From chapter 2:15 until the end of chapter 4 Paul is teaching on one particular theme: the way that spiritual blessings are transferred from God to man.
Some in the church (Pharisees and Circumcision Party) were beginning to teach that God gave the blessings in exchange for obedience to the Law, and circumcision was the sign that one held to this; Christ was now the new "law giver."
Paul defended the idea that blessings were transferred on the basis of faith. All blessings were earned by Christ and all those who were united to, or had a relationship with Christ by faith shared in the blessing that He possessed. Baptism was the initial expression of this faith. This was Paul's main point here, and he goes on to demonstrate how each individual blessing (righteousness, spirit, power and sonship) was meant for us through Christ by faith.
In the final section Paul describes the last of these blessings: freedom. He will explain how this gift, like all the others, is obtained by Christ and available to all through the faith system.
Sonship Comes by Faith – 4:1-7
1Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
In the previous section Paul has explained how the true sons of Abraham are those who receive the blessings as Abraham did, through faith and not through keeping of law.
The opening section of chapter four has two purposes:
- To summarize the transformation spoken of before, from slave to son.
- To provide a bridge to the next large section dealing with the idea of freedom.
This is how Paul writes: he explains a point and then creates a bridge idea in order to summarize his thoughts and prepare the reader for the next idea he will present.
These two ideas do not follow one after another, but rather are mingled together in these verses.
1Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.
Paul reviews the idea of guardians that a son is placed under. He highlights that even though the son is to inherit all, he is no better than a slave while under the tutor. The "elemental things" are the ABC's of knowledge:
- The physical applications and restrictions of the Law regarding food, sacrifice, social customs, etc.
- God's sons should live above these kinds of things, but until Christ, were subject to them instead.
4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Jesus came in the flesh to suffer and submit Himself to all the same restrictions so He could offer the perfect sacrifice of Himself, and thus pay the debt caused by the Law thereby freeing man from the bondage/tutorage of the Law. It is as if Jesus learned and performed all the lessons required by tutor so we could have freedom from the tutor. He writes our final exam and passes it with 100%.
6Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
Once Christ has accomplished the removal of the tutor and brought us into sonship, we are prepared to receive the inheritance of sons of God: the Holy Spirit who brings us into mature intimacy with our Father. Paul repeats that one who has this relationship with God through the Spirit made possible by Christ is no longer a slave, but rather a son.
In the next section Paul will continue this line of thinking, but will discuss the issue in the light of freedom rather than sonship.
Return to Bondage – 4:8-11
8However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.
Having established how they obtained their sonship and thus their freedom, he admonishes them for abandoning this precious gift and returning to bondage and slavery.
Verse 8: He reminds the Gentiles of Galatia, that although the Jews were slaves kept under the Law, they (the Gentiles) were slaves to idols, which was worse. The Law was preparing the Jews for Christ, the Gentile idols led to nothing.
Verses 9-11: Paul rebukes them for desiring to return to the type of enslavement (basic things) that characterized both Jewish and Gentile past. He is afraid his work may have been for nothing.
Appeal of Love – 4:12-20
12I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong; 13but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; 14and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. 15Where 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. 16So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. 18But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you. 19My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you— 20but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
Paul makes an emotional appeal for them to remember how enthusiastically they received him when he first came to them and to return to that type of relationship and position.
Verse 12: Paul, the Jew under law, became like them (the Gentiles without the Law) when he became a Christian. Now, they are becoming like he used to be (under law) and he says they should become like he is now (not under law). He holds no grudge against them, it is not his honor that is at stake—it is their souls!
Verses 13-15: In the beginning they received him with enthusiasm, even though he was sick when he originally came. "Plucking out eyes" was an expression like "giving the shirt off your back."
Verses 16-18: Paul asks if they are rejecting him because he is telling them the truth, a truth that they do not want to hear at the moment. The Judaizers are pressuring them in an unjust manner so that the Galatians will honor them, and are doing it by establishing themselves as the only teachers that the Galatians will listen to. Paul says it is good to be sought after as a teacher but for the right reasons, and not only when he is among them in person. He was sought by them when there, but they have strayed in his absence.
Verses 19-20: He uses the tender language of an expectant parent who suffers as a child (who she nourishes with her own body) is fully formed. He wishes he could be there in person to convey by the tone of his voice what he desires for them because he is at his wit's end with concern for their well-being.
Allegory of Sarah and Hagar – 4:21-31
21Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the Law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. 27For it is written,
"Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor; For more numerous are the children of the desolate Than of the one who has a husband."
28And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30But what does the Scripture say?
"Cast out the bondwoman and her son, For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman."
31So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
An allegory is a term that refers to a story that has a superficial and a deeper meaning. Paul tells the Galatians that the story of Sarah and Hagar is an allegory with a superficial and a deeper meaning that is pertinent to their situation.
Verse 21: He now resumes his argument from his emotional appeal of a few verses before. Those who claim that what they do is according to the Law do so in ignorance of what the Law is really saying. He proceeds to reveal the deeper significance of the story told within the pages of the Law.
Verses 22-23: Abraham was promised a son by Sarah. When he did not arrive, Sarah gave him her slave, Hagar, to conceive. Hagar conceived Ishmael but was put out of the house by Sarah once Sarah conceived Isaac, the child of promise. The implication is that the child that came by the promise has preeminence over the natural son.
Verses 24-27: Paul explains the deeper meaning of this story: Hagar represents the Law, Sarah represents grace.
Hagar represents the present Jerusalem, under Judaism, without Christ, under bondage to the Law, coming from Mount Sinai in Arabia where the Law was given and thus outside the land of promise.
Sarah represents the Jerusalem from above, God's grace in fulfillment of his promise to her. Those who belong to the spiritual Jerusalem do so because of God's grace and promise in Christ, not because of nationality or law. Isaiah 54:1 reinforces the idea that the descendants of Sarah (desolate) would ultimately be greater than the one who gave birth naturally (Hagar).
Verses 28-31: Like Isaac, Christians are children of the promise, not law (and they receive the promise through faith).
It is not surprising, then, that the Judaizers (who are in a sense the descendants of the bondwoman, Hagar, whose son Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the son of promise) should persecute Christians (sons of the free woman, Sarah) in the same way.
In Genesis we know that Sarah cast out Hagar and her son when this happened. Paul says that in the same way they should cast out any attempt to displace them as well as any doctrine or person that tries to rid them of their position as free men and sons of promise. He repeats this in verse 31.
- From the very beginning God promised that the spiritual blessings of righteousness, Holy Spirit, sonship and freedom would be given through His son Jesus Christ. There is no other religion or philosophy mentioned.
- These blessings were available to all who would be united to Christ by faith (expressed through repentance and baptism).
- The Law was introduced in history in order to mitigate the evil of sin and prepare man for the coming of Christ. It did not have the power to confer any blessings.
- Anyone who attempted to gain these blessings through some form of law keeping would fail, anyone who taught this should be rejected and would ultimately be cursed.