Galatians 4:12-31 Associate Pastor Nathan George
Galatians 4:12-31 — From Slaves to Sons
Paul is astonished (1:6). He’s surprised that his friends in Galatia would want to live under the law so quickly after being set free (3:3). He’s wondering if his labors were in vain (4:11). He’s perplexed (4:20)! Are they really that fickle? They were running well (5:7). But now they are bewitched (3:1)!
The first week we learn there is no other Gospel and that Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ (ch.1). Then we saw that he was so bold as to even confront Peter (ch.2). We also learned that the righteous live by faith, and that living by the law is the opposite of this (ch.3). Last week we were reminded that we are no longer slaves, but sons. Instead, our hearts cry Abba! Father! The church has grown up from slaves to sons. The weak and worthless, elementary principles (perfectly ‘natural,’ man-made ideas about earning the right to become sons) no longer hold sway over us. Now we know God, and the truth shall set you free. (John 8:31–32) So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (ch.4)
Loved or Despised — Read Verses 12-20
Vs. 11: Paul fears he has labored in vain. Mark his tone (vs.20). Is Paul all head and no heart? No. Intellect is never divorced from affection, nor can it be. Paul is moved almost to exasperation because he knows these folks! His tone is tense because he knows how they began! Now, he’s flabbergasted!
In our first lesson it was pointed out that the tone this letter is altogether different than the other Epistles. Paul seems harsh, unfeeling, and desperate. But, Luther takes Paul’s as kind and concerned. Notice vs.12 “brothers” or vs.19 “little children.” His very direct comments are like caring father who might plead with his son to avoid the dangers of seductive world – much like teacher of Proverbs. (Listen my son…)
In Gal. 1-3 we have been listening to Paul the apostle, Paul the theologian, Paul the defender of the faith; but now we are hearing Paul the man, Paul the pastor, Paul the passionate lover of souls.”—John R. W. Stott
Vs.12: “Become like me.” In what sense? Afflicted like Paul? Or free like Paul? Probably the latter. Paul expressed a similar sentiment in Acts 26:28-29. “I like you.” In what sense? Paul certainly had the clout to set himself apart. He was learned, skilled, and powerful. But, he did the opposite. See 1 Cor. 9:19-23. How does this apply to the priesthood of believers? Can we say with Paul, “I became like you, so you become like me?”
Vs.13-16: “Bodily ailment.” (Gal. 4:13, Acts 23:1-5, Gal. 6:1) Some guess that he ended up in Galatia as a way to rest from sickness. But, they, rather than scorning him, overlooked what must have been an obvious physical problem, and received the gospel. He recounts their concern and love for him in vs. 15. They even received him as an angel of God, as Jesus Christ. When crowds tried to worship him in Lystra, he tried to stop them (Acts 14), but here they are caring for him. They receive the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) as Jesus (Mt 10:40). But, now their ears are being tickled by other teachers, and Paul is feeling like the enemy for speaking the truth.
Vs.17-20: What is Paul’s tone here? Why is he perplexed? Use: We love to hear what we love to hear, and what we don’t love we ignore. It is impossible to not want what we want. But, we should not be selective in what we want to hear from the Word of God. Shall we pay more attention to the NT or the OT? Paul or Peter? Moses or Jesus? Because the will can only be changed by a change of heart and mind, we must never be selective of one Scripture over another. What were the Galatians choosing? Flattery, which fit with the false teaching and meritorious works. But this can only lead to servitude in the church. “When Christianity is turned into a bondage to rules and regulations, its victims are inevitable in subjugation, tied to the apron-strings of their teachers, as in the Middle Ages.” —John R. W. Stott
Rather, in vs. 19 we see that Paul will work to see Christ “formed” in them. This is the goal – to think, act, speak, and love as Christ. A church should not seek to make little insert-favorite-speaker-here…ites. If Christ is formed in us, if we are fashioned after Christ, then holiness is not bondage. This is no prison!
Two Women, Two Cities, Two Covenants — Verses 21-31
Here we have a war: two women and two cities representing two very different approaches to the covenant of God. Some say this is the most difficult passage in the letter because you need some knowledge of the OT, you need to be familiar allegory, and the argument used is slightly technical.
Vs.21: First, noticed to whom it is addressed. Have you wanted to be under the law? Don’t say no – this is all of us (see 4:9). We are adept at turning the gospel into law. How?
Paul turns the position on its head in three ways:
- Vs.22-23: An historical reminder. Study: Gen.16 and 21. Notice also, the two boys were born in different manners: Ishmael was born of a slave and of man-made plans. Isaac was born of a promise and faith (Gen. 15:6, Heb. 11:11) It’s not about flesh, natural, or man-made elementary principles.
- Vs.24-27: Two mothers represent two different religions or two covenants or two cities. One is of slavery, earthly, the natural law of meritorious works. This is the earthly Jerusalem. The other is of promise and freedom and of above (vs.23, 26). Study: Mt. 3:9, Jn. 8:31-44. Just like Jesus challenged the Jews, so Paul challenges the Galatians. The question is not who their ancestors are – the question is who is their spiritual mother or father. This does not replace Jerusalem, but simply points to the true Jerusalem. (Gal. 3:29, Rom. 4:13-25) Just as Moscow or Tokyo stands for its people, so does Jerusalem.
- Vs.28-30: Personal application. Use: Everyone is an Ishmael or an Issac. Again, this does not refer to blood lines. This is an allegorical use to make a point – we are either slave to the law or free in Christ. You can’t be both. Who is your mother? While one will whisper “do this and live,” the other will say “the truth shall set you free.” One promises bondage while the other promises an inheritance.
Vs.31: Paul is ringing the death-knell to Judaism. He’s saying Judaism has more in common with Hagar, that is, slavery, than Sarah, that is faith. This would have been shocking and offensive to the Jews. Paul is persecuted for it – and he wants the Galatians to know it. He wants them to know the Jews see what he says is very different than what they are saying. (5:11)
Use: “Do this and live” had become the call. The modern version is “believe and do.” Instead, the gospel call is “believe, which is a gift in the first place, be made alive, which you can’t do on your own, and be set free to do, which is a work of grace.” That is, you want what you once didn’t want. A changed will can only come from a changed heart/mind.
Use: We should expect several results: (Romans 8:15–17)
- Love, Peace, Hope, and Freedom. (5:1)
- Persecution. Freedom is always assailed. We have learned that it is assailed by those who want to replace the gospel with law (social, theological, etc..), and we will learn that it will be assailed by abusing freedom.
- A war within and without. Freedom is always assailed, even within our own hearts. Yes, sin is shocking, but do not be shocked by sin that extends from your own heart. And remember, those who believe they have done well are in more danger than those who know they have failed. (Mk. 10:21) Rather, don’t be fooled. Expect your heart to deceive you, and ring the death-knell – over and over. Hear the Gospel song.
O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace.
My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim,
to spread through all the earth abroad the honors of thy name.
Jesus, the name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrows cease;
‘tis music in the sinner’s ears, ‘tis life and health and peace.
He breaks the pow’r of reigning sin, he sets the pris’ner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean, his blood availed for me.
Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb, your loosen’d tongues employ;
ye blind, behold your Savior come; and leap, ye lame, for joy.
 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 R. W. Stott, The Bible Speaks Today, 1968, IVP, p.111
Header Image digitally reproduced with the permission of the Papyrology Collection, University of Michigan Library.