For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only [use] not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, [even] in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. [Gal 5:13-15]
The reason that Paul stood so much against the actions and teachings of the “false brethren”, legalists, was because what they were proposing was a new yoke of bondage. It was a new slavery. Those who are called by the gospel are called to liberty, not bondage. As “called by the gospel”, I mean those who hear the gospel and believe it.
So then faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. [Rom 10:17]
In Whom ye also [trusted], after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in Whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, [Eph 1:13]
And the gospel that we are called by is:
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures: [1Co 15:1-4]
Remember Peter’s words at the “Jerusalem council”:
Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? [Act 15:10]
Israel could not carry the heavy yoke of the law when they WERE indeed under it. How much less will we be able to carry it when we are NOT under it. We are called by God through the gospel to the “glorious liberty of the children of God”. (Rom 8:21)
So now Paul takes a slightly unexpected turn. Actually, it is not a turn. He rather plots out the correct path when the believer may be deceived to follow another path that leads where we ought not to go.
Only [use] not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
This is where we find spelled out for us the true use of Christian liberty. I am free, but being free from sin makes me free to serve. This is freedom to serve the One who said Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. [Mat 11:28-30] How much more can we find rest in Him now that He is at the right hand of God in the heavenlies far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. [Eph 1:21]
Using liberty as an occasion to the flesh does not exalt liberty. It brings us back to bondage:
Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. [Rom 6:16-18]
You are not in bondage to sin if you are in Christ. If you have not believed the gospel that Christ died for your sins according to the scriptures and was buried and rose again according to the scriptures, then you are still in bondage to sin. If you have, then you are in Christ, so the question is raised, why would anyone go back under sin?
For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. [Rom 6:23]
All sin ever paid was death, but God has freely given us eternal life in Christ. Why go back to serve the cruel, slave-driving task master, when you are set free from sin by the Lord of Glory?
Then there is the issue of rights: I have rights, but I am free to give up my rights for the good of others.
For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed [are] pure; but [it is] evil for that man who eateth with offence. [It is] good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor [any thing] whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. [Rom 14:20-21]
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. … Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. [1Co 8:9, 13]
Paul himself, as the Apostle of Jesus Christ had “rights” as an apostle, and stated that he could make demands of the assemblies because of his position. But the gospel is far more important than our comfort:
If we have sown unto you spiritual things, [is it] a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of [this] power over you, [are] not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. [1Co 9:11-12]
Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for [it were] better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. [1Co 9:14-15]
Paul wrote these things not to make them offer to give for him, but that they would follow his example of thinking of what is best for those he loves (the assemblies in Christ), rather than what would be good for him. He also gave up rights that others may be saved:
For though I be free from all [men], yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all [men], that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with [you]. [1Co 9:19-23]
This is not to indicate compromise, for “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump”, but it does indicate not flaunting freedom.
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s [wealth]. … Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: Even as I please all [men] in all [things], not seeking mine own profit, but the [profit] of many, that they may be saved. [1Co 10:23-24, 32-33]
We find these chapters in 1Corinthians very enlightening regarding the delegated authority that Paul truly had, and it is really more overwhelming to find that he is speaking of his authority in the context of NOT exerting it because he is more concerned about others than about getting his fair share. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” could hardly be better demonstrated concerning Christian liberty than it is in Paul’s exortations to the Corinthians. How much greater is that demonstrated by our Savior:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. [Phl 2:5-8]
He laid down His life for His friends (Jhn 15:13), and wonder of wonders, for His enemies! (Rom 5:10)
Let this mind be in you and me as well. As we close this study, let us look at the last part of this passage. I have found it quite interesting that this warning about biting and devouring one another occurs in the letter against legalism. Does it not usually follow that legalism brings with it a “biting and devouring” because we make ourselves appear better by destroying others, pointing out there failures? Let us not do this, but build each other up, and love our neighbors as ourselves!
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