Pauline Studies | Galatians 4 Bible study

Living Word Magazine

Chapter 4


1 - 3. My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world.


Paul takes an illustration from life to show that a child who is heir to his father's estate is under the supervision and guardianship of others until he is old enough to receive the inheritance, and as such he is no different to a servant.   So we were in bondage to the external requirements of the Law, this would refer more to the Jews than the Gentiles. "Nevertheless Gentiles were in bondage to the moral law revealed in nature and conscience" [WESLEY] (Rom. 1:19-21).


4 - 5. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.


When the time God sent His Son, Jesus Christ [the Diety of Christ] into the world, born of a woman, in the form of human flesh [the humanity of Christ] (Gen. 3:15 ; Heb. 2:14). Therefore He was born subject to the Law just as all men. "Christ came to redeem us from sin and our vain attempts to earn God's favour by keeping the Law " (WESLEY). Therefore we are no longer slaves but adopted by God through Jesus Christ into His family, we are sons!


6. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"


Because we are now Sons of God we receive the Holy Spirit into our hearts and are able to call Him Abba, the Aramaic intimate term for father, and we have the closest possible fellowship with the Father.


7. So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.


As sons we have become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:17 ; James 2:5).




8 -9. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods. Now, however, 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? How can you want to be enslaved to them again?


Paul reminds the Galatians that before they came to know God they were held captive and served gods that were in fact not gods at all (Rom. 1:25).   He questions them on how it is that they can turn back to the weak, worthless and beggarly things of the world, that is, the ideas and values of fallen man, after they had come to know and understand God, or rather that God had brought them into a knowledge of Himself.   Why long to be in bondage to these things ?


10. You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years.


In this particular instance they were being drawn back into the old ways of the Law and particularly the regulations of Judaism that concerned the keeping of special days, months, seasons and years (Rom. 14:5-6).


11. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.


Paul, as any who has a concern and care for the believers, was afraid that after all is efforts in proclaiming the gospel and of teaching and exhorting that  they would backslide and his work would be all for nothing.  


A Love That is Willing to Give.


12. Friends, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong.


Paul begs them to be even as he is, a Jew who has been set from the bondage of Jewish rituals and regulations. To truly except justification by faith in Christ. When he was with them they accepted him and the message he brought and did no harm to them. Therefore he urges them not to hurt him now by turning back.


13. You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you.


We are not given a description of the physical infirmity Paul suffered from but the Galatians would remember what it was.   Although suffering in his body it did not deter him from preaching the gospel to them (see 1 Cor. 2:3).


14. Though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.


It would seem that whatever the sickness was it was apparently something that would normally cause people to despise and reject him. But these Galatians received him as if he were an angel sent from God, even as they would have received Jesus Christ! (Luke 10:16).


15. What has become of the goodwill you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.


He asks them what has happened to the blessings that they had enjoyed and found satisfaction in when he was present with them? So much so were they being blessed  that they were ready and willing to give him their own eyes to replace his if this could be done !


An Unsincere and a Sincere Motive.


16. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?


The truth that he is now writing to them comes from the same person whom they had loved and befriended, he had not changed in his feelings towards them. Therefore he asks them if he had now become an enemy to them because of the truth he was telling them (Eph. 4:15).  


17- 18. They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them. It is good to be made much of for a good purpose at all times, and not only when I am present with you.


The only reason the false teachers were flattering and making much of them was in order to draw them away from Paul and more importantly from the truth of the gospel. There is nothing wrong about being zealous/enthusiastic about something as long as it is for a good thing, especially for the gospel, and then not only when a person is with you but in their absence too.


19 - 20. My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.


Paul expresses his tender love for the Galatians and his determination to do all that he is able to keep them from turning back from the faith and to grow in Christ so that they will know the reality of Him in their lives. He would like to be with them so that he can show his love and concern, for he has doubts about how they will receive his letter and their thoughts about him.  


Children of Promise.


21. Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law?


He now comes to the challenge of his letter by using the very thing they were turning to in order to bring out the truth of the gospel, that is the Law.


22 - 25. For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.


The record of the incident which he puts to them is in Gen. 16:15 and Gen. 21:2-9. Abraham had two sons because Sarah become impatient for the God to fulfil His promise of giving her a son, so she gave her servant Hagar to Abraham to have a son by. This is the bondwoman, her son was Ishmael. The son of promise born to Sarah was Isaac. The first son, Ishmael was born of fleshly desire whereas the second was born of the promise given by God.   Paul says that this incient in the life of Abraham is representative of the two covenants of God. The one made and upheld by the Law  given on Mount Sinai, this is liken to the bondwoman and her son. This corresponds to Jerusalem as it was in Paul's day, or rather what it represented to the Jews.   It was still in bondage because they continue to practice and uphold the Law instead of accepting Jesus Christ as their Messiah.


26 - 27. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, "Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than the children of the one who is married."  


However, the heavenly Jerusalem, Christ's Kingdom (the Kingdom of Heaven) and all who have entered into it are completely free! Verse 27 is a quote from Isaiah 54:1 to encourage the Galatians, or anyone else for that matter, to to take Christ's way.


28. Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac.


He compares the Christian to Isaac - as he was the fulfilment of the promise of God given to Abraham and Sarah so are all who believe and accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour (Acts 3:25-26 ; Rom. 9:7-8 ; Isaiah 53:10-11).


29. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.


Ishmael  persecuted Isaac because he was the son of promise and heir to his father's possessions. It is the same now unbelievers, those who do not walk in the Spirit, persecute those who believe, who are born again of the Spirit. We know from our own experience that the flesh wars against the Spirit (Gal. 5:17).


30 - 31. But what does the scripture say? "Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman." So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman.


The Scripture referred to is Gen.21:10-12  which is what Abraham did to Ishmael. So what is Paul saying? That which is of the flesh cannot exist peacefully with that which is of the Spirit.   You cannot keep to the Law and be an heir of grace at the same time. All who have received Jesus Christ are justified by faith and are set free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2 ; John 8:35).

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