5. Exhortations, 4:8-6:10

iv] The improper use of freedom


Although a believer must be free from the slavery of the law, they must also be free from the slavery of sinful living. Paul makes the point that when we keep in step with the Spirit, living under grace rather than law, we live in love, and love fulfills the law.


i] Context: See 4:8-11. The literary unit covering this passage is 5:13-6:10, and consists of two main paragraphs, 5:13-5:24/25, 5:25/26-6:10. Both paragraphs are controlled by a series of imperatives.


ii] Background: See 1:1-10.


iii] Structure:

Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for sin,

but let your lives be guided by the Spirit:

Exhortation #4:

"Do not use your freedom

as an opportunity for the flesh", v13a.


Love fulfills the law, v13a-15.


"Walk by the Spirit and

you will not gratify the desires of the flesh", 16.


Our struggle with the flesh cannot be won by the law.


The passage before us is controlled by a series of imperatives: The first imperative ,"do not use", must be assumed; the second, douleuete, "serve as a slave", pres. imp.; the third, agaphseiV, "love", an imperatival use of the future tense, v14; the fourth, blepete, "watch out" pres. imp., v15; and the fifth, peripateite, "walk", pres. imp., v16.


iv] Interpretation

The fourth exhortation: In the passage before us, Paul makes the argument that when we keep in step with the Spirit, living under grace rather than law, we live in love, and love fulfills the law. Love, the quality that sums up the ethical demands of the law, is realized in the life of a believer when they rest on the indwelling-compelling of the Spirit of Christ. When we are in Christ, the love of Christ compels us. So, Paul encourages his readers to "not let the possession of [their] freedom serve ... as an opportunity for yielding to the promptings of the lower nature", but rather that they "let [their] lives be guided by the Spirit", Cassirer. In this passage Paul gives balance to his antinomian slant by confronting the evil of libertarianism.


A further note on Paul and the Law: Paul's prime purpose in writing to the Galatians is to confront the heresy of nomism, an early form of pietism bearing many of the marks of today's sanctification-by-obedience quagmire. The Galatian heresy was promoted by members of the circumcision party, Jewish believers who taught that obedience to the Mosaic law was the means by which a believer restrained sin and progressed holiness for the full appropriation of God's promised blessings - new life in Christ. It was assumed that the law served as "the divinely-given means of aiding our inclination for good to overcome our inclination for evil", Fung. Paul argues the opposite; he says that submission to the law only prompts the sinful nature (flesh) to further rebellion. This was the prime function of the law for Israel, as it is today. The law serves to expose our sinfulness, inculcate the law's curse, bring down divine judgment, and thus drive us to God for mercy. In Christ we are set free from the curse of the law, and so for a believer to place themselves again "under the law" serves only to promote their sinful nature and thus move them into a cycle of rebellion, a cycle which will inevitably undermine their standing in Christ.

The law also served to guide the covenant life of the people of Israel, and of course, it serves that function today for those with a faith like Abraham's. To such, the law is a delight, a gift from God. Paul, of course, affirms this function of the law, arguing that it is fulfilled in the law of love realized through the indwelling compelling of the Spirit. Walking by the Spirit is the path for Christian living, a path which is apart from both nomism and antinomism. Once a person is set free to follow the leadings of the Spirit, rather than remain bound to the demands of the law, they find themselves no longer controlled by the powerful dynamic of the sinful nature. We are then free to honor Christ in our lives and this we do, albeit imperfectly; As Luther put it, "the old Adam retains his power until he is deposited in the grave".


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage can be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 5:13

Exhortation 4. Do not allow your freedom to promote self-indulgence, on the contrary, be servants of one another, love one another, v13-18. The freedom a believer possess in Christ carries with it the obligation of love. Paul, having reminded his readers not to subject themselves again to the law as a means of progressing their Christian life, now reminds them that the Christian life does have moral implications, but these are realized through the indwelling-compelling of the Spirit of Christ and not by law-obedience. Not only must we be free from the slavery of the law, we must also be free from the slavery of sinful-living (the "desires of the flesh").

gar "-" - for. Here transitional, indicating a step in the argument.

uJmeiV "you" - you [brothers]. "You brothers", not the members of the circumcision party, v12.

eklhqhte (kalew) aor. pas. "were called" - were called, summoned, invited. "Called" carries many theological overtones which are not necessarily intended by the context. The sense "invite" should be considered, as also the theological sense of a "called out people of God", ie., God's sovereign act is expressed in the creation of an ordained community, without specifying the individual members.

ep (epi) + dat. "to be" - to / for. Here expressing purpose / goal; "with a view to."

ep eleuqeria/ (a) dat. "free" - freedom. "No longer enslaved." Negatively expressed: freedom is not to be used as an "opportunity for the flesh" - for the "sinful nature". Positively expressed: freedom should be used as an opportunity for service to the brotherhood through love (caring compassion).

monon mh adv. "but do not use your [freedom]" - only not [use your freedom]. Adverb - limiting. The phrase contains an ellipsis in that the noun "freedom" is obviously the object of a missing imperative verb. There are numerous possibilities eg.: "be careful that freedom does not become ...." Phillips; The goal of freedom is mutual service through love.

eiV + acc. "to" - into = for. Here expressing purpose / goal, end view, "with a view to indulging the flesh", but possibly result, "resulting in indulging the flesh."

aformhn (h) "indulge" - an occasion, pretext, excuse, opportunity... reason. Using our freedom as an "opportunity" for the flesh seems best in the context and also fits with the military use of the word; "base of operations."

sarki (sarx sarkoV) dat. "flesh" - in = for the flesh. Dative of interest, advantage; "for the flesh." "That self-regarding element in human nature which has been corrupted at the source, with its appetites and propensities, and which if unchecked produces the 'works of the flesh'", Bruce, cf., v6, ie., "human nature." Some commentators lean more toward the meaning "evil intent", "bodily desires", "physical desires", even the action itself, "works of the flesh", and this because the context, particularly v15, seems to move in this direction.

alla "rather" - but. Strong adversative in a counterpoint construction, "not ......, but ....", as NIV.

dia + gen. "in [love]" - through, by means of [love]. The preposition, followed by the genitive, gives the sense of either "serving one another": i] "through love" (as an agent), or ii] "by means of love" (as an instrument). The love intended here is most likely the same as v6b where faith expresses itself through love - loving kindness, compassion. The definite article probably serves to cue this fact, therefore, love is the agent of our serving one another. There are again other possibilities, namely that the love referred to here is either God's love for us, or our love for God, both of which would take an instrumental sense, enabling us to serve one another.


Paul goes on to make the point that the law of God is "fulfilled" (better than NIV "summed up") in love. Although we are free from the law's right to condemn sin, to hold us to our sin, we are still bound to apply its divine guidance, and this guidance is fulfilled / completed in mutual service through love. The very substance of the law is love, compassion. Paul quotes Leviticus 19:18b to make this point. The law directs us to care for others with the same energy with which we care for ourselves. On the one hand, through our identification with Jesus, we have actually kept the law as far as God is concerned, and on the other hand, through the compelling love of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we begin to be the loving person we are already in Christ. So, mutual love fulfills the law.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why the Galatians should love one another, "because ......"

oJ paV nomoV "the entire law" - all law. The position of the article may imply that the Torah is not intended as in v3, but rather, in a general sense, namely, the divine principles and intentions that lie behind all human laws.

peplhrwtai (plhrow) perf. pas. "is summed up / is fulfilled" - has been filled up, fulfilled, completed. The perfect tense is used to to make a general assertion. The meaning is either that the "law" is "summarized" in the law of love, or is "completed (made perfect, stands fulfilled)" in the law of love. "Stands fulfilled" seems best in that the whole law rests on the principle of love, so therefore, the person who loves fulfills the law's requirements.

en + dat. "in [a single command] / in [keeping this one command]" - in [one word]. Local, expressing space; "in one sentence", Barclay. "Commandment" is better than a "divine word / truth".

apaphseiV (agapaw) fut. "love" - the word = instruction, love. The future tense is being used for an imperative, or possibly to express an absolute truth.

ton plhsion adv. "neighbor" - the near, neighbor [of you]. A substantive adverbial phrase functioning as a noun, object of "love". Like the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we may ask "who is my neighbor?" For Paul, the neighbor is our brother and sister in Christ. We may think Jesus has answered otherwise, but Jesus didn't actually answer the lawyer's question. The lawyer didn't think he had a problem loving his neighbor, he just wasn't sure how far his loving had to extend. The parable underlines the impossible demand of love. The lawyer's real problem lay in his inability to "go thou and do likewise", which, of course, is the point of the parable.

wJV "as [yourself]" - Comparative; "as you love yourself", ie., the golden rule, cf., Matt.7:12.


The opposite of mutual service through love is a congregation acting like a pack of wild animals, "biting and devouring each other." Such behavior results when believers use the freedom they have in Christ as an opportunity for the free expression of their sinful nature.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, possibly indicating a step to a contrasting point, "but if on the other hand ...."

ei + ind. "if" - if, as is the case for argument sake, [you bite and devour, then beware lest you are destroyed by one another]. Introducing a 1st class conditional clause where the condition stated in the "if" clause is assumed to be true for argument sake.

daknete (daknw) "biting" - bite (as with a snake). "Hurting each other", "snapping", NEB.

katesqiete (katesqiw) "devouring" - devour, gulp down (as with a wild animal). "Harming each other", "tearing to pieces", NEB.

blepete (blepw) pres. imp. "watch out" - look. "Look, I need to warn you.. / you need to beware.."

mh .... analwqhte (analow) aor. pas. subj. "you will be destroyed" - lest you are destroyed, consumed (as with fire). Technically a subjunctive of prohibition forbidding the intention of an action, although following a verb of perception, here blepw, "I see", this construction can form of an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what they need to look out for, namely, "that you are not consumed by one another." With such a construction the usual iJna or oJtwV leading the subjunctive is missing. Paul's warning to the Galatian church is that if they keep fighting with each other over the issue of law and grace they will inevitably destroy the church.

uJp (uJpo) + gen. "by [each other]" - Expressing agency.


Paul now explains how the goal of freedom, namely, mutual service through love (community, fellowship, unity, oneness), is achieved. "Live by the Spirit", says Paul (RSV "walk", meaning conduct our life under the influence of the Spirit). Here we have the secret of successful Christian living. By detaching ourselves from the demands of the law and cooperating with the inward dynamic of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we find that we are no longer driven by the dynamic of the sinful nature.

de "so [I say]" - but/and [i say]. Another step in the argument; "The point that I am making is this...."

peripateite (peripatew) pres. imp. "live" - walk about. "Walk", as in walk / travel the way / pathway, is being used in a moral sense, "conduct oneself", therefore "live". The present tense indicates an ongoing action (durative). "Continue to walk".

pneumati (pneuma atoV) dat. "by the Spirit" - in = by spirit. "Holy Spirit" is obviously intended, but it could be argued that we should live "by our spiritual self", "our conscience." The instrumental dative "by the Spirit", with the imperative "live", may be taken to mean either: "allow the Spirit to guide", "allow the Spirit to direct your lives", TEV, or "live in accordance with the Spirit's guidance." The first option is best. It is faith in the operation of the indwelling Spirit of Christ that enables / empowers a believer to love as Christ loves. No law can compel such love. Again, we see that the Christian life is all about receiving rather than doing.

kai "and" - Particularly after an imperative, kai implies result; "and as a result you will never ever gratify the desires of the flesh."

ou mh teleshte (telew) aor. subj. "you will not gratify" - by no means could you finish, perform, complete, fulfill, gratify. A subjunctive of emphatic negation; the double negative with the subjunctive, carries an emphatic future sense, with the "not" emphasized. Note the NRSV "do not gratify the desires of the flesh". The phrase may be taken as a promise rather than a command (an imperative). Given that believers do often gratify the flesh, the NRSV can be commended for its honesty at least. The promise is not a "higher life" proof text; a promise of perfection for those who "live by the Spirit". In fact, the sentence is surely elliptical. "Live by the Spirit" (follow the leading of the Spirit) stands against "observe the law" (following the demands of the law). Because we are no longer under the law (under the law's condemning authority), our sinful nature is no longer empowered by the law, and so we are free from the control of our sinful nature. As a consequence, we "will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature", ie., we will not be / are not bound to fulfill the demands of the flesh. We are now free to honour Christ, although there will still be many times when we don't. The promise is one of orientation, not perfection.

epiqumian (a) "the desires" - lusts, desires, passions. The word does not necessarily indicate evil desire, but in the New Testament it usually does.

sarkoV (sarx koV) gen. "of the sinful nature" - of flesh, lower nature. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "lusts", "fleshly lusts", but verbal, subjective, or ablative, source/origin, are possible, "the promptings stemming from your lower nature", cf., v13.


Within the believer there is a continual conflict between the sinful nature (flesh), and the Spirit. The conflict is such, that the Spirit does not overrule the flesh, nor does the flesh overrule the Spirit. As a consequence, we are not forced to follow the leading of the sinful nature, but then, neither are we forced to follow the leading of the Spirit.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why, if we are led by the spirit, we will not gratify the desires of our flesh (sinful nature), "because" the flesh and the spirit are opposed.

epiqumei (epiqumew) pres. "[the sinful nature] desires" - [the flesh] desires, lusts. Selfish human passions.

kata + gen. "what is contrary" - against [the spirit]. Expressing opposition; the flesh / Spirit is at war with / opposed to the Spirit / flesh.

gar "-" - for. Here emphatic, introducing a restatement of the previous clause and therefore untranslated, as NIV.

antikeitai (antikeimai) pres. "[they are] in conflict with" - [these things] oppose. Is the conflict between humans and the Spirit, the flesh (the sinful nature) and the Spirit, our sinful desires and the Spirit's desires, or our sinful deeds and what the Spirit wills? In a board sense we may say that the flesh and the Spirit are at war.

allhloiV dat. pro. "each other" - one another, each other. Dative of direct object after the anti prefix verb "to oppose."

iJna mh + subj. "so that [you are] not [to do]" - so that not = lest. Possibly a consecutive clause, expressing result, "with the result that you do not do ...", or a final clause, expressing purpose, "in order that you do not do ..." The debate is over whether Paul's point is "you do not do", or "you cannot do." Those who choose "cannot do" conclude that the war between the flesh and the Spirit either confines the flesh, enabling the believer to do what the Spirit wants, or confines the Spirit, such that the believer doesn't do what the Spirit wants. Romans 7:7-25 is an important source text for both arguments. Yet, it is more likely that the war simple gives us the freedom to do either, that is, to follow the leading of the flesh, or the Spirit. "The flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with each other, so that we are not forced to do what the sinful nature wills us to do; ....." The use of "you" is interesting. Is this not Paul's experience as well as the Galatians? Of course it is!

a} ean qelhte (qelw) pres. subj "what you want" - whatever you will, desire [these things you do]. Properly a[n. This construction forms an indefinite relative clause; "whatever you please."


Our freedom to follow the leading of the Spirit is assured because we are no longer under the curse of the law. The prime purpose of the law was to expose sin, hold us to that sin, even make sin more sinful. As a consequence, those who seek to advance their Christian life by restraining sin and promoting holiness through obedience to the law, find their sinful nature empowered and their rebellion magnified. Yet now, in Christ, the believer has found God's approval apart from the law, and therefore the sinful nature, once empowered by the law, no longer rules our lives.

de "but" - but/and. The NIV takes this conjunction as adversative (but), but an untranslated transitional connective would be better, indicating another step in the argument. It is often argued that this verse summarizes the chapter, but it is more likely that de here is epexegetic, serving to introduce a clause which further explains the sense of 17b, in which case there should be a semicolon after "want", v17. A believer is guided throughout life by the Holy Spirit, but is also guided by the sinful nature (flesh), but since we are not under the law, such that the sinful nature is empowered, we are fee to choose either between the guidance of the flesh, or the guidance of the Spirit.

ei "if" - if, as is the case [you are led by the spirit then you are not under the law]. Introducing a 1st. class conditional clause where the condition is assumed to be true.

agesqe (agw) pres. pas. "you are led" - you are being led. Parallel in meaning to walking by the Spirit, living by the Spirit, following the leading of the Spirit. Bruce sees the Spirit's leading as active, such that it empowers resistance to the leading of the flesh and conforms to the likeness of Christ, cf., 2Cor.3:17. This is probably going a bit too far. Paul's point is that we are free to choose either the flesh, or the Spirit, not that we are empowered to choose the Spirit over the flesh.

pneumati (a atoV) dat. "by the Spirit" - A dative of agency.

uJpo + acc. " under" - [you are not] under [law]. Expressing subordination; "under the rule / authority of." Not under the law in the sense of not being confined by the law, such that the sinful nature is empowered toward rebellion. The law confines us when we enact its role to hold us to our sin and as a consequence place ourselves again under its curse. This we do when we seek to progress our Christian life means of obedience to the law. When used this way, the law stirs rebellion; it makes sin more sinful and so accentuates our state of loss. Yet, if we have found the way to stand approved before God by grace through faith, then we are no longer confined by the law, and so the sinful nature is no longer empowered; it is then that we are free to choose the leading of the Spirit. Note that other meanings are suggested, but are not likely, eg., the NRSV reads "subject", a word slightly off the game and can be expanded to mean: "as a believer, you are not subject to (do not need to obey) all the Old Testament laws."


Galatians Introduction.



[Pumpkin Cottage]