A Bible Lesson on Galatians 4

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Galatians 4:1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything,

2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.

3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

In the first part of Galatians 4 Paul continues his explanation of the place of the law, making further use of the two figures introduced in verses 23 and 24 of Chapter 3. In Chapter 3 he described the law as functioning as a warden, keeping humanity restrained or confined, and as a caretaker and guardian/male nanny, an ethical teacher. Now he brings these figures together.

Humanity’s condition before the coming of Christ was like that of a kid a rich man, who has the promise of an inheritance, but until reaching legal age is under the supervision of others. The kid is a kid and has to be instructed and taught the nature of life/being more or less by rote, and is not an adult who can enjoy the reality of his or her position. In some sense, the kid has no more privilege than a slave in the household, even though he is destined for more.

Paul uses the phrase “to/under the basic/elementary principles of the world.” These are the elementary things, the ABC’s. This same word is used in Hebrews 5:12 and 6:1. The reference both here and there is probably to the basics taught in the Old Testament. These are true and fundamental things, but things that have their fulfillment and completion in Christ. This includes the law, and before Christ, man was constrained by and under the discipline of the law. But, as Paul has argued, good and true as it was, it was no means of justifying people before God, no means of giving one a place as a grownup in the family of God.

God’s action was

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,

It was when “the fullness of time had come,” when indeed the time was ripe and everything was in place for it to make sense to us, that God’s Son was born of a woman. He was “born under the law.” He was born in the period of the law, as a Jew, the people to whom the law had been given. But far more than this, He was born as a being to whom the law applied, a being for whom the law was a teacher and restraint. Jesus is God’s Son, born of a woman, both fully human and fully divine.

5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Christ, who was one of us, and yet was the true Son of God, truly good, wholly pleasing to the Father, redeemed us. And our redemption in Christ provides our adoption into the family of God. It gives us the status of full grown people, by whom the law isn’t taken for what it was never was (a means to salvation), but rather an expression of some of how God’s nature will be seen in our actions.

6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

There is intimate relationship with God for those who are truly redeemed and saved by faith. In this, God dwelling in us calls out to the Father in the most intimate of terms. The Holy Spirit in us calls out “Father dear Father.”

7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Make no mistake, this is a change of status. Instead of being ones who need rote instruction, who have to be shown very basic things like the wrongness of murder and adultery, by the work of Christ, those who wholly trust Him become ones who can be called “sons”/ones who not only have an inheritance, but share His essential concerns and outlook, who partake of His nature.

8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.

Every purely human attempt to be right with God is a system of moralism, of being good enough, of following the rules. That makes one a slave of the rules. That makes the rules a substitute for a real and living God. But such is not the nature of Christianity. Our faith in Christ to save, our dependence upon the mercy of God, makes God God, and gives us real relationship with Him. We genuinely “know” Him, a real person, not a set of rules.

9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

So, seriously now … the law can’t save. We can’t keep it, and even if we could keep all the external rules, Jesus shows us plainly in the Sermon on the Mount that the external is only the tip of the iceberg. What’s needed is real goodness. That is Christ’s, and we have been given it as a gift through faith alone. So how in the world could one come to the position that it’s faith plus scrupulous attention to the details of the Old Testament law that saves? That’s just foolish.

10 You observe days and months and seasons and years!

Apparently there was emphasis on keeping of the Jewish calendar as supposedly an integral part of Christianity. “Oh my!” says Paul …

11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

This is pretty much “If you don’t see that this is not just wrong logic and theology, but is an attack on the very nature of how God has worked to make us right with Him, I may have been wrong in believing that you have real salvation.” This possibility is painful to Paul and he makes a personal plea to the Galatians to come to their senses.

12 Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong.

13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first,

14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.

5 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.

16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?

This is sad commentary. Paul, apostle of Christ, the epitome of pastoral care, has loved and taught these Galatians the truth about Jesus. Somehow, in his absence, heretics have gotten an audience and led the Galatians astray. Now, when he tries to correct error, it seems that human pride gets in the way, and rather than submit to his correction the Galatians would rather continue in error. Apparently they have been flattered and enjoy the attention of the heretics. They would rather be in basic error than change their relationship to the false teachers.

17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.

18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you,

19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

This is the quintessential heart of the loyal Christian pastor. There is agony when believers under his care go off the rails. Paul knows that this is life and death, heaven and hell for these Galatians. It’s always misery for a godly pastor to try to help keep his flock on the narrow way.

20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Paul now makes a rabbinical argument. (This is perhaps especially appropriate because the Galatians are enamored by Judaizers. So now he argues like a rabbi might argue.) He says that true faith in God/ trusting in His promise of a Redeemer, is to reliance upon law-keeping as a means of salvation as Isaac’s birth to Sarah was to Ishmael’s birth to Hagar.

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?

22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.

23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.

God promised a son to Abraham and ultimately made good on that promise in a miraculous way. Abraham in the meantime had forgotten faith and concocted his own way of getting a son. He had Ishmael through a servant woman. Ishmael was not God’s way and was not how He kept His promise. Paul argues that it’s not just coincidence that this first son was the son of a slave, while Isaac was the son of a free woman. That difference points to the difference between law-keeping and promise as means of making one right with God. The first is ineffectual and not God’s way. The second is effectual and miraculous in accord with God’s promise. The first doesn’t give real freedom/adult relationship with God. The second does.

Paul carries the rabbinical argument further, referring to Old Testament covenants. The covenant with Abraham preceded the covenant made at the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. The first was a promise of descendants (in faith). The second promised blessing and curses following from obedience to and transgression of the will of God encoded in the law.

24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.

25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.

Paul says that Judaism is stuck depending upon the Sinai covenant of law, symbolized by Hagar and Ishmael, amounting to a human attempt to establish righteousness by keeping the rules … something that can’t be done and misses the point of the law entirely … and would annul the promise to Abraham.

26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

Paul identifies Christians as ones depending upon a new covenant, connected to the promises to Abraham and the Old Testament prophets.

27 For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.”

This is a quote of Isaiah 54:1, promising the future glory of a true and righteous “Jerusalem”/people of God.

28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.

29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.

Humans love their works religions. Never mind that they cannot save. It is a ditch that we are prone to continually fall into. Only faith in Christ saves. But that truth will always be under pressure from both champions of “don’t do this” and champions of “do that” religions. Paul sees in the sending away of Hagar and Ishmael an Old Testament type of what must be done to protect the truth.

30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.”

The Galatians evidently liked the Judaizers. But as long as they continued to teach salvation by Jesus-plus-works they simply had to be avoided/sent away. It is not unkindness or rude to protect the flock of God by expelling those who teach doctrines that will damn.

31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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