Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor by Patrick Fairbairn: 20. Galatians 5:13-15.

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Office and Duties of the Christian Pastor by Patrick Fairbairn: 20. Galatians 5:13-15.


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Gal_5:13-15.

‘For ye were called for freedom, brethren; only [use] not your liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by your love serve (do the part of bondmen to) one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.’

The thought expressed in these words is much more fully unfolded in the epistle to the Romans, so that a few remarks here may suffice. The for at the commencement connects the passage with the wish expressed in the preceding verse, that the zealots of the law, who had been disturbing the Galatians, might be cut off, as tending to mar the very end of their Christian calling. ‘For ye were called for freedom’— ἐπʼ ἐλευθερίᾳ, the purpose or aim for this as your proper condition, called that you might be free. (Winer, sec. 48, c.) Yet this freedom, from its very nature, involves a species of service—if free in one respect, bound in another—bound by love to serve one another, and, of course, also to serve God. He therefore defines the freedom: ‘only not the liberty (μόνον τὴν ἐλευθερίαν) which is for an occasion to the flesh’—so the sentence might be construed, taking μόνον μὴ τὴν ἐλευ in opposition to the previous sentence, and explanatory of it; but it is better perhaps to regard this part of the verse as elliptical, supplying ποιεῖτε, or some such verb, and thus giving the sentence an independent, hortatory meaning, ‘only use not your liberty,’ etc. It is a liberty, the apostle would have them to understand, very different from an unrestrained license, or fleshly indulgence; and the reason follows, that though the external bond and discipline of the law is gone, its spirit ever lives, the spirit of love, which Christians are most especially bound to cherish and exhibit. In this respect, the law speaks as much as ever to the conscience of the believer, and can no more be set aside than the great principles of God’s moral government can change. The explanation of Meyer here is excellent: ‘The question, how Paul could justly say of the whole law, that it is fulfilled through the love of one’s neighbour, must not be answered by taking νόμος to signify the Christian law (Koppe), nor by understanding it only of the moral law (Estius and others), or of the second table of the Decalogue (Beza and others), or of every divinely revealed law in general (Schott); for ὁ πᾶς νόμος can mean nothing else, from the connection of the entire epistle, than the whole law of Moses—but by placing one’s-self on the elevated spiritual level of the apostle, from which he looked down upon all the other commands of the law, and saw them so profoundly subordinated to the law of love, that whosoever has fulfilled this command, is not to be regarded otherwise than as having fulfilled all. Contemplated from this point of view, every thing which does not accord with the precept of love, falls so entirely into the background, (Rom_13:8-10.) that it can no more come into consideration, but the whole law appears to have been already fulfilled in love.’ Brotherly love alone was mentioned by the apostle, because what is here specially in view was the relation of Christians to each other—their imperative duty to serve one another by the mutual exercise of love, instead of, as he says in Gal_5:15, biting and devouring one another. But no one can fail to understand, that what holds of love in this lower direction, equally holds of it in the higher; indeed, rightly understood, the one, as stated by Meyer, may be said to include the other.