Grow Up - Gal 4:1-11
It is a great thing to be the seed of Abraham; it is an even greater thing to be a son of God. This is the theme of Paul’s closing argument in the doctrinal section of his letter. His discussion revolves around three facts that are closely connected to what had happened to his Galatian friends. He speaks to them of their birthright as sons of God and shows them the difference between being a minor and being mature
I QUIT BEHAVING LIKE CHILDREN.
In dealing with believers as minors, Paul is looking at the past and has the Jewish believers particularly in mind. He wants to draw the contrast between the spiritual immaturity of the past and the full maturity and freedom that we have in Christ. He has already shown the Law, in its roles as taskmaster, schoolmaster, prison guard, and chaperon. He now compares it to a legal guardian. Under the old economy, the believer was a ward of the state, so to speak. His property and his inheritance were in the care of another. All of that is changed in Christ.
The word for “children” is nēpios, which implies a small child, one not old enough to speak. The Law treated people as infants. Everything has to be spelled out for an infant. A child must be told when to go to bed, when to get up, what to eat, and what to wear. From the time it gets up to the time it goes to bed, it is told what to do and where to go. Nearly all of its decisions are made for it. Such was the Law, and such was the state of spiritual infancy of those under the Law.
Indeed, here is the very essence of legalism. In the New Testament, God sets before us general principles. Legalism lays down the law. It says, “You must not do this, that, or the other thing; you must not go here, there, or the other place. You must not wear that or style your hair like that; you must wear this. You must give this amount, support these meetings or those programs, restrict yourself to this circle of fellowship, and boycott that group there. You can believe only what we tell you to believe, and you are to attack everyone who dares to differ. You may read these books, but you mustn’t read those books.” The result is bondage. It is grown-up childishness. Christ has freed us from all such man-made rules and regulations. We are not allowed, however, to do as we please. We are to master the principles that God has given and govern ourselves, as mature adults, by those principles.
Paul here describes the condition of those people who are under law, governed by legalism, as being “under the elements of the world.” The word for “elements” is stoicheion, which means “elementary rules.” Being governed by legalism is suitable only for a child. The word comes from stoichos, which signifies a row or a rank. The verb stoicheō signifies “to walk or march in rank.” That is the heart and soul of legalism. The legalist likes to line everybody up, give orders, and make them march in step to the beat of his drum. Something about that is very intoxicating—to the one giving the orders, that is. It gives him a sense of power. Elsewhere, stoicheion is used of the letters of the alphabet, as elements of speech. Such was the Law. It was for people who were learning their ABCs.
II START BEHAVING LIKE ADULTS.
“When the fulness of the time was come,” God sent forth His Son. He was in no hurry. From Adam to Noah, God allowed men to be controlled by conscience, the knowledge of good and evil, the one legacy that was rescued from the Garden of Eden. The result was a world of such appalling wickedness that the only answer was the Flood.
After the Flood, an age of government was inaugurated, and God put the sword of the magistrate into the hands of Noah and instituted capital punishment for capital crime. The age ran from Noah to Nimrod, when it again climaxed in a further crescendo of lawlessness and a further response of judgment. The human race, scattering far and wide from Babel and jabbering in countless tongues, carried with it the curse of idolatry as Nimrod’s legacy.
Then God broke in again, determined to begin all over again with another man, Abraham. The age of promise began, and God’s focal point of interest was the patriarchal family. Then came the migration to Egypt and the general, slow decline of the Hebrew people into slavery to and compromise with Egypt’s government and gods.
The coming of Moses marked the beginning of a new day. Israel was liberated from Egypt but soon degenerated into idolatry of its own. God gave the Law and wrote a catalog of curses into its codes. The human family had failed. Now the Hebrew family failed. We trace the long history of the children of Israel under law. We mark their dreadful degeneracy, apostasy, and immorality in the days of the judges, the partial revival under Samuel, the dismal failure of King Saul, and the bright era of hope under David. All of these events followed in sequence. Then came Solomon, whose disastrous policies and dreadful compromise with idolatry brought down upon the nation the judgment of God. The kingdom was divided. The northern tribes plunged deeper and deeper into idolatry and immorality until, at length, they were uprooted one and all under the judgment of God and marched away into the oblivion of the Assyrian captivity. The southern kingdom of Judah rocked back and forth between good and bad kings and between compliance with God’s law and open apostasy. In the end, it, too, followed its sister kingdom into captivity.
Seventy years later, God gave the Jews another chance. A succession of godly leaders was able to get the reborn nation off to a good start. Then the decline set in again. Formalism and hypocrisy succeeded idolatry as the nation’s prevailing sin. By the time of Christ, the Jewish religion was bankrupt. The Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Herodians were the representatives of Jewish religious thought. They had little enough in common except a determination to pay mere lip service to God and go their own ways.
When the “fulness of the time” came, Judaism was a dead religion, a religion of rite and ritual, of form and ceremony, of tradition and crushing legalism. The Gentiles, weary to death of their own bankrupt religions, turned hopefully toward Judaism only to be repelled by Jewish hostility and hypocrisy and by its bitter exclusiveness and rigid bondage to dead forms and narrow views.
The great Gentile world was equally bankrupt. The Greeks had come and gone and left their indelible mark on the world. The golden age of Greece had dazzled the world. Art, science, and government flourished. Then Alexander the Great conquered the world. Greek philosophy, culture, and religion challenged all realms of thought, and Hellenism rose and flourished. It was all, however, just a hollow promise. Greek religion was able to offer men only a pantheon of ridiculous, warring, lusting gods made in the image and likeness of warring, lusting men.
Then the Romans had their day. They sent their legions far and wide, hammered down all who stood before them, and imposed a Roman peace on the world. They brought with them iron-fisted law. They built magnificent roads and ruled over an empire of slaves. However, the Romans built no hospitals, no orphanages, and no public schools. The Roman idea of a holiday was to assemble in the amphitheater to watch gladiators fight to the death or wretched prisoners fight with bare hands against wild beasts to the accompaniment of the howls and cheers of a blood-maddened populace.
Such was “the fulness of the time.” The world was morally and spiritually bankrupt. It was ripe for the coming of Christ. Because Paul’s focus was on the situation in Galatia, where Jewish legalists were trying zealously to clamp the chains of the Law on the Gentile converts to Christianity, he concentrates on “them that were under the law.” When it came to man’s need for redemption, the Law was bankrupt. All it could do was sweep that need under the rug of ritual. The blood of bulls and goats could neither remove the stain nor loose the chain of sin.
So “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” He came to be the promised Seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15). He came to fulfill every claim and demand of the Law (Matt. 5:17). He fulfilled the moral law in His life and the ceremonial law in His death. Thus, He could do something that the Law could not do—redeem.
III STAY AWAY FROM CHILDISH RULES.
Paul, as a devout Jew, had always looked with horror and disgust on pagan religions. On Mars Hill, he spoke with barely concealed scorn of the folly of idolatry (Acts 17:16, 22–23). He wrote passionately to the Romans about the abysmal folly of idolatry and the terrible insult that it presents to the awesome majesty of the true and living God (Rom. 1:19–23).
Yet, to this day, idolatry continues to have a dreadful fascination for lost people. Most Oriental lands grovel in the worst forms of idolatry. Even in Christendom, people light candles to graven images, bow down before them, venerate them, and pray to them. Various forms of idolatrous Hinduism have taken root among us.
Judaism and its legalism were now so completely obsolete that Paul turns to contemptuous adjectives in describing it. He calls it “weak and beggarly.” The word for “weak” is asthenēs. It carries the idea of impotence. It is used to describe the lame man, sitting at the gates of a dead religion, powerless to help himself, and passed by constantly by the priests and servants of the Jewish religion (Acts 4:9). It is translated “feeble” (1 Cor. 12:22) and “sick” (Matt. 25:43). Well did Paul know the utter impotence of Judaistic legalism to make a person righteous and holy and its complete inability to give life, joy, and peace to the soul. No wonder! It was sick itself.
Not only so! Paul describes it as “beggarly.” The word is ptōchos. It means to be destitute, in want. It is usually translated “poor.” The Lord used the word to describe the wretched condition of Lazarus, whom He depicted as a “beggar” (ptōchos), full of sores, and eagerly but vainly desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:20). Such was legalistic Judaism. Far from being able to enrich anyone, it was a beggar itself, utterly impoverished and destitute of any means whatsoever of imparting spiritual life and godliness to a human soul.
And this is what the Galatians were willing to exchange for that “adoption of sons” that set them in the royal family of heaven! Paul would have laughed in their faces if the situation had not been so tragic and serious.
“Turn ye again,” he said, recording their decision. The verb is in the present, continuous tense. “How are ye turning?” They were in the very act of turning back to a bondage that was just as enslaving and unsatisfying as the pagan bondage that they had abandoned when they turned to Christ.
“Ye desire again to be in bondage?” he demands, underlining their desire. The word he uses is thelō, a word that emphasizes the emotional element in a decision. It focuses on the natural impulse that, as we know from experience, is usually stronger than the reasoned resolve. Paul was astonished at the great desire of his Galatian friends to put themselves back under bondage.