now simplified to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Earlier in the letter, Paul shared about a time he rebuked Peter and other church leaders, and in chapter 5, he built a case for liberty and stated plainly that all believers were saved by faith, not by keeping the law. Their salvation through faith alone freed them to love and serve one another, carry each other’s burdens, and share kindness with everyone (chapter 6).

What does this mean for us today? The church in Galatia struggled to find loving unity and experienced bouts of dissension—an atmosphere that, unfortunately, can feel too close to home.  Don’t we also struggle to live in loving unity? Experience disagreement with each other? Can our discord also lead into destructive postures? And can’t all of this harm our life together and our testimony?

While the Church of the Brethren may seem like an easy target for these questions, this can also be true for any church regardless of denominational affiliation. Many churches have struggled with one issue or another, and it has led to ugly feuding. When we are not motivated by love, we become more critical of others. We stop looking for good in them and see only their faults. Soon the unity of believers is broken.

According to Paul, there is a way to counteract division. He proclaimed repeatedly what it means to have freedom through Christ Jesus. He kept sharing the message that faith in Jesus Christ equals salvation, that salvation equals freedom, and that freedom leads us to love and serve every person made in God’s image without prejudice. The message is for every person. Salvation is offered to every person. Loving and serving are for every person. Freedom from selfish desire. Freedom from Satan’s agenda. Freedom from being overcome by the ways of the world. This is what transformation through faith in Christ looks like and this empowers us to bear a spirit of freedom with joy and confidence. It transforms us to serve the least of these without reservation, so that they may catch a glimpse of God through us.

As the Church of the Brethren, through the financial support of congregations and individuals, we reach to the corners of our country and the world, and we proclaim the message of freedom through faith in Jesus. We bear witness to the love that God has for all people through the ways we are present with and serve others. This happens through ministries like Global Mission and Service, Brethren Disaster Ministries, Brethren Volunteer Service, Discipleship Ministries, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, and the Global Food Initiative.  Through our shared work, we continue the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.

Even through seasons of tension and sharp disagreement, doubt and uncertainty, may we be Brethren who seek to find light and hope. May we find God’s presence within us and around us in our life together.  And may we continue to focus on the work we are called to do as the body of Christ, doing it in love and in service to others.

Support our shared work of love and service today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

2 thoughts on “Set free to love and serve

  1. Thank you for this opportunity to share my story above. I have been a member of the Church of the Brethren for more than 60 years. During my lifetime, enlightenment has come upon occasion, but never as impactfully as it did in the experience that I shared here above.
    God bless the Church of the Brethren for its open mind and open heart when following the call of Christ and the Church.

  2. Thank you, sister Traci Rabenstein for your thoughtful commentary here. We need to be reminded to look up for God’s revelation, instead of down.
    Openness and the love of God is what life is all about: Sharing instead of keeping, plowshares in lieu of war machines, caring hearts instead of prejudice, feeding the hungry instead of letting them starve,,. . .and the march goes on.
    My husband’s life was saved in India back in 1999. We were there with 20 BCA (Brethren Colleges Abroad) students, when he became very ill. At first, he refused to go to a doctor because we had been in a hospital to visit someone before, and sanitation was almost non-existent.
    One of their professors finally convinced my husband to go. She came to our apartment on a Saturday morning, and by then, my husband was very sick. I was in distress for fear he wouldn’t live through it.
    That professor convinced Herb and me to get into her car, and the next morning, a Hindu doctor did surgery on my husband. That procedure saved his life.
    So what is a Christian to make of this? Was that Hindu man, unexpectedly, our Good Samaritan?
    Several weeks later, after we returned to the U.S., I had insomnia one night. It was as though my mind could not reconcile what happened to us over in India in the light of my Christian faith.
    As it turned out, one night I couldn’t sleep because my mind was so troubled. Finally, it dawned on me that “God is God, is God is God”, and much of the rest is our cultural interpretations of the Almighty.
    I crawled out of bed In the darkness, and spent the night talking to God in a whirlwind of thought.
    Weeks later, the answer came to my mind in a compelling voice, almost like a revelation:
    “Jeanne,” It said, “Your conception of God is too small,”
    Only then did my infantessimal perception of the Almighty enlighten me. In those words,”God is God.. .”, I heard the message of Hope, and it opened up another Way of believing for me.

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