In Galatians 4, Paul builds on the closing imagery from the previous chapter, namely, “What does it mean to be in the family of God?”
Verses 1-3: Paul says that as long as the person is a minor (child from chapter 3), he/she is bound by the rule of law. Essentially, it is the spiritually immature that are addicted to the law, that must follow up. Here, God is loving, yet stern. Minors, writes Paul, are slaves to the Father. He writes it down, they follow. Yet…
Verses 4-7: Here we find that something has changed. The Son, the True Heir, has come down, and his message is (you guessed it!!) Grace and Peace. The Law, which captured us, has been overturned. We are free! How do we know this? Because the Spirit testifies to the freedom, yes, we shout “Father” but it is “Papa.” It is because we can approach him in this way that we know that we truly are in relationship with Him. It is this Spirit, this inner testifying that is the proof of inheritance.
Verses 8-11: Before their participation in this inheritance, their slave-master was false gods. So, why return? Why, having been enslaved and now freed…why would you want to return? And, by observing tradition and law, that’s all you do: return to slavery. Paul fears that the Gospel preached to them “has gone up in a puff of smoke.”
Verses 12-16: Back to the matter at hand: the divide between Jew and Gentile. The key to love, the love of one that has inherited it all, is humility, is sacrifice. Sensitivity, kindness. It’s how Paul was treated when he arrived in Galatia, sick. They loved him and welcomed him. And now, he is their enemy for no reason beyond expecting them to love!
Verse 17: They are falling into this trap because of the false teachers, the liars about God from chapter 1, those stuck in tradition in chapter 2, and those enslaved by law from chapter 3. They want to bind you back up because then, and only then, do we again need to depend on people for freedom. If you’ll remember from chapter 1, Paul was bound by no man, he did not care what they thought of him. He lived for the approval of God, rather than the applause of man! Living by the rules of man only makes sinful man feel important.
Verses 18-20: Paul says that “doing good” is excellent, but they should be pursuing the righteousness of Christ always, not just when Paul is rumored to be heading their way. He tells them that he is not only burdened by them, but that he wishes he were there in person, so that he could really communicate his anger.
Verses 21-31: Here, Paul essentially asks, “How is that adherence to the Law working out for you?” Going back to the Old Testament (which drives the liberal textual critics mad, no doubt), Paul points to two sons of Abram: Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was of man’s “connivance”, and is now imaged by those bound by tradition and law. These are coming from people enslaved, but think they are free. They are merely creating more slaves. Isaac, however, was of God; a child of God from a barren woman. Why? Because God PROMISED it to Abram and Sarai…sort of like an inheritance! This is the kind of things giving to sons and daughters, those that are borne of freedom. The believers in Galatia were free. And freedom has a life of its own.
For your consideration:
- Are there times in your walk with God that feel more like a slave than a son or daughter? What do those times look like?
- Are you aware of the false gospels that people are trying to enslave you under?
- What might living in the promise of freedom look like?