August Man of the Month: David Cunningham on Finding True Freedom

This month we had the pleasure of interviewing David Cunningham, co-founder of Family Impact. We asked David to introduce himself and then to speak about the very relevant and challenging topic of finding true freedom.

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I was born and raised in Scotland.  I grew up in a good but non-Christian family. I found the Lord at university. After university I moved to Zimbabwe as a teacher. In Bulawayo I met my late wife, Janet. We have 4 children and 8 grandchildren. We were married for 44 years. During our marriage we worked with Scripture Union in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa and then for 10 years pioneering the Aid for AIDS project with Scripture Union Africa.  In 2000, we went on to be the founders of Family Impact with Tom and Hellen Malande from Kenya. Today, I am a Trustee with Family Impact Africa and Petra school, as well as an elder at New Creation Church.

What have been some of the key experiences in your life which have influenced your idea of what a man is called to be in the home?

Growing up, you learn a lot more or less unconsciously. My dad was a good example; he provided for us, cared for us and was there for us. I just assumed that men should be like him.

When I became a Christian I was struck by Ephesians 5 which says that a husband should love his wife just as Christ loved the church.  That was a tremendous challenge to me about what God calls a man to be in the home and it helped us in our married life.

Janet grew up in a Christian family that was very traditional in its approach to the roles of men and women. As a result, she was held back from fulfilling her potential as a leader and speaker. Ephesians 5 helped me to see my responsibility to free her to be all she could be. Supporting her in her freedom helped us both, in that it helped us build a partnership. Our different strengths complemented each other’s weaknesses. We helped each other to fulfil our potential.

What is freedom?

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Many of us think that freedom is the right to do whatever you want but I look at this way; a driver of a car is free to drive his or her car as long as he or she follows the rules of the road. When we don’t follow the rules of the road we will quickly have an accident or get ourselves arrested.  That is not freedom!  We are also free when we use the car the way the maker of the car intended for it to be driven. The car won’t work if we put water in the petrol tank.  Similarly, we are only able to live freely as long as we are functioning the way God our maker made us. We can find freedom and fulfilment in that. Freedom is a big word in the bible. Jesus said, ‘the truth will set you free’ (John 8:32). When we understand the truth about ourselves, we can be free to live as God intended us to be.  That does not mean that we are all the same. God is creative and loves variety; each one of us is unique.

Can a man find freedom in marriage or is he called to give up freedom?

I would say both. There are some things one may have done as a single person that need to change when we marry.  Those are the things to give up. It may be perceived as a loss of freedom but there is a greater blessing to be found. You see God said, ‘it is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him.’  God made men and women to help each other. We can discover wonderful new freedom in our relationship together.

Take sexual freedom as an example.  There is a lot of talk today about free sex with the idea that the best sex is found outside marriage.  Is that true? An interesting survey was done some years ago by a university in USA to discover which group of people was enjoying sex most.  The result of the survey was that married couples were enjoying their sex life more than any other group.  That shocked many people but it really should not surprise us because that was God’s plan from the beginning.  Freedom comes from living as God intends.

What in your opinion are the biggest challenges to finding freedom as a man?

There is a lot in the world that feeds us the wrong idea about freedom. The message is that it is all about me and that freedom is found in seeking my personal pleasure today. The problem with that is that I am basically self-centred and I am not alone in the world. There was a debate in Britain around the question “What is wrong with the world?”  As a contribution to the debate, G.K. Chesterton, a Christian author, wrote a famous letter which simply said “What is wrong with the world? I am.  Yours sincerely G.K. Chesterton.”

I suggest that the biggest challenge to finding freedom is not in our circumstances but in ourselves.

Would you say it is possible to find freedom in Christ if so how does one go about it?

It is not only possible it is God’s will for us. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1).  1 Peter 2:16 teaches us that we need to be responsible in our freedom as it says, “Live as free men but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.”  To find freedom we need to give up the pretense that we are independent and depend on Christ. When we stop self-centred living then we can be free in Christ.

Can you say you have found freedom in Christ; if yes what has been the biggest struggle for you on this journey?

Yes, I believe I have found real freedom in Christ, yet it is not complete and is still a journey. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians 3:12; “Not that I have already obtained all this or have already been made perfect, but I press on.” It is a daily spiritual battle where you constantly ask yourself the question “Am I going to put myself above everything or put Christ above everything?” The answer I aim at is “for me to live is Christ” not “for me to live is David”.

 

What concerns do you think men have when it comes to freedom?

Men are concerned that they don’t measure up to the misconception of what a real man is. Some may feel a real man is a man who is this superhero type; always strong, always capable, an extrovert. Truly a real man can very well be an ordinary man.  God made us all and honestly we are all very different. Men may think that in answering this call to freedom they must now become something completely foreign to their true identity. This makes men insecure.

What advice can be given to men and women entering marriage especially in relation to the issue of freedom in marriage?

God said to Cain, ‘Sin’s desire is for you, but you must master it.’ (Genesis 4:7).  That speaks of spiritual battle.  Exactly the same form of words comes in God’s word to the woman which speaks of a battle in relationships, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16).  Both wife and husband want to call the shots.  One of the results of the Fall is that there is a power struggle in human relationships which is especially ugly between husband and wife.

Men and women entering marriage need to understand that marriage and family is a prime site for spiritual battle.  Praise God that in Christ our marriage can now reflect the beauty of God’s plan before sin spoilt the world.  In Christ we have the victory and there is a striking contrast between the relationship conflict of Genesis 3 and the Spirit filled marriage of Ephesians 5.  There the teaching about marriage relationships is introduced by the words, ‘Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ (Ephesians 5:21).  A person who is full of the Spirit cannot be at the same time full of himself or herself.  A Spirit filled person will gladly fit in with others and will not be always demanding their own way.  Marriage partners should focus on loving one another not changing one another.  There is much more to say about marriage from Ephesians 5 but I believe this is a fundamental start.  In the fullness of God’s Spirit there is glorious freedom in marriage.

We need to remember that we do live in a fallen world and be mindful of the words God spoke at the fall reflecting the conflict which men and women will struggle with. It is important to realise that in Ephesians 5, which talks about how men and women ought to love each other, it doesn’t mention our rights, but rather our responsibility. We find our freedom through doing our part. If partners are not focused on changing one another but loving each other, they are most likely to see the change they are looking for. This is why submission is so important. Christ loves the church so much he gave himself up for it. That is submission. When we submit to each other we create freedom in marriage.