Serve One Another In Love
Key Verse 5:13
“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”
Paul said to the Galatians in 5:6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Another way of saying this is: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Paul worried about these Christians because they were turning to works of the law as a human effort at righteousness. They were being deceived by some false Christians to embrace a very heretical teaching— that after believing in Jesus for your salvation, you ought to now follow and obey the teachings of the law to maintain and grow in your righteousness. Why is this heretical? Obeying the laws in the Bible is not heretical. But believing that you can improve on your righteousness by obeying the laws is heretical. Wanting to follow the teachings of the Bible is not heretical, actually it is commendable. But doing so to gain merit with God while showing off your Christian competence is heretical. Paul clearly said that the works of the law are of no value when it comes to salvation nor to sanctification. But what counts is faith. And not just any faith. It is the faith that is expressed through the love that you have in your heart for God and for others. But let us also make this clear. Love is not a work that you perform as a duty or to gain merit with God. But it is a love that is born out of your faith in God, the kind of love that is a fruit of your faith in Christ who saved you.
Paul worried that the Galatian Christians would give away their God given freedom and get entangled once again in slavery to the law. Christ had died and was risen in order to bring us to freedom. When we were living in sin, we were not free. As the Bible tells us, we lived in sin because we were slaves to sin. In other words, even if we tried, we could not free ourselves from sin. When we lived in sin, we could not fulfill the purpose to which we were created by God, which is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. We could not serve God as God intended for us to do. Sin controlled our lives such that we could not do anything with our lives but live selfishly for our own self, sinning against God without end, without hope of ever being delivered. But Christ died and rose again and provided for us the way for salvation and freedom. We call that the grace of God. And we come into that grace when we believe in Christ and in what he had done for us. That’s what faith is all about, the faith that brings us righteousness and sets us free for sin and from the meaningless lives we lived in selfish pursuit. Now we who believe have freedom in Christ— freedom from sin and freedom to no longer live selfishly for ourselves but to live for God. And how does God want us to live for him? As Paul says, in faith expressed through love— faith working itself through love.
The whole Christian life is a life expressed in love and through love. No one can truly say they are Christian if love is not the expression of their faith. No one can be truly free in Christ if their faith is not manifesting itself in their lives through love. And Paul here elaborates on this truth. Read verses 13-15. “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” These verses express the character of the Christian freedom that leads to love— how love is expressed through genuine faith. And they also express what love is not, what happens in the absence of freedom and love.
Listen to verse 13 again. “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Let’s think about these words a little. There are three ways of trying to live the Christian life— and two of them absolutely do not work. One of these ways is to live a life of legalism, which Paul has been telling us about throughout his letter. In other words, To live your Christian life by laws stated in the Bible. To devote yourself to the obedience of the do(s) and don’t(s) laws of the Bible, and then to climb the ladder of your Christian life by the good and righteous things you do. Paul has been railing about that throughout the whole letter. That’s one of the three ways to live your Christian life. The other way to live your Christian life is the life of license, which Paul discusses thoroughly in Romans 6. In other words, after we are saved by the grace of God, can we go ahead and live in sin? And Paul’s answer to that question is “absolutely not. God forbid that we do.” You cannot live in sin and be a Christian on your way to heaven. Now, you may fall into sin, but you will quickly get out of it! When you have realized you have sinned, you repent and ask God’s forgiveness, and get up from where you fell and walk again in the light of God’s grace and truth. That is what you do as a Christian. You do not use God’s grace of deliverance to license yourself to go ahead and live in sin. The Christian life is therefore, neither the life of legalism nor the life of license. Now there is the third way of living the Christian life and that is the life of freedom. In the remainder of this chapter Paul will give us the how of living our Christian life in freedom.
The life of legalism includes the ten commandments and laws rules and regulations in the Bible, as well as other rules that Christians impose on the Christian life in an effort at keeping themselves holy to the Lord. Or at least they think they are keeping themselves holy to the Lord. The legalists tell you where you can go or where you cannot go, what you can do and what you cannot do, how you ought to behave and how you ought not behave, what is good for your life and what is not good for your life. Sometimes they have rules about how you should sit or walk or stand. Now, let me remind you that when we choose to dress us conservatively we do not do so out of rules, nor for the sake of appearing more holy than others. We do so as Christians because we are not selfish and not living for ourselves but that we ought to be a fragrance of Christ to others. That is why we dress in such a way as reflects the holiness of Christ, or in such a way as to be sensitive to our brothers and sisters around us, and as an example to the world around us that we have a Christ whom we honor and to whom we belong. Someone asked this question: “He’s got dreadlocks. Do you think he is a real Christian?” Now let me ask you this: Who on earth ever said that having dreadlocks or not was the test of whether a person is a Christian or not? Who on earth ever said that if one eats meat or is a vegetarian makes them a Christian or not? If they are in Christ Jesus, they are Christians and are free. They are subject to the Lord’s own work in their lives, (Romans 14:4) to guide them in his own way to conviction upon conviction. The Lord may convict them to not eat meat or shave their head, but he is their Lord, and no one has the right to classify them as Christians or non-Christian by imposed rules and regulations. But that is the way of legalists Christians. No one is justified by what they do and do not do, nor by works of righteousness, but we are justified by grace through faith. Paul warned against Christian legalism in this letter. He also warned against Christian license.
He said: “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” What does the gospel of grace do for him or her who believes? it justifies us before God. It also frees us from the law. It also frees us from doing what is wrong, and gives us the grace to do what is right in the sight of God. In other words, it frees us to fulfill our purpose in God, to live the life God called us to live when he saved us. Grace does not set us free to sin, but it sets us free from sin, otherwise we are back to square one and worse— with the illusion that we are saved, or spiritually sound and heaven bound. That is the case of many who use the Christian freedom as license to follow their hearts, to do what their sinful desires dictate, while claiming their freedom in Christ the whole time. Let us be perfectly clear about the issue of freedom as license. Paul said: “Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” Let the Bible speak for itself. “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) Revelation 21:8 also says: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” These are harsh words of warning to those who use freedom as a license to engage the flesh, to satisfy the desires of the sinful nature, to abuse freedom in their own self interest.
Christ set us free from sin and not to sin. He set us free that we might do what is good and right in his sight, as originally he intended for us. The believer in Christ Jesus desires to please God, not because he must please God like a slave must please his master. You and I should have a desire to please God because we are sons and daughters who want to please our Father. We do what God want us to do, not because we fear to do otherwise for punishment, as if we were his enemies, but because we want to please God our Father our Friend. We love God who loves us. We serve God not because we are pressured to do so from the Law or from those who are watching us, who might gauge what we do and pass judgment on us. But we serve God because of what God has done in and through us. He has freed us to serve him freely with all our hearts. Jesus said, if you love me you will obey my commands. (Jn 14:15) Jesus is explaining the nature of love. Obedience to what God would have us do stems from our love for him. Nothing else like his love can spur us on to do what God wants us to do in our lives. We do not live by legalism nor by license, but we live in the freedom that Christ has given us as we love him and serve his purpose.
Read verse 13 again. “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” This is how we use our freedom. We do not engage the sinful nature. But rather we serve one another in love. This is one of the most beautiful teachings of the Bible. Serve one another in love. How do we serve God’s purpose in the freedom that we have in Christ? We love one another. How difficult that is to do. Yet we bend our spirit to the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lean on him to teach us this gracious virtue and command day by day and moment by moment. We cannot serve one another in love by our own strength. But we can serve one another in love when the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to enable us to live in the love that God has showered us with. And Paul defines this love in verse 14. “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Loving others as we love ourselves. This is a truth and a teaching that we must allow the Lord to impress in our hearts from day to day, as we genuinely practice this love through serving one another. You must think about what you would do for yourself and what you would not do for yourself in every aspect of your life, if you would genuinely follow this teaching of the Lord. Otherwise, your understanding of this teaching remains shallow and you will deceive yourself into thinking of this service in love as a works you would perform occasionally to ease your conscience rather than in genuine expression of how to love others as truly as God loves you.
Let me show you what the Bible says about love and you can think on this as you genuinely pray to serve one another in love as a conviction of your heart and not as an act of righteousness.
(Luke 6:27-36) says: 27 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8) says: 1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. … 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (John 15:13) says: Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (Galatians 5:13) says: 13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the (flesh) sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Through love, serve one another. ESV) We are nothing if we have no love for one another. It is “serving each other in love” that the Lord wants for me and for you, for this church, for all churches which is his body. God wants us to serve one another in love as an expression of his love for us. We can feed the poor every day, but if we have no love for one another, genuine love expressed in serving one another, we gain and have nothing. Faith expressed through love, and love expressed through serving one another in love.
Read verse 15. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” This is what happens when Christians do not live their freedom in Christ through love and serving one another in love. In many churches the saddest realities are that Christians bite, eat and devour one another. And their bite is as bad as that of a rabid dog. After one is bitten, nothing can be taken for a cure to the wounds inflicted through biting, eating and devouring one another. The wounds are usually too deep and painful and leave scars that are so difficult to remove. And forgiveness finds no room in such hearts because they are wounded beyond sense. And when a church does this to itself, and members do this to one another, there is no purpose left for that church but to become another building on the block, and no longer the household of God for the world outside to see and to give glory and praise to God. The world looks to see love but when it sees no love, it looks with disgust on that church and on its members because there is no difference between the worldly behavior and that church. No grace can come to them through the believers. When a believer loses the motivation and desire to serve others in love, they becomes critical of one another. They stop looking for the God-given blessings in each other, and only see faults, mistakes, shortcomings. others can only see the hurts and pains others have inflicted on them and become blind to God’s purpose. A church that does not serve each other in love will eventually destroy itself. But we have a kingdom to serve and a Lord to glorify in our lives and in our church. He set us free at a great cost to himself. We use our freedom to serve one another in love. We do not talk behind each other’s back. We do not despise one another. We do not criticize each other. We do not abuse one another, nor make use of one another. Rather we ask God’s mercy that through his love circulating in our hearts, we love and encourage one another. We pray for one another. We forgive one another’s shortcomings because we ourselves have been forgiven. We bless each other, and are blessed by one another. And when the world sees us, they can see Christ in this community, and give glory to God. Read our key verse 13 again.