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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Freedom to Serve


It can be hard for us to relate to the situation faced by first century followers of Jesus as the Church struggled to find its own identity and become more that a new version of Judaism. Let’s attempt to put this in perspective. The Pharisees had developed 613 laws, 365 negative commands and 248 positive laws. This approach produced a heartless and arrogant kind of righteousness. In his book Fan the Flame, J. Stowell identified ten tragic flaws in their legalistic approach. (1) New laws continually need to be invented for new situations. (2) Accountability to God is replaced by accountability to men. (3) It reduces a person's ability to personally discern. (4) It creates a judgmental spirit. (5) The Pharisees confused personal preferences with divine law. (6) It produces inconsistencies. (7) It created a false standard of righteousness. (8) It became a burden to the Jews. (9) It was strictly external. (10) It was rejected by Christ.

In comparison, IRS regulations (Title 26 of the U.S. Code) are spread over two volumes. Book one is 1,404 pages and book two is 1,248 pages, for a total of 2,652 pages! If you assume 450 words per page, that puts the tax code at well over 1 million words. (The King James version of the Bible has 788,280 words.) Which would you rather be? A Pharisee or an IRS employee?

True freedom is not the option to choose evil, but the opportunity to do good.

CONTEXT = The book of Galatians is a transitional book between OT Law and NT liberty. It preserves part of the Church’s struggle to integrate non-Jews into what looked like a Jewish sect. In the first four chapters of Galatians, Paul tore down the notion that anyone could be saved by keeping the Law of Moses. Now, starting in chapter five, he builds the alternative: freedom in Christ replaces slavery to sin or to the Law. His teaching echoes that of Christ in Matthew 22:37-40:

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

1. Jesus set us free to be better than who we are as slaves to sin. (13)

We have been CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM. (cf 5:1) When church people talk of being CALLED, we’re generally referring to a sense of one’s vocation, especially preachers. Biblically, every person who is a follower of Jesus has been CALLED to follow Him. As He did with Peter and the Apostles, Jesus called us personally and said, “Follow me.” Our faith is our positive response.

FREEDOM is the opposite of legalism, such as the way the Law of Moses was being used by Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time. In legalism, ethical living is defined only by the Law and in very limited, concrete terms. In liberty, ethical living is defined more personally, with the law as background. Right living is guided more by love and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

FREEDOM is not permission to act selfishly. FREEDOM without responsibility, without a mature acknowledgement of consequences, is an invitation to chaos. Some people mistakenly philosophize that freedom requires the possibility of choosing evil and then use that as an excuse for doing evil. This is contrary to Paul’s teaching here. True FREEDOM chooses to do good and rejoices in every opportunity to follow God’s way and do His will.

FREEDOM is an opportunity to love in service. We love our neighbor and ourselves, not because we are so lovable, but because we love Jesus. Service is one of the places where love becomes real. It is not just something we intellectually acknowledge or sentimentally feel, service is where love has hands and feet. In 5:6b Paul wrote, “What is important is faith expressing itself in love.” Where the Law compels and even threatens, our liberty in Christ guides to right choices.

2. God’s law is a law of love. (14)

Where our relationships with each other are concerned, there is only one law: love. Here Paul quoting part of Leviticus 19:18:

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Jesus identified this as the second greatest Commandment. Notice it appears in Leviticus between a prohibition against revenge, a selfish act, and an acknowledgment of the LORD, an unselfish act. This is not a LAW in the sense of a rule, but like a “law of nature,” it is an observation of the way life is. Jewish teachers were known for their attempts to summarize the Law: Jesus and Paul both stand in that tradition. Another example of a summary approach to the Law is found in the ethical principle called the “Golden Rule,” “Do to others as you want them to do to you.”

Where our relationship with God is concerned, there is only one law: love. Paul does not mention the most important commandment (loving God) in these verses, but we know it is the basis of love for each other.

3. Selfishness is destructive to church relationships. (15)

Selfishness leads to competition, sometimes with, sometimes without observing rules. The removal of religion from our culture has led to a general casting away of restraint. With no absolute truth to acknowledge, without a powerful God to whom we must answer, people will revert to selfish behavior – no gross immorality will be denied. The result, as we are seeing, is a loss of civility and a return to the uncivilized place where might equals right. In social media, for example, “might” is possessing more followers or making the loudest, most frequent, or most caustic comments.

Paul warned the result of acting selfishly is mutual destruction. Where relationships are built by cooperation in mission and especially by a shared love for God, distrust, division, and disunity result when people only love themselves. In the Greek, verse fifteen is vivid imagery of wild beasts fighting each other so ferociously that they are killing each other.

True freedom is not the option to choose evil, but the opportunity to do good.

Three Philosophies on Behavior

LAW LOVE LICENSE

I must I behave I behave

behave. because I any way

want to. I want to.

Duty- God- Self-

centered centered centered

Wants to Wants Wants the

control the best for best for self.

others. others.

How to recognize anti-Christ tendencies:

1) Self-promotion is betrayed in the question, “What’s in it for me?”

2) Self-vindication is evident in the statement, “I am never wrong.”

3) Self-centeredness is present in the person who believes “No one else matters.”

Don’t allow these tendencies to take hold in your character.

RESOURCES:

Stowell quote retrieved from http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/l/legalism.htm on 13 October 2023.

IRS code statistics retrieved from https://taxfoundation.org/blog/how-many-words-are-tax-code/#:~:text=There's%20the%20literal%20statutes%20that,a%20total%20of%202%2C652%20pages on 13 October 2023.

Gerald L. Borchert, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 14, Galatians, 2007, pp. 318-320.

CONC = 6:1-3

Richard N. Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 41, Galatians, 1990, pp. 237-248.

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