Galatians Chapter 4 – Nathan George Associate Pastor
Galatians 4:1-11 — From Slaves to Sons
Over 30 years or so Paul traveled and throughout the Roman Empire. He went to Galatia, Asia, Macedonia (northern Greece), and Achaia (Southern Greece). His travels were followed by letters and this letter to those at Galatia was one of his earliest, perhaps around AD 48 or 49. The “travel log” is found in Acts 13 and 14. At the very foundation of these churches, they were attacked.
In chapter 3 we saw that Paul contrasted living under the law with living by faith in Christ. In doing this he surveyed 2000 years of history and highlighted the relationship between Abraham, who received the promise, Moses, who received the law, and Jesus Christ, who fulfilled both. The law did not annul the promise, rather, it made the promise that much more desirable, and urgent. Though the law condemns us, it is also a blessing. For, it drives us to Christ that we may receive the promise made to Abraham. Plus, we found that inheritance comes by promise, and not by law (3:18) Chapter four continues as an expansion of the theme begun in chapter three. (3:23-24)
Guardian and Heir — Verses 1-3
The law is called or compared to: guardian, custodian, governor, etc…
Man’s condition under the law. We were like a minor under the direction of an overseer, waiting to receive an inheritance. Calvin then asks, “Since we are all equally the children of God, how comes it that we at this day are exempt from a yoke which they were forced to bear? On these points the controversy turned (circumcision, among other things), and not on the manner in which the law reigns over each of us before we are freed by faith from its slavery. Let this point be first of all settled, that Paul here compares the Israelitish church, which existed under the Old Testament, with the Christian church, that thus we may perceive in what points we agree and in what we differ.” — John Calvin
So, while there is an individual application, as Luther teaches, the intent is not to directly compare a NT Christian to an OT Christian. It’s not as if faith was absent in the OT. Abraham was also of faith (Gal. 3:11, Rom. 4, Heb. 11, Hab. 2:4) and receives the promise as much as we do. Rather, we are speaking in terms of the big-picture purpose and picture of the Gospel. Otherwise, we could get bogged down in some version of soteriological dispensationalism (teaches that one is saved differently before Christ came). Paul is pointing to the different purposes of the Old and New. The “guardian” made us slaves and showed us our need for the inheritance of sons/freedom.
Elementary Principles: Is this the ABCs of biblical training? This fits the childhood analogy of the passage, but perhaps not the idea of bondage that Paul seems to emphasize. Plus, it says the elementary principles are “of the world.” It does not seem that “of the world” is the way we should describe the law of God, given to Moses by angels (3:19). Just a little further ahead (vs.8) we learn that we were enslaved to those (the elementary principles) that are by nature something other than God. Worse yet, these principles are weak and worthless (vs. 9). But, the law itself is not weak or worthless; it stands forever (Ps. 33:11, Is. 40:8). Instead, our natural bent is to use it in a way not intended, which, of course is Satan’s aim as well. It is the way we use the law that is weak and worthless.
“God intended the law to reveal sin and to drive men to Christ; Satan uses it to reveal sin and to drive men to despair. God meant the law as an interim step to man’s justification; Satan uses it as the final step to his condemnation. God meant the law to be a stepping-stone to liberty; Satan uses it as a cul-de-sac, deceiving his dupes into supposing that from its fearful bondage there is no escape.” — John R. W. Stott
Use: The import seems to be that by the deception of Satan we have turned the law from a tutor to Christ into the end goal. A church that uses the law rightly trains us toward Christ. Conversely, a church that makes the law the end-goal can never grow into its inheritance. A son that tries to deserve his father’s inheritance can never act as a free son, but is always a slave to inadequacy.
Balance: Yet, Paul does not ignore the implication of being a son and heir set free. (5:13)
The fullness of Time — Verses 4-7
The formal bondage under the law lasted for about 1500 years. Then, at the appointed time God acted through Christ. (Mk. 1:15, Eph. 1:3-11) If we ask the question why then and not at another time, we can do a little supposition: The Roman Empire was at its height (a fair amount of political and language unification, good travel routes, etc…) and yet the time was ripe, for the Empire was also beginning to show that its cultural underpinnings were vapid and ready to collapse. The philosophers had failed to bring societal cohesion. The old gods were being questioned and so perhaps men’s hearts and minds were ready to hear the claim of truth. Also, in Jerusalem the formalistic and ritualistic approach to the law was breeding hypocrisy and a blindness to the true purpose of the law. So, when what was least expected a baby was born – the son of God, born to a woman. (side note: Luther makes much of the fact that Paul does not use the term ‘virgin.’ In his day he is dealing with extremes in Mariology.)
Paul’s explanation (vs. 4) of Christ is a simple, yet clear claim that Jesus is both God’s Son and made flesh. As a Pharisee of Pharisees he would have immediately connected this with a claim of deity (Jn.5:17-18). Also, the Word was God and the Word became flesh. (John 1:14). Both God and man. “And thus the Son of God is a perfect mediator.” — William Perkins A divine/human mediator is needed: (Job 9:2-3, 32-33 and 2 Cor. 5:20-21). Christ is our mediator and a propitiatory/mercy seat – the place where we are heard. (Rom. 3:25, Heb. 9:5, Ex. 25:22). Christ is our mercy seat. Through Christ we meet God, and He meets us as a child (the incarnation). Meeting Christ is meeting God (Jn. 14:6).
For a Purpose: To redeem and adopt. (Eph. 1:5, Rom. 8:12-15, 23)
Redemption was Accomplished (Gal. 1:14, 3:13)
The Spirit was sent (Jn. 14:26, 15:26). Notice, it is the Spirit who puts our heart cry in our hearts! When this is the case, we are no long bound like slaves, but free like son, heirs to the promise. We are now slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:15-20).
No Turning Back — Verses 8-11
We have already hinted at verses 8 and 9. However, we should note that once we did not know God and now we do, or rather we are known by God (Jn. 17:1-3).
Further, knowing Christ is to know freedom (Gal. 5:1,13). Freedom from the demand of the law and coercion in our walk (Col. 1:9-10). Paul is particularly incensed that they are observing special days! Do we really need new methods? Or do we need a new heart?
John Wesley (1703-1791) wrote, “I had even then the faith of a servant, though not that of a son.”
Use: The church that uses adoption (or membership) to cow people into obedience places people back in bondage (Balance: we must also call errant children to obedience.) The church that shames people into action, fulfilling this law or that, cannot instill a heart of gratitude. Do we meet for a good Friday service because it’s the righteous thing to do? Christmas eve service? Extra prayer services? Hopefully not. We do these things for love of Jesus Christ, for through him our hearts cry out Abba, Father!
The time is ripe now as well. Communication has never been so ubiquitous. Further, personal devices and technology have not filled the culture’s desire for meaning and satisfaction. The Aristotle, Socrates and Plato of today (i.e. Google) has failed to provide societal cohesion. We should expect people to be enslaved to those things that by nature are not God.
 Prepared March 2017 for Parish Presbyterian Church, Adult SS. Based in large part on John Stott’s commentary on Galatians in The Bible Speaks Today, 1968, IVP
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries
 John R. W. Stott, The Bible Speaks Today, 1968, IVP, p.105
 The Works of William Perkins, Volume 2, p. 248, Reformation Heritage Books
 Ibid, p.251
 John R. W. Stott, p. 109
Header Image digitally reproduced with the permission of the Papyrology Collection, University of Michigan Library.