The bottom line for this and every Jesus community was that “through love,” they were to “serve one another” (Galatians 5:13b). Though this can be heard in the general sense of Christian service, it can also be taken more literally as Paul can be heard insisting that all were and are to take the opportunity to be servants at the meal table. Just because somebody was responsible for serving at meal tables (women, slaves) outside the church gathering, that did not automatically mean that they were to be the servants at the church gathering. In fact, the church and the Gospel may very well have insisted upon the opposite. Regardless of that possibility, Paul insists that the appropriate attitude is “You must love your neighbor as yourself” (5:14b); and just as their service was not some generalized service, so too this “love” was not some general, undefined love.
To that end, Paul quotes from the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, making allusion to all that surrounds the specific quotation. Further insight into the social dynamic that is at work can be gained by looking to that passage in Leviticus and finding “You must not deal unjustly in judgment: you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich. You must judge your fellow citizen fairly. You must not go about as a slanderer among your people. You must not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake. I am the Lord. You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him. You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. You must keep My statutes” (19:15-19a). It would seem clear that Paul has this in mind when he appends his thoughts, adding “However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another” (5:15). Interestingly enough, it would seem that talk of biting, devouring, and consuming can be understood as language that is connected to a meal table.
Bearing in mind the Levitical allusion, and even though there is some intervening material dealing with the operation of the Spirit and the subsequent contrast between the works of the Spirit and the works of the flesh, does one not hear the Levitical pronouncement heavily informing the introduction to the sixth chapter, when Paul speaks and says “Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (6:1-2)?
Certainly, the words that lead into the opening statement of the sixth chapter could be brought into service here, as Paul writes “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another” (5:26). When these words are heard at a mixed meal table, where all are cognizant of the wide range of potential sources of divisions and classifications and groupings that would be a natural component of every other meal gathering that would be known and even participated in on a regular basis by those that compose the church of Galatia, they should take on an even more profound meaning.