Galatians 4:8-20 Fear for the Galatians WC McCarter
Do you remember what you were before you gave your life to Christ? Or can you imagine what you would have been apart from Christ?
Think about the Exodus generation. They were freed, but they wanted to return to slavery in Egypt.
The Galatians were entertaining the thought of doing just that–returning to bondage to the things of this world instead of trusting Christ for salvation. They were not able to enjoy the benefits of the Gospel.
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Freedom vs. Slavery (8-11)
After revisiting again with the Galatians that fact that they have been saved from this present wicked age, Paul now has a question for them. He must plainly voice his fear for them. Those Galatian Christians, and all believers, were once in bondage to the things of this world. They were orphans. But, because of what Christ had done in them, they were adopted into God’s family. They were made sons and daughters of God in Christ. They were not bound to the elements of this world. They were heirs of God. So, the most obvious question that Paul needed to ask them was, Why are you returning to bondage? If all things are yours because of your inheritance in Christ, then why are you returning to bondage under the weak and beggarly elements of this world?
I love that phrase that the apostle uses in verse nine. A whole lot of things can be categorized under the designation “weak and beggarly elements of this world.” For example, the apostle says in verse ten, “You observe days and months and seasons and years.” The Jews, and the Judaizers who wanted to put the demands of the Mosaic Law on the Gentile Christians, were all about remembering feast days and holy days. They would fast for this and that. They would sacrifice for this and that. But their hearts were not right.
Do we have holidays that we celebrate? Sure, we do, and that can be important and enjoyable, but we should not be bound to them. We should not be enslaved by them. I am thinking of one church in particular, and I know of many, that were not progressing in Christ. When it came to faith in Christ and a knowledge of the Scriptures, they were weak. They did not celebrate the things of Christ, but when July 4th came, the entire building would be decked in red, white, and blue. They would go all out for American holidays with decorations, cantatas, and celebrations of all kinds, but they were not too interested in the things of God. That is not only sad but also dangerous.
What else could we put under the umbrella of “weak and beggarly elements of this world” that people become enslaved to? Well, we could probably come up with a long list that could include things from grievous sins to simple things that we have no business feeling bound to. We trap and enslave ourselves in various sins of the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. We also enslave ourselves to things that we feel “guilted” into by others.
Paul says in so many words, Why are you enslaving yourselves to the things of this world, whether sinful or not, when you can be free sons of God with an ongoing relationship with Him? It is easily explained why someone may be trapped by various “gods” if they do not know the true and living God. Yet, it is inexplicable why a Christian, who knows God and is known by God, would again desire bondage to the world.
Paul’s Relationship with the Galatians (12-16)
Paul and the Galatians hit it off from the get-go. They loved and cared for one another. If you have not heard Paul’s heart thus far, you hear it beginning in verse twelve. He refers to the Galatians as brethren. This is a term of endearment. He considered them equals–friends–family. Interestingly enough, “this is the first imperative in the letter that calls on the Galatians to take action” (Moo, 281). What action is it? “I urge you to become like me, for I became like you.” How did Paul become like the Galatians? Although he was a Jew, he abandoned the law and came out from under its bondage like a Gentile. In what way did Paul want the Galatians to become like him? He wanted them to forever abandon the law for righteousness and trust Christ for their justification before God.
With the sentence, “You have not injured me at all,” Paul begins to talk about his relationship with the Galatians. From the beginning, they had a healthy and happy relationship. As verse 13 indicates, Paul had some sort of illness that caused him to stay in Galatia. Many believe, as I do, that Paul contracted some kind of disease (which in another place he calls the “thorn in the flesh”) that caused problems with his eye sight and made him physically unattractive. Apparently he contracted the chronic disease when he was heading to the region of Galatia and it had gotten so bad that for some reason it forced him to stay there for an extended period of time. The Galatians could have despised and rejected him for this obvious weakness, but instead they received him as an angel, or messenger of God. They consider him to fully represent Christ in their midst. They enjoyed many blessings through Paul’s ministry there. Paul even says in verse 15 that the Galatians loved him so much that they would have been willing to pluck out their own eyes and given them to him. That is a strong and loving relationship! Thus, in verse 16, he wants to know what the deal is now. Why have they changed their mind? Now Paul is the complete opposite to them. He has become their enemy, at least in their minds.
Judaizer’s Relationship with the Galatians (17-20)
The last paragraph today tells us what has happened. They Judaizers have come into their churches and flattered them. Paul says, “They zealously court you.” Paul’s analysis of the situation is that the Judaizers were going all out to bring the Galatians under their influence, but once they had them hooked, they were going to cut them loose in order to drive the Galatians to want them all the more. Paul’s point is that what appears to be genuine concern on behalf of the false teachers actually has ulterior motives. They do not care for the Galatians that way that Paul does. Another term of endearment is used in verse 19, “my little children.” This is a phrase that teachers used of their disciples. He says, Listen, I am willing to sacrifice a lot for you, but they are not willing to sacrifice anything. My ultimate goal is your well-being, but their ultimate goal is their prestige. I want to see Christ formed in you, but they only want to see themselves formed in you.
Lastly, Paul voices his doubts for them once again. The apostle was forced to use a tone of rebuke. He did not want to, but he was forced to as a shepherd of their souls. He took the responsibility for their spiritual conditions upon himself. He labored and sacrificed all for them. They were not appreciating the benefits of the Gospel because they so quickly were leaving it to be bound by the law as taught by the Judaizers.
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) One of the great lessons that we can take from this passage is how the congregation and the pastor relate to one another. I am not an apostle, so we must be careful with our comparisons to Paul and the Galatians. I am your pastor and teacher. Notice verse 14 says that the Galatians received Paul as Christ Himself meaning that they received Paul’s message about Christ. Notice in verse 19 that Paul wanted Christ to be formed in the church. What can we learn from this? A congregation should listen for the message of Christ in their pastor, and the pastor should look for the formation of Christ in the congregation. This is how we should view one another. It is not about appearance, wealth, prestige, or any of the like. It is about Christ. Do you hear me teaching the things of Christ? Do I see you progressing in trusting Christ?
(2) The primary lesson that I want you to take home with you is that you cannot go back to what you were before Christ.