The Law of Love (Galatians 5:13-15)
Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church on Sunday, April 7, 2019
Recently, I watched a documentary about Billy Graham. I am fascinated by the way God used Billy Graham. When I lived in Cincinnati, I would watch his sermons on Saturday evening. Long before that I saw Billy Graham in 2002. I have read a biography of Billy Graham and I also read the autobiography titled, “Just as I am.” There are many things I respect about Billy Graham. One of them is his humility, another is his courage. Let me explain. Billy Graham was preaching during the race riots and segregation of the south. Yet, he refused, yes, refused to preach where the people were segregated. In fact, he saw ropes setup to divide the people. Graham asked the usher what was going on and they explained how the ropes separated the whites from the blacks. Billy told him to take it down. The head usher said no. Billy Graham told him again and the head usher said he would quit. Billy Graham then walked over and took the ropes down himself. After that Billy Graham spoke out against racism and segregation. Billy Graham was a true servant of the Lord. He united with Martin Luther King Jr. and included blacks in his crusades. Listen, we do not do good things like that to others if we do not start with good thoughts about others.
In the passage today, Paul calls us to love others.
My theme today is:
The Law of Love
Let’s read Galatians 5:13-15:
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
- You are called to freedom.
- Notice how Paul begins this section. We are called to freedom. Paul had said this in verse 1 of this chapter.
- In context, Paul had just wrapped up a section encouraging them not to go backwards. Paul had talked about how they were doing so well in their Christian walk and then they backed up. They reversed course and now he picks up from that.
- There is a strong change in the rest of this letter.
- Some people think of this next section like an appendix to the letter.
- Paul has written much on doctrine and now he switches to ethics. He now writes about Christian living.
- Paul exhorts them of this idea of “freedom” but then uses the pronoun translated as “brothers and sisters.”
- We are called to freedom: A story is told of a town where all the residents are ducks. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and takes its place, and then the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible. He reads to them: “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings, and you can fly like birds!”
- All the ducks shout, “Amen!” And then they all waddle home.
- We are called to leave our churches, be free and serve. We are called to be the best people. The most loving teachers, the most loving citizens, the most loving lawyers, the most loving coaches, the most loving managers, the most loving waiters and waitresses, the most loving servants.
- Don’t use your freedom for sin, but instead serve.
- Paul exhorts them not to use their freedom for the flesh.
- Using your freedom for the flesh would be doing worldly and negative things with your freedom in Christ.
- Whereas the conventional wisdom calls for killing your neighbors with kindness, resident Bryan Stewart took the idea to its literal extreme.
According to the Pensacola News-Journal, Stewart was approached by neighbors about unpleasant yelling and other noises emanating from his home. Stewart responded by exiting the house with his hand in a strike position, wielding a machete with the word “kindness” scrawled across. One of the neighbors stepped in to block the oncoming blow, and in the ensuing fracas, suffered a cut on his left hand.
Police eventually responded and arrested Stewart, who was booked on charges of aggravated assault, aggravated battery and assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill.
- The people of Galatia could face two temptations. One would be legalism. The other would be libertarianism. Paul had talked negatively about the law, but he certainly did not want to see them use their freedom for sin. One writes: This was an extreme form of antinomian teaching that held that freedom from the law meant release from all moral restraints. Paul wrote about and rejected this kind of perverted theology in Rom 6:1–2: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” The logic of libertinism was appealing to many who had reduced the message of salvation to cheap grace. They must have argued something like this: “Why worry about moral rules and guidelines or even the Ten Commandments? We love to sin. God loves to forgive. Why not indulge our natural appetites so as to give God all the more occasions to display his grace?”
- Instead, Paul gave them a good use of their freedom.
- Rather, use the freedom through love to serve one another.
- Instead of sinful ways, serve.
- The English word “serve” does not adequately translate the Greek verb douleuete behind which stands the common Greek noun for slave, doulos. Through love, Paul said, you should make yourselves slaves to one another. Thus freedom and slavery are not simply mutually exclusive terms; they stand in the closest possible relationship to one another and can only be adequately defined in terms of object and goal: what we are slave to and what we are free for.
- Luther insisted that a living faith expresses itself in works of love, in service to the neighbor. That such good works are done in freedom is a consequence of justification by faith. Believers who have been made right with God by faith no longer labor under the compulsion of the law or the self-centered need to serve others as a means of enhancing one’s own status before God. In a sermon on 1 Cor 13 Luther asserted: “One does not love until he has become godly and righteous. Love does not make us godly, but when one has become godly love is the result. Faith, the Spirit, and justification have love as effect and fruitage, and not as a mere ornament and supplement” (quoted in G. W. Forell, Faith Active in Love [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1954], 84, n. 27).
- Of course this is cross referenced throughout the New Testament:
- 1 Co 8:9 But be careful that this liberty of yours does not become a hindrance to the weak.
- 1 Pe 2:16 Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but as God’s slaves.
- Mt 7:12 In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.
- Ro 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
- Jn 13:34 “I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
- The law is summed up in one word, love.
- Verse 14: the whole law is fulfilled in one word… the implied word is “love.”
- You shall love your neighbor as yourself is from Lev. 19:18
- Paul’s ethical argument throughout this entire passage is based on the premise that the moral law of God, far from being abrogated by the coming of Christ, remains the divinely sanctioned standard for Christian conduct and growth in grace.
- Paul did not mention the first part of the greatest commandment: Love the Lord. I like what one scholar writes about this: Why did Paul call the selfless love of neighbor the fulfilling of the whole law? Not because it is superior to the worship and adoration of God, but rather because it is the proof of it.
- Martin Loyd Jones shares: We see them now, no longer as hateful people who are trying to rob us of our rights, or trying to beat us in the race for money, or position or fame; we see them, as we see ourselves, as the victims of sin and of Satan, as the dupes of “the god of this world,” as fellow-creatures who are under the wrath of God and hell-bound. We have an entirely new view of them. We see them to be exactly as we are ourselves, and we are both in a terrible predicament. And we can do nothing; but both of us together must run to Christ and avail ourselves of his wonderful grace. We begin to enjoy it together and we want to share it together. That is how it works. It is the only way whereby we can ever do unto others as we would that they should do unto us. It is when we are really loving our neighbor as ourselves because we have been delivered from the thralldom of self, that we begin to enjoy “the glorious liberty of the children of God.
- If you fight you will destroy each other.
- We see this interesting idea in verse 15. In my words: if you fight you will destroy each other.
- Paul is saying, but… in contrast to love if you fight you will destroy each other.
- This verse is a window into the churches of Galatia. It shows that they were back biting and harming each other.
- So Paul is essentially saying if instead of loving one another and serving one another they are harming each other then they will consume each other.
- I think of this like the threat of nuclear war, we end up destroying each other. Think about it. If a nuclear war breaks out no one wins.
- After this verse Paul will jump into the section on walking by the Spirit.
- We must live out Phil 2:3-4 as we serve Christ. Phil 2:3-4: Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
- We are saved freely, but we cannot use that freedom for bad.
- If we are harming other people in our freedom then we must understand it is a circular effect of negativity. It is like the fish chasing each other down in a fish tank, no one wins. Or, the school fights where one fights and then another, etc. Or, a football rivalry, only this is bad.
- We must do good to those who are mean.
- This means that we must think loving thoughts about others.
- We must think of others as more important than us (Phil. 2:3-4).
- We must not meditate on bad things about people.
- We will think of ways to win people with love. We must pray for others. We must love our enemies (Matt 5:43-44).
- This helps the Christian witness.
- This helps the Christian.
- This helps the world.
- This worships God.
So, can we be like Billy Graham? Can we love when others hate? Can we love when others dehumanize? Can we assume the best? This starts with our thinking. Can we live this passage? Can we serve one another?
None of us can, but Jesus can and He lives within us.
Walk by the Spirit.
 Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You a Story (Word, 2000); submitted by Debi Zahn
 Jelani Greenidge, pastor, Portland, Oregon; source: David Moye, “Florida Man Threatens to Kill Neighbor with ‘Kindness’–The Name of His Machete,” Huffington Post (1-14-19)