Devotional # 91. 6/16/14. Galatians 4:1-31.
Intro: Galatians has kept the theme of not adding anything to faith in Jesus. Paul starts this chapter “still contrasting the state of people under law and those under grace” (Source 1). But he will also talk about being “heirs”, calling God “Daddy” and the differences between the promises of God and persecutors.
vv. 1-5. Paul continues the analogy of an “heir.” Remember last week (Galatians 3, Devotional 90, specifically vv. 26-29) we talked about how an heir was a child that receives the father’s inheritance? At first I didn’t understand how here Paul could compare a child to a servant, but the more you think about it, it makes sense. Paul says that as long as the heir is a child he’s treated as a servant, being told what to do and having guardians over him. But Paul’s point is that we understand the spiritual layer to this. “This was the condition of the Jews under the law…they were little children, being ordered around by the law just has it they were servants” (Source 1). Since the “elements of the world” are the “elementary principles of the Jewish religion” (Source 1) it just backs up what Paul has been saying. In God’s perfect timing (“the fullness of time”) He sent Jesus under the law just like everyone else up to then so that He could fulfill the law and bring in freedom. This freedom gave us salvation and so much more since we are no longer servants but considered children who get an inheritance!
vv. 6-7. There is so much here! Paul states a fact that we are sons (and of course, daughters) and if we accept Jesus into our hearts then we can call God: “Daddy” (Abba). Some people say you don’t have to accept Jesus in your heart you just have to be good, or believe in him. But Paul specifies that to be a child of God you must accept Jesus into your heart. This means that you don’t want to sin anymore, that you recognize only He got rid of your sin on the cross, and that you are willing to be his bondservant*.
Some of you might want to know what “Abba” means. It is an Aramaic word basically meaning “Daddy”. The idea is that when we need comfort, when we want to please, when we want to appreciate God we can love him as a toddler who completely trusts their Daddy in everything. Paul also uses this in Romans 8:15.
*bondservant. We talked about the difference between a slave and a bondservant before, but in case you have forgotten: a slave is forced to do what the master wants (like under the law) but a bondservant realizes how good and wise the master is and chooses to stay with the master.
vv. 8-11. Here Paul asks why a child who has grown and matured and accepted their inheritance would want to go back to being a servant, being told what to do? We see Paul’s heart that he fears for the spiritual well-being of the Galatians, he’s afraid that all the time that he spent praying for them, thinking about them, and teaching them, has been worth nothing. He’s asking to be proven wrong that they would stand for their faith. When he says “you observed days and months and seasons in years“, he means they kept the “rituals, ceremonies, and festivals of the Jewish religious calendar.” But God gave these things to the Israelites, never requiring it of the Christian Church, so why are they still caught up in those old habits? (Source 2).
vv. 12-20. Paul gives us specifics about the Galatians and the time he was with them. This is applicable to us nowadays too, as we’ll see. When Paul urges them to be like him he means willing to do what God has required of Christians. Paul never broke the law of the Israelites but when he became a Christian he realize that he had the freedom of the Gentile to eat all kinds of food and that he didn’t have to participate in religious rituals. He is saying, ‘don’t you remember how my health was poor when I visited you and you loved me so much I think if I needed a new set of eyeballs you would’ve pulled yours out and given them to me. But now you act like the things that I taught you weren’t true. Are you going to get defensive because of the way that I’m talking to you, or are you going to recognize that what I’m saying is true and that you need to change your ways? I hope you do change and that I can change my tone so I don’t have to act like a disappointed parent to you.’
Paul doesn’t care about hurting their feelings, he cares about their eternal salvation. He wants them to have Christ formed in them. This is conforming to the character of Christ, being completely holy. This is something that each one of us should pray for ourselves every day, and our children and our friends! When we are thankful that God has made us heirs to the kingdom, then in gratitude we want to be bondservants, and God matures us slowly making us into the character of Christ. But we must understand the sacrifice and truly desire it.
vv. 21-31. This is absolutely the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul because it fits so well. Paul gives us an example from Genesis chapters 15, 16 and 21; please read these chapters to get the full effect. The condensed story is that God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many, many people with his wife Sarah but he was very old and couldn’t believe it. So Abraham thought he would help God out and at 87 years old have a baby with one of his slaves named Hagar. They did have a baby named Ishmael but this wasn’t the son that God promised him. Finally, at 100 years old Abraham had a baby with Sarah that they named Isaac. Paul compares Ishmael to bondage, to the law, to Mount Sinai. And compares Isaac to freedom, to Christ, to Jerusalem. After quoting from Isaiah 54:1, Paul explains that there are many more people under bondage and sin who persecute the free person. This helps us understand why we are persecuted, because Satan doesn’t like us being free and he throws everything that he’s got at us. So the Arabic people today who have descended from Ishmael are not God’s chosen people. The Israeli’s who descended from Isaac are God’s chosen people. The current wars in the Middle East are caused because of this: both groups claim Abraham as their father and that they have the right to the land. But time and again we see in the Bible that the land is for the children of Isaac. And there is great freedom in knowing that God keeps His promises.
Conclusion: Paul has given us a lot to think about. We can see what the Galatians were foolish enough to put themselves through and pray that we learn the lesson. We all know what it was like to live in horrible bondage to sin. Many of us know what kind of peace God gives us when we trust in Jesus with our future. So why would we go back to sin? The answer is that there is no good reason. The child who has matured into their inheritance will never want to go back to being a slave. And this child is allowed to call God, “Daddy” because He takes care of us and protects us. What blessings we have being a child of God!
Source 1: William MacDonald, The Letter to the Galatians, 2007.
Source 2: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1794.