July 30, 2012
(Gal 4:8 ESV) 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.
Who or what is Paul referring to as “those that by nature are not gods”?
Idols. Greek and Roman “gods.”
2. In what sense were the Galatians “enslaved” to these “not gods”?
First, idols cannot save, leaving their worshipers enslaved to sin.
Second, idols encourage sinful behavior, such as temple prostitution.
Third, idols cannot transform a person’s heart.
Finally, the Greek and Roman gods provided no moral standards, no reason to love. Rather, they were all-powerful beings to be manipulated through ritual, sacrifice, and prayer to serve the worshiper’s selfish ends.
(Gal 4:9 ESV) 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?
3. It’s easy enough, it would seem, to understand “come to know God,” but what does Paul mean by “come … to be known by God”? There are very few passages that speak of being known by God. Here’s one —
(Amo 3:1-2 ESV) Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt: 2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
To be “known by God” means to be chosen or elected by God. He’s not speaking of intellectual knowledge. Obviously, God intellectually knows everyone ever born. Rather, he’s using “know” in the sense of recognizing the Christians as his own.
4. We considered the meaning of “elementary principles” in the last lesson. How could someone be “enslaved” to them?
Seeking salvation by rule-keeping is like magic. The pagans saw the gods as beings who could be manipulated by saying certain words and doing certain rituals. Get the ritual right, and the god would grant your wish!
Law-based religion is like that. We think that if we’re good, if we go to church, if we worship by the right rules, God will be forced to love us and do good things for us. It puts us in control.
But the price of control is being forced to seek salvation by getting the rituals and the words exactly right. Rather than enjoying an intimate, personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe, we are reduced to seeking to manipulate him to our own ends, endlessly trying to earn his favor.
(Gal 4:10 ESV) 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years!
5. We celebrate all sorts of holidays! Why is Paul upset that the Galatians celebrate “days and months and seasons and years”? (Recall that Galatians was written to deal with tensions between Jews and Gentiles.)
The Law of Moses called for honoring Sabbaths, feast days, weeks, and months, the Jubilee year, etc. These are obviously not sinful, because they were commanded by God.
No, the mistake the Judaizing teachers made is to insist on these as conditions of salvation. You see, they began with circumcision — as a marker of their identity as Jews — and then added Sabbaths etc. as additional markers. And there being no place to stop, they soon would have added the entirety of the Law of Moses as essential to salvation.
(Gal 4:11 ESV) 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.
6. What about celebrating holy days might cause Paul’s labors to have been in vain? Does he mean they might actually lose their souls for this reason?
Yes, they could actually lose their souls for adding laws to the gospel. Adding laws is not safe — no safer than subtracting laws. It’s just as wrong to bind where God doesn’t bind as to loose where God doesn’t loose. In other words, binding commands on others is the furthest thing from “safe.”
Adding circumcision, etc. to faith in Jesus as a requirement to be saved destroys the gospel, making faith inadequate and requiring us to earn out salvation by our superior knowledge of God’s word and superior obedience. And the evidence of centuries of experience is in: it doesn’t work. Rather, legalism leads to division and hurt feelings and a terrible reputation in the community.
(Gal 4:12-15 ESV) 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. 15 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.
7. What does “I also have become as you are” refer to?
Likely that Paul has given up attempting to honor the commands of the Law of Moses, becoming as one outside the law to those outside the law.
(1Co 9:21 ESV) To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
8. Then what does “become as I am” refer to?
It’s irony. Paul gave up his Jewish identity markers in order to save Gentiles. Surely, the Gentiles should not now adopt Jewish identity markers! After all, shouldn’t they want to be as effective in evangelism as Paul was? And if an apostle can live that way, why would they try to meet an even “higher” standard?
9. Paul speaks of his illness in 2 Corinthians 12:7 as a “thorn in the flesh.” Here we see his health condition hurt his eyes. At the end of Galatians, Paul refers to writing with very large letters, perhaps due to his poor eyesight. He further says his condition was a trial to the Galatians, so bad that they might have scorned him.
As it turns out, Paul only preached in Galatia because his health failed. What can we learn about how to deal with our own health issues from this?
Many Christians have health issues, and some become very angry with God because of it. After all, why is a good person being “punished” when so many wicked people enjoy good health?
But Paul sees his health problems as a blessing. Because of his illness, he was required to stop long enough in Galatia to plant a church. God can take the ugly in life and make it beautiful.
10. What do you suppose happened to the Galatians’ generous spirit toward Paul?
Paul was surely hurt to the core to find that the Judaizing teachers were poisoning the Galatians’ minds against him. Why? Because that’s how you win — you destroy your opponent. It shows the character of the Judaizing teachers that, rather than debating doctrine and scripture, they launched a personal attack on their opponent.
It’s easy to do. You accuse of Paul of not knowing his Torah or God’s will. You tell a half truth about his relationship with the 12 apostles. You let the natural tendency of people to gossip and distrust take hold of the congregation.
(Gal 4:16-19 ESV) 16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 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!
11. Who is “they”?
The Judaizing teachers.
12. What does Paul mean by “until Christ is formed in you”?
Until they mature in Christ so that they are re-shaped into the image of Christ.
This is a core New Testament doctrine that is not emphasized nearly enough in our teaching. But the scriptures plainly teach that Christians are to be transformed into the image of Jesus.
(Rom 8:29 ESV) 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
(2Co 3:18-1 ESV) 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
(Eph 4:11-13 ESV) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ …
(Eph 5:1-2 ESV) Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
(Col 1:28 ESV) 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
(Gal 4:20-21 ESV) 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?
13. Paul is quite serious in saying that the Galatians “desire to be under the law.” Why would anyone feel that way? What would motivate someone to prefer being under law?
For some of us, it’s easier to trust our own works than God’s grace. We just have trouble relying on anyone else. We are too self-sufficient.
(Gal 4:22-23 ESV) 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.
14. Paul introduces his allegory about Sarah and Hagar by saying “do you not listen to the law”? Moses came hundreds of years after Abraham. In what sense is Paul speaking of the “law” here?
“Law” sometimes refers to the Law of Moses, but “law” can also refer to the first five books of the Bible: Genesis – Deuteronomy. And the narratives regarding Sarah and Hagar are found in Genesis.
15. Why was Ishmael born “according to the flesh” whereas Isaac was born “through promise”?
God promised a son to Abraham — Isaac. But Abraham and Sarah, unwilling to trust God’s promise, conspired for Abraham to impregnate Hagar, a slave girl, and provide Abraham a son by means of the flesh.
Sarah was 99 when she bore Isaac. It was a miracle. Isaac was a gift from God. Ishmael was the product of purely human effort.
(Gal 4:24 ESV) 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.
16. Why would Paul refer to Hagar as “bearing children for slavery”?
(Gen 21:10 ESV) 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.”
In the ancient Middle East, the son of a slave was also a slave. Therefore, Paul is saying that if we insist on rejecting grace, preferring our own efforts, we submit to slavery.
17. It’s astonishing that Paul would associate Hagar, the slave, with Mt. Sinai. In what sense does the Law of Moses bring slavery?
If we must obey the Law of Moses — or any other law — to be saved, then we’re all doomed, because not a one of us gets all the rules right all the time. Indeed, we can’t even agree on what the rules are!
(Gal 4:25 ESV) 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
18. It sounds odd to our ears for Paul to compare Mt. Sinai with Jerusalem. What do those two locations have in common?
Both are places where the Jews encountered the very presence of God — on top of Mt. Sinai and in the Temple. These two locations symbolize the Law of Moses.
(Gal 4:26 ESV) 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.
19. What on earth is “the Jerusalem above”? (Exo 25:8-9, 40; 26:30; Heb 12:22; Rev 21:2-10).
In Exodus, God is described as showing Moses a “pattern” (“original”) for the tabernacle, clearly being a pattern that was in heaven.
(Heb 8:5 ESV) 5 [The priests] serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”
(Heb 9:24 ESV) 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
(Heb 11:10 ESV) 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
(Heb 11:16 ESV) 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
(Heb 13:14 ESV) 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
Therefore, in Revelation, John refers to the true Jerusalem — the one in heaven — descending to earth so that God may dwell with man.
(Rev 21:2-3 ESV) 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
20. Why would Paul refer to the heavenly Jerusalem as the “mother” of Christians? (Isa 66:10-14).
(Isa 66:10-14 ESV) 10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; 11 that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” 12 For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. 13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. 14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the LORD shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.
Isaiah refers to the Heavenly Jerusalem as the mother of all God’s servants. Of course, he is really referring to God as “mother” of all, loving his children as a mother loves her baby.
(Gal 4:27 ESV) 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.”
21. Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1. Paul, like anyone trained as a Jewish rabbi, often used a teaching method called remez — literally meaning “hint.” He often refers to an Old Testament passage expecting his readers to know and apply the entire context to his argument. Read all of Isaiah 54 and consider what point Paul is making about the Galatian Christians in light of Hagar and Sarah.
Sarah was a barren woman, a great shame to bear in ancient society. And yet, as Isaiah promises that the barren woman will have countless children.
(Isa 54:5-6 ESV) 5 For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. 6 For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God.
The solution to barrenness is the love of God. God, by his grace, will bless his beloved. The same promise holds true for the Galatians (and us). Rather than trying to do God’s miracles for him — such as by bedding Hagar — we are to rely on God’s promises, seeking our redemption in grace not our own efforts.
(Isa 54:10 ESV) 10 “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
(Isa 54:13-14 ESV) 13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children. 14 In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
(Gal 4:28 ESV) 28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
22. How are Christians and Isaac similar?
Isaac was born by virtue of a miracle, because of God’s promise to Abraham.
We Christians are reborn, by virtue of a miracle (the resurrection), because of God’s promise to Abraham.
(Gal 4:29-31 ESV) 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. 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.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
23. In v. 29, which of Abraham’s sons was born according to the flesh and which “according to the Spirit”?
Ishmael was born according to the flesh, indeed, an effort to fulfill God’s promises for him, that is, due to a lack of faith.
But Isaac was born by a miracle.
24. In what sense was Isaac born according to the Spirit?
Paul is not arguing for a virgin birth! Rather, he is saying that Isaac’s birth to a 99-year old woman was a miracle, and miracles come by the Spirit.
25. In what sense are the Judaizing teachers children of Hagar rather than Sarah? What makes them slaves?
Hagar was a slave. Ishmael was a slave, born of an effort by Abraham to keep God’s promises for him — out of a lack of faith in God’s promises.
Just so, the Judaizing teachers lack faith. They don’t trust God to save all with faith in Jesus. They insist on earning their own salvation.
26. Does it really make sense to refer to Christians as children of Sarah?
Of course, all of Israel are children of Sarah, and the Gentiles, when they are baptized, become sons of Abraham.
(Gal 3:7 ESV) 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.
(Gal 3:29-1 ESV) 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
(Gal 5:1 ESV) For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
27. What’s a “yoke”?
A yoke is something an ox wears to help it carry extremely heavy loads.
It can also be a pole used by humans to carry loads.
28. What is the “yoke of slavery”?
It’s likely that many a Roman slave used a yoke to carry loads for his master.
A yoke could therefore symbolize a slave’s obligation to carry heavy loads on penalty of death (Roman masters were free to kill their slaves.)
29. In what sense is Christianity “freedom”? Is it just freedom from damnation?
We should start with freedom from damnation, but that’s only the beginning. It ultimately leads to freedom to become who we were always meant to be.
(1Pe 2:9-10 ESV) 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
We were called to be priests and kings, blessed by God in every way, formed into a community shaped by the cross.
(1Pe 2:15-16 ESV) 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
Living as “servants of God” hardly sounds free — at first glance. But when we become what we were always meant to be, then our hearts and emotions and minds become fully aligned. We are no longer being pulled in multiple directions.
But there is a certain tension here. Jesus was surely the most free person to ever walk the earth. He was God in the flesh! He could have called 10,000 angels! But his love for his people compelled him to give up heaven and die in agony — not despite his royal nature but precisely because of his royal nature.
As a result, freedom leads away from selfishness and toward love and submission. But it’s the kind of submission we give to our own children. We wipe dirty bottoms and haul kids to ball practice because our love compels us, because our children’s needs and happiness outweigh our own — even though we are the adults, own the house, and pay the bills.
True freedom leads to true love leads to true sacrifice — because that’s who we were always meant to be.