13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. – Gal 5:13-15 NASB
Come Like a Child
Paul tells us that the whole law is fulfilled in one word, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” It is no secret that the whole intent of the Law as revealed in the Old Testament is relational. Consider the 10 commandments. The first three commandments concern loving God, and the 6 last commandments concern our neighbor. The fourth commandment, the Sabbath, is the commandment to keep the day of rest holy, to the Lord. So we could consider that one to be relational as well. So the question becomes clear: if we are not under the law, why is Paul suddenly talking about keeping the law? It is because there is a distinct difference between fulfilling the law, and being under the law.
I went on a walk along the waterfront the other day, and there is a very steep bridge that goes down along the water. I go because I need the exercise. There was someone who was taking their young son up, and the kid was running around and laughing and dancing here and there like a little lunatic. He had no idea he was getting exercise, he was simply having fun. He wasn’t under the law of exercise, he didn’t even have a single thought about needing exercise. But he was getting ten times the exercise of anyone else on that bridge – he was hugely fulfilling the law without being under the law. This is the exact thought here. Perhaps this is what Jesus was talking about when He taught us to become like children:
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. – Mat 18:1-6 NASB
These Judaizers that Paul is so upset about were causing the little ones to stumble. It’s like telling a child who is happily fulfilling the law to be quiet and get in line and stop laughing so much.
Believing Is Loving
So shall we fulfill the law by loving our neighbor? Surely it is even a worse standard to say, you should fulfill the law – without even trying! How’s that working for you? Do you feel that you are loving so sufficiently that you are fulfilling the whole law – effortlessly? We must take care with such talk that we don’t come under an even worse law. It is for Jesus to fulfill the law, just as He said:
17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. – Mat 5:17-19 NASB
It is Jesus who fulfills the law for us, in our stead. Each of us either believes in this substitutionary exchange, and are released from the law, or we don’t believe it, and are trapped in our guilt. There is no alternative. It is through faith in Christ, through simple belief, that we love our neighbor. Believing in Christ is loving our neighbor, and loving our neighbor is wrapped up in our faith. The apostle John gives us this one command:
23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. – 1Jo 3:23 NASB
It is not two commands, but one. It is a command that is only heeded in community – we believe. If I believe, I believe such sacrificial mercy and grace is true for all who believe. And so when I look at you with eyes of faith, I see that you are not defined by your sins or your offenses against me, but rather by God’s resurrection persistent love. In my belief, my own judgments fail and love reigns supreme over you. In my belief, I believe in God’s judgment, that you are redeemed and eternally beloved. And I know that in your belief, you also hold the same convictions for me. These are not two commandments, but one. So it is love born of faith which fulfills the whole law when we are in Christ. This is the love which frees us from being bound in isolation in our judgments against one another under the law, to live together in the play which the law was only trying to enforce.
Upon reflection, if faith is the dynamic that you bring to bear on your relationships, then you are fulfilling the law – the whole law – and it is informing all of your practical circumstance. So rejoice and be glad, Jesus has handed you the secret to living as a free gift – YOU! You are the one who through simple faith, right now, fulfills the perfect law of love. And in every conflict and every relational difficulty, you can absolutely count on one thing. This is the question. Does this person believe in Jesus, in this circumstance? Does their faith enter this relationship or this aspect of this relationship? Or does some subtle form of law and judgment rule? Are we considering ourselves to be the recipients of radical kindness and scandalous blood-bought grace, or are we wanting to hold each other to task for the things that have gone on between us? As much as we compartmentalize our faith, and consider law to supersede grace in a particular circumstance, we will not love. We will instead bite and devour. Truly the work of God is to believe.
27 “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” 28 Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” – Jhn 6:27-29 NASB