Galatians 5:13
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
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(13-15) The Judaisers would deserve such a fate; for they are undoing the whole object with which you were called. You were called, not to legal bondage, but to freedom. This caution only is needed: Do not make freedom a pretext for self-indulgence. One servitude you may submit to—the service of love. So doing, you will fulfil the Law without being legalists. He who loves his neighbour as himself will need no other rule. On the other hand, dissensions will be fatal, not to one party only, but to all who take part in them.

(13) For.—This connecting particle supplies the reason for the Apostle’s severe treatment of the Judaisers.

An occasion to the flesh.—Do not, under the name “liberty,” give way to sensual excesses. This was the especial danger of the Gentile churches, such as Corinth, from which, as we have seen, the Apostle may have been writing. Galatia, too, was a Gentile church; and though it was for the present subject rather to Judaising influences, the character of the people was fickle, and St. Paul may have thought it well to hint a caution in this direction.

Serve.—There is a stress upon this word. The Apostle had been dissuading the Galatians from submitting to other forms of servitude. This one he will permit them.

Galatians 5:13-15. Ye have been called — By the gospel; into liberty — From the bondage of the Mosaic ceremonies, as well as of sin and misery: only use not liberty for an occasion of the flesh — So as to nourish or gratify any corrupt principle in yourselves or others. But by love serve one another — Use your liberty as may best manifest your love to your neighbour, seeking his edification, or at least doing nothing contrary thereto, Romans 14:13; Romans 14:15. And hereby show that Christ has made you free indeed. For all the law — With which we believers in Christ have any concern; is fulfilled in one word — Or precept; even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself — Inasmuch as none can do this without loving God, (1 John 4:12,) and the love of God and man includes all perfection. But if — On the contrary, from your zeal for, or your zeal against, the Mosaic ceremonies, and in consequence of the divisions which those troublers have occasioned among you; ye bite and devour one another — By evil speaking, railing, and clamour; take heed that ye be not consumed one of another — That your divisions do not end in the total destruction of religion among you, and the entire ruin of your church: for it is certain, by these mutual contentions, you take the readiest way to produce these effects. By bitterness, strife, and contention, men’s health and strength, both of body and soul, are consumed, as well as their substance and reputation.

5:13-15 The gospel is a doctrine according to godliness, 1Ti 6:3, and is so far from giving the least countenance to sin, that it lays us under the strongest obligation to avoid and subdue it. The apostle urges that all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. If Christians, who should help one another, and rejoice one another, quarrel, what can be expected but that the God of love should deny his grace, that the Spirit of love should depart, and the evil spirit, who seeks their destruction, should prevail? Happy would it be, if Christians, instead of biting and devouring one another on account of different opinions, would set themselves against sin in themselves, and in the places where they live.For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty - Freedom from Jewish rites and ceremonies; see the notes at Galatians 3:28; Galatians 4:9, note, Galatians 4:21-31, note. The meaning here is, that Paul wished the false teachers removed because true Christians had been called unto liberty, and they were abridging and destroying that liberty. They were not in subjection to the Law of Moses, or to anything else that savored of bondage. They were free; free from the servitude of sin, and free from subjection to expensive and burdensome rites and customs. They were to remember this as a great and settled principle; and so vital a truth was this, and so important that it should be maintained, and so great the evil of forgetting it, that Paul says he earnestly wishes Galatians 5:12 that all who would reduce them to that state of servitude were cut off from the Christian church.

Only use not liberty ... - The word use here introduced by our translators, obscures the sense. The idea is, "You are called to liberty, but it is not liberty for an occasion to the flesh. It is not freedom from virtuous restraints, and from the laws of God. It is liberty from the servitude of sin, and religious rites and ceremonies, not freedom from the necessary restraints of virtue." It was necessary to give this caution, because:

(1) There was a strong tendency in all converts from paganism to relapse again into their former habits. Licentiousness abounded, and where they had been addicted to it before their conversion, and where they were surrounded by it on every hand, they were in constant danger of falling into it again. A bare and naked declaration, therefore, that they had been called to liberty, to freedom from restraint, might have been misunderstood, and some might have supposed that they were free from all restraints.

(2) it is needful to guard the doctrine from abuse at all times. There has been a strong tendency, as the history of the church has shown, to abuse the doctrine of grace. The doctrine that Christians are "free;" that there is liberty to them from restraint, has been perverted always by Antinomians, and been made the occasion of their indulging freely in sin. And the result has shown that nothing was more important than to guard the doctrine of Christian liberty, and to show exactly what Christians are freed from, and what laws are still binding on them. Paul is, therefore, at great pains to show that the doctrines which he had maintained did not lead to licentiousness, and did not allow the indulgence of sinful and corrupt passions.

An occasion - As allowing indulgence to the flesh, or as a furtherance or help to corrupt passions; see the word explained in the notes at Romans 7:8.

To the flesh - The word flesh is often used in the writings of Paul to denote corrupt and gross passions and affections; see the notes at Romans 7:18; Romans 8:1, note.

But by love serve one another - By the proper manifestation of love one to another strive to promote each other's welfare. To do this will not be inconsistent with the freedom of the gospel. When there is love there is no servitude. Duty is pleasant, and offices of kindness agreeable. Paul does not consider them as freed from all law and all restraint; but they are to be governed by the law of love. They were not to feel that they were so free that they might lawfully give indulgence to the desires of the flesh, but they were to regard themselves as under the law to love one another; and thus they would fulfil the law of Christian freedom.

13. The "ye" is emphatical, from its position in the Greek, "Ye brethren"; as opposed to those legalists "who trouble you."

unto liberty—The Greek expresses, "on a footing of liberty." The state or condition in which ye have been called to salvation, is one of liberty. Gospel liberty consists in three things, freedom from the Mosaic yoke, from sin, and from slavish fear.

only, &c.—Translate, "Only turn not your liberty into an occasion for the flesh." Do not give the flesh the handle or pretext (Ro 7:8, "occasion") for its indulgence which it eagerly seeks for; do not let it make Christian "liberty" its pretext for indulgence (Ga 5:16, 17; 1Pe 2:16; 2Pe 2:19; Jude 4).

but by love serve one another—Greek, "Be servants (be in bondage) to one another." If ye must be servants, then be servants to one another in love. While free as to legalism, be bound by Love (the article in the Greek personifies love in the abstract) to serve one another (1Co 9:19). Here he hints at their unloving strifes springing out of lust of power. "For the lust of power is the mother of heresies" [Chrysostom].

Ye have been called unto liberty; a liberty from the covenant of the law, and the curse of the law, as Galatians 3:13; from servile fear, as Luke 1:74; and from sin, Romans 6:7.

Only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh; but you must take heed that you do not abuse this liberty by making it an occasion for sin, so as from thence to conclude, that you may give your flesh more liberty in obeying the lusts of it: you must not think, that the gospel hath set you at liberty from the obedience of the law; the gospel liberty to which you are called, doth not set you free from the duty of love, either to God or men. Therefore

by love serve one another. Our Christian liberty neither freeth us from the serving of God, nor from our mutual serving each other by love, according to Romans 8:8: Owe no man any thing, but to love one another.

For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty,.... He calls them "brethren", to testify his affection to them, and to put them in mind of their relation to one another, which required mutual love, a thing he is about to press them to; he asserts that they were "called" not merely externally, but internally, by the effectual grace of God, out of bondage to sin, Satan, and the law, unto the liberty of the Gospel and of the grace of God; that liberty wherewith Christ had made them free, Galatians 5:1 this he said in a judgment of charity, hoping well of them:

only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh; corrupt nature, which in unregenerate men takes encouragement from, and makes an ill use of the best of things, as the mercy and patience of God; and not only takes an occasion by the law, forbidding sin to work and stir up all manner of concupiscence; but also by the Gospel, and the doctrines of it, such as eternal election, free justification, &c. which though the source and fountain, the barrier and security, of all true and real holiness, are improved and abused by wicked minds, under the influence and instigation of Satan, to vile purposes; and though regenerate persons are not in the flesh, and do not live after it, yet that is in them, and there is a proneness in them to sin; and Satan is watching all opportunities and advantages against them; so that there is need for such a caution as this, that they do not misuse their Christian liberty by indulging the flesh and the lusts of it, which is apt to take an occasion to cherish its lusts, and especially when given: Christ's free men should not do so, for that is to disgrace the doctrine of Christian liberty, to enthral themselves in, bondage instead of using their liberty aright, and to give the enemy occasion to blaspheme: the doctrine of Christian liberty may bc abused, or used as an occasion to the flesh, and to fulfil the lusts of it; when under a pretence thereof men think themselves exempt from obedience to the civil magistrate, which is using this liberty as a cloak of maliciousness; or that they are free from obedience to the law of God, as a rule of walk and conversation; or from subjection to the ordinances of the Gospel; or when they use the creatures God has given them the free use of without thankfulness, and in an immoderate manner; and when they make things indifferent which are not, or use indifferent things to the prejudice of others; and their liberty becomes a stumblingblock to weak Christians, which the apostle seems greatly to regard here; since he adds,

but by love serve one another: the Vulgate Latin version reads, "by the love of the Spirit": and so some copies; Gospel liberty and the service of the saints are not at all inconsistent; as it becomes them to love one another, as the new command of Christ, their profession of religion, and their relation to each other, require, so they should show their love by their service; as by praying one with and for another, by bearing each other's burdens, sympathizing with and communicating to each other in things temporal and spiritual; in forbearing with and forgiving one another; by admonishing each other when there is occasion for it, in a meek, tender, and brotherly way; by instructing and building up one another on their most holy faith, and by stirring up one another to all the duties of religion, private and public.

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; {12} only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

(12) The third part of this epistle, showing that the right use of Christian liberty consists of this, that being delivered and set at liberty from the slavery of sin and the flesh, and being obedient to the Spirit, we should through love help each other to mature in their salvation.

Galatians 5:13. “It is with justice that I speak so indignantly against those men; for ye, who are being worked upon by them to bring you under the bondage of the law, have received God’s call to the Messianic kingdom for an object entirely different,—in order that ye may be free.” Thus the apostle again reminds his readers of the great benefit already indicated in Galatians 5:1, but now with the view of inculcating its single necessary moral limitation.

ἐπʼ ἐλευθερίᾳ] that ye should be free; ἐπί used of the ethical aim of the καλεῖν. Comp. 1 Thessalonians 4:7; Ephesians 2:10; Soph. Oed. C. 1459: τἀξίωμʼ ἐφʼ ᾧ καλεῖς.

μόνον μὴ κ.τ.λ.] Limiting exhortation. But the verb, which is obvious of itself (τρέπετε, perhaps, or even ἔχετε), is omitted, the omission rendering the address more compact and precise. Comp. Matthew 26:5; Buttmann, neut. Gr. 338. This also corresponds (in opposition to Hofmann’s groundless doubt) to the usage of the Greeks after the prohibitory μή. See Heindorf, ad Plat. Prot. p. 315 B; Hartung, Partikell. II. p. 153; Klotz ad Devar. p. 669; Winer, p. 554 f. [E. T. 745].

εἰς ἀφορμὴν τῇ σαρκί] for an occasion to the flesh; do not use your liberty so that it may serve as an occasion for the nonspiritual, psychico-corporeal part of your nature to assert its desires which are contrary to God. Comp. Romans 7:8. As to σάρξ in the ethical sense, see Romans 4:1; Romans 6:19; Romans 7:14; John 3:6.

ἀλλὰ διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης δουλ. ἀλλήλ.] but let love (through which your faith must work, Galatians 5:6) be that by means of which ye stand in a relation of mutually rendered service. An ingenious juxtaposition of freedom and brotherly serviceableness in that freedom. Comp. Romans 6:18; Romans 6:22; 1 Corinthians 9:19; 1 Peter 2:16; 2 Peter 2:19. The special contrast, however, which is here opposed to the general category of the σάρξ, has its ground in the circumstances of the Galatians, and its warrant in what is about to be said of love in Galatians 5:14.


13–15. Liberty must not be abused

13. St Paul seems to be recurring to what he had said in Galatians 5:7, the intermediate verses being a sort of parenthesis in which he wanders from the main line of thought. ‘This submission cometh not from Him that calleth you—a little leaven, &c.—for ye were called unto freedom brethren’.

unto liberty] lit. ‘on condition of freedom.’ The terms (and so the object) of your calling were freedom.

an occasion to the flesh] By the word ‘flesh’ we must understand not merely sensual indulgence, but that natural selfishness which finds expression in the disregard of other people’s rights and interests, ‘hatred, variance, emulations’, and the like. Patristic expositors take occasion to point out that ‘the flesh’ does not mean ‘the material body’, for many of the sins enumerated below as ‘works of the flesh’ have their seat in the soul. The effects of the Fall have extended to the whole man, that unrenewed nature which ‘is become corrupt in accordance with the lusts of deceit’ (Ephesians 4:22) and ‘which is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’, see Romans 8:5-7.

by love serve one another] The service of God, and of man for His sake, is alone perfect freedom. Too much stress cannot be laid on the expression, ‘serve one another’. Act as the slaves of your fellow-men. This is true Christian liberty.

Galatians 5:13. Ὑμεῖς, ye) So far am I from preaching circumcision, that I would rather show you liberty.—ἐπʼ ἐλευθερίᾳ, [unto] concerning[50] liberty) that you might rejoice in liberty. Your calling is not to πεισμονὴν, self-imposed restraints, but to liberty.—μόνον μὴ) An ellipsis of the imperative, having the εὐλὰβειαν, pious precaution, subjoined, μόνον μὴ ἐλεύθεροι ἦτε τὴν ἐλευθερίαν, κ.τ.λ., only ye were not made free with this freedom, etc. [for an occasion to the flesh]: or else the accusative, τὴν ἐλευθερίαν, is put absolutely.—ἀφορμὴν, an occasion) for which the flesh is eager.—τῇ σαρκὶ, to the flesh) Galatians 5:16-17.—διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης, by love) Galatians 5:14; Galatians 5:22.—δουλεύετε, serve) A beautiful antithesis.[51]

[50] “Super libertate.” With respect to, with a view to a state of liberty.—ED.

[51] If you will have the bondage of service, then serve one another: in antithesis to ἐλευθερίαν.—ED.

Verse 13. - For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty (ὑμεῖς γὰρ ἐπ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἐκλήθητε ἀδελφοί); for ye, brethren, were called unto (Greek, for) freedom. The "for" points back to the closing words of the preceding verse, which implied a settled state of well-being from which those troublers were driving his readers; that happy state (the apostle says) was the very glory and essence of their "calling." This, of course, was that condition of free men described at the end of the foregoing chapter, and summarized in the first verse of this chapter. This is again, even more briefly, recapitulated in the first clause of the present verse. As the summary in the first verse supplied a starting-point for the warnings against the Judaizers which have taken up the foregoing twelve verses, so this new summary furnishes the starting-point for exhortations designed to guard the evangelical doctrine against antinomian perversion, by insisting upon the moral behaviour required of those who enjoy the freedom which Christ gives. These exhortations occupy the remainder of this chapter and a part of the next. "Ye," being what ye are, believers baptized into Christ. The verb "were called" expresses a complete idea, meaning of itself without any adjunct, "called by God to be people of his own" (cf. "calleth," ver. 8, and the passages there cited). The words, "unto," or "for, freedom," supply an adjunct notion; as in Ephesians 4:4, the clause, "in one hope of your calling," does to the same verb. So again 1 Thessalonians 4:7," For God called us, not unto [or, 'for' ] uncleanness, but in sanctification.' 'The preposition ἐπί, both in the passage last cited and in the present verse, denotes the condition or understanding upon which God had called them: they were "called" upon the understanding that they should be in a state of liberty. So Ephesians 2:10, "Created in Christ Jesus unto ['Greek,' for] good works." God calls us in Christ to be free in these three respects:

(1) free from condemnation and conscience of guiltiness;

(2) free from pupil-age to a ceremonial institute of positive, carnal ordinances, and from bondage to a letter-Law;

(3) free, as consciously his children, knit to him by his adopting Spirit, which makes us partakers of his nature. Only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh (μόνον μὴ τὴν ἐλευθερίαν εἰς ἀφορμὴν τῆς σαρκός); only, no freedom which shall be an occasion to the flesh! or, only, make not your freedom into an occasion for the flesh. The noun ἐλευθερίαν, being in the accusative, cannot be taken as simply a resumption of the ἐλευθερίᾳ immediately before. In his eagerness to at once bar the antinomian's abuse of the gospel, the apostle omits the verb which should account for this accusative; and the result is a sentence which may be taken as grouping with various passages in classical Greek authors, being in fact quite a natural way of speaking in any language; such as in Demosthenes, ' Philippians,' 1. p. 45, "No ten thousand mercenaries for me! (μή μοι μυριόυς... ξένους);" Sophocles, ' Ant.,' 573, "No more loiterings! but... (μὴ τριβὰς ἔτ ἀλλά...); "Aristophanes, ' Ach.,' 326, "No false pretences for me, but... (μή μοι πρόφασιν ἀλλά...)." In such cases it simply weakens the vivacity of the style, if we supply any verb. The alternative rendering supplies δῶτε, which is in fact found in two uncial manuscripts, F, G, or ἀποχρήσησθε, proposed by OEcumenius. In the former way of construing we have in thought to supply a second τὴν after ἐλευθερίαν, as in 1 Corinthians 10:18, Βλέπετε τὸν Ἰσραὴλ κατὰ σάρκα: 2 Corinthians 7:7; Colossians 1:8; Ephesians 2:15. The preposition εἰς is need as Romans 11:9; 1 Corinthians 14:22, etc. The sense of the noun ἀφορμή, starting-point, is well illustrated by its use, in the military language of Greece, for a "basis of operations" (cf. Romans 7:8, 11; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:14). Reflection at once shows us that a "freedom" which allows a man to obey the behests of his lower nature is only by a false use of the term capable of being grouped with that freedom wherewith Christ makes us free. It adopts out of the latter the single element of emancipation from ceremonial law and letter-Law, and lets go altogether the concomitant notions of spiritual emancipation which are of its very essence. Such an emancipation hands its victim clean over to the thraldom of sin (John 8:34; 2 Peter 2:18, 19). St. Peter, in his First Epistle, addressed to a large group of Churches founded by St. Paul, including those of Galatia, has a number of passages which apparently take up sentiments and even expressions found in St. Paul's writings (see 1 Peter 5:12), as it were, ratifying them; and possibly he has an eye to the present verse when he writes (1 Peter 2:16), "as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bond-servants of God." "The flesh" is not to have its own way, but is to own the mastery of the Spirit. But by love serve one another (ἀλλὰ διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης δουλεύετε ἀλλήλοις); but through love be in bondage to one another; i.e. let love make you bondservants to one another. The verb δουλεύω also means "do acts of bond-service,' as Ephesians 6:7 and 1 Timothy 6:2. This sense is included in the "being in bondage ' here spoken cf. In the present posture of affairs in these Churches, the apostle sees occasion for selecting just here one particular branch of Christian goodness to enforce upon their observance. Presently after (vers. 16-20 he enlarges the field of view; though even there still giving much prominence to the vices of malignity and to the benignant virtues. Just now he has his eye especially on the evils of contentiousness (ver. 15), and upon love as their corrective. We may suppose such evils were now especially rife amongst the Galatians, whose natural character, commonly described as quarrelsome, was apparently evincing itself in connection with the disputes which the teaching and yet more the outward action of the Judaizers were giving rise to. In fact, a loving temper of mind, along with other benefits, is recommended also by this, that it guards Churches from corrupting innovations in doctrine and Church practice; checking our self-will and our obtrusive vanity, it leads us to avoid giving uneasiness to others by thrusting upon them new notions or new modes of conduct, and makes it our ambition to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The pattern set by our Lord (John 13:15), both in washing his disciples' feet and indeed in his whole incarnate life (Philippians 2:7), was grandly imitated by the apostle himself (1 Corinthians 9:19-22), who in outward things habitually sacrificed the pride of independence and self-assertion, and the pride of apparent self-consistency, in his devotion to the spiritual welfare of men. He here preaches just what he himself practised. Galatians 5:13For (γὰρ)

Well may I speak thus strongly of those who thus overthrow your whole polity and enslave you, for ye are called for freedom.

Unto liberty (ἐπ' ἐλευθερίᾳ)

Better, for freedom. See on unto uncleanness, 1 Thessalonians 4:7. Ἑπὶ marks the intention.

Only (μόνον)

For a similar use of the word, qualifying or limiting a general statement, comp. 1 Corinthians 7:39; Galatians 2:10; Philippians 1:27; 2 Thessalonians 2:7.

Use not liberty (τὴν ἐλευθερίαν)

Use is not in the Greek. We may supply hold or make or turn.

Occasion (ἀφορμὴν)

See on Romans 7:8. Almost exclusively in Paul.

To the flesh (τῃ σαρκί)

See on Romans 7:5. The flesh here represents lovelessness and selfishness. Christian freedom is not to be abused for selfish ends. Paul treats this subject at length in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; 1 Corinthians 12:25, 1 Corinthians 12:26. Individual liberty is subject to the law of love and mutual service. Comp. 1 Peter 2:16.

By love (διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης)

Or through love, through which faith works (Galatians 5:6).

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