The New Testament frequently tells believers in Christ that we are free – free from sin, from Satan’s dominion and from the Law of Moses (see ENJOYING OUR FREEDOM). And it warns us of the danger of returning to our old bondage – whether it’s a bondage under sin or under law-works.
After warning the Galatian Christians, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1), and explaining what that means, Paul gives another warning, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). The word “flesh” in Paul’s usage, here refers to our old self – the person I was before I came to Christ – the person who still asserts himself. I am a man with two minds – the new man that I am in Christ, and the old man.
What Paul is telling us here, I believe, is that I am free, but I shouldn’t be using that freedom to behave as I did before I came to Christ. I am free to serve others. And the motivating force for that service is love. The word “love” here is not some mushy, sentimental niceness. It’s an active word, a translation of the Greek word agape, which has been defined as “that which seeks the greatest good (God’s will) in its object.”
In verse 14, Paul quotes a text which was, already in his day, 1,500 years old, Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the verse that Jesus frequently quoted as the second great commandment and James, Jesus’ brother quoted as “the royal law” (James 2:8) and “the law of liberty” (James 2:12). Paul says that in this one statement “the whole law is fulfilled.”
But who are we to love? Everybody?
Many years ago when I was pastoring, there was an elderly lady in my flock who somehow managed to always keep the pot stirred up. You probably have met people like her. She always seemed to know the wrong thing to say. She was usually angry at someone or had someone angry at her. When I finally approached her and tried to explain the problem, her reply was, “But I just looove everybody.” No matter what I said, she always gave the same remark. I finally gave in but I couldn’t help but think, “Yeah, right! You love everybody, but you don’t like anybody!”
How often has this been true of me? Someone said it’s easier to love mankind than to love my neighbor.
In the same chapter in the book of Leviticus where the Israelites are commanded to love their neighbor (which would probably refer to their fellow Israelite), they are also commanded to love “the stranger (alien) who resides with you” (Leviticus 19:34).
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’” (Matthew 5:43, 44; see also verses 45-48). There’s no room for hatred at all! This would include a lot of people: Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, my boss, ____________ (fill in the blank or blanks).
Jesus tells us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Paul tells us, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,” (Ephesians 5:25).
My neighbor, the alien, my wife, my fellow believer, even my enemy. And the standard keeps getting raised. First I am told to love as I love myself. Then I am told to love as Christ loved.