For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only [use] not liberty for an occasion (= bridgehead) 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. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
Paul now moves on to show more clearly the difference between the flesh and Spirit particularly in their out- workings. For the remainder of the fifth chapter we have spelt out for us the final manifestations of both the works of flesh, and that of the Spirit.
Having established that believers are brought into liberty, Paul warns us that this liberty is not for us to indulge our selves, but rather for serving one another. Paul uses an interesting word here: ‘occasion’, the Greek word is bridgehead, this being a military term for a base of operations in war.
This picture can be understood using the famous D-day landings of the second world war. In order to drive out the Nazi occupation of Europe the Allies had to send an invasion force onto the continent. This they did by firstly landing troops onto the Normandy beaches of northern France. Then, after driving the enemy away from that part, they poured in the troops and equipment needed. Thus they established a base from which they could launch out in order to liberate Europe. Without that bridgehead the Allies would not have succeeded in defeating Hitler and the third Reich.
So in the spirit we have a similar picture. We are freed in Christ from sin and the bondage of the law. We no longer have the disposition to sin, we are in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. But that liberty is for us to do what God wants, and not to do as we please. Previously, in our fallen state, we had no freedom to do what God wanted at all, but on new birth we do. And the warning here is not to allow the flesh to use that liberty as a bridgehead for its own operations.
Here are some other scriptures that give us the same picture.
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.
For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.
II Cor. 5:12
But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we.
II Cor 11:12
I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.
I Tim. 5:14
We are body, as well as soul and spirit and the body has its natural desires. What we have to guard against is allowing those normal desires to become out of control and to become bondages. We have to master them, and not them us. In the basic disciplines of living such as eating, sleeping etc. there is a proper order of things. In their place they are correct and indeed necessary for life, but when they become the ruling force, such as gluttony and slothfulness, we become their slaves and not masters.
So taking this thought over to the theme under consideration: by allowing the body to indulge in the flesh, so that that liberty becomes a base of operations for the flesh, we soon shall find ourselves back in bondage. By being free many would use the natural desire to do things by self effort, and set up regulations in order to govern how they live. It may be a small matter at first, but soon a bridgehead will develop. Little by little more rules are laid down, and the flesh pours its troops in, so to speak, and slowly, but surely, bondage will ensue. The flesh would have taken the ground of that liberty, and once more becomes the dominating force. The believer becoming thus carnal and not spiritual, walking after the flesh and not the Spirit.
Being free does not give us licence to pour in the works of the flesh, by setting up regulations that govern our Christian lives for example, or for others to follow us for that matter. This freedom is for a higher purpose.
When the flesh gains a foothold in the liberty that we have, and starts laying down regulations for people to follow then it is bound eventually to lead to trouble. Some people will begin to lord it over others, some will accept it, some will resent it, factions will grow, and there will be contentions, divisions and the flesh will be all too evident amongst God’s people.
There are three words that Paul uses here: firstly, bite, this has the sense of stinging. It is used as a metaphor as to the wounding of the soul in reproaches. One can imagine the scene, a brother who has ‘the revelation’ from God and is trying to Lord it over others: he starts by making remarks that sting the hearts of the brethren that causes a rebuke, thus beginning a process that causes them to have guilty feelings and eventually leading them into bondage, usually of listening to him and his so called revelation.
The second word is devour, and it has the connotation of exploiting or preying on someone. Having stung others such brethren begin to prey on other believers. Using them to satisfy their own desires in seeing them conform to their way of thinking. But if many are doing the same then the assembly is just devouring itself. Instead of feeding off Christ to grow in the true life of the Spirit, they are feeding off each other to indulge the flesh, and the carnal ways continue and indeed increase.
The third and final word is consumed, it means to destroy, and is the climax of the first two thoughts. Allowing the flesh to gain a foothold leads to biting and devouring one another, and this in turn leads to destruction – there can be no other outcome. In the fighting that follows people, and the whole assembly, will eventually loose their testimony. What a tragic state of affairs!
The church at Corinth had such problems, and here is what Paul had to say.
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ……and I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is are ye not carnal, and walk as men?Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
I Cor. 1:10-12; 3:1-10
The Corinthians, whilst having started off on the correct foundation, as had the Galatians, had fallen into party spirit, and carnality was rife. It is interesting to note what Paul said the Corinthian complaint was: are ye not carnal, and walk as men? They were walking, living as ordinary unregenerate men! They had gone back into the flesh.
Paul opened the epistle by stating their fault. Namely there was a party spirit, each person was saying that they were following certain leaders: some said they were of Apollos, some of Paul others yet following Cephas, and so forth. They were saying: I am of……, in the Greek this is emphatic and we conclude that the Corinthians were focussing on themselves, the flesh. They were walking as men, in the flesh. Consequently they were split and, reading the Corinthian epistle, we see them biting and devouring themselves. One example being that they were taking one another to the world’s courts in order to settle their disputes. I Cor. 6:1-8
The biting, devouring and eventual consuming of each other is totally opposite to the ways of God. We are to love and serve one another. Serving is the opposite to dominating, loving is the opposite to devouring. So far we have considered much concerning the flesh and some of its outworkings but now we turn our attention to the way of the Spirit.
In this chapter the word love appears on several occasions.
…faith worketh by love
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.
For [=the whole] all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
But the fruit of the Spirit is Love…..
Paul tells us, and this is repeated in Romans ( Rom.13:10), that love is the fulfilment of the law. The Christian life, as we have repeatedly said on many occasions, is not an external law – it is not governed by regulations, and legislation laid down by organisations, churches, or even other believers, but by the life that God plants in us at new birth.
The Old Covenant showed how powerless we were to live the life that pleases God. God’s full and free salvation, provided for us by the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, makes us new creatures in Christ, we receive His Spirit, and become partakers of the divine nature. Consequently God’s laws are written in our hearts and that which we were powerless to do we now live because it is our nature to do so, for it is His life in us.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
II Pet. 1:3-4
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.
Love is the characteristic of God’s people, as it is characteristic of God Himself, and as God served us so we are to serve one another. This will take up our thoughts in the next study.
Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
I Tim. 1:5
And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.