On day when Jesus was speaking to His disciples, He said "to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?" (John 8:31-33)
At the time when Jesus spoke these words His disciples had a clear understanding about the concept of someone being a slave to someone else because it was a common practice of that time. In fact, the Romans had a thriving slave industry where people were sold as merchandise in an auction-like atmosphere. And, once sold, the slave became the exclusive property of their owner. As such their life consisted of doing only those things they were allowed to by their masters. On the other hand, those who were not the property of someone else, had the right to do as they wanted, within the law. Thus, in the days of Jesus there were two kinds of people - slaves and freemen. Therefore, when Jesus told His disciples that if they would continually follow His words they would become free, they answered Him saying, "Since our fathers came out of Egypt, we have never been slaves, so why do you say that if we follow your words we'll become free? Aren't we already free?"
"Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever commiteth sin is the servant of sin" (verse 34). The freedom that Jesus was talking about was not that of being an earthly indentured servant but being a servant to sin. As just stated, a servant is not free to do as they want but must do as they are told. In a spiritual sense, we can become slaves to our own appetites, desires, and carnal lusts. Rather than being the master of ourselves, where we control these normal and natural passions and use them for our benefit, they become our master where we do as they dictate, even if doing so harms us. When we find ourselves in that situation, we voluntarily agree to make ourselves slaves and, in so doing, lose the freedom to make our own choices.
Yet, even though a slave is not free, they do receive certain benefits. They don't have to worry about having money to afford a place to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear. And for that reason, because a slave is the property of its owner, they are expensive to maintain. In the first place, the owner had to pay a goodly amount of money to purchase the slave, so they have a financial interest in making sure they get their money's worth of work out of them. Then, just like any work animal, they must be cared for if they are to perform their tasks. This includes not only adequately housing, feeding and clothing them but taking care of them in many other ways. For example, when a mule or horse gets sick, the owner must pay to have a doctor restore the animal to health so it can continue doing the work for which it was purchased. When a mare delivers a colt, the owner of the animal must not only care for the birthing mother but then provide everything necessary for the life of her new-born offspring.
And the same applies to human slaves. As far as the owner is concerned, they are work animals who must be cared for and protected as any other animal the master owns. Therefore, the slave enjoys certain benefits to being employed by its owner. And, because of this, it is not unusual to hear of slaves who have been set free by their owner, not wanting to leave but willingly agree to stay on as slaves.
However, the gospel of Jesus Christ is about making men free, while the plan of Satan is to enslave people and make them subservient to him. The way the gospel makes men free is by allowing people the right to choose for themselves what they want to do. And, if given the choice, most people will reject being a slave, therefore, to entice people to choose his plan, Satan emphasizes the benefits of a life of servitude. He portrays it as living a life of ease where there is little to worry about because someone else will take care of their needs. He presents it as a way to gain security and peace because someone else will protect them from their problems.
While Christ's plan does allow us to experience pain and sorrow, hardships and toil, it also allows us the opportunity to grow physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually by learning how to overcome problems in our life. Although going through difficult times is never pleasant, yet it does help make us stronger and wiser than we otherwise would be. Even though God is always there to help us, His goal is for us to become self-reliant as He is and the only way that can happen is by being free to learn from the choices we make, even if some of those choices are not always the best. As such, the concept of self-governing and self-reliance is an essential part of the gospel.
The essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ is caring for others which is expressed in the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). God, the Father, loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son to die for us (John 3:16). Jesus cared so much for us that He willingly gave His life so that we might live (John 15:13). Jesus explained that when He comes in His glory, He will say to those who have done His will, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was an hungred and ye gave me food, I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger and ye took me in" (Matthew 25:31-35).
However, while the gospel is about caring for others, it is not about people becoming dependant on others to take care of them. At some point each of us will be faced with problems and, occasionally, we may need help to get through them but that should be a temporary situation rather than a continuing lifestyle.
When we have to rely on others to provide for our needs, even when such assistance is helpful, it is never as good as when we are able to provide for ourselves. For example, those who rely on government or charity handouts are never as well off as those who can support themselves. One reason why is because what they receive in the way of handouts is just barely enough to get by on. And that's because the help they get is not meant to provide them with a comfortable living. Another reason is that they have to content themselves with what is given to them, even if it's not exactly what they wanted or need.
Those who depend on handouts are not free to live their life as they choose but instead are like slaves who must accept what their masters give them. Unfortunately, there are some people who are willing to give up their freedom for security. These are the ones who are content to live on government welfare rather than finding a steady job, or who make a habit of accepting charitable donations because it's easier to be given things than working for them.
But such an attitude is not in keeping with what the gospel teaches. Just like there are things we must do to become free from sin, so also there are things we must do to become free from worldly bondage. Solomon wrote, "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding… She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her" (Proverbs 3:13-18) "Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not… Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her" (Proverbs 4:5-8).
Knowledge is the gathering of facts but wisdom is knowing how to properly use what we've learned. It is by wisdom that we come to discover the true path to happiness and peace. It is by wisdom that we learn how to gain long life and health. It is through following the ways of wisdom that people find prosperity, riches, and honor. But when we are dependent on someone else to provide for our needs, of necessity, we must rely on their knowledge and wisdom thereby shielding and preventing us from learning for ourselves.
But wisdom only comes after we have first gained knowledge. Therefore, the first step to gaining freedom through self-reliance is to obtain an education, either formally, by attending some sort of institutional schooling, or informally where we teach ourselves through personal experiences.
The source of most financial security is having a well-paying job but that comes through having specific knowledge and skills. Therefore, it is obvious that the more skills and knowledge a person gains the more financial secure they become. Those who have developed just one skill and are laid off from their job will have a harder time finding employment than those who have many skills. To illustrate this point, there are people who earn good money working on a production line making automobiles but if there is a slump in car sales and the auto makers are forced to lay people off, the only place such unemployed people can go to find another job that they're qualified for is at another automaker. But if the entire industry is in a slump then, no matter how skilled or knowledgeable a person may be at manufacturing cars, their chances of finding employment are greatly reduced. On the other hand, if someone is knowledgeable and skilled in several different fields of labor, they stand a much better chance of finding employment.
But, even if there are few jobs available, there are many areas where skilled knowledge can help someone remain self-reliant. These areas include such things as car and home repair, cooking, gardening, accounting or money management, medical information, sewing, and a wide variety of other similar skills that can help people to do many things for themselves rather than depending on or paying others to do it for them. More than that, such additional skills might be useful in helping to make extra money on the side during difficult financial times.
Perhaps the greatest reason for dependency on others is because of bad health. All jobs require people to be physically able to accomplish the work they're getting paid to do, therefore, the more frequently someone is sick or unable to perform their duties because of medical reasons, the more likely they are to become unemployed, as well as finding themselves needing medical assistance from others. While it is true that people can become incapacitated through no fault of their own because of accidents or illnesses, generally speaking, the healthier a person is the less likely they are to need medical help.
When we don't take care of ourselves physically we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to getting sick more often and needing greater medical care. This then puts increased strain on family finances which then increases the likelihood of needing to depend on others for help. On the other hand, keeping ourselves healthy not only helps prevent many medical problems but it also lessens the severity and time of recovery for maladies that we might develop.
As old age sets in, medical problems seem to naturally increase as the body becomes less able to repair itself. Therefore, a third thing we can do to remain self-reliant, especially in circumstances such as this, is to develop strong family ties. As dedicated as doctors and nurses are to caring for their patients, a large close-knit family who love one another can provide much better care for their cherished relatives during old age than someone who feels no personal attachment to the patient.
Husbands and wives who truly love each other are more dedicated to caring for one another than anyone else will ever be, but children, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles come almost as close. And this is true, not just for medical problems but for any kind of personal problem. On the other hand, families that don't feel close to one another don't feel the same desire to care for their relatives. In that case, when such people have problems they almost have no choice but to depend on strangers to help them.
The exception to this rule is to plan for emergencies before they happen. A significant factor in becoming self-reliant is to anticipate and prepare for future problems by deciding now how to take care of ourselves if and when certain situations should arise. This is what the food storage program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is all about. Even though a person may never need to draw upon their supply of stored food because of a calamity, the fact that they have it allows them to remain free from dependence on government agencies or charities for help should disaster strike. And this same principle applies to other kinds of emergencies, including financial, medical, and natural disasters.
There are other things we can do to become and remain self-reliant but one of the more important things is to prepare ourselves spiritually. Those who have learned how to put their faith in God have an inward peace and strength that comes from knowing there is a greater source of power to call upon in times of trials than that which man can provide. Faith in God gives us hope of a better life, both here on earth as well as in eternity. A faith in God teaches that He loves and cares for us more than any earthly parent could possibly love and care for their own children. A faith in God helps us realize that when we rely on Him, whatever happens will ultimately be for our own good. A faith in God shows us how to be obedient to divine laws that, if followed, will lead to health, happiness, prosperity, and true freedom.
But freedom from earthly bondage is not the reason why we believe in Christ. It is merely an aid that helps us achieve our ultimate goal which is to become more like Christ in attitude, thought, word, and deed. The essence of Christianity is loving and caring for others but to do that we must be free. If we are dependent on others then we are limited in the kinds of Christ-like service we can render, but those who are self-reliant are only limited in their service to othes by their own choices.
It's been said that you can't draw water from an empty well. Those who lack knowledge can't teach others very much. Those who have limited skills are limited in how much help they can offer to others. Those who must depend on welfare to pay their living expenses don't have much to spend giving to the poor. Those whose health is failing don't have much energy to help take of the sick. Those who don't know how to create happy marriages can't give advice to couples who marriage is also in trouble. Those whose faith in God is weak can't strengthen the faith of others.
The purpose in becoming self-reliant is not merely to provide for our own welfare but to put ourselves in a position where we are able to help others. In answer to the question of who is our neighbor, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan who not only bound up the wounds of a man that had been beaten and robbed, using his own skill, oil, and wine, but he had sufficient money to pay an innkeeper to take care of the man (Luke 10:29-35). Had the Samaritan been a slave, he would not have had the means to render this kind of service.
And the same is true of the Savior. Because of His great righteousness, Christ was able to die for our sins, thereby paying the price for our redemption with His own blood. But, had Jesus been a slave to man or sin He would not have been able to help us become free from both man and sin.
Jesus told His disciples that if they would keep His commandments they would be free. When they questioned His words he replied by saying, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). Although His comment was referring to the spiritual slavery that comes from sinning, it also applies just as well to the many forms of earthly slavery. If we follow God's commandments we will become free both spiritually and temporally and when that happens we will be free indeed.
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