For, brothers, you have been called to liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.…
I. USE OF CHRISTIAN FREEDOM. "For ye, brethren, were called for freedom." Paul, having wished the Judaizing teachers off Galatian soil, justifies the strength of his wish. They would have led the Galatians into bondage, but God had called them for freedom. He makes a distinction between the possession of freedom and the use of freedom. He had been under the necessity of making prominent their possession of freedom in contending against the Judaists; he would, however, remind them, as brethren, that there was responsibility connected with t heir use of freedom. It is thus that he slides into the more practical part of the Epistle.
1. Dangers of freedom. "Only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh." By the flesh, which here becomes a leading word with the apostle, we are not to understand our corporeal nature. Nor are we to understand by it depraved tendency in connection with our corporeal nature. But we are to understand by it depraved tendency as a whole, extending to our higher nature as well as to our lower nature. It is true that in this depraved tendency our lower nature has the preponderance. And that is the reason why the whole goes by the name of flesh. But the constant element in depravity is not sense, but it is self as opposed to God and to the good of others. The admonition of the apostle, then, is, not that we abstain from all bodily gratification, as though sin were seated in the body, nor simply that we abstain from all fleshly sin, but that we abstain from all selfish gratification. The Galatians had been called for freedom, i.e. for ultimate and complete freedom; they were not, with their first experiences of freed-m, or with their strong realization of it as against Judaistic error, to imagine that they were free to indulge the flesh. That is what, as free, we must be on our guard against, if we would not fall back into bondage, if we would come to the goal of our freedom in Christ. Let us not turn our liberty into licentiousness.
2. The binding of freedom.
(1) Love binds the free. "But through love be servants one to another." As it is self in the flesh that leads to abuse el freedom, so it is love that determines the right use of freedom. Love is going out beyond self. It is that which binds us in service to another. The Galatians were free from Jewish bonds only to put on the bonds of Christian love. So it is true that we are free from the bonds of guilt only to bind ourselves in service one to another. Thus to balance our freedom - there is the bondage of love.
(2) The whole Law is fulfilled in love to our neighbour. "For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." The one word here is the summary of the second table of the Law. The quotation is from Leveticus 19:18. It appears, from "neighbour" there following upon "children of thy people," that the neighbour of the Jew was his fellow-Jew. Christ has taught us to regard as our neighbour every one who is in need, temporal or spiritual. When we are commanded to love our neighbour as ourselves, it is implied that it is a right thing to love ourselves. There is a true self-love. We are to love ourselves intensely. It does not appear that we can be too much in earnest about our own well-being. We are to love ourselves rationally. We are not to seek only a section of our interest, but we are to seek our true interest as a whole. In these respects our love to our neighbour is to resemble our love to ourselves. We are to love our neighbour in the same intense manner. His good is as much to God as is our own good. And in all ways in which we can advance his good we are to be as much in earnest about it as though we were advancing our own. We are to love our neighbour in the same rational manner. We may love intensely and yet be guided by reason. We are not to seek only part of our neighbour's good. To give as much time and attention to our neighbour's business as to our own would not ordinarily be for his good, nor would it be fair to one in comparison with another. Circumstances may arise in which duty may point to sacrifice for another, even to the extent of life. Let us, then, love our neighbour as we love ourselves, both intensely and rationally. The teaching of the apostle is that he who has observed the second table of the Law (as summarized) has fulfilled the whole Law. Surprise has been expressed why there should be no reference to the first table of the Law. But the reason is obvious. He who has only gone the length of the first table has not fulfilled the whole Law. Our love to God must be carried to completion, in our loving our neighbour as ourselves. According to the thought of the Apostle John, we only properly love our Father-God, whom we do not see, when we love our brother-man whom we see.
(3) There is disaster at the opposite pole from love. "But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another." The language is taken from wild beasts. The fact of the Galatians being thus warned may be explained partly by their excitable Celtic temperament. They are warned of what they might expect the consequences to be. None would come off victors, but they would be consumed one of another. In such biting and devouring there is a large consumption of time. There is distraction from useful work. There is sometimes the consumption of means in litigation. There may be the consumption of life in brawls. There is always the consumption of good feeling, and, along with that, there is the consumption of the richer elements of the spiritual life.
II. THE FLESH AND THE SPIRIT.
1. The Christian rule is walking by the Spirit. "But I say, Walk by the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." The apostle calls attention to a point to which he advances in the subject he has in hand. This is laying down the Christian rule as between the flesh and the Spirit. In the flesh, or our depraved nature, there is lust or desire for sinful gratification in some form or another. How are we to be delivered from this, so that it shall not be fulfilled? The way is positively to follow the leading of the Spirit. The idea is not that we are to follow the tendencies of our renewed nature. That is missing the personal aspect of the leading. The Spirit, indeed, renews the nature, and excites within it holy desires which seek for gratification. But the Spirit gives personal guiding, especially in and by the reason and conscience in connection with the Word. And as a Guide he is all-sufficient. He is an internal Guide. He throws all the light that we need upon the character of desires and actions, upon the path of duty. And he affords timeous guidance. For whenever we are disposed to turn from the straight path to the right hand or to the left, it is then that we hear his voice behind us, saying," This is the way, walk ye in it."
2. The Christian rule is founded on a contrariety between the flesh and the Spirit. "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would." The lust excited within the flesh is against the desire excited by the Spirit; the desire excited by the Spirit is against the lust excited within the flesh. This conflict of desires is necessary. For the flesh and the Spirit are contraries. They represent depraved self and God. They are as far apart as light and darkness. What is true of the one, then, cannot be true of the other. What the one moves toward in desire, the other necessarily moves against. Of this conflict of desires we are conscious in our own experience. When the Spirit impels to good, the flesh opposes; when the flesh impels to evil, the Spirit opposes. Thus in two ways we cannot do the things that we would. And we have in this conflict of desires, as free beings, to determine whether the Spirit or the flesh shall have the dominion of our hearts.
3. The Christian rule excludes regulation by the Law. "But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the Law." The Spirit is an nil-sufficient Guide. His regulation renders unnecessary all other regulation. He regulates within, and that is better than outward regulation. He regulates in connection with all circumstances that arise, and that is better than having the rule to apply for ourselves. He is a timeous monitor, warning when the danger arises, and that is better than being dependent on memory.
4. There is contrast in the manifestations of the flesh and the Spirit.
(1) The works of the flesh. We are to understand manifestations of depravity, and concrete manifestations as distinguished from abstract qualities. Even when the abstract word is used, it is in the plural, with the effect of giving it a concrete character; not the feeling of wrath, but separate exhibitions of wrath; not the feeling of jealousy, but acts or workings of jealousy.
(a) What they are. "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these." Before enumerating them the apostle describes them as manifest, i.e. easily distinguishable or glaring. It may be pointed to as a proof of depravity that vocabularies have more words descriptive of forms of sin than words descriptive of forms of holiness. Under the fruit of the Spirit he gives a list of nine. But under the works of the flesh his list extends to fifteen, properly sixteen. And the word translated "which" implies that he did not profess to give an exhaustive list - it would have been easy for him to have added other instances. This comparison is confirmed by the relative number of words for sins and graces employed in Scripture. (α) Sins of uncleanness. "Fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness." The second is the generic word; the first describes a special form; the third describes a special aggravation, namely, open disregard of propriety. There is a sad prevalence of these sins still; it can only be said that they have been made more to hide their head. (β) Illicit intercourse with the unseen world. "Idolatry, sorcery." What is illicit in idolatry is the use of images to represent the unseen powers. What is illicit in sorcery (literally, "pharmacy" ) is the use of drugs, potions, and other things, with the idea that they can influence the unseen powers to produce love or hatred, prosperity or adversity. It can be said that this class of sins has almost disappeared with the diffusion of Christianity. (γ) Breaches of charity. "Enmities." This is the generic word; including not only the graver, but all breaches of charity. "Strife, jealousies." In strife the variance may be slight; in acts of jealousy there is more deep-seated variance. "Wraths, factions." The former describes outbursts of anger. The latter describes deliberate and concerted compassings of selfish ends, especially by means of intrigue. "Caballings" some translate it, "cabal" being made up of the initials of an English ministry in the reign of Charles II., who were credited with sacrificing principle to place. "Divisions, heresies." The former may only be of a temporary nature. Heresies, by which we are to understand not heretical opinions, but rather their embodiments in heretical sects, are divisions of a decisive nature. There is conveyed the idea of complete separation from the Church of Christ. Hence what is said of the heretic that he is condemned of himself, i.e. in cutting himself off he has carried out the extreme sentence on himself. "Envyings, murders." The latter is omitted in the Revised translation, against the manuscripts, and against the form of classification followed by the apostle under this head. The former is want of love to our neighbour in his property; the latter is want of love in that which is most precious to him. (δ) Sins of intemperance. "Drunkenness, revellings." The first is the generic word; the second brings in a special association, viz. joviality. The special point of view is to be noticed here. There are some who lay the blame of intemperance on the manufacture of drink, on facilities for its sale, on the customs of society. And it does bear a relation to these things. But the apostle goes to the root of the matter, in tracing it to the depravity of the human heart. Drunkenness and revellings are works of the flesh, manifestations of alienation from God. The advantage of this point of view is that it points to what can be the only effective remedy, viz. a change of heart through the operation of the Spirit. "And such like." He could have mentioned others. We may suppose that those are named which it was important for the Galatians to note. We can see that some of them would be connected with their temperament, which was neither melancholic nor phlegmatic, and also with their surroundings. We are not all inclined to sin in the same form or forms. That has a dependence on idiosyncrasies and surroundings. But we have all the same depraved heart for which to be humbled before God, and against which to pray.
(b) What they entail. "Of the which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they which practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." He is very emphatic in his warning of the Galatians. He had forewarned them when with them. Again he forewarns them. He acted on the principles enunciated in Ezekiel: "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore, hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life: the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity, but thou hast delivered thy soul." What the apostle, in the spirit of these words, says, is that they which are in the habit of doing such things shall certainly be punished. Their very characters unfit them for the kingdom of God. Moreover, they are rebels against the government of God; and as such they must be dealt with. Their punishment is represented as exclusion from the inheritance which otherwise they would have gained.
(2) The fruit of the Spirit. We are to understand the result of the workings of the Spirit. Fruit is applied here not to concrete manifestations or works, but to abstract qualities from which works proceed. It is not said that the fruit of the Spirit is manifest. Qualities are not so conspicuous as works, and especially spiritual qualities. The apostle refers us to qualities in the spiritual, not because he regards works as unimportant, but because qualities must so much be taken into account in estimating their works, Fruit paints to organic unity. The works of the flesh are confused and conflicting. One lust contends with another for the mastery. But the fruit of the Spirit is like well-formed fruit. All is consistent. And one grace by its growth does not take from another grace, but contributes to the richness and beauty of the whole.
(a) What it is. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love." This stands at the head of the list as comprehending or carrying with it all the rest. This is a characteristic result of the Spirit's working. The apostle beseeches by the love of the Spirit. And we are told of the love of God, i.e. apparently the love which constitutes the very essence of God, being shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Ghost given unto us. Therefore we need not be surprised at the apostle connecting the Spirit, first, with the imbuing, dyeing deep of our nature with love. "Joy, peace." These two go together, not as good dispositions, but as feelings which always accompany good dispositions. With the former we associate movements, thrills; with the latter we associate repose. God is infinite Love, and therefore he is infinite Joy and Peace. And our being, through the Spirit, pulsating with his, now he sends a thrill of joy through us, and now he introduces his own calm. Oh what a joy in what God is! What a height of ecstasy does it admit of! And what a calm too in what God is! It takes away all the feverishness of sins and quiets us to the very depths of our being. And ever, as love animates us as it animates God, does the thrill pass through us, and the calm come into us, expelling doubt and fear and all restlessness of spirit. "Long-suffering, kindness, goodness." These three go together. The first is bearing with others for their good. It is that which marks the outgoing of the Divine love toward us as sinners. And therefore it is fitting that it should be reflected in us. Love (not only in God, but in all beings) , suffereth long," and, it is added, "is kind." The word translated "kindness" seems to point to delight in men as our fellow-beings. God delights in us as beings whom he has made. He feels kindly disposed toward us, as a father does toward his children. And so are we to delight in others for what they are, especially as having come from God, wearing a noble nature. And we are to feel kindly disposed toward them, wishing especially that, as they have a noble nature, they may not fail of having a noble character. The word translated "goodness" seems to point to a disposition to benefit others, extending to all forms in which they can be benefited. The highest form of goodness is when we are impelled to help others to live well. "Faithfulness, meekness, temperance." The first is having such a love for our neighbour that we would not injure him by breaking our promise to him. God is a Rock, while infinite tenderness, and there should be something of the rock in us, that dependence may be placed on us in the various relations of life. Meekness is required when wrong has been inflicted on us. It especially points to us having the command of our feelings under wrong. Temperance is self-command. It has come to have a special reference to our having the command of our appetites. When temperance is born of worldly prudence or of self-reliance it is not what it should be. It is only real and beautiful and everlasting when it is produced by the Spirit, when it is the outcome of a changed heart.
(b) What it does not entail. "Against such there is no Law." The apostle might have extended his list. He would have us think not of these only, but of all such, and think this regarding all such, that against them there is no Law. If these things are in us, then the Law can never be adverse to us. We shall be removed beyond the condemnation of all Law. That is his way of saying that we shall be blessed. We shall be blessed in the very possession of these dispositions and feelings. We shall be blessed in our enjoying the smile of God.
5. Christians are being delivered from the flesh. "And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof." At a past period, in idea, they crucified the flesh. That idea is now being carried out into fact. There is a deadening, a slow and painful crucifying going on in the flesh. Its passions are being depleted of their heat; its lusts are being depleted of their force. The conflict is still going on; but the Spirit is gaining triumphs over the flesh, and there is promise of the Spirit gaining a complete triumph, of the flesh with all its inclinations to sin being annihilated.
6. The Christian rule re-enforced. "If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk." If the life of the Galatians had depended on the Law, then their first and imperative duty would have been to have submitted to circumcision; and their duty after that would have been to have subjected themselves to the whole discipline of the Mosaic ordinances. But, as they were in the better position of depending entirely for their life on the Spirit, it was their duty to take the rule of their life simply from him.
7. The Christian rule is applied to vain-glory. "Let us not be vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another." Vain-glory is glorying in what we do not have, or in what we have in a way that is not real or according to a false standard. The spirit of the practice is sufficiently brought out in the language hero. There is a provoking, literally a calling forth, to the field of contest. As the result of the trial, some are filled with a sense of their importance as superior in strength or in agility, in birth or in wealth, in culture or in honour. And others are filled with envy of those who are thus superior. ]Jut as we are not to glory in fancied possessions, so we are not to glory in possessions as though we had bestowed them on ourselves, or with an exaggerated idea of their importance. That would be glorying in what had not foundation in reality. "But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord." Let us glory in what God is, and let us glory also in what God has bestowed upon us. Let us glory especially in having a covenant standing before God, and in covenant grace which has passed into our characters. That is having a foundation of reality for our glorying. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.