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THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE GALATIANS - Chapter 5 - Verse 13
Verse 13. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty. Freedom from Jewish rites and ceremonies. See Barnes "Ga 3:28"; See Barnes "Ga 4:9, See Barnes "Ga 4:21, also Ga 4:22-31. 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 hot in subjection to the law of Moses, or to anything else that savoured 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 Ga 5:12 that all who would reduce them to that state of servitude were cut off from the Christian church.
Only use not liberty, etc. 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 heathenism 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 doctrines 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.
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.
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