The Opportunity (Galatians 5:13-15)
Topic: Galatians Passage: Galatians 5:13–5:15
When Jesus Isn’t Enough (Galatians)
(One Body: Love One Another)
November 11th, 2012
I. At the Main Gate
The Main Gate of Thompsonville Penitentiary had nothing particularly appealing about it, except that it represented freedom for those who were walking through its doors in the outward direction. Tommy Reilly was doing just that, although he didn't know why. At 15 years old, he had recently been tried as an adult because of his extensive involvement in the violent world of organized crime. So how was it possible that he, Tommy Reilly, was being released?
But as he walked toward the main gate, he noticed two people standing on the other side, on the 'freedom side'. As the main door swung open, he recognized that one of the two was his girlfriend Jessica. She instantly threw her arms around him and began to plead with him to come with her. There was a party that all of his old friends were throwing for him. It would be just like old times.
But as he turned to the other individual, it took him a moment to place the face. “Remember me, Tommy” asked the older gentleman. As soon as the man spoke, Tommy knew who he was. He was the very judge who had sentenced him to life in prison. “Tommy, I'm here to give you a second chance. I've taken care of all the charges against you so that you can come with me and serve the younger boys at an orphanage I started.”
“But there's something else”, the man said calmly. “Since you are a minor and an orphan yourself, I decided to adopt you. You are now my son, Tommy. I understand that you will be tempted to see me through the lens of the past, but I'm asking you to trust me.”
Tommy was stunned. He looked at Jessica, who was still pleading with him. And then he looked back at this man who was supposedly his new father. This back and forth happened several times. He finally dropped his head in confusion.
II. The Passage: “But Through Love” (5:13-15)
Turn with me this morning to Galatians 5. Let's look together at verses 13-15. Listen to what the Apostle Paul writes to the young Christians of the churches of Galatia. Verse 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.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
This morning we are continuing our study of Paul's letter to the Galatians, and we are picking up where we left off last time. If you recall, the main issue was freedom.
We began our previous study with the opening words of Galatians 5. Verse 1:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
And that's exactly the theme Paul resumes here in verse 13. But we need to remind ourselves what kind freedom Paul has in mind here. We know from the first four chapters of this letter that the freedom Paul is writing about is freedom from the demands and condemnation of the Old Testament Law. That's the “yoke of slavery” the Apostle mentions in verse 1.
It wasn't that the Law given to Moses was bad or broken. No, we were bad...we were broken. Therefore, since human beings were not able to meet the Law's demands, we stood condemened by the Law. But that was exactly why God gave the Law: to show us our sickness, that we might look to His healing; to show us our weakness, that we might look to His strength; to show us our danger, that we might look to His deliverance.
And that's where grace comes in. Grace is God giving us precisely what we don't deserve, and what we could not earn through the Law. What does He give us? He gives us forgiveness. He gives us peace. He gives us love. He gives us Himself as Father, Friend, and Leader. From the bondage of sin and the burden of condemnation, to a new life of freedom, God liberates us with His grace!
And Romans 5:2 describes that amazing reality as “this grace in which we stand”. God moved His people from Law to grace, and now the Galatians wanted to move from grace back to Law. But God has called us to stand and walk in the freedom of grace (vs.1, 13)!
Is that the freedom you celebrate above all others? Isn't it ironic that we live in “the land of the free”, when in fact, most of its citizens aren't free at all? Most people remain slaves of sin. Most people are still depending on their performance, still trying to be and believing themselves to be 'good enough'. But we all fall short of and turn from God's good and perfect and holy commands.
That's why grace is so liberating! And as 5:1 makes clear, it is Jesus Christ, and only Christ who can “set us free” from the slavery of the Law, from the shackles of human effort. He did what we could not do (that is, He kept the Law perfectly) and then, on the cross, He took what we deserved (that is, the condemnation of the Law). And then He rose from the dead to complete His victory and free us from Death's grip.
A. Overcorrecting into Error (v. 13a)
But if we move forward into verse 13, we realize that Paul wants to make sure the Galatians do not swing the other direction; that they do NOT overcorrect into an equally dangerous error. You see, there are some who believe that the freedom of grace gives us the freedom to do whatever we want to do. They wrongly believe that freedom from the Law means freedom from obedience. They wrongly believe that freedom from punishment means freedom to sin without consequence; freedom as “an opportunity for the flesh”! And “flesh” is not our skin, but the nature which which characterize life in this skin apart from God (i.e. sinful nature).
Paul had to confront this exact error when he wrote to the believers in Rome:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey... (Romans 6:1, 2, 15, 16)
And you might know that's not true, but we are still tempted by that thought. When our flesh, when the world, when our Enemy, seeks to entice us to do wrong, we might think to ourselves, “Well, I know it's not right, but I can always ask for God's forgiveness afterwards. After all, I am standing in grace.” That's using grace as a doorstop when an opportunity for the flesh comes knocking.
As Paul drives home in Romans 6, if we persist in that kind of thinking, we have to question whether or not we truly are free from the slavery of sin.
B. The Freedom of Love’s Slavery (v. 13b-14)
But look at where Paul goes in the remainder of verse 13: Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
Paul makes it abundantly clear that the freedom of grace is not a freedom to sin, but instead a freedom to serve...in love. Grace doesn't simply unshackle us FROM the chains of sin and condemnation. No, it unshackles us FOR a new life of holiness and love. Listen to two of my favorite verses from the NT, II Corinthians 5:14, 15:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Christ's love not only redeems us, but it should also control us. And if Christ's love controls us, then we no longer live for ourselves, but for Christ. And if we live for Him, then we live to serve. Remember what Jesus said:
“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,  and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:43b-45)
One writer put it like this: “No one but the Son of God can suffer for us the way Christ did...However this unique suffering, after pardoning and justifying sinners, transforms them into people who act like Jesus—not like him in pardoning, but like him in loving.” (John Piper)
You see, what Paul has given us here at the end of Galatians 5:13 is an amazing paradox: the word we translate at the end of verse 13 as “serve”, is literally the Greek word for “to become a slave” or “to serve someone as a slave”. Now stop and think about that for a minute. Paul is saying, “Jesus has set you free from the God's Law in order to make you a slave for God's love.” Do you think about your salvation in that way?
And to drive his point home, Paul brings his argument right back to the very question that was causing the Galatians so much confusion: “What is the role of the Law in the life of the Christian?” Look at verse 14: For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The “whole law” that the Galatians were striving to keep in a spirit of legalism, that “whole law” was only truly fulfilled in the spirit of love in which Paul is calling them to walk. Paul wants them to understand the “whole law” in light of just one commandment from Leviticus 19:18. Listen to how he explains this same idea in Romans 13:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10) [same as Jesus in Matt. 22:34-40]
And isn't this also the fulfillment of what God promised through the prophet Jeremiah?...
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers...my covenant that they broke...  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
So Paul was not teaching them to ignore the Law. No, he was teaching them to fulfill the Law through new covenant love. I think this is precisely what Paul had in mind when he writes this in Galatians 6:2...Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
And this is why Paul said what he said in Galatians 5:6...For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
And what kind of love is this? It's loving others as you “love yourself”. That's not promoting a worldly form of self-love. That's simply recognizing the fact that, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:29, “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it”. Just as we are concerned about watching out for ourselves, and meeting our own needs, we should do that very thing for one another.
C. Gracelessness Begets Gracelessness (v. 15)
But look at how Paul concludes his discussion of the freedom of grace:
[God's wants you to love and serve one another...v.15...] But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
Now what exactly does Paul mean when he talks about them biting and devouring one another? Well notice some of the sins he mentions in verses 20 and 21: ...enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy...
Notice verse 26 as well...Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Brothers and sisters, listen... just as Paul was warning his readers in verse 13 about twisting God's grace, here I believe he is warning them about what happens when grace is altogether absent. You can't give to others what you yourself do not possess. If your life is not about receiving God's grace, your life will not be about giving God's grace.
Ironically, it is when we are most concerned about avoiding God's judgment by doing everything right, that we are most prone to judge others when they do even one thing wrong. Paul knew from personal experience that to see oneself through the lens of law is to see everyone through that same lens. And so we bite and devour one another in fear and pride, with critical spirits, judging and being judged.
And if you stay on that path, if these churches stayed under the yoke of the Law's slavery, they would not end up commended by God. They would end up consumed by one another.
III. You Have an Opportunity
Where are you standing this morning? I believe most of our standing in grace, through faith in Jesus Christ (if we are not standing in grace, then we are not truly standing). But if you are standing in grace this morning, then everyday, you will also find yourself standing at the main gate...the main gate.
Having been released from bondage, standing there on the 'freedom side' of the main gate, like Tommy, you will find yourself confronted with a choice: will you go back to living like you once did, to what is familiar, to what is comfortable, but to the very life that condemns and kills...OR, will you go with your Father...will you trust Him...will you give yourself to a life of love?
The freedom that Christ paid for with His own blood has afforded you an opportunity. But will it be an opportunity for the flesh, or an opportunity for faith? And what kind of faith is this? It's faith in the reality of God's abiding grace and love to you. It's faith in the “Good News” or gospel of Jesus Christ. Listen to how writer Milton Vincent describes this focus:
“When my mind is fixed on the gospel, I have ample stimulation to show God's love to other people. For I am always willing to show love to others when I am freshly mindful of the love that God has shown me. Also, the gospel gives me the wherewithal to give forgiving grace to those who have wronged me, for it reminds me daily of the forgiving grace God is showing to me.” (Milton Vincent)
For many of you here this morning, the word that God wants you to leave with is the word LOVE. Through His word God is reminding you that your faith is not simply about your personal relationship with Jesus. It's easy to get caught in that trap, isn't it? It's easy to fixate on your own problems, and your own spiritual health, and your own growth, or lack thereof.
But God has so much more for us. Yes, God has first called to be slaves of Christ. But being slaves of Christ means be slaves for Christ's love.
Are you using your freedom in Christ to serve others in love? Is that the kind of servitude for which you are glady giving your time and attention? When you look around this room, do you see opportunities to minister, or do you see burdens...do you see 'takers'...do you look with indifference...or fear...or with love. Aren't we “brothers”, as Paul calls them in verse 13?
Listen to what Paul will go on to write in the next chapter:
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
This week, maybe even today, look for a way to serve, look for a way to do good, look for a way to let your faith in the freedom of grace work itself out through the freedom to love.
But for others of us here this morning, the word that God wants us to leave with is the word FREEDOM. This morning, God's Spirit is showing your or reminding you that you are not free. You know you are in bondage this morning. You can feel the chains weighing you down.
Well, I am overjoyed to tell you this morning that God wants to, and God CAN, set you free. Not only from the struggle or struggles you have in mind, but more importantly, He can set you free from the demands and condemnation of His Law...He can set you free from the shackles of human effort...He can set you free from trying to live a me-centered life in a God-centered universe. And He can do that when you BELIEVE...not in what you can DO, but in what Jesus already DID on the cross.
Don't you want to be free this morning? If you do, reach out in faith. Put your trust in Christ.
The grace of God does not set us free for a care-FREE life, but a care-FILLED life. It must sound strange to the world, but when we are slaves for God, by grace, through faith, and when we are slaves for God's love, that is when we are truly free.