Commentary on Galatians, 5:13-15

Galatians 5:13-15

“13 For you, brethren, were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an occasion for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: ‘You will love your neighbor as yourself.'” 

“were called to freedom”

Paul is restating what he said in verse one (Gal 5:1). In Christ, we are set free from the bondage of sin and of the law. In Christ, we are free to walk in the power of the Spirit (Gal 5:16-18,25), who leads us according to both the moral law of God and to the specific will that He has for each one of us as individuals. 
“do not use your freedom as an occasion for the flesh”

I think Paul makes this statement at this point, because he doesn’t want the Galatians to have the wrong idea, as so many Christians have today. Just because we’ve been set free from the works of the law, doesn’t mean that we’re now free to sin. Paul wants us to have a proper and balanced view of what it means to be free.
To live “according to the flesh” is contrary to living “according to the Spirit” (Ro 8:1-17). Being set free from the works of the law does not mean that we’re now free to sin. On the contrary, we’ve been set free for the very purpose of living for God and for His glory. We now belong to Him (1 Cor 6:19,20). We’re under His authority. We’re to live with the view of accomplishing His will in this world. Freedom in Christ means that we’re free to be led by the Spirit along the path of holiness. If we’re being led by the Spirit, then we’re not under the law (Gal 5:18).
Those who view Christianity as an opportunity (“occasion”) to live any way we want, have a serious misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian. We ARE NOT free to sin and live according to our own will. The Bible simply does not teach this. A Christian is not just someone who is “saved,” but is a FOLLOWER of the Lord Jesus Christ. We’ve been saved to serve.
“but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: ‘You will, love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Paul probably has the words of Jesus in mind when he wrote this:
“35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ESV (Matt 22:35-40)
It’s a bit puzzling why Paul focused on the “second” commandment, rather than the first, to make his point. Perhaps it’s because he knows that the only way to fulfill the “second” is to fulfill the first. If we’re not loving God, than surely we will not love others. A sincere love for others depends on a sincere love for God. If we are truly loving God, then we will truly love others. If we say we love God, but don’t love others, then we’re deceiving ourselves, for God loves all. To love God means to love as He loves (Read 1 John 3:11-19; 1 John 4:7-17).
Therefore, instead of using our freedom “as an occasion for the flesh,” we’re to use it to love and serve others. If we’re doing that sincerely, then that’s evidence that we’re living for Christ, that we’re being led by the Spirit of God. The way we treat others is an indication of where we’re at spiritually. If we have an unloving attitude toward others, if we’re mistreating others, if we’re living selfishly toward others, if our words are unkind and our attitude lacking the sweetness of Christ, it shows that there is something wrong with our relationship with the Lord. The way we deal with others is a sure indicator of our spirituality. Those who have a close walk with God will demonstrate an unusual kindness and grace toward other people, whether it be to fellow-believers or to the unsaved.
When we love others, we love God, and in doing so we’re fulfilling the law. The Galatian Christians needed to understand that under grace, this is the way the law is fulfilled. If we’re fulfilling the law, then we’re no longer obligated to live according to the letter of the law, as the Jews were obligated to do under the Old Covenant. Jesus fulfilled the law through total obedience to His Father. Thus positionally, in Christ, we have fulfilled the requirements of the law. However, the practical outworking of our position in Christ, is obedience to God and a selfless love for others.
“15 But if you bite and devour one another, be careful that you are not consumed by one another.”
This of course is true in the general sense. If we as Christians are not getting along in a local assembly, then we will destroy what God wants to do in our midst. However, I believe Paul probably has the current issue in mind when he wrote these words. There was probably a split between Christians who faithfully followed the teachings of Paul, and those who were being drawn away by the Judaizers. Apparently, those who were following the truth were in the minority. Therefore, Paul is telling them that this matter needs to get settled quickly before they destroy each other, and their churches become history.
It’s such a bad testimony to the world when Christians don’t get along, and are split because of pride and selfishness, or by false teaching. Above all things, we need to strive for a close walk with Jesus, and to pursue right doctrine with a passion. The priorities of every church and individual, is to have a right walk with God, and to become diligent students of God’s Word.