Galatians 5:13-15

13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!

Verse 13 takes up the point begun in verse 1.

to (v.13) = for, with a view to

do not use liberty as (v.13) = unto, with this end in view

opportunity (v.13) — a military term = base of operations

flesh (v.13) — the seat and organ of sin in man

through love (v.13) = by means of love

serve (v.13) = let it be your habit to serve

The Galatians had been slaves to sin and paganism. They were set free by grace. The Judaizers were trying to enslave them to the law. Paul urges them not to give up their freedom but, willingly, by means of love, to be servants to each other (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).

In verse 14, Paul explains that they can resist slavery to the law and yet, through love, accomplish all the law demands.

law (v.14) — not in the legal sense but the principle (based on God’s character) that makes up the right conduct for man.

fulfilled (v.14) — the tense indicated “completed in the past and continuing” — fully-obeyed

The quote in verse 15 is from Leviticus 19:18.

bite/devour (v.15) — consume — used to describe attacks by wild animals

Paul doesn’t mention the specific cause of the Galatians’ strife. It was probably disagreement regarding the teaching of the Judaizers.

freedom (v.13) — eleutheria; slavery, established and regulated by law, was an integral element in the social fabric of the apostle’s day. Provision was made, among other things, for the liberation of the slave, and this was effected by a legal fiction according to which he was purchased by a deity, Apollo or another; the purchase money was in fact provided by the slave who, as he had no legal standing, no civil rights, could not purchase himself. To meet this difficulty the sum appointed was paid into the temple treasury, whither master and slave proceeded. There, when the money was paid over, a document was drawn up and duly attested, to the effect that so-and-so had been purchased by the deity at such a price; in some of these documents the same words that are used by the spostle here, “for freedom,” i.e., “with the object of setting him free,” were inserted. Henceforth the erstwhile slave is his own masater, and may do “the things that he will,” nor may any man bring him into bondage again inasmuch as, in theory at least, he is now the property of the god who purchased him.

In the New Testament men are declared to be in bondage, the Jews to law (Galatians 4:3; Romans 7:1), the Gentiles to idols (Galatians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 12:2), and all to sin (Romans 6:6, 17); therein, too, the way to freedom is declared in language which is largely that of the manumission from social slavery just described. The seed from which this conception of salvation as deliverance from bondage afterwards developed is found, however, in the words of the Lord Jesus, (Matthew 20:28), “the Son of Man came … to give His life a ransom for many,” and (Luke 21:38), “your redemption draweth nigh,” and (John 8:36), “If … the Son shall make you free [lit., free you], ye shall be free indeed.” Thus men are set at liberty by Christ who purchased them at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23), which is His own blood (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 1:18-19), for He actually did at His own cost what the god did fictionally with money provided by the slave. Thus those who were in bondage to law, idols and sin, become the bond servants of Christ, of God and of righteousness. — Galatians, by W.E. Vine, pages 240-241.

It is quite characteristic of the apostle to introduce such a paradox. He has been pleading for liberty; he now insists upon law [v.14]. He has been reminding Christians of their freedom; he now declares they must be slaves. “Through love be servants one to another.”

This apparent contradiction, however, solves the whole problem of the relation between law and gospel, between works and faith, between legalism and Christian liberty. The gospel does not discredit moral law; it shows how this law can be fulfilled. “Faith” does not make “works” unnecessary; it produces “works.” Christian liberty does not make one free to sin, but it enables one to attain the righteousness which the law demands. For faith works through love. The gospel, which brings the good news of free grace and pardon, awakens love in the heart toward the Lawgiver, and makes one rejoice to do the will of God as revealed by Christ.

Those who accept the free grace of God in Christ Jesus obey their divine Master, not that they may be saved but because they have been saved. Gratitude and devotion inspire love for God and love for men. — The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, by Charles R. Erdman, page 107

To those who have been accustomed to regard law as the only controlling factor that stands in the way of self-indulgence and a free rein in sin, and to those who have not been accustomed to a high standard of ethics, the teaching of Christian liberty might easily mean that there is nothing to stand in the way of the unrestrained indulgence of one’s own impulses. Paul often during his ministry, had his hearers react in this way to his teaching of grace. The questions in Romans 6:1 and 6:15, Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? and, Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? were asked by someone who did not understand grace. Paul answers these questions in Romans 6, by showing that the control of the sinful nature over the individual is broken the moment he believes, and the divine nature is imparted, and therefore he hates sin and loves the right, and has both the desire and power to keep from sinning and to do God’s will. In Galatians he shows that the believer has come out from under whatever control divine law had over him, and in salvation has been placed under a superior control, that of the indwelling Holy Spirit  who exercises a stricter supervision over the believer than law ever did over the unbeliever, whose restraining power is far more effective than the law’s restraining power ever was, and who gives the believer both the desire and power to refuse the wrong and choose the right, a thing which law never was able to do. — Galatians in the Greek New Testament, by Kenneth S. Wuest, page 148.

The antidote against using their liberty from the law as a pretext for sinning, is found in the exhortation, “By love serve one another.” The Greek word for love here is agape, which refers, not to human affection but to divine love, the love produced in the heart of the yielded believer by the Holy Spirit, and the love with which that believer should love his fellow-believers. This love is a love whose chief essence is a self-sacrifice for the benefit of the one who is loved. Such a love means death to self, and that means defeat for sin, since the essence of sin is self-will and self-gratification. — Galatians in the Greek New Testament, by Kenneth S. Wuest, page 150.

The statutes of the law, the believer will incidentally obey so far as love itself requires such a course of action of him, and in no case will he obey them as statutes. Thus, the individual is released from one law consisting of a set of ethical principles to which was attached blessing for obedience and punishment in the case of disobedience, a law that gave him neither the desire nor the power to obey its commands, and is brought under another law, the law of love, which is not a set of written commandments but an ethical and spiritual dynamic, produced in the heart of the yielded believer by the Holy Spirit, who gives him both the desire and the power to live a life in which the dominating principle is love, God’s love, which exercises a stronger and stricter control over the heart and is far more efficient at putting out sin in the life than the legalizers think the tuhnders of Sinai ever were. — Galatians in the Greek New Testament, by Kenneth S. Wuest, page 151.

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