|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 25
Meditation Title: Law Summarised
Gal 5:7-9 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Back in verse 1 Paul had declared, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,” and we commented then on the fact that Christ HAS set us free and that that freedom he has granted us is to be held onto and not lost. Now Paul restates this freedom but for a slightly different purpose: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (v.13) The apostle Peter wrote something similar: “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” (1 Pet 2:16) He was saying it in the context of not using your freedom to reject authority for he goes on, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king.” (1 Pet 2:17). When Paul speaks in this way he has a more general moral approach in his mind. When writing to the church at Rome he wrote, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Rom 6:1)
No, Paul wanted to create and maintain a proper balance of understanding, and particularly in the presence of these Jewish believers who were looking for any excuse to oppose him, and so he is really saying, this freedom that I am speaking about gives you no excuse to live a profligate life. In the same way as I don't want you to revert back to Jewish customs, I don't want you to revert back to your old style of life where your old, self-centred, sinful nature prevailed. Oh no, merely because you have freedom that doesn't mean to say you can go back to that sort of lifestyle!
Again, back in verse 6 he had said, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” and so now he picks up again the love aspect in verse 13, “do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Oh no, instead of living a self-centred sinful life, live one that is motivated and energized by love and which expresses love to one another. Love is at the heart of the Christian faith; in fact, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbour as yourself.” (v.14)
Now just in case anyone raises an objection here, let's note that Jesus stated in response to the question, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Mt 22:36 ), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40) i.e. there were two commandments that summarise all the rest of the Law, so why does Paul say the entire law is summarised in the single command to love your neighbour as yourself? Well, in the same way that Jesus himself said, “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Mt 7:12).
Both Paul and Jesus were referring to the practical every day outworking of the Law in respect of righteous living, which is all about relating to other people. Yes, all of this really hangs on the first great commandment which Jesus stated was to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” but when it comes to working out that love in terms of relating to other people, it is a case of loving everyone else. We may not be friends with them (which requires knowledge and time) or even like them (for they may have unpleasant traits), but we are called to love them, which is about commitment to responding to them in the very best way, for so Jesus responded to all who came to him.
So the thrust of these verses is to counter any claims that the freedom that he has been speaking about might lead to licence, to self-centred, wrong behaviour. If the point hasn't come over strongly enough, Paul adds a negative warning: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (v.15) i.e. if you do revert back to living according to your old nature, contrary to the way I taught you (implied), you will end up destroying each other and that is quite contrary to the Law you say you espouse (again implied).
To summarise: you have been set free by Christ, not to indulge your old natures, but in fact to express the love of God to one another. That is what this freedom is all about, and if you don't do that then you will simply end up being destructive of one another. You want to keep to the Law? Then work on the basis of Jesus' summaries of it and simply love God and love one another. That's how simple it is!