Study Notes

Galatians 4:1-31


As we finished up chapter three, we saw that we are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And Paul said,

Gal. 3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

Since you are an heir according to the promise given to Abraham, you'll want to know more about this inheritance.

4:1-2 The Heir Is A Child

Paul says first of all that heirs are like slaves up to a certain point. As you may know, Bill Gates has made a bit of money out of his company Microsoft. To date, he is worth about $50 billion dollars. Now, Bill and his wife Melinda have a four year old daughter, Jennifer Katharine Gates. She will be the heiress of millions - if not billions - of dollars.

But until Bill decides that she is ready for that money, she doesn't have access to it any more than Bill's limo driver does. She doesn't have freedom to do with it as she pleases, she doesn't have the right to make decisions regarding it. She is no different than a servant in regards to the inheritance.

Now Paul goes on to compare that situation to the inheritance of the Galatians.

4:3 While We Were Children

The people of the world were like little Jennifer Gates, having the promise of a wonderful inheritance, but not having yet received it. They were still slaves to the Law. The Jews were in bondage, breaking the commandments written on stone, the Gentiles were bound by violating the consciences that God put in their hearts.

Before they could be heirs of the promise of blessing all the nations that God gave to Abraham, something had to happen first - the accomplishment of a date set by the Father.

4:4-7 The Fullness Of The Time

Just like Bill will one day say, "Jennifer, I have determined that you may now receive your inheritance," the Lord had a day in mind. A day that He sent Jesus Christ to buy the Jews out of slavery to the Law and adopt them as His children.

When God made them His children, He sent His Spirit into their hearts, qualifying them to call Him, "Abba." That word would accurately be translated from Greek into our vernacular as "Daddy." This is something that only a child may call their father. A Rabbinic commentary on the Mishna (the Gemara) notes that slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family they belonged to by this name. The very fact that we can call the Lord "Abba" tells us that we are no longer slaves, but heirs. As Romans 8 says,

Rom. 8:15-16 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God

If you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior, being born again by the Spirit, you are no longer a slave of the Law, but a child of God.

4:8-11 Turning Back Again

What has Paul confounded, and is in fact the reason for writing this letter to the Galatians, is that they were once slaves, then made heirs, but have turned back again to slavery! Why would anyone do that voluntarily?

They had turned back to what Paul calls, "the weak and worthless elemental things." These are those things of religion, rather than relationship. He gives examples like observing days and months and seasons and years. This does not mean that calendars are bad, or that it is wrong to know that today is Sunday. They were observing the religious days and months and seasons and years. They were adding Jewish religion to their free salvation in Christ.

You see, as we have covered so many times since starting the book of Galatians, religion does nothing to save you. It doesn't matter what day you worship God on. As Romans 14 says,

Rom. 14:5 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.

As born again believers in Christ, we are free to worship the Lord all the time, and are under no obligation to observe the days and months and seasons. Paul told the Colossian church,

Col. 2:16-17 Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day - things which are a {mere} shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

All of these feasts and festivals, sacrifices and ceremonies - they all pointed to Jesus Christ. They were rehearsals of what Jesus would do to save us. Passover pointed to the death of the Lamb of God, Unleavened Bread, to the burial of Christ's sinless body, the Feast of Firstfruits of His resurrection from the dead. Pentecost to His work birthing the church in sinful Jews and Gentiles, Trumpets to His rapture of the church, the Day of Atonement to His return when the Jews humble themselves, and call out to Him, and Tabernacles when He will once again tabernacle with His people in the Millennial Kingdom. The Burnt Offering, the Sin Offering, the Guilt Offering, the Cleansing of the Leper... all of the Law was a portrait of Jesus, a shadow of what would be fulfilled in Him. But now that Christ has come, these things are no longer necessary.

To understand the foolishness of what the Galatians had done, imagine that you were being set up on a blind date. Your friend gave you a picture of the person to show you what they looked like. But when you finally met and began having a wonderful time, you pulled the picture out of your pocket and began to look at it instead of your date. You neglected the person sitting in front of you, paying attention instead to their photograph.

It would be like getting into the movies and halfway through the show deciding to head home and watch the commercial that advertised the movie instead. It would be like enjoying a TV dinner and abandoning it in order to look at the box! The Mosaic Law pointed to Christ. Now that they had Christ, they were abandoning the relationship with Him in order to go back to the Law that pointed to Him.

That's why Paul is worried that he might have labored over them in vain.

4:12-15 Paul's History With The Galatians

Paul wants them to be plain old Gentile Christians again, pointing out that he in fact as a Jew had become like them.

He reminds them that they used to have a love for God and His people, with such a sense of blessing. In fact, when he had first come to them, it was because of a medical condition that he came there in the first place.

Many scholars believe that the condition was a terrible eye problem that Paul suffered from. There are several reasons why this is thought, but the most obvious is right here in our text - he says,

Gal. 4:15 Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness, that if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.

It seems like Paul needed a new set of eyes. And the Galatians were so loving, so giving, that if it were possible, they would have given their eyes to Paul. Today, of course, it is a medical possibility.

Last October, a Muslim cleric named AB-dur-RAH-man Wahid became Indonesia's new President. He is nearly blind after suffering two strokes. Because his Islamic followers want him to be able to do his job effectively, many of them have offered to donate their eyes to restore his vision.

I think about the Galatian Christians and the sense of blessing they had. I think about AB-dur-RAH-man Wahid's Muslim followers and their willingness to sacrifice for their leader.

And frankly, it makes me wonder about myself. As giving as I like to think I am, how far am I really willing to go to be a blessing for someone? How much would I really sacrifice to meet someone else's need?

How about you? Do you have a sense of sacrificial blessing? Would you suffer loss for another? You might be willing to donate a few bucks towards a worthy cause, but how about giving up one of your kidneys for a total stranger? You may say, "Well, that's my body we're talking about! Isn't that a little extreme?" But Jesus gave His whole body. When we think about it, we're really not as much like Jesus as we'd like to think.

I am humbled by the Galatians and shamed by the Islamic Indonesians. But the answer is not to begin to sacrifice ourselves to be better Christians. That would be to try and attain something through religious means, the same thing that Paul has been telling the Galatians that they've been doing wrong. No, the trick is not to begin to DO, but simply to draw near to Jesus. Build your relationship with Him, spend time with Him. Speak to Him in prayer, hear from Him in the Word. Fellowship with Him, worship Him. The more you do these things, the more like Him you become. And then you will have that beautiful sense of sacrificial blessing that Jesus demonstrated.

4:16-18 Seeking You

They had been so friendly to Paul and receptive to his message of the gospel. But now he finds himself in opposition to them. He was seeking after them, to remind them of the truth, to keep them from being deceived by the Judaizers, who had sought after them, convincing them that they must obey the Jewish Law to be right before God.

The way they went after others was to keep them at a distance, making them feel spiritually inferior. "Oh, you're not practicing Judaism? We can't fellowship with you."

This reverse psychology is terribly effective. You recall that when Tom Sawyer had to whitewash the fence, he was actually able to get the other boys in the neighborhood to pay him to do it for him by pretending that it was a privilege, that it was an exclusive opportunity.

Mark Twain wrote, "He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it - namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain."

This is what the Judaizers had done. "No, you don't measure up. We don't think you're worthy of it. Too bad." They had been so effective at it that the Galatians were practically pounding down the door to be put in bondage to the religion of the Law.

4:19-21 Do You Not Listen To The Law

Paul is going to give them another example from the Old Testament that they are insistent upon being in bondage to.

4:22-23 The Bondwoman And The Free Woman

He reminds the Galatians about their father Abraham, written of in the book of Genesis. God had promised to give Abraham a son. But as Abraham saw that his wife was barren and old, God couldn't possibly fulfill His promise through her. Instead, they decided that Sarah's maid Hagar should be the bearer of Abraham's child.

She conceived a child with Abraham, and the child was called Ishmael.

But God didn't consider Ishmael the answer to His promise. Ishmael was conceived in the flesh. The Lord was going to have Sarah bear a son, Isaac, in her old age.

So Paul is saying that the son of the bondwoman, the maid, the slave, was born according to the flesh. But it was the son of Sarah, the free woman, that was born through the promise. Then he turns that into an allegorical teaching about being slave or free, about being of the flesh or of the promise.

4:24-31 The Allegory

Paul says that these women become representatives of the two situations: slavery under Law, and freedom under sonship.

And he says that just like there was persecution of the free by the slave (see Genesis 21:9-10), they are experiencing the same thing from the Judaizers, who hate the freedom that the Galatians had.

So the Law itself demonstrates that the slave cannot be an heir with the free. It shows us that what is of the flesh cannot attain what is promised through the Spirit. The Lord doesn't desire us to be under Law, but under grace.

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