The Law of Love: Galatians 5:1-15 (Sermon)
The Law of Love
The word law doesn’t give me warm fuzzies. How about you? They can be good. They can be bad. It depends, right? Generally, if laws inhibit me from doing what I want, I don’t like them. If they benefit me, I appreciate them. We don’t like anarchy and enjoy freedom. Society needs law and order to flourish. Today, we will revisit what Paul wrote to the church in the region of Galatia. In our passage, he made a surprising comment about the law that I think we would do well to zoom in on.
I have asked D.W. to read for us this morning. We are continuing our series in Galatians. Turn to Galatians chapter 5, starting at verse 1. Would you please stand with me, if you can, in honor of God’s Word? Thank you.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case othe offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
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.
Dear God, help us understand your Word and apply it to our lives. Please help us to honor you in all we do. We need your Spirit to fill us and empower us to that end. In Jesus’s name, we pray, amen. You may be seated.
You may remember the first five chapters of Galatians. Paul railed against those who added to the gospel, leaving it no gospel at all. Paul had been with them when the church was born. He went to plant and encourage churches around the Mediterranean area. In the meantime, false teachers came to the churches and began teaching that a person needed to be circumcised to be right with God. That was and still is not true. Paul countered in his letter that if that were the case, one would have to follow every law in the Old Testament. To be right with God comes from faith, not work. It was God’s message, not Paul’s. Genesis tells us that Abraham was justified by faith, not his works. Only one person has ever obeyed all the law perfectly, only one. He did what was right with God the Father. That person was Jesus, the Son of God (Hebrews 4:15). His success became our success through faith. When he died a sinner’s death, even though he was innocent, he became our substitute. His death paid off our debt. His death forgave our sins. His death purchased our adoption as sons and daughters of the heavenly Father.
Consequently, we are heirs of the kingdom of heaven and filled right now with the Spirit of God. This reality is better than winning the lottery. Friends, in a sense, by trusting in Jesus, we have more millions than Musk, more power than a president, and more clout than a king. Paul wanted the Galatian church to Return to this gospel of grace so they could walk with freedom in the Spirit. That is what we pastors think God’s message is for us in this book of the Bible. We must return to the gospel of grace so we can walk with freedom in the Spirit. A shorter way to say it is to avoid #gospeldrift.
I went to the beach this week. You can see the darndest things: balloons, building materials, sand toys, and bottle caps. Over the years, I have found fishing lures, money, glasses, lighters, bags, and tires. Things drift in and out, up and down the lake all day long. Paul didn’t want the church to drift from its moorings. In the passage we read, we see two different dangers.
One is toward license and the other toward legalism. For much of the book’s first part, Paul argued against a moralistic view of life. You scratch God’s back; he scratches yours. You obey a few rules, and you get a pass to the pearly gates. This approach becomes slavery fast when we recognize God’s holiness and our sinfulness. Paul contended that we are free from this enslaving perspective. Instead, God gives us, who repent and believe, his love like a parent. As parents, we love because our children are ours, not because they did their chores. God loves those who trust in him, not those who have it all together. (No one has it all put together). #gospeldrift can also result from a loose lifestyle where we begin to think actions and words don’t matter. That is what the Bible calls living according to the flesh. Surprisingly, Paul has a middle law of love we see in verse 6 of chapter 5. This is the shocking benefit of the law embedded in these fifteen verses.
I have enjoyed studying and learning about this. We need reminders like Galatians because subtly, we can put our stake in our ability. We can become Pharisees and performers. Or, we can coast and drift in the other direction doing whatever we feel like. God has something better.
If you have your Bibles, open with me to chapter 5 of Galatians. In our passage, we heard that circumcision doesn’t count for anything. Then, what does? What matters? Look at verse 6.
“Only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).
This is a surprising law and work. Faith is what matters. Paul spent much of his letter talking about how we don’t work for salvation. Ironically, genuine faith results in this work. He calls it later the law of love. So, Paul is not against work or laws. Jesus’s half-brother, James, understood this.
FAITH AND WORKS
If you have your Bibles, open to James chapter 2, verse 14. (We will get back to Galatians chapter 5.) James wrote,
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:14–19).
What was James getting at? Genuine faith results in action. What we believe impacts what we do. Paul did not desire the Galatian churches to become monks and nuns or academic ideologues (Although there has been some good in each camp). Paul was not writing to make hypocrites. Those who genuinely believe bear fruit. Faith impacts action. Actions don’t earn salvation but demonstrate what is going on in the heart. We live out our beliefs in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools. Jesus understood this. He told his followers in John chapter 13,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35)
So, the proof is in the pudding. The work Paul told us to do in Galatians 5 is to obey Jesus’s new command. So, let’s bounce back to Paul. Galatians chapter 5, verse 13.
“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” (Galatians 5:13).
Our faith tends to embrace truths but not have that truth take root in our day-to-day operations. We can have all the correct information but be jerks for Jesus. That is not the call of Christ. We are to serve one another through love. This church does an excellent job with that. Garage sales, blood drives, worship ministry, coffee ministry, funeral help, and outside the church commitments are all evidence of your loving service. At the same time, we can serve out of the flesh and love more.
LOVE OTHERS AS WE LOVE OURSELVES
Why does it matter? Paul wrote why we are to serve one another. Look at verse 14.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).
If we want to obey God, let us be a community that loves. One way to do that is through service. Paul was quoting Leviticus 19 verse 18. Let’s explore the context. Moses wrote it to God’s people as a prophet speaking for God. It contains roughly 15 laws, depending on how you number them. Here they are,
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:9–10)
The law about not gathering from the edges of the field was to care for the poor.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people. (Leviticus 19:11–18)
Those are some excellent laws, aren’t they? We don’t want people to resort to stealing, lying, oppressing, cheating, or abusing one another. We don’t want people to slander, hate, or become vigilantes. Laws like these make sense. So, was the reason the motivation for such rules? No. Reason? No. Was experience motivating these laws? No. Moses was communicating what God told him, and the justification was what God repeated repeatedly, I am the LORD. God’s very nature necessitates obedience. The passage of Leviticus also highlights other reasons like care for the poor, fearing God, and profaning God’s name. But primarily, the character of God is what is on display.
Moses summed up all these commandments in chapter 19 with a final positive law.
“But you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18).
The motivation for obedience was God. Our obedience demonstrates our allegiance. Our actions demonstrate our affections. Jesus said something similar,
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
So, if we love God, we will love our neighbor as ourselves.
Do you love yourself? That sounds a bit egotistical. But, honestly, do you love yourself? I think we do. I say that because we don’t forget to eat, sleep, and take our time for the most part. What if we paid as much attention to our neighbors as we thought about our lunch? Do you think our love for one another could improve? Mine could.
WHO ARE OUR NEIGHBORS?
Paul tells us in Galatians chapter 5 to serve one another in love. His initial application was in-house among the church members. In the church, God brings diverse people together. It is not a yacht club. We have the haves and have-nots, men and women, young and old (June Johnson will be 100 next month, Jordan’s baby). We have blue-collar and white-collar workers. We have retirees and students here. We have vacationers and people whose families have been in this part of the country for generations. We have introverts and extroverts. We have spenders and savers. We have thinkers and feelers. We have Democrats, Independents, and Republicans here. We have all types of people here. Do you think we will all see eye to eye all the time? No way. But we have a common law that unites us. What is that? The law of love. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. That sums up the law, which is the surprise relating to Paul’s statement in verse 6. That brings up the question: who are our neighbors?
He told a story. A man was traveling to Jericho; he was assaulted and left for dead. A Pharisee walked by the man and did nothing. He must have been in a hurry. Then a Scribe walked by. He avoided this man too. Finally, a Samaritan and they were the outcast class in Israel at the time, walked by. He stopped. He took care of the man. He brought him to an inn and paid for his night's stay, food, and other incidentals. He checked in on him. Jesus asked the crowd who was the neighbor? Who acted neighborly? It was the unthinkable weirdo. Jesus said to go and do likewise. Our neighbors are not just people like us who look like us, act like us, and think like us. Who are you most likely not to be friendly with these days? Jesus was saying those are the people you are called to love. That is your neighbor.
If that then is our neighbor, then how are we to love? Let us define love. In our culture, love is romance. It is a feeling you get when you meet someone, and there are sparks and chemistry. We also use the term to describe our favorite restaurants, pets, food, and sports teams. We love activity and rest. We love our hobbies and work. What is love? What did Paul think of when he used the word? In another letter, he wrote,
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4–8)
If this is our working definition, how are we doing at loving one another? How are we doing at loving our neighbors? How are our words, thoughts, and actions? It is easy to love in theory or from a distance. How do we love those closest to us? Are we patient and kind? Are our words arrogant or rude? I can ask myself, do I insist on my way? Am I irritable? Am I resentful? That would not be loving.
Paul, in our passage, connected loving to service. I have seen this in you. Some here have lent a car to a missionary. Some here chauffeur people around to church or the airport. Some of you quietly serve behind the scenes helping repair people’s homes. Some of you write encouraging notes. Yet, at the same time, we can serve without loving. Paul explicitly stated that the service God desires comes out of a heart of love.
This law did not originate with Paul. Jesus talked about it. He mentioned a superior command: to love God. Both commands came from Moses, who got them from God. Moses wrote,
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
If you thought loving your neighbor, family, or boss was challenging, how are you supposed to God with all your heart, soul, and strength? The key to love is a right understanding of oneself, God, and his love for us. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that the love of Christ compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14). John the Apostle wrote,
“We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
We can do the work and follow the law of love because God loved us.
That begs the question, how did God love us? Romans 5:8 tells us that he loves us by dying for us while we were still sinners. John, the Apostle, agreed. He described God’s love this way,
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9–10)
What is propitiation? It means God took his anger away from us for our sin.
Consequently, the more we meditate on God’s love for us, the easier it is for us to love others. Do we meditate on his love? What we think about is like a background on our computer. We have a picture that fades to the recesses of our minds and moves on to the pressing matters of the moment. God is calling us to be intentional about what we think about.
Where would you go to meditate on God’s love if that is the case? One of the most fantastic places to ponder God’s affection is Romans 8. It begins:
We are debtors, not to the flesh [Sin nature], to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12–17)
Isn’t that amazing! Don’t you want to shout this truth from the rafters! It gets better. Jump to verse 31. I cut out one verse for the flow of thought and time. Let’s read this out loud and hear God speak.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ….
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31–39)
Brothers and sisters, Paul wrote we are on the run in verse 7 of Galatians 5. I love races. I enjoy the fresh air, the wind on my face, the land, the adrenaline, and the people. Life is a race. It is a dynamic, changing, challenging, demanding, fun, easy, slow, fast, uphill, downhill race. The Galatians had some problems with it. False teachers were messing with them. They had their flesh to deal with. They were like us. They were not perfect. However, in the strength of the Spirit through faith, Paul wrote of a law that works: faith working through love. I thought of four things to help us run spelling the word race.
Remember God’s love
Assess your love
Call to God for love
Exert effort to love
Remember God’s love. Try being perfect if you have not accepted his love as real or necessary. You can’t. You need Jesus to pay the penalty for your sin. He did. Turn to Him and believe. Join us in remembering his sacrifice for us. Remember his love.
Assess your love. It is good to do a weigh-in from time to time. Test yourself. How are you doing? How are you faring as a lover of people? The world is supposed to know we are Christians by our love. Do they? It could be they don’t because you and I have been using our freedom in Christ to let the flesh reign. Don’t let the drives, appetites, cravings, and longings short-circuit the Holy Spirit’s quiet direction in your life to love. Take a good look and ask where you can grow in love this week?
Call to God for help. You and I can’t love without God’s help. Love is a fruit of his Spirit. He wants to give love for us to share with others. Ask him for it.
Finally, exert effort to love others. Don’t just sit there. Do something. Do something for Jesus today. Love another person. Write a note. Make a call. Do a chore. Say thank you. Love another person for the sake of Jesus. Race.
Let’s pray for God’s help. Dear God, thank you for your Word. Help us to remember your love for us. We, too quickly, forget. Help us know how we fall short. Draw us into prayer with you. Help us follow you wherever you lead, in Jesus’s name, amen.
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