Scripture: For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15 ESV
Observation: Having challenged the Galatians to pursue knowledge of their loving Father, Paul reminds them that while they were once running the race well (obeying the Truth), some have now stumbled over the wrongly presented circumcision requirement. Angry with the person from the circumciser sect who taught this heresy, Paul expresses his desire that the man would go the whole way and emasculate himself (verse 12). Indeed, his passionate opposition to any notion that works can earn salvation leads to his assuring statement that we are free from the law (verse 13 above). Paul then cautions this young fellowship not to exercise their freedom to gratify their selfish desires. Instead, their freedom in Christ should spark them to fulfill the second part of the Great Commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul then adds a warning that unloving behavior toward others will result in our self-demise (verse 15).
Takeaway: We obtain true freedom in obeying Christ’s “new command”: to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34). When we seek the welfare of others by sacrificially caring for their needs (see Philippians 2:4), we follow in the footsteps of our Savior, who came to serve and give his life as a ransom for others (Mark 10:45). And this kind of godly (agape) love knows no bounds. It changes not only the lives of those we serve but ours as well. How? It sets us free from the consequences of self-centered behavior that always comes back to bite us—limiting our freedom. And it bears fruit that enhances our lives. Paul then provides a list of godly fruit-bearing attributes (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) and notes that there is no limit to exercising these gifts (verses 22-23).
Finally, in keeping with Paul’s emphasis on grace, he reminds us that fruit-bearing is not a DIY project but the work of the Holy Spirit (verses 16-18). However, we do have a small part in effectuating holy living. We cooperate with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Paul implies this when he says: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (verse 25). And walking in tandem with the Holy Spirit means that we:
- agree with the Holy Spirit when he exposes our blind spots of selfish, sinful behavior
- follow the lead of the Holy Spirit when he shows us how to escape sinful behavior and replace it with God-honoring habits that bear fruit
- and learn from the Holy Spirit how to glorify God and grow his kingdom by loving our neighbors as ourselves
Here lies lasting freedom that yields an abundant life in Christ (John 10:10).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for the gift of your Son who set us free from the power of sin and its consequences. And we thank you for your Holy Spirit, who matures us in loving ourselves and others as you have loved us. Would you please continue to help us walk in tandem with your Holy Spirit that we might embrace this boundless freedom to love? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling