13 For you are called to freedom, brothers; only don't use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another. — Galatians 5:13-15
The Entire Law is Fulfilled in This
by Forrest Smith
This is one of those “onion” passages with layers that seem to go on forever. Paul pauses at this point near the end of his letter to address one of the oldest and most important distinctions in Scripture: the difference between freedom and autonomy. Freedom and autonomy are often confused and considered to be synonymous, but that is not the case.
We see this confusion played out in the garden. God had told Adam after He placed him in the garden that he was free—free to enjoy the fruit of any tree, with one exception. The tree in the middle of the garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, was off limits. In fact, God told Adam that crossing that line would be the death of him.
Now the crafty enemy turned this on its head. He said, “Come on! Did God really say you would die? Here is the real deal. He is holding you back. He knows that if you eat this fruit, you will be like Him, and that is real freedom.” Well, we all know how that story turned out.
Most of Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia is focused on reminding them of the gospel he preached, the good news that justification is through faith in Jesus Christ and not through the performance of the law. In today’s passage, however, Paul anticipates a nefarious notion that might be creeping into the minds of his readers—including us. That is, if justification is through faith in Jesus rather than in keeping the requirements of the law, then let the good times roll! We can do what we want.
But this is to confuse freedom with autonomy. Do you see? We are free from the obligation of the law and its requirements because the law has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But the law has not been abolished (Matthew 5:17-20). Paul says we are not to use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, to selfishly pursue our own interests. A limit is placed on freedom: the limit of love. Paul exhorts the Galatians (and us) to serve one another through love, because the essence of the law is: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is not a divine bait-and-switch. Autonomy is not really freedom. It is chaos and anarchy, and it leads to destruction. The allure of autonomy is strong, but it leads to bondage to something. If we don’t end up consuming each other as we strive to satisfy our flesh, we will end up devouring ourselves.
Love is the dividing line. On the one side is community, a place where proper relationship can produce more than what each individual has, a place of nourishment and growth. On the other side is rigid devotion to self, division and ultimately bondage. Love is the scarlet thread that runs throughout all of God’s revelation. It is the tie that binds, and it gives us true freedom.
- Freedom with limits is often viewed as a contradiction. Can you think of an example where the presence of boundaries allows for greater freedom than if there were no boundaries?
- Think about the things you commonly do for yourself—basic things like eating, cultivating relationships, or taking pleasure in a good book or music. How does this consideration alter your perspective on loving that person who may not be so easy to love?
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.