Sabbath School Lesson for September 2-8, 2017
Most of the time the word freedom has a totally positive connotation. Paul certainly must have thought so. He used the word twice as many times as any other New Testament writer. We find the word freedom 28 times in his letters, and only 13 times elsewhere.
Just what did Paul mean by “freedom in Christ” though? That is what we explore this week in our examination of Galatians 5:1-15, where he talks about Christian liberty and how love fulfills the law.
People who find their religion more behavior-based see big loopholes in the expression “freedom in Christ”. They fear less-conscientious lawkeepers will see this freedom as a licence to sin. This is where we get the word licentiousness.
Truly, we see here two great dangers in how people relate to the law. Must we fall prey to either of these dangers though? Is there a way to steer away from legalism, but also to stay clear of the opposite danger that makes us disregard God’s law through licentiousness? Paul seems to think so. Let’s see how he envisions our freedom in Christ really working for and not against us.
Memory Text: “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.” Galatians 5:13 ESV
Paul obviously was aware how some might perceive this freedom he talks about as giving them permission to go back to their former sins, where they served their own fleshly desires. Mentioning service here reminds us that we will always be slaves (or servants) to something or someone.
Making a decision to serve God requires us to stop serving ourselves and start serving others. That is the main difference in our bondage. Whom will we serve? Who is the better taskmaster of our service? Paul emphatically feels that God is the only one who makes us free from a terrible taskmaster, namely Satan, and from the death and sin his service brings.
Sunday: Christ Has Set Us Free
Galatians 5:1 abruptly alerts us to the danger of bondage that comes by not holding firm in our decision to be free in Jesus. It stands out like a billboard, seeking our immediate attention…
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1 NKJV
What Paul wants to make clear is that the legalistic stance being promoted is just another form of bondage that held them captive before they heard the message of salvation.
Paul refers to this freedom as the result of our deliverance (Galatians 1:3, 4), justification (2:16), and redemption (3:13), provided freely to us by the gift of the Son’s life. This freedom, or liberty, spoken of in chapter five, in addition, brings us an image of joyful slaves being set free.
Paul wants to prevent their freedom from bondage from being lost. He warns them that they will be entangled once again in a system of belief that prevents them from true joy, if they listen to the demands of the Judaizers. These legalists were encouraging the Gentile Galatians to conform to practices they claimed would secure their entrance into God’s family.
Paul was directly opposed to these claims, however, and for good reason. They would amount to purchasing your own freedom and denying the role of Christ in saving you. Paul expressed this well in 1 Corinthians 7:23 by saying, “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.” Jesus paid the price…who are we to add to it?
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 5:1. How would listening to the talk of the Judaizers have entangled them in bondage? Why are licentiousness (with not enough law) and legalism (with too much law) both forms of enslavement?
Read Galations 1:3, 4, 2:16, and 3:13. What should true freedom in Christ look like? What comparisons does Paul use to describe it?
Read 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23. What was the price of our freedom and who paid for it?
Monday: The Nature of Christian Freedom
People think of freedom in many contexts. There is political freedom (the right to choose our leaders), economic freedom (not having to worry about our finances), and religious freedom (being free to worship how we choose).
When we think of Christian freedom, however, we mostly think of freedom from death, from the power of sin, and from being in the devil’s clutches. These are definitely forces we don’t want in our lives.
But Christian freedom also involves not being bound by the condemnation and guilt that comes from a law-driven lifestyle. Our life should be driven not by how correctly we align ourselves with the law, but with how much we love. Paul wants us to know that our freedom has already been purchased. We don’t have to do anything to prove we are God’s children. We already are!
Anything outside of Jesus, is living in bondage. The enslavement of legalism or licentiousness is just as restrictive and confining as if we were in actual bonds. These bonds on our mind can cripple our ability to serve and worship in a way that gives us joy and peace in our relationship with the Creator.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 6:6, 14. Can we be slaves of the law too? In what way are we slaves to the law, even the moral law expressed in the ten commandments? Is this what Paul sometimes means by being “under the law”?
Read Colossians 2:6. Are we to walk in the law, or in Jesus Christ? What’s the difference?
Read Hebrews 2:14, 15. How does fear keep us in bondage? Can we have fear, even if we are keeping the law?
Tuesday: The Dangerous Consequences of Legalism
Paul continued his forceful wording in verse 2 of chapter 5. “Behold, I Paul say unto you” sounds mild enough, but other translators have seen the strong intention of that first word. They have translated it: “Mark my words!” (NIV), “Look” (ESV), and “Listen” (NRSV). Paul was still in billboard mode, and wanted them to pay attention to him.
He then gave them several reasons why circumcision for them is not only unnecessary, but is a downright dangerous thing for them to do.
- They would be “obligated” to do the whole law…quite a feat, even for the Jews at that time.
- By doing this act as a means to procure their salvation, they would be cutting themselves off from Christ. Who needs Jesus, when you can achieve the same results on your own?
- Spiritual growth would be hindered, if not stalled permanently, by following a behavior-driven religion, as opposed to one driven by love.
- And finally, circumcision, as practiced at that time, had become flattering to their ethnic pride, making it offensive to God, and counterproductive for making us dependent on our Savior.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 5:2-6, Romans 2:25 and 8:24. What does Paul mean by saying that circumcision would make them a debtor to the whole law? How had circumcision ceased to be an act of faith for the Jews, as it originally was for Abraham?
Read Galatians 5:2-6. Imagine you are a Galatian, listening to Paul’s words here being read. What part of his argument might have drawn you away from circumcision, and back to Paul’s idea of freedom in Christ?
Read Galatians 5:7-12. Notice verse 7: “You ran well”. In what way was Paul complimenting them by using that expression (Philippians 2:16)? What does verse 9 mean? How does a little leaven (yeast) leaven the whole lump (I Corinthians 5:6, 7)? Why did Paul use such strong language in verse 12?
Wednesday: Liberty Not Licentiousness
As we focus again on our memory text, Galatians 5:13, we realize that Paul understood the potential danger of misusing the freedom we get from Christ. Some would feel this meant they were free to sin.
Serving others through love though was the actual goal of this freedom. The act of servicing others’ needs, and not our own desires, enables us to experience the true joy and freedom that comes with our redemption from sin. Sometimes, we feel a need to “work” on our failures and shortcomings, but when we turn that focus on attending to those around us, our weaknesses fade away on their own.
The word translated to “serve” here is the Greek word for “to be enslaved”. This is no light commitment on our part. Our service must bind us in love to God and to others to be effective. It amounts to enslavement, a total belonging to someone else. In this case, to God and those on earth we serve.
Our love for God overflows (Psalm 23:5), and others may drink from our cup and be drawn to Him as well. This is a happy enslavement, versus the painfully destructive enslavement that come from serving Satan. How can we not choose the freedom that Paul recommends?
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 5:13. Who might be tempted to fall back into licentious behavior from hearing Paul’s words? How important is service to new believers?
Read Romans 3:8 and 6:1, 2. Can we emphasize grace to the extent that people feel no need to obey? What part does love play in keeping faith and obedience in balance?
Read Romans 5:5. Why is it important to remember that it is God’s love that allows us to serve others?
Thursday: Fulfilling the Whole Law
Is it possible to do all the right things pertaining to the law, and yet not fulfill its true purpose? Paul warns the Galatian believers that they were on the path of doing this very thing. We too must become educated on what the fulfillment of the law really means.
Evidently “doing” the law is merely outward obedience. The Sermon on the Mount points to the need to go beyond that kind of obedience. Our obedience must come from within. That’s why God repeatedly asked for the law to be in the hearts of even those Jews living in Old Testament times. See Deuteronomy 6:5.
This inward surrender on our part constitutes fulfilling the law. This is the kind of obedience that pleases God. King David recognized this when he said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart–these, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17 NKJV)
Christ fulfilled the law this way with daily surrender, and He offers us the opportunity to do the same. We must do it Christ’s way, through love, or else all our efforts will be in vain. See 1 Corinthians 13.
Discussion Questions: Read Galatians 5:13-15 and Matthew 22:37-40. What is the one word that fulfills the law? And why is this so?
Read Galatians 5:13 and Matthew 7:12. How is Jesus’ statement different from Rabbi Hillel (who lived about a generation before Jesus), when he said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole law”?
Read Leviticus 19:18 and Luke 10:29, 36, 37. Why was the question asked about who is a neighbor? Should our service be a means to justify ourselves, or an act of love?
Freedom in Christ means an understanding…
- that it is Christ who frees us–outward obedience amounts to paying the price on our own, without Christ (Sunday)
- of the nature of this freedom–we obey because we already have this freedom (Monday)
- of the consequences of legalism–missing out on joy and spiritual growth (Tuesday)
- that licentiousness is also a danger–our freedom also requires service (Wednesday)
- that this freedom is the fulfilling of the whole law–without love, lawkeeping is empty, cold, and without direction, not very fulfilling to us (Thursday)
“While it is true that our busy activities will not in themselves ensure salvation, it is also true that faith which unites us to Christ will stir the soul to activity.” ~Ellen G. White (MS 16, 1890), The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1111.
What kind of busy activities will you be engaged in this week? Are they centered in faith in Christ…or your own salvation? In furthering God’s work…or your own interests?
The most important livelihood any of us has is to serve God by serving others. No matter what line of work you undertake, loving others should never be lost sight of. It is for lost souls around you that God has placed you where you are. You can make a difference in this world, no matter where your feet are planted.
Next Week: Living by the Spirit
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/