Summary: The Galatian church either tried to add to their freedom in Christ or abused their freedom in hurting others. Today we need to learn to serve others in love, walk in the Spirit, and stay in sync with the Spirit.
Using Freedoms Wisely
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Freedom is a wonderful thing. This coming Thursday we’ll celebrate the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, to live in the home of the free, the land of the brave. Yet, with freedom comes responsibility. You don’t have the freedom to go up and punch somebody in the nose just because you feel like it. Your freedom stops where the other guy’s freedom starts.
In first century Christianity, Paul wrote today’s passage to the church in Galatia for a couple of reasons: First, many were still bound up in Old Testament laws designed for Jews, and were insisting that others follow them if they wanted to follow Jesus. For instance, part of today’s chapter that we skipped is all about circumcision. It was important when God first instituted it, but it was no longer required to follow Christ. If anybody ever adds any requirement to be a Christian other than to follow Christ, be wary. If anyone says, “Yeah, you need Christ, but you also need...to go to church every Sunday, you also need to be baptized, you also need to speak in tongues, you also need to worship on the right day of the week, you also need to completely abstain from alcohol, you also need to be circumcised” -- these may be good things, but they are not what gives you eternal life. If anyone ever adds a requirement for you to be a Christian besides following Christ, run the other direction! That is a cult in the making!
The other reason Paul wrote was to ensure people didn’t abuse their newfound freedom in Christ. Some were taking their freedom and going hog wild with it, living selfishly for their own pleasures and hurting others in the process. So Paul gives some principles for using freedoms wisely. I’ve summarized them down to three on your outline. First,
1. Serve one another in love
Paul told them in verse 1 that they were free in Christ. And in verse 13, he said, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Paul used a term here, “flesh,” that is also translated “human nature,” “carnal nature,” or “sinful nature.” It means who we are apart from Christ, our propensity to sin, to pursue our own selfish interests. He says that part of you is dead. In verse 24, he says it has been crucified with Christ. As you invite Jesus to take control of your life, that part of you dies with him on the cross so to speak. But it’s still there. Even though that old self is dead, it still rears its ugly head. Don’t listen to it. Instead, Paul says, “Serve one another humbly in love.” As you focus on the needs of others, you tend to be less self-centered. You don’t have time!
Paul gives a picture of the exact opposite of humble, loving service. In verse 15 he describes wild animals devouring each other. Our son’s dog decided to corner a porcupine this week, and she got a mouth full of quills out of the deal. Animals are not always kind to each other. Humans aren’t either. Yet, the Christian should be different.
There is an allegory sometimes attributed to C.S. Lewis, and sometimes to Rabbi Haim. The picture is of people in hell who have rather large forks and spoons. Each one is three feet long. And they are constantly frustrated at the banquet table because they can’t get any food into their mouth. Hell is one long frustration. However, heaven uses the exact same gigantic forks and spoons, and there everyone is feasting and having a grand old time! The difference? They are feeding one another, across the table. Serve one another in love. And secondly,
2. Walk by the Spirit
In verse 16, Paul encouraged them with these words: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The solution to self-centered living is to “walk by the Spirit.” The idea is to allow yourself to be continuously filled by God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus told the disciples, “Hey, I have to go away, because if I don’t, I can’t send you the Comforter, the Helper, the Paraclete.” And later he tells them, “I will be with you always.” The way he does that is through God’s Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who is the very manifestation of God the Father, of Jesus the Son, in our lives at every moment. We are never alone!
When we are “filled with the Spirit,” that means we are living in full awareness of God’s presence and full surrender to God’s leading. We are the mere vessel for God to use in carrying out his plans. We understand that he is the potter and we are the clay. When we walk with God in this way, we are walking by the Spirit.