Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
These passages are what expositors often refer to as “hard” sayings in Scripture. There is a reason for this, and it is revealed in the last phrase of the second passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.”
What this says is, we don’t have to be commanded to love ourselves, because that comes naturally. We are born loving outselves. Anyone who has ever raised children knows this, as a new born baby is totally self absorbed and self demanding, and when its demands are not met, it wails and crys until they are.
Humans have to be taught to care for (love) other people. But even when we do this there is often an ulterior motive behind it, which reveals that our so-called “love” for others is merely a ploy to make a gain of them in some way. This is the quid pro quo system of reciprocity within which the world of business and politics operates.
But the quid pro quo system1 isn’t at all what the apostle is talking about in the passage. The word “love” in this phrase comes from the Greek word agapao, which literally means to love without condition. The modern English word we use to describe this kind of love is charity, which is the form of the Greek word agape, used in 1 Corinthians 13, which literally means benefaction. To be beneficent can often involve self-sacrifice. Of course the ultimate self-sacrifice was Christ’s sacrifice of his life on the cross for even his enemies sins, for it says:
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
While we are not called to lay our lives down for others as Christ did at the cross, we (that is, those of us who have accepted God’s offer of salvation, having trusted that that one supreme sacrifice paid for all our sins,) are called to “present our bodies a living sacrifice,” and instructed that this is our “reasonable service”2 to God in return for the salvation that he freely provided to us.
This, of course, includes extending this kind of love towards our neighbors, whether they return it in kind or not. The problem with this is that it does not come naturally. We naturally care for ourselves and our loved ones, but to extend the same care to our neighbors, especially those who don’t return it in kind, is divinly driven by “the Spirit which dwelleth in us.”3 Whether or not the Holy Spirit has his way with us in this matter4 is wholly dependent on our willingness to “put off the old man” and his deeds, and to “put on the new man,” as the apostle says:
This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,
18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:
19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
20 But ye have not so learned Christ;
21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:
22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
Okay, but how is this accomplished? How do we “put off” this “old man?” Romans 6 and Colossians 3 provide the answer:
6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
We put off the old man by reckoning him to be what scripture says he is: dead. In other words, we recognize and acknowledge that the old worldly, self-centered, self-agrandizing conversation is a vain conversation, and stop indulging ourselves in it. At the same time, we put on the new man (Christ) by renewing our mind with the truth of who we are and what we possess–in Christ–and by taking our focus off earthly things, and re-directing it to heavenly things, that is, the reward of the inheritance5 which, if we are faithful to enter into his service6, we will receive at his (Christ’s) appearing.
Every believer needs to comprehend that just as he/she chose at some point in their lives to accept God’s offer of salvation by grace and trust Christ, appropriating that salvation,7 that is, making the sacrifices necessary to be counted a faithful servant, is also a choice that believers make–it is not an automatic. Salvation got us a place on the “fellow ship,” but it is our choice whether or not to man an oar on that ship.
And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
This is not to contend that reciprocity is all bad. It has its place in life, but it must not be confused with what the apostle Paul is commanding in the passage. ↩
Romans 12:1,2 ↩
Rom. 8:11; 2 Tim. 1:14 ↩
because saved folks still exist in sinful bodies, we are quiet capable of quenching the Spirit to be manfest through us. Ref. 1 Thess. 5:19 ↩
Col. 3:23,24 ↩
Romans 12:1,2 ↩
ref. Philip. 2:12 ↩