This weekend we celebrated the 224th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In all, 56 men from the 13 original colonies affixed their signatures to a document that, if the war were lost, would likely have served as “exhibit A” in their inevitable trials for treason. They knew that by placing their names on that page, they were offering up their very lives for the prospect of freedom from the British Crown.
When I was a child, my dad would read to my brothers and me. In addition to reading from the Bible, he often drew from the many stories, poems, and essays found in William Bennet’s The Book of Virtues. The pieces are arranged into groups that share a common theme, and one of his favorite themes to discuss was that of responsibility.
Nestled in between excerpts from C.S. Lewis, MLK, Plato, and more, one can find the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence. This might seem strange to some, but to quote Bennet, “If we truly hold these liberties to be gifts from God, we realize the moral duty to respect, preserve, and defend those rights for others.” This is exactly what the founders were doing; they were taking personal responsibility for their actions and were willing to pay the price for the freedom they sought to achieve. Many of them would lose their lives, fortunes, or both in its pursuit, but in the end their sacrifice was not in vain.
Today, we still reap the fruit they sowed 224 years ago, but I’m afraid we haven’t continued to sow as we should. My dad would often tell us “You can’t have freedom without responsibility. It will never work.” I believe that current events have proven him right in an all too sobering way. Freedom is only as good as the person using it. While we rightly partake of the blessings of freedom, we often fail to consider the effect we have on others. As Christians, we have both freedom in Christ as well as the responsibility to set a selfless example. As Paul said in his letter to the Philippians:
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” – Philippians 3:3-4
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