I recently watched a video of a home worship service being raided by the Chinese government. It was unsettling to see the images and sickening to hear the screams. When you see those sorts of things you can't help but thank God for freedoms we enjoy. Especially the first amendment. The founders of this great nation showed just how important free speech is by placing it first in our constitution, and the enemies show just how important it is by how often they attack it. Christians should love free speech, be advocates for it, and thank God for it.
Sometimes it is good to be brought to remembrance of why we love something so much. Based on the actions of the average self professed Christian we may send some incorrect messages to the world on why we value free speech. Some people may think we want freedom of speech so we can share every meme that pops up on Facebook without it ever being censored. Some people may think we want freedom of speech so Alex Jones can have his show on YouTube again. Some people may think we want free speech so we can say offensive things without being labeled.
Before I go on, I want to be clear. Facebook, Google, Youtube, Twitter and the like do censure what they want, and "political correctness" is a way of silencing free speech. I am not a denier of an attack on free speech in this country. Do not misunderstand.
The point I want to make is, what good is free speech to a Christian if all we use it for is arguing about free speech? We often view free speech as a blessing that can be taken away, instead of a tool that must be used. I think we need to put those two things together.
Imitate me as I imitate Christ
We would have a hard time ever finding a man who worked harder for Jesus and made more of an impact for the kingdom than Paul. As soon as he became a Christian he shared the gospel with his countrymen and they tried to kill him for it (Acts 9:22-23). From that moment on he would pay for every word he spoke concerning the Oracles of God. A condensed list of those persecutions are listed in 2 Cor 11:23-33. His resolve and faithfulness in the face of persecution is incredible. He established churches everywhere he went without the first amendment. Can you imagine what Paul could have done if he had freedom of speech?
There were actually two years of Paul’s life where he had protection from the government. It may not be free speech in our 1st Amendment understanding, but that makes the lessons from this period of his life even more profound. These two years can be found in the last two verses in Acts.
“And he abode two whole years in his own hired dwelling, and received all that went in unto him, (31) preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, none forbidding him.” 28:30-31
Those who are familiar with the book will quickly point out that Paul was not free at this time. He was actually under house arrest in Rome. How can he have freedom of speech while locked up? The Bible says he was preaching and teaching the gospel with “all boldness, none forbidding him”. Those two phrases mean he could speak openly and confidently about the Gospel without people trying to silence him. The word for boldness can actually be translated "freedom of speech". While on the one hand Paul was not free at all, on the other hand Paul celebrated a freedom that was only a dream previously; the ability to share the truth with legal protection.
While Luke generalizes his work in Acts 28:30-31, we will get to see how Paul used his freedom of speech by his own hand. The letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon are all written by Paul during his imprisonment. One can not study Ephesians with a pure heart and walk away without reverence for God's eternal purpose in the Church. It is hard to read Philippians and think that the writer was in prison. Paul has a such positive attitude toward his situation that it even flows towards those that would bring him harm (1:12-18). Colossians is written to a group of people who were being influenced by a jewish/pagan hybrid false doctrine. Paul corrects them and brings them back from a path of apostasy.
For just two years Paul had free speech, and he used it in a way that continues to impact eternity. He used his free speech for the Gospel. He used it to bring the erring back from sin. It was in this time that he said "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". How many of us treasure those words from Paul in our times of struggle? All of these prison epistles end with names of people that were with Paul. Not only was he writing these wonderful letters, but he was running a bible school out of his home! Paul was as efficient with those two years of "freedom" as a person can be.
What is conspicuously missing in all of these letters is worry that he would lose his freedom to speak with legal protections.
I can only imagine what Paul would look like in America. Would he be doing anything differently than us? You and I both know he would. The main difference is we would see him using his free speech for the advancement of the Gospel (Php 1:12) rather than the advancement of free speech. I can see him applying the words of the Lord in Matthew 6:34 and saying "why are we worrying about maybe losing something tomorrow while we have it today!"
There is a principle in Luke 12:48 that teaches the greater the blessing, the greater the responsibility.
We have been blessed to have freedoms in this country in ways that could only be dreamed of before. We will be judged by how we use those freedoms (Matt 25:14-30). How do we use that freedom? If you examine your heart, your answer may be cause for alarm.
While we should identify the evils of censorship and speak out for the blessing of free speech, that’s not what we are going to judged by. God will judge us based on how we use that gift. That is much more serious. We should ask ourselves "am I using it" instead of "am I losing it".
I hope we love our freedoms but I really hope we are using them "for the advancement of the gospel".