Rightly Applying Freedom (Galatians 5:13-15)
I. A Right and Wrong Response to Freedom (verse 13)
In the book of Galatians, Paul has clearly demonstrated that the Christian is free in Christ. We are freedom from the condemnation of the Law and the curse that was due us because Christ lived in perfect obedience to the Law and died beneath the curse of the Law in our place. We have been freed to approach God as our loving Father only because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But Paul says that though we are free, there is a right way and a wrong way to apply that freedom. Paul understands that the sinful flesh is always seeking an opportunity to gratify its cravings, and it will look to use our freedom in Christ as an excuse to sin, as if because we are saved apart from our works it no longer matters how we live. But rather than using our freedom to serve our sinful, selfish desires, we are to apply our freedom selflessly by becoming loving slaves to one another.
More specifically, we are to apply our freedom to become like Jesus Christ. There is no example that could ever compare with the willing slavery to men to which Jesus subjected Himself. The King of all the earth bent down to become the servant of the disciples as He washed their feet. The only true and righteous Lord came to serve rather than be served, willingly giving His life as a ransom in order to provide us with salvation. Jesus did not use His own freedom to serve Himself, but to give life to sinful men and women.
– What other Scripture passages speak of Jesus’ willingness to become a servant of sinful men? What was Jesus’ heart towards those He came to serve?
II. Freedom Rightly Applied Fulfills the Law (verse 14)
When we use our freedom rightly and apply it not in serving self but in loving service to others (i.e. loving our neighbor as ourself) we fulfill the Law. If we love our neighbor, we will not murder, steal, covet or break any other commandment in our interaction with one another (Romans 13:8-10). Paul isn’t teaching here that our ability to fulfill the Law has anything to do with our salvation, since he has already shown repeatedly in this letter that no one will ever be justified by trusting in their ability to keep the Law. Instead, because the desire of Christians is to do God’s will, to do what is pleasing to Him, we should strive after loving service to one another, and not selfish pursuits.
While those in the church share a special, covenanted relationship with one another, “neighbor” (i.e. the one we are to love as ourself) is not limited to church members, but extends to “all people” (Gal 6:10). Just as the Good Samaritan considered the Jew his neighbor even though the Jews hated the Samaritans and shared nothing in common with them, so also we should be prepared to love and serve even those who consider themselves our enemies. Thankfully, Jesus did not consider His neighbor to be only those who thought like Him and acted like Him, since that would leave all of us hopeless. Instead, He loved those who were His enemies and laid down His own life in order that those who shared nothing in common with Him might be made His brothers and sisters.
– How often do you intentionally consider how to serve those around you in love? What are some ways this week you can become the willing slave of those in your life in order to meet their interests and promote their joy in Christ?
III. Freedom Wrongly Applied Destroys (verse 15)
While rightly applying our freedom through loving service to one another results in a church that is pleasing to God, wrongly applying our freedom to serve ourselves results in a church characterized by biting, devouring, and destruction. The two groups within the Galatian churches were more concerned with proving they were right and pointing out the errors in the other group than with considering how they could become the willing slaves of one another.
Paul’s language here is that of wild animals that ravenously attack one another. They begin biting, which then turns into devouring (taking chunks out of one another), which eventually leads to their mutual destruction when they are consumed by one another. When we allow our pride and selfishness to dictate our thoughts towards others, giving an opportunity for the flesh to bite and devour through bitterness, then it will provoke further biting and devouring within the church, and eventually, it will lead to the destruction of the local body. Instead, when we are tempted to bite and devour, we should return to Paul’s exhortation in the previous two verses and consider how we might become the willing slave of the person that has offended us, seeking to promote their good and their joy. It is very difficult to think biting and devouring thoughts of others when we are occupying our minds with how to best serve and love them.
– Are you guarding bitter thoughts in your heart toward another person? How can you actively seek to serve that individual this week (while praying for them, of course!)?