Galatians – Bondage and Freedom

September 6, 2008

Paul expounds on the adoption of Christians as God’s sons in the beginning of the fourth chapter of Galatians. He focuses on the unique role of the Spirit in this adoption: it is through the Spirit that the Father knows his sons; through the same Spirit, God’s sons come to know the Eternal Son and can enter into the divine life of the Holy Trinity. In his other epistles, Paul shows how the presence of the Spirit in one’s heart is both an assurance and an affirmation of one’s sonship (cf Rom 8:16).

In verse 8, Paul digresses from his theological discourse, recounting the bond he had with the Galatian church by stating "Formerly, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe [Jewish] days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have [strenuously] labored over you in vain" (v 8-9). One can see how the influence of the Judaizers has led the Galatian Christians to block out God with their array of compulsive routines and superstitious rituals.

Paul then reminds the Galatians how he poured himself out for them, challenging them to be as mature in Christ as he is (v 12). Although exegetes are uncertain of what is was that lead him to say, "you know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first," it is clear that the Galatians cared for him while he taught as one in the person of Christ (v 13-14). He confronts the church by asking, "what has become of the satisfaction you felt? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me," and hints at the probable ocular nature of his ailment (v 15-16). He rebukes the Judaizers for making a fuss over the Galatians with neither good reason nor noble intent (v 18). Paul also shows the outstanding pastoral care he has for his "little [Galatian] children," those for whom he toiled in constant prayer.

Paul closes the fourth chapter with an extended metaphor. He establishes his allegory by stating "Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise" (v 22). He then juxtaposes the slave-mother Hagar, the law of Mount Sinai and the present Jerusalem with the free Jerusalem who is the Christian’s true mother. The Galatians are called to be "children of the promise" like Isaac, but foolishly allow the Judaizers, who live according to the flesh, to persecute their life with the Spirit (cf v 28-29). Paul ends by citing Genesis, instructing them to cast off the shackles of the Judaizers and return to their freedom, "Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman" (21:10-12).

Music: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 9 in E Major, Op. 14 No. 1 performed by Paul Pitmam. www.musopen.com

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