Stick With Service

The Point:  Seize the opportunity to serve.

Through Love Serve One Another:  Galatians 5:13-15.

[13]  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. [14]  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." [15]  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.  [ESV]

The Nature of Christian Freedom [13-15]. What sort of freedom is Christian freedom? Primarily, as we see from verses 1-12, it is a freedom of conscience. According to the Christian gospel no man is truly free until Jesus Christ has rid him of the burden of his guilt. And Paul tells the Galatians that they had been called to this freedom [13]. It is equally true of us. Our Christian life began not with our decision to follow Christ but with God’s call to us to do so. He took the initiative in His grace while we were still in rebellion and sin. In that state we neither wanted to turn from sin to Christ, nor were we able to. But He came to us and called us to freedom. If we are Christians, it is not through any merit of our own, but through the gracious calling of God. The popular image of Christianity today is not freedom at all, but a cruel and cramping bondage. But Christianity is not a bondage; it is a call of grace to freedom. What are the implications of Christian freedom? Does it include freedom from every kind of restraint and restriction? In brief, it is freedom from the awful bondage of having to merit the favor of God; it is not freedom from all controls. Christian Freedom is not Freedom to Indulge the Flesh [13]. The flesh in the language of the apostle Paul is not what clothes our bony skeleton, but our fallen human nature, which we inherited from our parents and they inherited from theirs, and which is twisted with self-centeredness and therefore prone to sin. We are not to use our Christian freedom to indulge this flesh, as an opportunity for the flesh. Our freedom in Christ is not to be used as a pretext for self-indulgence. Christian freedom is freedom from sin, not freedom to sin. It is an unrestricted liberty of approach to God as His children, not an unrestricted liberty to wallow in our own selfishness. Indeed, such unbridled license to sin is not true liberty at all; it is another and more dreadful form of bondage, a slavery to the desires of our fallen nature. Far from having liberty to indulge the flesh, Christians are said to have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires [Gal. 5:24]. That is to say, we have totally repudiated the claim of our lower nature to rule over us. Now we seek to walk in the Spirit and are promised, if we do, that we will not gratify the desires of the flesh [16]. Instead the Holy Spirit will cause His fruit to ripen in our lives, culminating in self-control [23]. Christian Freedom is not Freedom to Exploit my Neighbor [13b,15]. Verse 13 ends: but through love serve one another. Christian freedom is no more freedom to do as I please irrespective of the good of my neighbor than it is freedom to do as I please in the indulgence of my flesh. It is freedom to approach God without fear, not freedom to exploit my neighbor without love. Indeed, so far from having liberty to ignore, neglect or abuse our fellow men, we are commanded to love them, and through love to serve them. We are not to use them as if they were things to serve us; we are to respect them as persons and give ourselves to serve them. Christian liberty is service not selfishness. It is a remarkable paradox. For from one point of view Christian freedom is a form of slavery, not slavery to our flesh, but to our neighbor. We are free in relation to God, but slaves in relation to each other. This is the meaning of love. If we love one another we shall serve one another, and if we serve one another we shall not bite and devour one another in malicious talk or action. For biting and devouring are destructive, while love is constructive; it serves. Christian Freedom is not Freedom to Disregard the Law [14].  We must notice carefully what the apostle writes in verse 14. He does not say, as some of the new moralists are saying, that if we love one another we can safely break the law in the interests of love, but that if we love one another we shall fulfill the law, because the whole law is summed up in this one command, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. What is the Christian’s relation to the law? It is quite true that Paul says to us, if we are Christians, that we have been set free from the law, that we are no longer under the law and that we must not submit again to the yoke of slavery [1] which is the law. But we must take pains to grasp what he means by these expressions. Our Christian freedom from the law which he emphasizes concerns our relationship to God. It means that our acceptance depends not on our obedience to the law’s demands, but on faith in Jesus Christ who bore the curse of the law when He died. It certainly does not mean that we are free to disregard or disobey the law. On the contrary, although we cannot gain acceptance by keeping the law, yet once we have been accepted we shall keep the law out of love for Him who has accepted us and has given us His Spirit to enable us to keep it. In New Testament terminology, although our justification depends not on the law but on Christ crucified, yet our sanctification consists in the fulfilment of the law [Rom. 8:3-4]. Moreover, if we love one another as well as God, we shall find that we do obey His law because the whole law of God – at least the second table of the law touching our duty to our neighbor – is fulfilled in this one point: You shall love your neighbor as yourself, and murder, adultery, stealing, covetousness and false witness are all infringements of this law of love. Everyone who has been truly set free by Jesus Christ expresses his liberty in these three ways, first in self-control, next in loving service of his neighbor, and thirdly in obedience to the law of his God.” [Stott, pp. 139-144].

Bear One Another’s Burdens:  Galatians 6:1-5,10.

[1]  Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. [2]  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. [3]  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. [4]  But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. [5]  For each will have to bear his own load. [10]  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.  [ESV]

“In Galatians 5:16-25 the apostle Paul has described both the Christian conflict between the flesh and the Spirit, and the way of victory through crucifying the flesh and walking by the Spirit. The first and great evidence of our walking by the Spirit or being filled with the Spirit is not some private mystical experience of our own, but our practical relationships of love with other people. And since the first fruit of the Spirit is love, this is only logical. But it is easy to talk about love in an abstract and general way; it is much harder to get down to concrete, particular situations in which we actually demonstrate our love for one another. It is some of these which Paul now unfolds. He tells us how, if we are walking by the Spirit, we shall and shall not behave towards each other. How Christians Should Treat Each Other [2-5]. The general principle is supplied in 6:2: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Notice the assumption which lies behind this command, namely that we all have burdens and that God does not mean us to carry them alone. Some people try to. They think it is a sign of fortitude not to bother other people with their burdens. Such fortitude is certainly brave. But it is more stoical than Christian. Others remind us that we are told in Psalm 55:22 to cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you, and that the Lord Jesus invited the heavy-laden to come to Him and promised to give them rest [Matt. 11:28]. They therefore argue that we have a divine burden-bearer who is quite adequate, and that it is a sign of weakness to require any human help. This too is a grievous mistake. True, Jesus Christ alone can bear the burden of our sin and guilt; He bore it in His own body when He died on the cross. But this is not so with our other burdens – our worries, temptations, doubts and sorrows. Certainly, we can cast these burdens on the Lord as well. We can cast all our care on Him, since He cares for us [1 Peter 5:7]. But remember that one of the ways in which He bears these burdens of ours is through human friendship. Human friendship, in which we bear one another’s burdens, is part of the purpose of God for His people. So we should not keep our burdens to ourselves, but rather seek a Christian friend who will help to bear them with us. By such burden-bearing we fulfill the law of Christ. The law of Christ is to love one another as He loves us; that was the new commandment which He gave [John 13:34; 15:12]. So, as Paul has already stated in Galatians 5:14, to love our neighbor is to fulfill the law. It is very impressive that to love your neighbor, bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law are three equivalent expressions. It shows that to love one another as Christ loved us may lead us not to some heroic, spectacular deed of self-sacrifice, but to the much more mundane and unspectacular ministry of burden-bearing. When we see somebody with a heavy burden on their heart or mind, we must be ready to get alongside him and share his burden. Similarly, we must be humble enough to let others share ours. To be a burden-bearer is a great ministry. It is something that every Christian should and can do. It is a natural consequence of walking by the Spirit. It fulfills the law of Christ. The implication of verse 3 seems to be that if we do not or will not bear one another’s burdens, it is because we think we are above it. Again it is apparent that our conduct to others is governed by our opinion of ourselves. As we provoke and envy other people when we have self-conceit, so when we think we are something we decline to bear their burdens. But to think thus of ourselves is to be self-deceived. When the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to see ourselves as we are, rebels against the God who made us in His image, deserving nothing at His hand but destruction. When we realize and remember this, we shall not compare ourselves favorably with other people, nor shall we decline to serve them or bear their burdens. Moreover, when we are Christians, redeemed by God through Jesus Christ, we shall still not compare ourselves with others. It is these comparisons which are so odious and dangerous, as the apostle goes on to say in verses 4 and 5. Instead of scrutinizing our neighbor and comparing ourselves with him, we are to test our own work for we will have to bear our own load. That is, we are responsible to God for our work and must give an account of it to him one day. There is no contradiction here between verse 2, Bear one another’s burdens, and verse 5, each will have to bear his own load. The Greek word for burden in verse 2 means a weight or heavy load while the word in verse 5 means a man’s pack. So we are to bear one another’s burdens which are too heavy for a man to bear alone, but there is one burden which we cannot share – indeed do not need to because it is a pack light enough for every man to carry himself – and that is our responsibility to God on the day of judgment. On that day you cannot carry my pack and I cannot carry yours. Each man will have to bear his own load. An Example of Burden-Bearing [1]. In verse 1 the apostle Paul gives his readers a particular example of burden bearing. And Paul gives instructions for when a brother is caught in any transgression. He tells first what to do, secondly who is to do it, and thirdly how it is to be done. We are to restore the person. The Greek word means ‘to put in order’. It was used in secular Greek as a medical term for setting a fractured or dislocated bone. It is applied in Mark 1:19 to the apostles who were mending their nets. So the word is used here with the meaning to ‘restore to its former condition’. Notice how positive Paul’s instruction is. If we detect somebody doing something wrong, we are not to stand by doing nothing on the pretext that it is none of our business and we have no wish to be involved. Nor are we to despise or condemn him in our hearts and, if he suffers for his misdemeanor, say ‘Serves him right’. Nor are we to report him to the minister, or gossip about him to our friends in the congregation. No, we are to restore him, to ‘set him back on the right path’. We are not told here precisely how we are to restore our fallen brother, but we can learn this from the more detailed instructions of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17. We are to go to our brother and tell him his fault, face to face and privately. Jesus also made our object positive and constructive. We are to seek to gain him, He said, as Paul here says we are to restore him. Those who are spiritual should restore him. Here Paul is referring to mature or spiritual Christians, whom he is later to describe more fully in 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:4, and whom he has already begun to portray in Galatians 5:16-25. All Christians are indwelt by the Spirit, but spiritual Christians are also led by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit, so that the fruit of the Spirit appears in their lives. Indeed, this loving ministry of restoring an erring brother is exactly the kind of thing that we shall do when we are walking by the Spirit. It is only the spiritual Christian who should attempt to restore him. We may not, however, seize upon this as an excuse to evade an unpalatable task. We may not say ‘that excuses me; I am not spiritual’. Verse 1 is certainly an admission that not all Christians are in fact spiritual Christians, but then all Christians should be, and as such have a responsibility to restore a sinning brother. Paul also instructs us on how this restoring should be done: in a spirit of gentleness. The same Greek word for gentleness has occurred in 5:23 as part of the fruit of the Spirit, for gentleness is a characteristic of true spirituality. One of the reasons why only spiritual Christians should attempt the ministry of restoration is that only the spiritual are gentle. Paul then adds that we are ourselves to be watchful, lest we also are tempted. This suggests that gentleness is born of a sense of our own weakness and proneness to sin. We have seen, then, that when a Christian brother is overtaken in sin, he is to be restored, and that mature, spiritual believers are to exercise this delicate ministry gently and humbly. It is sad that in the contemporary church this plain command of the apostle is often ignored. If we obeyed this apostolic instruction as we should, much unkind gossip would be avoided, more serious backsliding prevented, the good of the church advanced, and the name of Christ glorified. [10]  Christian Well-Doing. This household of faith consists of our fellow believers, who share with us a common faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and so are our brothers and sisters in the family of God. We are to love and serve our enemies, Jesus said, but we are to do good especially to our fellow believers. Thus, a patient continuance in well-doing is a characteristic of the true Christian, a characteristic so indispensable that it will be taken as evidence of saving faith on the Judgment Day [Rom. 2:6-7].” [Stott, pp. 155-163, 171-172].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What sort of freedom is Christian freedom? What are the implications of Christian freedom? What is the relationship between Christian freedom and service?

2.         How are we to restore a fellow believer caught in any transgression? What is to be done, who is to do it, and how is it to be done?

3.         What does Paul mean when he tells us to bear one another’s burdens? Why and how are we to do this?

4.         In these verses, what practical ways does Paul give us for applying the command you shall love your neighbor as yourself?


Galatians, Timothy George, NAC, Broadman.

Galatians, Philip Ryken, REC, P&R Publishing.

The Message of Galatians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

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