Serve

| Galatians 5:13-14; 6:1-10

Week of May 17, 2020

The Point:  Seize the opportunity to serve.

Serve One Another Through Love:  Galatians 5:13-14.

[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.”   [ESV]

Main Idea: Believers are free from the law in Christ, but true freedom expresses itself in serving and loving others, not in satisfying selfish desires. Such freedom represents the fulfillment of the Old Testament law. [13] In a ringing statement Paul says that believers are called by God to be free, and he thinks especially of freedom from the law. The word For seems to function as a transitional particle here, introducing this new section and relating generally to the previous verses that warn the Galatians against falling prey to a message that enslaves them. The Judaizers were unsettling and disturbing the Galatians, but the Galatians were not called by God to be troubled over whether they were observing the Old Testament law. When God effectually called them, he summoned them to freedom. In summoning the Galatians to himself, the Lord called them to be free from the Old Testament law, and in particular, the requirement of circumcision. The burden of attempting to be right with God on the basis of one’s obedience no longer applies to believers, for they enjoy the freedom of being redeemed from the curse of the law through the cross-work of Jesus Christ [3:13; 4:4-5]. Hence, they live in freedom and joy as God’s children. It should also be noted that the Galatians are identified as brothers, in contrast to the opponents, who were the focus of the previous paragraph. The word only signals a qualification of the previous statement so that it is not misunderstood. The freedom to which believers are called must not be distorted or debased by the flesh. The flesh here stands for the old age of redemptive history, the identity of human beings in Adam. Believers, of course, are no longer in Adam but in Christ, and yet they live in the period between the times in the history of salvation so that living in accord with the flesh is still a possibility. They must not deceive themselves so that their freedom in Christ becomes a pretext for the flesh. Elsewhere in Paul we see that sin used the law as a “bridgehead” for its further operations [Rom. 7:8,11]. Here the concern is that freedom may be abused and become an occasion for the selfish will to dominate. The freedom to which the Lord called the Galatians was never intended to become an excuse for selfish desire or the furtherance of sin. True freedom manifests itself as slavery, as serving one another in love. Freedom suggests to human beings an open door to fulfill natural desires, but subjection to such desires is not freedom but slavery. True freedom liberates believers from their selfish will so that they find joy in serving others. Freedom manifests itself as love, as a desire to fulfill the needs of others. The redemption believers enjoy liberates them to pursue goodness so that they serve others with gladness. [14] The word for indicates that the basis for 5:13 is now provided. It is fitting for the freedom of believers to express itself in loving service to others, for such loving service fulfills the message of the Old Testament law. It is astonishing that Paul speaks here of fulfilling the Old Testament law after emphasizing in such detail that believers are no longer under the Old Testament law. In 5:3 Paul has just stated that believers ought not to receive circumcision because if they do so they are obligated to keep the whole law. Here he turns around and says that the entire law is fulfilled in loving one another, and he cites Leviticus 19:18. Is there a contradiction here? Does Paul affirm freedom from the law in 5:3, and then in opposition to all that he has said in the letter, insist on an obligation to keep the law in 5:14? Such a claim of contradiction should be rejected, for it is improbable that Paul had forgotten what was said in 5:3. Indeed, Paul has emphasized freedom from the law throughout the letter, and hence it is scarcely possible that it has left his consciousness. When we compare the two verses, the differences between them are striking. (1) For instance, 5:3 focuses on “debtor”, but in 5:13 Paul emphasizes “freedom”. In 5:3 doing the whole law is a burden, but in 5:14 fulfilling the whole law accords with freedom. (2) Verse 3 focuses on “doing” the law, whereas 5:14 refers to “fulfilling” the law. Doing the law is required for justification and is unattainable, while fulfilling the law is the consequence of justification and the result of the Spirit’s work. (3) Furthermore, the expression “the whole law” is distinct in 5:3 and 5:14, for the former has “the entire law” while the latter has “the whole law”. (4) Finally, the context of the two statements must be distinguished, for the requirement of doing the whole law appears in a context where the Galatians were threatened with judgment if they submitted to circumcision. The fulfilling of the entire law occurs in a context where true freedom expresses itself in serving others through love. It is somewhat surprising that Paul does not follow Jesus in seeing the fulfillment of the whole law in terms of love for God and for neighbor [Matt. 22:34-40]. Instead he restricts himself to love of neighbor and sees in it the fulfillment of the whole law. Perhaps the focus is on loving neighbors because social relationships dominate this section of Galatians. The mark of love is the ability of believers to get along with one another. Furthermore, there is ample biblical teaching supporting the notion that love for God manifests itself in love for others. Love seeks out the interests of others and pursues their best. The various commands of the law, insofar as they relate to interaction with human beings, are summarized in this command. Indeed, no rule book could ever summarize all that is involved in loving others, for life is too varied and complex to codify how love expresses itself. Those who are free from the law, however, and empowered by the Holy Spirit live a life of love. Love does not go around the moral norms of the law, nor does it violate them, but it does transcend them, indeed, the call to love probably reflects the law of Christ [6:2], and Christ himself modeled that love in his self-giving for his people [2:20]. So too, believers live out the law of Christ when they give themselves for the good of others.”  [Schreiner, pp. 330-338].

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

[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. [6] One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. [7] Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. [8] For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. [9] And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. [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]

“Mutual Helpfulness [6:1-10]. [1] Paul proceeds to urge his converts to live genuinely helpful Christian lives. When those who are spiritual become aware of a sin that a fellow believer commits, they are not to regard this as a matter for gossip or a means of seeing themselves as in some way superior. Rather, they are to restore the sinner and to do so in a spirit of gentleness. The test the church must use is whether what is done will help to restore the sinner to the place from which he or she has fallen. The thought is that of assistance, not punishment. And the helpers are not to adopt any attitude of superiority but they are to bear in mind that they, too, might be tempted. [2] Far from standing aloof in judgment on others, Paul counsels the Galatians to bear one another’s burdens. People carry a variety of burdens through life and Christians should be noted for helping one another with whatever burden the other believer may be compelled to carry. Paul is counselling believers to live their lives as helpful people, always ready to lift the burden from other people’s shoulders. In this way they will fulfill the law of Christ. The law of Christ is an unusual expression. This is not a law in the sense of part of a legal code, but it points to the necessity for lowly service if we would truly be followers of Jesus. Lowly service is not just an option that some Christians might like to follow. It is an obligation resting on all believers, and it is so important that it can be said to define the whole duty of the believer. [3] It is easy to deceive ourselves about our own importance. We can think that we are something, when in fact it is basic to the Christian understanding that we can do nothing at all for our salvation. All we have and all we are we owe to God. For salvation we can do nothing at all. We are called on simply to believe, to trust Christ alone. And when it comes to living out the Christian life we are wholly dependent on the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit. [4] Paul turns to another aspect of Christian service. He counsels each one to test his own work. We must not look at the appearance and achievement of others and fancy ourselves as in some way superior. It is important that we make our own work the best we can possibly make it. Paul is not, of course, advocating that Christians be habitually boastful; he is saying that they should so live that their lives will give evidence of praiseworthy qualities. He is making strongly the point that each must concentrate on improving what she or he is doing and not imagine that he or she is doing well because of a fancied comparison with someone else. [5] The same point is put in other words. Each one applies the saying to every Christian as Paul moves to the imagery of carrying burdens. His word for load is used literally for the cargo of a ship [Acts 27:10] and figuratively for the burden of the law [Mt. 23:4]. Paul is urging believers to concentrate on their proper task in the service of God, and not allow themselves to be distracted by fanciful comparisons with how other people are serving him. There are some things we cannot push off on to other people. There is a Christian duty which each of us must perform. [6] Paul moves to the duty rank-and-file believers owe to those who teach them about holy things. In the early church Christian teachers led precarious lives. There were no elaborate schemes for seeing that even their elementary needs were met. In this passage we see something of the way provision was made. None of the members of the church in its earliest days had been to Sunday school as a child. All were converted in adulthood and thus were in need of a good deal of instruction about the Lord they had come to serve, about what that Lord had done to bring about their salvation, about the kind of people they ought to be and about the kind of things they, as Christians, ought to be doing. So the giver of instruction in Christianity was an important person. Here Paul speaks of instruction in the word, which points to teaching about Christ, and about the divine revelation that underlay the Christian understanding of life and salvation. It does not require a great deal of reflection to see that in the early church the person who taught new believers the essential things to know about God, about Jesus, about the way of salvation and about the way the saved ought to live was doing a very important work. So Paul says that the one who is taught the word has a responsibility to share all good things with the one who teaches. [7] Paul moves to the general manner of life of his readers. Do not be deceived. It is a serious mistake when people assume they can ignore the commands God has given and go their own way with impunity. It comes easily to us to think that the way that we want things to happen is the way they will happen. Paul is reminding us that God has his purposes and that these will assuredly work out. [8] Paul applies the proverb in verse 7 to the ultimate issues. The person who sows to his own flesh is the person who concentrates on life here and now. He may not be a grievous sinner, but if he concentrates on limiting himself to horizons dictated by his bodily interests then in the end he can reap only what is of concern to those bodily interests. And, as in the end the body dies and decays, Paul goes on to point out that this means that the ultimate harvest of the flesh-oriented life is corruption, which is the opposite of eternal life in this verse. The apostle moves from the person who concentrates on this earthly life to the one who sows to the Spirit. This person will from the Spirit reap eternal life. There is quite an emphasis on the Spirit in these last chapters of the letter. Sowing to the Spirit clearly points to a concentration on those aspects of life which involve interaction with God’s Holy Spirit. It signifies concentrating on what will produce ‘the fruit of the Spirit’. It means seeing our spiritual life as more important than our secular experiences and devoting time and energy to it accordingly. Paul is reminding the Galatians that they should get their priorities right and give time and energy to that which concerns ultimate issues and not merely the passing things of here and now. [9] It is easy for the servants of God to become discouraged: the opposition they meet is so constant and the good they are trying to do is so hard to accomplish. Paul recognizes this and exhorts the Galatians not to grow weary. Paul does not say what the harvest will be, but we should surely understand it in part at least as the leading of sinful people into the salvation Jesus brings. There is probably also the thought of the development of Christian character. That, too, takes time and effort. And, Paul assures his readers, this reaping will be done if we do not give up. It is fatally easy for the Christian to lose concentration on the daily struggle and say, ‘I have done enough!’ Paul reminds his readers that they must not give in or even slacken off. Reaping the harvest is too important for slackness in the reapers. [10] The apostle draws a logical conclusion. Because of the importance of reaping the harvest of which he has been writing, Paul stresses the necessity for making the most of our opportunity. From the nature of the service to which he goes on, it is clear that the opportunity of which he writes occurs throughout our lifetime. He is saying in effect that while we have life we have opportunity and we should make the most of that opportunity. And specifically we should do good to everyone. Paul’s exhortation means that we must not confine ourselves to doing the things that bring benefit to ourselves or the things that we simply enjoy doing. We must enlarge our horizons. Doing good to others is often a thankless activity. But it is an important part of the Christian life and Paul leaves his readers in no doubt that it is eternally significant. Doing good to all sorts of people is then the duty of Christians. But Paul sees of particular importance one group of people who may be helped, as he goes on, especially to those who are of the household of faith. Paul sees all Christians as united by the bond of their common faith and therefore it is important that they do good to one another as they have opportunity. Notice that the apostle sees believers as making up one great family, one household.” [Morris, pp. 177-185].

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? What role does love play in the exercise of our freedom?
  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? What result are we seeking?
  3. What does Paul mean when he tells us to bear one another’s burdens? Why and how are we to do this? How do verses 2 and 5 connect: bear one another’s burdens while each one is to bear his own load?
  4. In these verses, what practical ways does Paul give us for applying the command you shall love your neighbor as yourself?

References:

Galatians, Leon Morris, Inter Varsity.

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

Galatians, Thomas Schreiner, Zondervan.

The Message of Galatians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

The purpose of this article is to provide additional reference resources for those Sunday School teachers who use Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life material.