the Gospel of LOVE
“For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14 CSB).
We are approaching this study in Galatians with this question in mind: How does Paul define the gospel that he preached, in contrast to the counterfeit gospel that was being spread among the Galatian churches?
So, I want to draw your attention to a word repeated four times in this chapter: the word love.
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love” (6)
“For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love” (13)
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself” (14) (Leviticus 19:18).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” (22)
Paul teaches in this chapter that love is the motivating force behind what the gospel believer does. People can say that they believe the gospel, but if they are not living in love, others will have reason to doubt their sincerity. A life of love is the evidence of faith in Christ.
the four loves
But what kind of love was Paul talking about? Nowadays, we use the word love for just about anything. In Paul’s day, people were a bit more specific. There were four major Greek words that we could translate as love, and each had a different meaning.
Gospel love is not storgē – the love of family, respect and familiarity.
Gospel love is not philia – the love of friendship and shared experiences.
Gospel love is not eros – the love of passion and romance.
God’s love is agapē – the love of unconditional care and self-sacrifice.
When I see the word agapē in the Greek New Testament, I use the word “care” to translate it. C.S. Lewis used the word picture of a gardener who poured himself into his garden every day. That is what agapē does. Believers in the gospel focus their lives on caring for others.
Now that we have that established, let’s see what Paul says about this kind of love in Galatians 5.
Love is how faith and freedom work together (1-6)
“For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery. Take note! I, Paul, am telling you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all. Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to do the entire law. You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace. For we eagerly await through the Spirit, by faith, the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.”
Paul says that believers in the gospel are set free, and they have a choice. They can either stand firm in that freedom or become enslaved again. He urges the Galatians to stay in grace and not fall from it. He knows they are concerned about living righteously before God, so they are being told that they need the law to do that. But Paul tells them to await righteousness through Christ. Meanwhile, they need to focus on working out their faith through love – caring for the people around them.
Love is how believers fulfill the law (13-14).
“… serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love redirects the focus of your life. Love focuses on blessing your neighbor, not yourself.
Love serves reciprocally. People in agapē love serve one another.
Love is how believers defeat the works of the flesh (19-21).
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The works of the flesh are all self-focused. That is why Paul said that they are obvious. You know it when someone is caught up in the flesh. these sins just pour out of them. They are in slavery to those self-motivated passions and perversions. Practicing the works of the flesh get people further and further from the kingdom of God. But believers can defeat these works in our lives by redirecting our walk toward agapē love – caring about others more than ourselves.
Love is how believers begin the journey of walking by the Spirit (16, 22-23, 25).
“I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh”
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.”
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Love is the launching point to manifesting all the attributes of Christlike holiness. It is the first step of walking in step with the Holy Spirit. All the other attributes will fall in line if we get the first step right. Don’t worry about all the things you have to do to manifest all the fruit of the Spirit. Take the first step and focus on loving others and the other attributes will be reflected in your life.
It was Donald Grey Barnhouse who said: “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Longsuffering is love enduring. Gentleness is love’s true touch. Goodness is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Meekness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins”
We have the opportunity to live out the gospel we believe in. Love is how we as believers begin that journey. As we continue to focus on loving others, the Holy Spirit will change us into the people God wants us to be.
Lord, we confess that somewhere along the walk, we have taken some false steps. But we commit ourselves to getting back on track by walking in love, fulfilling your law, loving our neighbors, and loving one another. Demonstrate your love through us, and draw the nations to yourself.