Commentary by Walter Albritton


May 22, 2005


What Matters Most is Faith Expressing itself in Love


Galatians 5:1-15


Key Verse: You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. – Galatians 5:13


In the 1995 Oscar-winning movie “Braveheart” Mel Gibson plays the role of the 13th Century Scottish hero, William Wallace. A commoner and rebel, Wallace leads a popular revolt against England's tyrannical King Edward. There is a dramatic, unforgettable moment when Wallace raises his sword and shouts one word – “Freedom!” The word galvanizes Wallace’s outnumbered forces into an unbeatable army of warriors.

Freedom has been the cry of the human heart since the beginning of time. In every age there have been free men and men who were slaves. One of the great stories of history is that of the Hebrews who were forced to live as slaves to the Egyptians until God, hearing their cry for freedom, sent Moses to deliver them.

Paul uses the concept of slavery and freedom to help the Galatians understand the freedom Christ has given them. The primary issue was circumcision. Those who opposed Paul insisted that non-Jewish believers should be circumcised. Paul fiercely objected, declaring that “when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, it makes no difference to God whether we are circumcised or not circumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love” (5:6, New Living Translation). 

Here is the crux of the matter for Paul. We are not made right with God by religious acts such as circumcision. Salvation is ours by grace through faith, and faith is a gift of God. The law of circumcision no longer applies. To insist on it is to “get tied up again in slavery to the law.” Since Christ has set us free, we are no longer slaves to the law. To keep the law in the hope of gaining God’s favor is to be “cut off from Christ” and to fall away from God’s grace.

Any emphasis on outward works is divisive in the Body of Christ. Take the mode of baptism, for example. Some insist on baptism by immersion as the only acceptable method. They say, “I have been all the way under and you have only had water sprinkled on your head, so your baptism is inferior to mine.” How silly. Paul would say, “The only thing that counts is faith working through love.”

We might argue about our preferences in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Some might object to standing in line and receiving the sacrament by intinction (dipping the bread into a chalice). For them the only right way to receive the sacrament is to kneel and be served the bread and an individual cup of juice. Paul would say, “Wait a minute; the only thing that counts is faith working through love”!

Some believers insist that the pastor wear a robe while leading worship. One woman said to me in arguing this point, “I cannot hear God speak through you unless you are wearing a robe.” While there may be good reasons for ministers to wear robes, that is not one of them. It seems that some believers have an endless capacity to argue with one another about inconsequential matters and ritual is one of them.

The real issue, then, the bottom line, is love. Ritual is secondary. Love is primary. Paul hammers home the idea that love of neighbor must be our main concern as followers of Christ. We must not allow differences of opinion about ritual deter us from obeying our Lord’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Christ has set us free from slavery to ritual. He has set us free for one mighty purpose: “to serve one another in love.” We should not forget that one sure way of attracting unbelievers to the church is for its members to love one another! People want to be included in a loving fellowship.

If we have successful programs and well-oiled machinery in our churches but fail to love our brothers and sisters within the Body, it will not matter by what method we were baptized or by what method we are served Holy Communion. We will have failed in the mission that matters most.

The Praise Team in our church has taught me to enjoy singing the praise song, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” The song’s simple message is that in Christ we have freedom to walk and to dance “in your liberty.” I am always stirred deeply as we all sing the words of the chorus: “I’m free, O I’m free, I’m free.” That is a thrilling thought and a great truth – “I’m free”!

Jesus suffered and died on the cross to set us free! Paul felt strongly that the Galatians did not understand the freedom Christ had given them and that they were on the verge of returning to the old bondage of legalism. So he reminds them not to misuse their freedom but to use it by serving each other in love. He turns a phrase well by urging them to become “slaves” to one another in love now that they are no longer slaves to the law.

His warning to the Galatians is one that we need to heed especially since many of us would rather debate ritual than devote ourselves to serving one another in love. What Paul says may happen to the Galatians could happen to us if we forget that “the only thing that counts is faith working through love”:

“But if instead of showing love among yourselves you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another” (5:15, New Living).

Freedom is so precious – especially when we use it wisely to love both our enemies and our friends, for “the only thing that counts is faith working through love”!    + + + + (Contact Walter at