“But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!”
The Galatian church entered a stage of conflict because of legalistic thinking. Paul now warns them about a consequence of this. All doctrine, whether false or true, has practical implications.
But if you bite
Secular Greek used the verbs in this verse of “bite,” “devour,” and “consume” for wild animals that bite with the teeth in lethal battle. Legalists lacerate those who believe in grace with reproach.
and devour one another,
The word “devour” means to gulp down. It comes from two words: to consume by eating and down. The idea is to consume something completely. Evidently, there is such a thing as Christian cannibalism! The Galatians did not nibble on one another!
The idea of “beware” is to keep our spiritual vision sharp. The word comes from a word for to see. If Christians do not stay alert, they will fall into divisions that result from legalistic beliefs. Legalism is always divisive and censorious.
lest you be consumed by one another!
Christians can destroy one another by legalism.
Legalism produces a censorious spirit.
Paul never fuses legalism and grace because they are opposites. Neither can we harmonize them into some sentimental doctrinal glob. We should set legalism and grace in stark contrast if we live the Christian life as it should be lived. If we do not separate these two ideas, we will also experience rivalry in the church.
Legalists are contemptuous and severely critical people who show little mercy. However, true Christian love makes allowances for others and takes account of their frailties. Genuine love compensates for people.
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins‘” (1 Peter 4:8).
Christians cannot afford to play god and become the judge of other believers. When we take the role of a critic, we put ourselves in the position of a god. If we find fault with one another and tear each other’s reputation apart, we will destroy the Christian community. All that we see from some churches God has used mightily is smoke billowing from the ruins of wrath. The people of God could not get along. There is a great difference between the fruit of love, the ruins of wrath.