Online Bible Commentary
Dissension in the Church
Galatians 5:12 I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off! 13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (NKJV)
Paul has just completed his first missionary journey in which he and Barnabas planted churches in southern Galatia at Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. This letter is the first of Paul’s letters.
The new believers in Galatia, influenced by Judaizers, have already turned from Paul’s Gospel to a false gospel of a mix of works and grace instead of grace alone. Judaizers claimed that Christians must also follow the Old Testament law, including circumcision. So Paul is writing to the Galatian believers to direct them back to the true Gospel of salvation by grace and not a combination of grace and works.
In this passage, Paul begins by criticizing those Judaizers who insist that Gentile believers be circumcised. Sarcastically, he calls for the Judaizers to also be “cut off” (v. 12). In other words, since they are already circumcised, Paul calls for the Judaizers to go even farther and castrate themselves. Obviously, Paul has no patience with those who would create dissension in the church.
Coming back to reality, Paul reminds the Galatian Christians that they “have been called to liberty” (v. 13a). As Christians, they have been freed from the bondage of the law. The law is expressed in the over 600 commandments of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.
Although Christians have this liberty, because their sins have been forgiven, this does not give them a license to sin. Paul writes: “do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh” (v. 13b). Use of the term “the flesh” in the Bible is a reference to sin.
So Christians should not sin on purpose just because they know their sins are forgiven. Instead, they should refrain from sin and “serve one another” because of their love for the Lord and what He has done for them (v. 13b). Paul emphasizes his point by writing “all the law is fulfilled in one word” (v. 14a). That one word is “love”.
Therefore, Christians are to seek to fulfill the commandments of the law through love, instead of obligation. This goal can only be approached by Christians who allow the Holy Spirit to live through them.
Paul then supports his point by quoting Scripture from the law itself: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 14b, Leviticus 19:18). From the beginning, God’s solution for obeying the law was through love. However, the Israelites had always attempted, and failed, to obey the law through obligation. The idea of Christian love was not just a New Testament idea. God has always called us to live our lives in love towards one another.
Paul then comes full circle in this passage with a stern warning to the Galatian Christians. He warns against dissension in the church, when we “bite and devour one another” (v. 15a). Dissension in the church will destroy the church (v. 15b).
Many churches have been destroyed by dissension. As Christians, we should always seek to serve one another through love. Where we are more concerned about the needs of others than our own needs, dissension can not exist.