The freedom Paul talks about isn’t a commodity you can buy or earn. Freedom isn’t something you get to save for a rainy day. Rather, freedom is a gift from God that increases in value when you use it wisely and can be lost if you misuse or abuse it. This gift is ours because Jesus took on our humanity and sacrificed himself for us.
With all the talk of the law leading up to this short passage, I was surprised that Paul said this. “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” *emphasis added. While it is true that many of the commandments are focused on acting in ways that show our love for others, he is missing the other part of this. We need to love God with our whole heart as well. When we focus on loving God and others, we are living how God intends for us to live. We are thereby following the “law” because of our best practices in the love department.
Paul has written to the congregation in Galatia because of the disagreements and resulting misunderstandings. It would seem that not a lot of “loving” had been going on. When God’s children are at odds with each other, God is not happy. Like any parent watching their children bicker and fight over toys, privileges, attention, etc., the desire is to bring peace and restore the relationship of love and respect.
You can probably remember a time when you were involved in a church where there were people present. That’s a given. Churches are made up of people. That reality alone creates the probability there will be disagreements or differences of opinion leading to hard feelings, arguments, and even church splits. Is that what God intended for his people? No.
Christ came to bring freedom to his followers. Paul is telling us, as if it came from God himself, what we should do with that that freedom. He said, “use your freedom to serve one another in love.” There you have it. Our response to the freedom we have been given in Christ is to serve one another. Not bicker or fight! Paul is afraid this congregation is going to destroy itself if they are not careful. He is writing this letter to calm them down, calm their fears, and have a teachable moment about freedom in Christ.
Think of situations where you’ve witnessed or been a part of some sort of dispute within the church. (If you haven’t, you’re lucky!) I would guess that if you looked to the source of that problem, there would be a person or group of persons acting in some selfish manner. They would not be focused on the good of the whole, and particularly not on serving others. As you can imagine, I’ve seen a lot in churches, and from my experience, this observation holds true. I loved all the wisdom Paul packed into these short verses.
When love is not our motivation, we tend to see the faults of others more clearly. We are more likely to say or think things that are critical. These thoughts may lead to actions, and neither are helpful or reflective of a servant heart. We all fall into this trap when we find fault with someone, gossip about someone, or avoid relationships for some petty reason. I don’t think I’m alone here, am I?
Shouldn’t we instead be looking at the strengths of others? When we do that, it becomes crystal clear what their God given abilities are and in what ways they can serve the body of Christ. If you are starting to find yourself at odds with another person, take a step back. You may even find it a helpful exercise to ignore what is bothering you and really look at them. Make a list of their positive traits.
Maybe it needs to start with us. Maybe we need to love ourselves a little more. Maybe it would benefit us to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask, “Who am I?” A wise coach of mine offered me this very exercise and it was very impactful. You might not get an answer right away. You might break down into tears because of the answers that flood your mind. You might have an “a-ha” moment and truly see yourself for the first time. Sometimes it’s easier to find faults in others because we, ourselves, are a hot mess.
As you read what Paul says here, remember that Jesus himself said in Matthew 22:39, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If we aren’t loving ourselves that much, perhaps that’s the place to start. I’ve been doing a lot of “work” on myself in the last couple months. I truly feel like a better version of me now than when I started. I did the mirror exercise again this week. You should try it.
Let’s pray … Lord, thank you for making me just as you have. Each day I get to know myself more and more through my quiet times with you. Continue to reveal to me who I am and how I fit into your plan. I am a daughter of the King (you), I am worthy of success and ready to serve. Help me be more loving to others and present with them in their time of need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.