the weblog of Alan Knox

discipleship

I know how to do a Bible study

Posted by on Oct 7, 2013 in discipleship | 4 comments

I know how to do a Bible study

Last Friday, “House2House Magazine” published an article that I wrote called “I Know How to Do a Bible Study.” I appreciate Keith Giles for inviting me to write for the new magazine and for publishing a couple of my articles.

It’s really interesting, especially since I’m not really a “house church” guy. (See my post “Why I’m not a house church proponent.”) Anyway, there are some very good posts at House2House Magazine, and most of them are applicable to all followers of Jesus Christ, even those like myself who do not only meet in homes.

This is how my article “I Know How to Do a Bible Study” begins:

I know how to do a Bible study. For as long as I can remember – at least from elementary school – I have been in Bible studies. They have had many different names: Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Discipleship Class, Youth Group, Bible Fellowship. But, they all had something in common: a bunch of people got together to hear someone teach a passage or topic from the Bible.

Over the years, I even learned how to lead and teach Bible studies. I learned how to study Scripture, how to prepare a lesson, and how to teach the Bible. I could convince people that they needed to attend the Bible studies, encourage them to join with others in studying Scripture, and even show them some things from the Bible that they had never noticed before.

In the article, I also write about knowing how to do participatory church meetings and missions projects. But, the conclusion is the most important part to me. Please use the link above to jump over to House2House Magazine and read my short article.

What are some of the benefits of discussions?

Posted by on Sep 18, 2013 in discipleship | 15 comments

What are some of the benefits of discussions?

Yesterday, I asked the question, “What are some of the benefits of sermons?” (I encourage you to read the comments in that post.)

What are some of the benefits of discussions? So, that may sound like a weird question.

Some of my readers have determined that discussions are not as beneficial to the church as sermons. So, those readers might immediately respond, “There are NO benefits to discussions.” Well, I don’t think that’s true (even if I believe that there are benefits to sermons).

Other readers are convinced that discussions are the primary method through which God communicates which his people. For those readers, this question seems self explanatory: “Discussions are beneficial because they are discussions! Duh.”

Still other readers are on the fence about discussions and/or sermons.

So, why am I asking this question?

A few weeks ago, I was have a conversation with a friend about discussions and sermons. And, I realized that I had never written specifically about the benefits of each method of teaching.

Here’s a quick definition: More than one person teaching about a topic or passage from Scripture.

Now, I know that everyone has experiences with good discussions and bad discussions. I’m not interested in that in this post.

In this post, I’m asking for you feedback on this question: What are some of the benefits of discussions?

You may want to throw out your reasons for disliking discussions. Please don’t. That’s not the purpose of this post.

You may want to tell me all the benefits of the sermon. Please don’t. That’s not the purpose of this post.

There may be benefits that are common to any kind of teaching or speaking. That’s fine. If it’s a benefit of discussions, then please share it.

So, what are some of the benefits of discussions?

What are some of the benefits of sermons?

Posted by on Sep 17, 2013 in discipleship | 25 comments

What are some of the benefits of sermons?

What are some of the benefits of sermons? So, that may sound like a weird question.

Some of my readers have determined that sermons are not as beneficial to the church as discussion and/or participatory teaching. So, those readers might immediately respond, “There are NO benefits to sermons.” Well, I don’t think that’s true (even if I believe that discussion is better).

Other readers are convinced that sermons are the primary method through which God communicates which his people. For those readers, this question seems self explanatory: “Sermons are beneficial because they are sermons! Duh.”

Still other readers are on the fence about sermons and/or discussion.

So, why am I asking this question?

A few weeks ago, I was have a conversation with a friend about sermons and discussions. And, I realized that I had never written specifically about the benefits of each method of teaching.

Here’s a quick definition: A teaching given by one person about a topic or passage from Scripture.

Now, I know that everyone has experiences with good sermons and bad sermons. I’m not interested in that in this post.

In this post, I’m asking for you feedback on this question: What are some of the benefits of sermons?

You may want to throw out your reasons for disliking sermons. Please don’t. That’s not the purpose of this post.

You may want to tell me all the benefits of discussion. Please don’t. That’s not the purpose of this post.

There may be benefits that are common to any kind of teaching or speaking. That’s fine. If it’s a benefit of sermons, then please share it.

So, what are some of the benefits of sermons?

2 Timothy 2:15 – Putting it all together

Posted by on Aug 16, 2013 in discipleship, scripture | 14 comments

2 Timothy 2:15 – Putting it all together

This is the final post in a blog series on 2 Timothy 2:15. I began the series recognizing that many people use this verse (and the KJV translation “study to show thyself approved unto God”) as a motto for schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, and other educational programs. (See “Study to show thyself approved unto God?“) In the next post, I showed that it is very unlikely that the initial command in 2 Timothy 2:15 meant “study.” (See “Did Paul tell Timothy to study in 2 Timothy 2:15?“) Then, I suggested that “word of truth” more likely refers to “the gospel” instead of the Scriptures or the Bible. (See “In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by word of truth?“) Finally, I said that the phrase “rightly dividing/handling the word truth” probably meant to live according to the gospel without straying one way or the other. (See “What did Paul mean by rightly dividing the word of truth in 2 Timothy 2:15?“)

My goal in all of this is to understand what Paul meant when he wrote this verse to Timothy. How did he expect Timothy to respond? And, how does it affect us today? If Paul did not intend for this verse to encourage Timothy to study the Bible, then what did he mean?

First, here is the verse again in a few different translations:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV)

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NASB)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

The syntax of this verse begins with an imperative (command) with an infinitive as it’s object. The infinitive (as a verbal noun) then has three objects in apposition (in parallel):

Make every effort / Be diligent (Imperative)

      to present yourself to God (infinitive with a prepositional phrase)

          1) an approved (person) (emphasized)

          2) an unashamed worker

          3) rightly dividing the word of truth (gospel)

The first object of the infinitive (“an approved ‘person'”) is a nominative adjective (an adjective with an assumed noun). It is in a position of emphasis before the infinitive in the Greek sentence. The second object (“an unashamed worker”) is a noun with an adjective. The final object of the infinitive (“rightly dividing the word of truth (gospel)”) is built on a participle (“rightly dividing”) with its on object (“the word of truth”).

These three terms stand in parallel with one another.

Why is this important? Because Paul is not telling Timothy how to be “an approved person” or “an unashamed worker” or “[a person who] rightly handles the gospel.” Instead, Paul is exhorting Timothy to live that way before God. This is in contrast to the way other people are living and presenting themselves “before God.” (See 2 Timothy 2:14 for example.)

Furthermore, while “an approved [person]” is in a place of emphasis, the terms do not seem to build on each other. There is no conjunction connecting them, which tends to indicate apposition (parallel) instead of some kind of sequence.

As Paul has told Timothy several times in each of his letter, Timothy is living according to the gospel. This is an exhortation to continue in that way of life, recognizing that he is living his life before God, not for the pleasure or acceptance or approval of people.

But, the beginning imperative is important. You cannot coast into a life that is lived according to the gospel. It takes diligence… effort… concerted focus. So, the exhortation to Timothy – in the presence of those who live contrary to God’s desire – is for the young man to do whatever it takes to continue down the path of the good news of Jesus Christ. As a person approved by God, an unashamed worker, and one who is already living according to the gospel… this is exhortation to continue down the road he is already walking, without letting others tempt him into a different manner of life.

Of course, this is a good reminder for all of us. Are you approved by God in Jesus Christ? Are you an unashamed worker indwelled by and empowered by the Holy Spirit? Are you walking the straight line dictated by the good news of Jesus Christ? Then make every effort to keep walking down that same path, recognizing that you are in the presence of God… and regardless of what those around you do or how they live.

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Series on 2 Timothy 2:15

  1. Study to show thyself approved unto God?
  2. Did Paul tell Timothy to “study” in 2 Timothy 2:15?
  3. In 2 Timothy 2:15, what does Paul mean by “word of truth”?
  4. What did Paul mean by “rightly dividing the word of truth” in 2 Timothy 2:15?
  5. 2 Timothy 2:15 – Putting it all together

Replay: Disciples follow Jesus

Posted by on Jul 27, 2013 in discipleship | 12 comments

Replay: Disciples follow Jesus

Five years ago, I wrote a post called “Disciples follow Jesus.” I wrote this post at a time when I was thinking about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I’ve read several books, articles, and blog posts on the topic, and I’ve seen many different definitions and descriptions of a disciple, but isn’t it as simple as following Jesus? Disciples follow Jesus… it seems obvious and simple. Right?

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Disciples follow Jesus

 
It sounds simple and obvious, doesn’t it? Disciples follow Jesus. Notice this passage in Matthew’s Gospel:

Now when Jesus saw a great crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. (Matthew 8:18 ESV)

That’s a simple order, isn’t it? “Go to the other side of the sea.” That has to be the most simple and direct command that Jesus gave. What was the response of the crowd?

And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:19-20 ESV)

One man jumped up right away… “Yes Sir, Jesus! I’ll go wherever you want me to go.” I think he probably started humming to himself, “Wherever he leads, I’ll go. Wherever he leads, I’ll go. I’ll follow my Christ…”

Jesus warned this enthusiastic fellow to count the cost before agreeing to follow. Discipleship is not something to be taken lightly. Following Jesus is hard work. Jesus says, “Are you sure you are ready to give up everything? Enthusiasm doesn’t count for much when the going gets tough.”

Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21-22 ESV)

Another person jumped up and said, “Yeah, Jesus, I’ll follow you. I’ve thought about it, like you said, and I need to take care of some things first.”

Jesus didn’t cut this guy any slack either. He said, “Either follow me, or go home. All or nothing.”

I imagine there were other responses as well. “Jesus, I’ll follow you as soon as my job is more stable.” “Yes, Jesus, I’ll be right there as soon as I finish school. My education has to be a priority right now.” “Jesus, you know that I want to follow you, but let me raised the kids first. You might lead me to places where I wouldn’t want to take the kids.”

So many responses to Jesus. How will Jesus ever determine who is sincere and who is not? How will we ever recognize the true disciples?

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. (Matthew 8:23 ESV)

Doesn’t that sound simple? Jesus issues a command, and those who are his disciples obey by following him. The ones who speak up first are not necessarily disciples. The ones who delay and are admonished by Jesus are not necessarily disciples, nor are they necessarily NOT disciples.

Are you a disciple? Are you following Jesus? That’s the simple test. Start with Jesus’ most important commandments: Are you following Jesus by loving God and loving other people?

So, what am I against?

Posted by on Jul 24, 2013 in discipleship | 11 comments

So, what am I against?

Last week, I was talking with someone about the church. As he listened to what I was saying, he rearranged my thoughts and presented it differently, saying, “So, that is what you’re against?”

To be honest, I was taken aback. I thought about how he had rearranged what I had said, and realized what a difference it made. I explained, “No, I’m not against that. Instead, I’m for something else.”

Since that conversation, I’ve been thinking about the difference between being “for” something or being “against” something else. I realize that this difference causes some misunderstandings and perceptions.

For example, I’m “for” believers meeting together in a manner that allows them to interact with one another – both to speak to one another and to serve one another – in order to foster mutual edification among the church. But, this does not mean that I’m “against” other kinds of gatherings. I think they are less healthy and are less conducive to mutual edification and growth among the body of Christ. But, that’s different than being against them.

Similarly, I’m “for” the church choosing/recognizing elders from among the believers who gather together regularly, and I’m “for” those elders continuing to work “with their hands” in order to support themselves and their family and to help others. However, this does not mean that I’m “against” the traditional manner of hiring strangers to be “pastors/elders” and paying those people to remain among a group as “pastors/elders.” I think that traditional manner of leadership is less healthy for the church. But, that’s different than being against those people.

There may be benefits at times to standing “against” certain things. But, I try to work from a different direction – I work “for” the kind of community in Christ and mutual discipleship that I find in Scripture. At times, when I promote a certain understanding of church, it may seem that I’m “against” other understandings or even other people. But, that’s not my goal or purpose.

Instead, I hope to continue to work “for” the church working together to build one another up in maturity in Jesus Christ.

The non-vocational option

Posted by on Jul 23, 2013 in discipleship, elders, personal | 23 comments

The non-vocational option

A few years ago, my family was part of a megachurch in our area. We were involved in many of the programs offered by the church organization, and we had many good friends who were part of the church. There came a time when I sensed (somehow) that God wanted something different… something more…

I talked to a few church leaders, and I was given two options: God was either calling me to be a vocational pastor or a vocational missionary. Obviously, there were different jobs (“callings”) within those two options, but everything fell within those two divisions.

After much prayer and counsel – and deciding that God was not calling me to go overseas – I decided to go to seminary to prepare to become a vocational pastor. I’m glad that I made that decision, even though the outcome is not what I expected. I am not a vocational pastor, and I do not intend to become a vocational pastor. Instead, one thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that there is another option: the non-vocational option.

More and more people are beginning to understand both the scriptural precedence for and the practical benefits of serving others in a “non-vocational” manner – that is, serving others without being a vocational pastor or minister.

For example, see the Washington Post article from May 2013 titled “Seminary graduates not always ministering from the pulpit.” By the way, I’m not suggesting that you must be a seminary graduate to serve others. This article simply shows that even many people attending seminary are beginning to recognize the benefit of “non-vocational” service.

Recently, while speaking with a friend, he reminded me about a conversation that he had with a mutual friend a few years ago. Our friend was a seminary student, and had plans to become a vocational pastor. He was beginning to understand this different view of serving others, but didn’t know what he was going to do. He only had Bible school training and didn’t know how he was going to support himself and his family if he did not have a job with a church.

Lately, not only have I learned that God can use someone who works a “full-time secular job,” I’ve also been able to help others who want to transition away from a “full-time vocational ministry job.” Through this, we’re all learning that there are many benefits both to the individual and the church from serving others while also working a full time job (that is not a church job).

Hopefully, God will continue to provide opportunities for me to encourage others into this non-vocational option, and even continue to help them find jobs that provide for themselves, their families, and others – much like Paul encouraged the Ephesian elders to do in Acts 20:33-35.

What benefits do you see for individuals in being non-vocational servants instead of vocational pastors/ministers? What benefits do you see for the church? Are there any disadvantages?

Replay: A biblical theology is a practical theology

Posted by on Jul 20, 2013 in biblical theology, blog links, discipleship | 2 comments

Replay: A biblical theology is a practical theology

Four years ago, I wrote a post called “A biblical theology is a practical theology.” The post was inspired by several things: a couple of blog posts that I read at that time plus several years studying “biblical theology” in many different forms. There are many theoretical theologies around today – and there have been theoretical theologies around since time began. However, the “theology” that we read about in Scripture is not theoretical – it is extremely practical. And, in fact, even when we discuss theoretical theologies, our real theology is the theology that we live.

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A Biblical Theology is a Practical Theology

 
There is a very interesting and very important discussion occurring in a couple of blogs. It was started by Jeff (at “The Practicing Church“) in his post called “Practicology.” After reviewing the many “-ologies” which various groups espouse or emphasize, Jeff makes the following statement:

Truth is, I’m not as impressed by how much someone knows about the Bible as I am whether someone is living out what they know.

Jeff concludes with this statement:

So if there’s an ‘-ology’ I’d coin to describe all this – I’d want it to be ‘practicology’ – the study of putting our faith into practice. A faith that works itself out in life.

Laura (at “Who in the World Are We?“) continues Jeff’s discussion in her own post called “Practicclesiology” which is focused primarily on a practical ecclesiology – a practical understanding of the church.

Laura describes the theory of ecclesiology like this:

The theory of ecclesiology consists of the rich, deep biblical truths, describing our safe identity and position in Christ as persons and community. Properly understood, these truths help us, persons and community, to live ordinary lives of risky creative participation in the world for the sake of Christ.

Next, she defines the practice of ecclesiology like this:

The practice of ecclesiology consists of the extensive and intensive influence of a church, grounded in proper understanding. A properly functioning church (persons and community) moves into the world in Christ and by the Spirit, applying a rich diversity of skills to live boldly in the world while pointing to Christ.

Finally, she combines the two into practicclesiology (a term she coined):

In sum, practicclesiology is a manner of life together that understands and lives out deep connection to Christ and one another in order to dream and risk the seemingly impossible.

In reality, it is impossible to have a biblical theology that is not practical. A biblical theology is a practical theology.

Now, I understand why Jeff and Laura are concerned about the distinction between theoretical theology and practical theology. Discussions about this distinction and arguments as to which is more important have been going on for centuries and longer.

However, when we study Scripture, we find that it is impossible to separate our thinking about God (theoretical theology) from our life (practical theology). In fact, according to Scripture, the way we live demonstrates what we actually think about God more than what we say.

In 1 John, the apostle makes the bold statement that someone who does not demonstrate love to another person does not love God, regardless of what that person may say (1 John 3:17; 4:20). James writes something similar about faith – faith that does not demonstrate itself in our lives is not faith at all (James 2:14-26). Paul follows his most theoretical argument (Romans 1-11), with an exhortation to live in accordance with this understanding (Romans 12-16). As followers of Jesus Christ, an understanding of God that does not demonstrate itself in the way we live is not a biblical theology.

How does this work with the church?

People discuss and argue about many aspects of ecclesiology. For example, many argue about whether the Lord’s Supper (Communion) should be for local church members only (closed communion) or for any believer (open communion). Someone once tried to convince me of closed communion by arguing that we should only share the fellowship of the cup and the bread with those we know. However, as I pointed out, he cannot know all the thousands of people that he meets with every Sunday. His theoretical argument for “closed communion” was nullified by his own practice.

There are positive implications of our practical theology, and practical ecclesiology in particular. For example, last Sunday we were talking about times in our lives when we grow indifferent to God.  One brother said, “This is one of the reasons that I love this church, and one of the reasons that I hate this church. I know that when we meet together, someone is going to ask me about my life and my relationship with God. This is exactly what I need, but its not always what I want, especially when I’m feeling indifferent toward God.” He’s learned that our ecclesiology is not simply theoretical… we don’t just talk about fellowship and discipleship and the “one anothers”. Instead, we try to live these things. Our ecclesiology is very practical.

In fact, besides this blog (and times when I meet with people who contacted me because of this blog), I rarely talk about “ecclesiology.” It is more important to live our ecclesiology (or any theology) than to talk about our ecclesiology (or any theology).

Someone who does not offer grace and forgiveness to others does not understand the grace of God regardless of what they say or teach about God’s grace. A person who does not accept others as they are does not understand how God has accepted us in Christ, regardless of what they say about salvation by grace and not by works. Someone who does not share his or her life with other brothers and sisters in Christ in intimate fellowship and community does not understand discipleship, regardless of what they profess about the importance of the Great Commission. Our theology is demonstrated in the way we live our lives, not in what we say or write.

This distinction between theoretical theology and practical theology is a false distinction as far as Scripture is concerned. According to Scripture, it is impossible to know God (theology) without it affecting your life (practice). So, a biblical theology is a practical theology. A theoretical theology that does not affect a person’s life is not a biblical theology.

Replay: How to be an example to others

Posted by on Jul 6, 2013 in discipleship, scripture | 7 comments

Replay: How to be an example to others

Four years ago, I wrote a post called “How to be an example to others.” In many ways, this is still a challenge for me. If I were to change anything in the post below, it would be this: We should not seek to be an example; our life is already an example to those around us. Instead, the question we should ask ourselves is this: “How can we live as a positive example of a follower of Jesus Christ?” I still think that Paul’s “example” to the Thessalonians is a good place to start.

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How to be an example to others

 
In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul reminds the Christians in Thessalonika about the time that he spent with them. Paul probably only spent a few weeks with the Thessalonian believers. However, it seems that he made the most of that time.

This is what Paul says:

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed- God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved- so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last! But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you- I, Paul, again and again- but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2 ESV)

What can we learn from Paul’s example:

1: Continue making disciples in spite of difficulties.

2: Seek to please God, not people.

3: Do not try to persuade people by your rhetoric or your method of teaching or your arguments.

4: Do not make demands on people, even if you think you may have the right.

5: Gently care for people.

6: Share your life with people, not just your words.

7: Work hard serving people and serving with people.

8: Continually encourage people to walk with Christ.

9: Give God all the glory when people grow in maturity.

I don’t know about you, but I think I still have a long way to go before I am following Paul’s example. While I can see where my life and discipleship has matured in some of these areas over the last few years, I can also see where I have much more need for growth.

Primarily, I think the first item is one of the toughest for me. Paul suffered greatly at Philippi – he was imprisoned. Yet, he continued to make disciples. He did not let the difficulties distract him from his purpose.

I tend to be distracted much more easily. If something goes wrong or if life gets difficult, I tend to withdraw and forget or ignore the fact that I am supposed to be making disciples. Sometimes, I let my circumstances dictate my level of obedience. I can learn from Paul here. I can learn to trust God and follow the Spirit in spite of my cicumstances, allowing him to strengthen me.

What about you? Have you seen growth as a disciple-maker in your life? In what area or areas do you still need to grow?

For freedom Christ has set us free

Posted by on Jul 4, 2013 in discipleship, scripture, service | 27 comments

For freedom Christ has set us free

Yes, it’s Independence Day in the United States of America. But, I’m not writing about our political independence from Great Britain. Instead, like many Christians, I’m writing about our freedom in Christ.

But, my take on this freedom we have in Christ may be a little different. You see, according to Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, Jesus has set us free from our slavery to sin and the law so that we now have the freedom to make ourselves slaves to one another.

That’s right… we are now free for ourselves; we are now free to become slaves.

There are two key verses in the last chapter of Galatians:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)

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 5:14 ESV)

Between these two verses, Paul explains that those who are in Christ are no longer slaves to the law and sin. Christ has freed them. And, just as they trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, he exhorts them to continue to live by “faith working through love” – not through any kind of law-keeping. Paul is concerned that someone is telling the Galatian believers that they must continue to keep the law to remain in God’s good graces, and he reminds them that this teaching does not come from him.

But, on each side of verses 2-13, there seems to be contradictory statement.

First, in Galatians 5:1, Paul tells his readers that since they are free in Christ, they should never again submit to a yoke of slavery. Then, just a few sentences later in Galatians 5:14, he tells them to use their freedom to serve one another through love. Interestingly, the verb “serve” in Galatians 5:14 is the verb form of the noun slave (which Paul condemned in Galatians 5:1).

So, which is it Paul? Do we never submit to a yoke of slavery? Or do we make ourselves slaves to others? The answer is, “Yes.”

When Paul wrote, “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” context tells us that he was talking specifically about the law and the false hope that is found in trying to keep the law in order to be right with God. He goes on to say that the real hope of righteousness in found in the Holy Spirit by faith. (Galatians 5:5)

However, while we are free – and should never again make ourselves slaves to the law or sin – we are not freed for ourselves or to fulfill our own desires. We are free to make ourselves slaves of other people. And, again, the context tells us exactly what Paul means by “serve one another” (i.e., make ourselves slaves of one another):

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. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14 ESV)

When we serve one another, we are demonstrating God’s love to one another, and thus keeping the Great Commandment (as Jesus might say) or fulfilling the Royal Law (as James might say).

So, yes, yes, yes, we are free indeed… For freedom Christ has set us free. What kind of freedom is it? Freedom to make ourselves slaves to others so that we can demonstrate that we love others more than we love ourselves… which is the best demonstration of our love for God. (For a parallel to this freedom and slavery analogy, see Romans 6:15-23.)