Free to Love
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! – Galatians 5:13-15
You receive an ad in the mail: “Congratulations! You have been pre-approved to use your credit card. We think so much of you, that we have extended your limit to 10K.” You realize the bank is not giving you the liberty to spend this money freely without obligations? Everyone wants the license to practice their personal rights.
As Paul begins this, the last section of his letter to the Galatians, it is the practical part of the letter dealing with day-to-day life. First, he tackles one of the problems which will come up with regard to the liberty which they have found in Christ. It is not a license to do what they please but to love one another.
Liberty is Not License
▸ God Wants us Free
Chapter five began with the admonition to “stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1). God has called us to this liberty but how? Thayer says concerning the term “call”: “God inviting men by the preaching of the gospel to the blessings of the heavenly kingdom.” They have been freed from the limitation and restrictions of the Law, but this does not give them liberty to indulge in sin. Jesus warned, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin…. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:34,36).
▸ God Wants Us Free From Sin
Liberty in Christ does not justify living a life of lawless conduct. We are still under the Law, the Law of Christ. The term “opportunity” is a military word associated with the army headquarters from which all operations are planned. Liberty in Christ has caused some “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness…”(Jude 4). That is a license to sin. Paul will list the lusts of the flesh in chapter 5:19f. Indulging in fleshly appetites will result in loss of ones right to the Kingdom of God. Liberty is freedom from sins of the flesh, not freedom to indulge in the works of the flesh. It is freedom to love one another, not to use and abuse each other. After all, “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24).
Love is Serving Others
Love is the greatest motivator in serving God and one another. Lust for the flesh has always been the motive for serving oneself.
The term for “serve” is from the service rendered by a slave. Christians are at liberty to be slaves to one another. This is backward to human logic. How can one have freedom and be a slave in service to others. Jesus wrote, “for who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22:27). You see liberty and slavery are not mutually exclusive. Just as we are slaves to God so are we also free to be slaves in our service to others. Slaving over one another is motived by love for one another.
Love is Fulfilling the Law
If “all the law if fulfilled in one” (5:14a) command, what is the law? It is the “word” or single commandment found in both the Old and New Law. “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).
How is this Law of Love fulfilled? All of God’s Law toward ones’ neighbor are fulfilled when he serves them out of love. Love embraces all the commandments of God. Later Paul will say, “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
Again, even the Law of Moses is fulfilled by loving others. Paul wrote, “owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).
Love Is Caring for Ones’ Neighbor
The law is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (5:14b). But just who is my neighbor? This question was asked of Jesus. To answer, he told one of his many stories: The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). One’s neighbor therefore is another how needs my loving service. It is not someone who is necessarily a close person, friend, or the family that happens to live next door to one’s house. Our neighbor could very well be you worst enemy.
The standard for loving our neighbor is “as yourself”. He considers the Golden Rule: “therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). He loves the way he would like to be loved and served by others. Love will not harm because loving oneself does no harm to self. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it…” (Eph. 5:29).
Love is Not Mean
Having explained what love involves, Paul shows us the negative, that is, what love is not. “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (5:15). The term “bite” is like the striking of a snake. The concept of “devour” is the life and death struggle wild animals engage in while they are fighting, and fur is flying. The result of this behavior is consuming one another. Picture a python striking and biting its victim. Next, it struggles to crush its prey and finally it swallows it whole. Or like piranhas who eat up their meal until it is no more. Like a fire that consumes all. Christians are not to engage is such an unholy civil war on one another. James warned, “where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:1-2).
Just what are the teeth marks left by brethren biting and devouring one another? According to the works of the flesh it would include dissensions and factions. Other bite marks include petty nitpicking (Judges 16:15-16; Prov. 17:1); snide observations (Ps. 52:2; Rom. 12:10); derogatory remarks (Prov. 31:28); spiteful criticisms (2 Tim. 2:24); bitter backbiting (Phil. 2:3); sarcastic comments (Eph. 4:29); and angry harsh words (Ps. 64:3).
In contrast to all these, love would be kind. A Christian would speak the truth in love. “Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones (Prov. 16:24).
On board an airplane the captain will have passengers buckle up for takeoff. Once the plane has climbed and leveled off, he will come on and tell the passengers they are now free to roam about the cabin. Now that we are in Christ, we are at liberty to roam about serving one another in love.
– Daniel R. Vess