Love Your Neighbor (Galatians 5:14)

Paul alludes to Leviticus 19:18: the Law is fulfilled in one commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14). This verse is the most quoted verse from the Pentateuch in the New Testament, despite the fact it is almost never referred to in first century Jewish texts. Perhaps this is because Jesus himself stressed love of neighbor as a fulfillment of the law.

There was a lively debate in the first century on how to sum up the Law. When a teacher of the Law asks Jesus what the greatest command is, he responds “to love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:34-40). Jesus says the Law and prophets “hang” on these two commandments.

Love Your NeighborHowever, defining just who was included as a neighbor was also a hotly debated topic. Prior to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus is asked by an expert in the Law to define “neighbor.” The man likely understood the word “neighbor” to refer to his fellow Jews, since that is what neighbor means in Leviticus. But Jesus expands “neighbor” to include anyone who is in need.

It is possible Paul has fellow-Christians in mind here, given the context of factions within the church (5:15, 26), but he will expand the doing of good in 6:10 to everyone, but especially the “household of faith.” Paul’s point is not, “if you want to keep the Law, love your neighbor.” He has said repeatedly that the age of the Law is done and over with and the one who is in Christ is free from the Mosaic Law.

After arguing that Gentiles do not have to keep the Law, it is ironic Paul now says when they love their neighbors they “fulfill the Law.” It is as if Paul is saying, “If you really want to keep the Law, love your neighbor.” Like a prophet from the Old Testament, Paul tells his readers their observance of rituals do not mean anything if they do not do the heart of the Law, namely, love of God and love of neighbors. If one is loving one’s neighbor, then they are already doing the “spirit of the Law.” By walking by the Holy Spirit, the believer is already fulfilling the whole law.

The reason the Galatian believers are to submit to the Law of Love in Christ is that their current behavior is going to destroy the church. They are biting and devouring one another (5:15). Paul describes the factions in the Galatian churches as wild animals. They are like “mad beasts fighting each other so that they went up killing each other” (Betz 277). Wild animals are commonly used as metaphors for bad behavior in the Greco-Roman world, so this is a metaphor the Galatians would have immediately understood.

There is a danger in keeping the Law, but Paul says here there is also danger in factionalism. The body of Christ functions best when there is unity in local churches (Phil 2:1-4). The problem Paul must address is therefore “how do I serve my brother and sister in love?”

How does Paul describe the life of service to one’s neighbor in Galatians? What does this “look like” in a contemporary setting?

15 thoughts on “Love Your Neighbor (Galatians 5:14)

  1. Paul’s description of service to neighbors in Galatia is based on living by the Spirit, so as not to be led astray by the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17). Paul tells the Galatians about the obvious acts of the flesh that would be considered sin, and lets them know again that these acts will “not inherit the kingdom of God” (Vs 21). He then gives them instructions as to what they should live like as neighbors in service to each other with the fruits of the spirit, being love joy peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. By acting out these things the Galatians would be following the greatest commandment being love God, and the second being loving your neighbor. In Galatians 6 Paul tells them that if any of them are struggling in sin, that they should come alongside them gently to help them out of that sin. These same attributes can be applied to a contemporary setting as well. Longenecker in TTP depicts that when Paul is communicating about freeing oneself from slavery, it is another word for service (Longenecker, 102). In Galatians 5:14 Paul says that the entire law can be summed up in “Love your neighbor as yourself”. In a contemporary application, we can still look to this command by God to love everybody, and by doing that, we are fulfilling the service aspect that Paul was communicating to the Galatians in todays era as well.

  2. Paul’s description of service to neighbor in chapter 5 is parallel to his intro to Galatians. This seems to be the ABA style of literature that his congregation would have understood. It built tension as they read of his disapproval then a different subject then finally the answer (thus ABA). This passage answers the question of how to love you neighbor as yourself, which is answered twofold. “Carry each others burdens,” which fulfills the “law of Christ”, ” to not grow weary in doing good to all people”, and in 5:25 where Paul states to “keep in step with the Spirit” instead of just the written law. Paul himself says he wrote in ‘big letters’ to emphasize the importance of the subject. As Longenecker puts it, “Since, moral character plays a role in Paul’s theological inventory in Galatians, it is not surprising that he demonstrates within this section the questionable character of those who are agitating the Galatians (6:12-13).” (TTP, p. 103) It is interesting to notice the timelessness of Scripture when it describes the ‘evident works of the flesh’ in 5:19-22 and the church today. The 21st century church has become degenerate and complacent concerning these things, as we are all guilty. Paul speaks these things to the church in Galatia, and thus to all subsequent churches that have lead up until today, saying to ‘forget the law, obey that one commandment to love your neighbor as yourself and you have fulfilled it all’! Sometimes the church today rejects non-believers, yet accepts the sins and apostasy of fellow believers. This is not the message Paul preached. ‘Preach the gospel of Christ to non-believers’ Paul said, and ‘don’t hold fellowship with those believers among you who won’t turn from sin.’ Like you mention Professor Long, to love you neighbor as yourself means to, as Jesus taught and Paul preached, help those in need. If each individual member of the church today would commit selfless acts of kindness like in the ‘good Samaritan’ passage, the church as a whole could impact the world. It takes us living it out individually, which means the church is acting as a whole.

  3. Paul’s description of serving one another is literally being slaves. Ironic that Paul is saying freedom comes from slavery. This slavery is not to the law anymore; it is to the “spirit of the law”. The spirit of the law is as Paul says in Gal. 5:14, to love God and love others. “The only thing of import is putting one’s faith into practice through concrete forms of loving service” (TTP 102). This is a mutual submission to each other. Ephesians 5:21 says to submit to one another because of a reverence to Christ. Loving others, and being submitted for reverence to Christ, looks like keeping Jesus’ earthly ministry alive. Jesus served by having humility, he washed feet, he healed people, and he gave everything for others, including his life. This life of service to ones neighbor looks like giving everything you have to the other person because that’s what our savior did. We are free from the law, but not free to waste our faith. “With freedom comes responsibility” (TTP 102).

  4. Paul shows the Christians that they really need to serve one another in the Spirit by telling them what living by the flesh really is. In TTP, the authors note that Paul says this is what should really matter to Christians. Galatians 5:6 says this: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (TTP, 102). They can show this love by loving one another as themselves. Paul references Jesus’ sayings in Matthew and Luke and explains that in living by the Spirit, they will only be desiring to serve one another and take care of other fellow believers without fighting (Gal. 5:26).

  5. Today, people serve by being youth leaders and teachers in Sunday school, perhaps feeding the homeless (probably less common, sadly, but still), or simply just offering a prayer. The church tries to encourage people to use their spiritual gifts to serve. Spiritual “gifts are not meant as advertisements of one’s spiritual celebrity but, instead, are to enhance the corporate resources of Christian communities,” and “the Spirit bestows gifts differently among the community” (TTP 128). Galatians 5:13 says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” If we do things for another because of love and not for selfish reasons, that is serving dine right. We need to “[c]arry each other’s burdens [so that we may] fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). In Romans 13:10, it says “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” All of us can use our spiritual gifts the Spirit gave, serving one another in love to live a life of service.

  6. When Paul describes the life of service to ones neighbor in Galatians, it isn’t just our physical neighbors that he is talking about. He is also talking about living by the spirit. We are told by Paul things that if we do them they would be considered as a sin and therefore not be inherited into the kingdom. From this point Paul explains to use the things that we should being doing to treat our neighbors as ourselves. There are many things that we can do to pick up our neighbors if they are struggling with sin, we should walk alongside them and help them along the way instead of just watching them struggle. There are so many times I see people watch and judge the struggles of other instead of talking to them, and asking what’s going on. We should try to impact more people’s lives, this way we would be able to have a bigger impact on the world. The world that we live in today is full of selfish acts, instead of helpful one that will benefit someone other than ourselves.

  7. Paul describes the life of service to one’s neighbor in Galatians as those who live by the spirit (Galatians 5:18). This means to me, those who are also a part of the body of Christ. Now days “loving your neighbor” can look like serving one another in the church such as a pastor or teacher of Sunday school and such. Another way is volunteering in the nursery, watching the children of those who are also serving in the church.

  8. Paul describes the life of service to one’s neighbor in Galatians 5. In this chapter, specifically in verse 13. Paul says that we have been given the freedom by God to choose. However with that freedom we need to be careful in how we use that freedom. For me personally to have been given the freedom by God means that I have been freed by Christ. I have been freed from the desires of this world, my freedom should not be a result of living a life apart from Christ. The behavior of those who have been freed by Christ is to love their neighbors. Also freedom in Christ is serving others in love. In the modern world we need to be reminded to love our neighbors. The perfect example we can learn from is Christ himself. Jesus Christ loved the tax collector, the Samaritans and many more. Jesus also loves us and died for us as we were sinners and that is the greatest love of all.

  9. I think this topic relates to the overarching theme of 1 Corinthians 1-4 regarding culturally defined honor and how it segregated the church of Corinth. Longnecker and Still describe that to Paul, the various ways to ascribe honor in the ancient world (finances, occupation, and family background, to name a few), segregated the Church and “dissembled the proper workings of those groups” (118). To follow Jesus Christ was to love each other and to not heighten their differences, but to increase their sense of unity as a congregation (TTP, 118). Paul writes, “there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor 1:10). Just as Paul desires for the church of Galatia to love one another, so does he desire that for the church of Corinth.

  10. In Galatians Paul describes this process of loving one another as bearing each other’s burdens and that doing this fulfills the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Paul describes that what matters is “only faith working through love” (5:6). It is like Paul is giving them a test. How devoted are you to Christ? It should be known by your love for one another. Paul describes that what this looks like is that they should work hard and do good things for others whenever possible (Galatians 6:7-10). While Paul wants to make sure that the Galatians understand their freedom, he also wants them to understand that the freedom gives them certain responsibilities (Longenecker 102). Paul is not telling them that they must do these things to be saved but that they should be the result of a saved life. In terms of Christianity today I think that the church could do a better job of loving our neighbors. Galatians 6:1 describes that the church should be part of the restoration process. If someone in the church sins, those who are stronger should help that person with the intent to restore. Rather than judgement and ridicule the church is to walk alongside these people and so “bear one another’s burdens” (6:2). Perhaps if the church was more open with one another about their brokenness it would be easier for those struggling to speak up about their burdens. Loving our neighbors should be deeper than greeting time on Sundays. It should involve this restoration that comes out of genuine love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

  11. In Galatians, Paul gives a variety of examples as to how to serve one’s neighbors to them in ways that are also applicable now. One of the first he mentions is treating everyone equally (Gal. 3:28). We are not to focus on our differences, whether that be gender, heritage, or social status, but focus on being unified through Christ. This is a pretty relevant issue in our society today–to make sure no one gets mistreated, but that everyone is treated equally. Just as the Galatians needed to not focus on each other’s differences, so today we should not focus on each other differences, but on how we can work together to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Paul also tells the Galatians that through the freedom they have from the Law, they are to use it to serve one another, not satisfy their own desires (Gal. 5:13). Today, this means we should not use our faith in a way to benefit ourselves, but for the benefit of those around us. A concrete list of ways to serve others in contrast to a list of how we gratify ourselves is given (Gal. 5:19-23). Using our freedom for others means loving them, being joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, and gentle, as well as using self-control. That means if someone falls off and sins, you are to restore him gently (Gal. 6:1), which is something we also need to do in the present. Paul also instructs the Galatians to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), which today might look like helping someone out that is need financially, being a listening ear, assisting someone with things they need to get done, etc. Paul ends with the ambiguous command to “do good to everyone” (Gal. 6:10), which could be applied in a multitude of ways, both then and now. In essence, the entirety of the book can be summed up with the idea of self-giving (TTP 93). “Since the story of Jesus incorporates…self-giving” and “Paul imagines the same features to characterize the story of Jesus’ followers” (TTP 93). In other words, that means as believers then, and as believers now, the best way we can serve our ‘neighbors’ is by humbly putting them above ourselves (Matt. 23:12).

  12. Paul advised the church to live a life of serving not through their own strength and abilities, but through the power of the Spirit. That same Spirit will provide resources for lifestyles that enhance the well-being of the church (5:22-25).
    The opposition to that is what Paul calls the “flesh” that promotes the destruction inside the church. Many times in his letters Paul talks about “not leading the other astray”, but instead helping each other to pursue sanctification in Jesus Christ. The central message of Paul in this topic is for them to love one another through Christ, just like Christ loved them.
    In the contemporary setting we still look at the same difficulties that the church looked back then. Still today we need to be careful with the fruits of the “flesh” to not just lead us astray, but also our brothers and sisters. Just like the “brotherly love” that Paul talked about in the letter to the Thessalonians. The message is the same, love one another.

  13. I think Paul wants us to love everyone around us. When he talks about loving our neighbor as ourselves he wants us to love one another and be there for each other. He wants us to help each other as much as we can. Paul talks about about serving one another “For you were called to freedom brothers, only do not use your freedom as opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve on another” (Galatians 5:13) Today we can take that as working in the church as volunteers, with kids, or adults, or making food for someone who just had surgery or lost someone they love. In Galatians 6 Paul talks about carrying one another’s burdens ” bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” This makes me think about small groups that we have today. In small groups we talk about what is going on in our life and what we need other peoples support and prayer on.

  14. Paul describes serving one’s neighbor as loving them, helping carry their burdens, and encouraging each other. Also, by not forcing the old Mosaic Law upon Gentiles converting to Christianity, so that they would be more like the Jews. The evidence for my claims comes from Galations 5:13-14, “…through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourselves.” My other scriptural point comes from Galations 6:1-2, “…you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness…Bear one another’s burdens…” Those two sets of verses convey very well how they should serve their neighbors. Neighbors being fellow Christians as well as no believers. Nowadays we should be conveying the same view, that we love those God has created and in feeling that we should be reaching out to others at the same time.

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