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. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
We Americans love our freedoms. The freedoms of religion, speech, and all the others outlined in the Bill of Rights are very precious to us. Much of the world wishes to have similar freedoms.
The New Testament gives freedoms to Christians also. Paul spoke of freedom from the slavery of sin to the Roman church when he wrote, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18). By becoming subservient to God through obedience to the gospel, Christians are set free from being enslaved to sin and now serve the righteousness of God.
To the churches of Galatia Paul also wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). In this context, he was referring to freedom from being obligated to follow the precepts and commandments of the Law of Moses (Galatians 1-5). It is this freedom to which he tells the Galatians they were “called,” as seen above in Galatians 5:13.
However, concerning this freedom God gives us warnings, warnings designed to keep us from returning to the slavery of sin. Paul warned the Galatian Christians to “not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (v. 13). He would outline the works of the flesh a few verses later: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and “things like these” (vs. 19-21). Jesus would warn that such evil things defile us (Mark 7:20-23). The desires of the Holy Spirit of God, by whom we are to walk and be led (vs. 16, 18), are against these works and desires of the flesh (v. 17). Paul would go on to say that they would cause us to “bite and devour one another” and be “consumed by one another” (v. 18). Worst of all, they will keep us from truly belonging to Jesus. As Paul would also write, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (vs. 24-26).
Instead, we are commanded to “through love serve one another” (v. 13). Remember, even though we are free from the slavery of sin, we are still God’s slaves. Whatever freedoms we have are to be used to serve him, and he wants us to serve others. When one examines the overall point of the commandments he gave Israel in the Old Testament, their end goal was “to love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 14). Jesus would say that the Golden Rule – “Treat others the way you would want to be treated” – “is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). In other words, the entire Old Testament is summed up in that one commandment. The New Testament is no different. As Paul told Timothy, “The aim of our charge” – i.e., the reason behinds the commandments we are giving to you – “is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).
Perhaps the best summation of this point is found in Paul’s words to the Philippian church: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:1-7).
Jesus gave up equality with God to serve others as a human being. He put our interests above his own. He considered us more important than himself. We are to do likewise. We are to use the freedoms we have to do likewise.
American Christian, when you think of the freedoms you have in this country and the spiritual freedoms you have in Christ…is your first impulse to use them to serve yourself and your desires, or to serve God and others? Do you put your own interests first…or the interests of others and the interests of the gospel?