Question: "What does it mean to serve one another through love (Galatians 5:13)?"
Answer: The law of love governs Christian living. The apostle Paul taught that we have freedom in Christ, but not a license to sin or to serve our own selfish desires. We are called to love others as Christ loves us: “For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love” (Galatians 5:13, CSB). The apostle Peter affirms, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves” (1 Peter 2:16).
Some believers take Christian liberty to the extreme, thinking they can do whatever they want and live how they please. Others stay burdened under legalistic slavery to the law. True Christian freedom means we are free from sin’s guilt because of Christ’s forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 8:1) and from sin’s penalty because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (Romans 5:8–10; 6:23). We are released from the demands and perils of the law. Through the indwelling Spirit of God, sin’s power over us is broken (Romans 6:1–23; Hebrews 2:14).
Paul defines the new law Christians live under by citing Leviticus 19:18: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” The disciples asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:34–40).
We no longer serve as slaves to the old laws of sin and death but are now free to minister to one another through love. Paul explains: “Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people” (1 Corinthians 9:19, CSB). Paul tells the Romans that love fulfills the law: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments . . . are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8–10).
How can we serve one another through love?
The Holy Spirit enables us to serve one another through love (Romans 5:5). If we “walk by the Spirit,” Scripture says we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). If we are “led by the Spirit,” we will produce the fruits of the Spirit, which include “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (see Galatians 5:18–23).
Peter urges Christians to use their God-given gifts “to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). Through love, we serve because love seeks to build one another up (1 Corinthians 8:1–13) and compassionately care for others (1 Corinthians 12:25–26; 13:4–8).
Jesus Christ is our model. It is His love that compels us to love others (2 Corinthians 5:14). He told His disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Jesus lived and died as the supreme example of humble, self-sacrificing service (Luke 22:27; Matthew 20:28; Philippians 2:6–7; 2 Corinthians 8:9; John 13:1–17). Christ served others by emptying Himself of His exalted position and “taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6–8).
Emulating Christ means not seeking our own good but the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:24). Paul told the Romans, “We should all be concerned about our neighbor and the good things that will build his faith” (Romans 15:2, GW). The exercise of spiritual freedom in Christ must always be balanced by our desire to build up and benefit fellow believers (1 Corinthians 10:24). Paul did not seek his “own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33, NET). He urged his readers to follow his lead as he followed Christ’s (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Christian freedom involves dying to oneself and becoming a slave in service to others. It is one of the extraordinary kingdom paradoxes. The opposite of self-serving love is love that serves others. If we genuinely love others, we will help them and bear their burdens (Galatians 6:2). We will take to heart Paul’s challenge: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4, ESV).