By love serve one another.

Galatians 5:13

This we have heard: “I am a born-again Christian and I am happy that my sins are forgiven and I go to church on Sunday because I like the fellowship!”

We ask: “Do you not go to put yourself in the way of spiritual blessing?”

The answer: “No, I am saved and I do not need anything!”

We ask: “Have you offered to witness, to pray, to encourage, to assist, to participate in your church’s life and outreach?”

The answer: “No. My church seems to get along very well without my help!”

Brethren, this “nonparticipation” kind of faith is a strange parody on Bible Christianity. Men and women who say they are believers just cancel themselves out. Is it something we have learned from the sporting events?—the great majority are spectators. They come and sit!

If there is any true spiritual life within us, God will give us a gift of some kind and the humble soul will find something to do for God!

Lord, I pray for my local church today, that many “fringe” attendees will desire to participate in our church’s life and ministry.[1]

5:13 Christian liberty does not permit sin; it rather encourages loving service. Love is seen as the motive of all Christian behavior, whereas under law, the motive is fear of punishment. Findlay says: “Love’s slaves are the true freemen.”

The Christian’s freedom is in Christ Jesus (2:4), and this excludes any possible thought that it might ever mean freedom to sin. We must never turn our freedom into a base of operations for the flesh. Just as an invading army will seek to gain a beachhead and use it as a base of operations for further conquest, so the flesh will utilize a little license to expand its territory.

A proper outlet for our freedom is this: “Make it a habit to be slaves one to another.”

A. T. Pierson says:

True freedom is found only in obedience to proper restraint. A river finds liberty to flow, only between banks: without these it would only spread out into a slimy, stagnant pool. Planets, uncontrolled by law, would only bring wreck to themselves and to the universe. The same law which fences us in, fences others out; the restraints which regulate our liberty also insure and protect it. It is not control, but the right kind of control, and a cheerful obedience which make the free man.[2]

13. For you were called to freedom, brothers; only (do) not (turn) this freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.… For the meaning of freedom see on 5:1. The present passage is linked in thought especially with verse 8. When these two verses (8 and 13) are combined the meaning of for and of both passages becomes clearer: “This persuasion (is) not (derived) from him who is calling you.… For you were called to freedom, brothers; only (do) not (turn) this freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.” When God applies the outward call, the gospel message, to the heart, thereby producing the effectual call, the person who experiences this basic change is introduced into the realm of freedom, the sphere of grateful and spontaneous living to the glory of his marvelous Benefactor, and is invited to roam about freely in this new country, delighting in its treasures and making full use of its opportunities. The Galatians must beware, nevertheless, that they do not accept a distorted interpretation of the concept freedom, as if it were an opportunity, that is, bridgehead, springboard, pretext, or incentive (cf. 2 Cor. 5:12; 11:12; 1 Tim. 5:14) for sinful human nature to assert itself.

Paul is not tilting at windmills when he issues this warning. Cf. Rom. 3:8; 6:1; Rasputin (cf. R. K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra, New York, 1967, p. 196). Turning liberty into license is an evil ingrained in sinful human nature. It is so easy to interpret liberty as “the right to sin,” and to construe freedom as “the privilege to do whatever one’s evil heart wants to do,” instead of looking upon it as the Spirit-imparted ability and desire to do what one should do. Even today how often does it not happen that such baneful practices as attending places of worldly amusement, chain-smoking, “boozing,” desecrating the sabbath, and reading smutty novels are defended with an appeal to “Christian liberty!” The apostle’s own inspired interpretation of the meaning of true liberty is set forth both here in Galatians and in equally touching passages of his first epistle to the Corinthians: see especially 6:12; 8:9, 13; 9:12, 19, 22; 10:23, 24, 31; 11:1.

Surely no loftier description of the essence of true freedom has ever been offered than the one given in the words: but through love be serving one another. For the concept love see the explanation of verse 6, where Paul speaks about “faith working through love.” Here in verse 13 note the paradox: “freedom … serving.” A paradox, indeed, but not a self-contradiction, for such service is voluntary, from the heart. It is a service rendered in imitation of him who “took the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7), and who, during the solemn night when he stepped upon the threshold of his most profound and indescribable agony, “rose from the supper, laid aside his garments, and having taken a towel, tied it around his waist, poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel” (John 13:4, 5). He was the thoroughly consecrated, wise and willing servant pictured by Isaiah (42:1–9; 49:1–9a; 50:4–11; and 52:13–53:12), the spontaneously acting servant who resolutely fulfilled his mission, so that with reference to him Jehovah said: “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delights.” It is such service that Paul has in mind when he says: “… through love be serving one another.” And what is meant by this love by means of which one brother voluntarily serves the other? Such ingredients as deep affection, self-sacrificing tenderness, genuine sympathy, readiness to render assistance, yearning to promote the brother’s (and in a wider sense the neighbor’s) welfare, spontaneous giving and forgiving: all these enter into it. But would it not be easier to count the glistening beads in the descending chains of rain than to catalogue all the elements that enter into that mysterious force which causes many hearts to beat as one?

When Paul warns the Galatians not to turn freedom into an opportunity for the flesh but through love to be serving one another, he is placing service over against selfishness, the positive over against the negative. Paul does this frequently: see Rom. 12:21; 13:14; 1 Cor. 6:18–20; Eph. 4:28, 31, 32; 5:28, 29; 6:4; Col. 3:5–17; 1 Thess. 4:7, etc. Vice can only be conquered by virtue, which is the Spirit’s gift, man’s responsibility.[3]

To Serve Others

but through love serve one another. (5:13c)

Second, Christian freedom takes believers to an even higher level than simply opposing the flesh. Positively, Christ frees His followers through love to serve one another. His freedom is the paradoxical freedom of loving subservience.

Again Jesus is our great example. When the disciples bickered among themselves “as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest,” Jesus said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But not so with you, but let him who is the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:24–27).

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,” Paul said, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phil. 2:5–7). When Christ incarnates Himself in believers, He endows them with the same nature of servanthood He exemplified when, as the Son of God and Son of Man, He lived on earth as the Servant of God and the Servant of man.[4]

13 Returning after the aside of 5:2–12 to the theme of freedom he began at 5:1, Paul once again ties the reality of the Galatians’ freedom in Christ to the call of God (cf. 5:1, 8). God’s redemptive purpose in Christ includes the capacity for the believer to live apart from the constraint of external compulsion with regard to moral life and relationship. The imperative for this moral life is actualized within, by means of the ministry of God’s Spirit though one’s identification with Christ. This is what Paul had in mind earlier when he instructed the Galatians to express faith through love and live in hope of righteousness through the Spirit (vv. 5–6).

Freedom that results through faith in Christ, however, must never be expressed by means of the “sinful nature” (sarx, GK 4922, “flesh”). The purpose of freedom is not self-indulgence or self-promotion, which results in strife with others (vv. 14–15). The purpose of freedom, biblically speaking, is the capacity to obey God and do his will by being empowered by God’s Spirit to serve one’s neighbor in love.[5]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1892–1893). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Galatians (Vol. 8, pp. 210–211). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Galatians (p. 147). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Rapa, R. K. (2008). Galatians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 625). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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