Galatians 4:8-20

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not 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 worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Observation

  • The Galatians did not formerly know God.
  • When the Galatians did not know God, they were enslaved.
  • The Galatians were enslaved to things that were not gods.
  • Now the Galatians know God.
  • The Galatians are known by God.
  • The elementary principles of the word are weak and worthless.
  • Paul could not understand why the Galatians would willing want to return to the principles of the world.
  • The Galatians observed specific day and month and years.
  • Paul feared he had labored over the Galatians in vain.
  • Paul encouraged the Galatians to be like him.
  • Paul had become like the Galatians.
  • Paul encouraged the Galatians to be like him because he had become like them.
  • The Galatians had done Paul no wrong.
  • Paul preached to the Galatians because of a bodily ailment.
  • Paul’s physical condition was a trial to the Galatians.
  • Even when Paul was a burden to the Galatians they did not despise Paul.
  • The Galatians received Paul as an angel from God.
  • The Galatians received Paul as Christ.
  • Paul could not understand why the Galatians had lost the blessedness they had shown him.
  • At one time the Galatians’ love for Paul was so great that they would have even given Paul their own eyes if they could.
  • The Galatians now considered Paul an enemy.
  • Paul had only spoken the truth to the Galatians.
  • The false teachers were making a big deal over the Galatians.
  • The false teachers were filling the Galatians with flattery.
  • The false teachers wanted to shut the Galatians out.
  • The false teachers’ purpose was to have the Galatians exalt the false teachers.
  • It is good to be made much of, if it is for a good purpose.
  • Paul was in anguish over concerns about the Galatians.
  • Paul wished he could be present with the Galatians.
  • Paul would like to change his tone toward the Galatians.
  • Paul was perplexed about why the Galatians had accepted the teaching of the false teachers.

Interpretation

Paul was not only displeased but confused as to why the Galatians would turn from grace to the law and enslavement. Paul starts off by reminding the Galatians that at one time they did not know God. They worshiped idols which were not gods. Now they are turning to the law which is simply another form of idolatry.

All men know God because he reveals himself to all men. (Romans1:19-23) They deny God, but they know He is there. What Paul means by saying to the Galatians, “When you did not know God,” is simply, there was a time when we all did not know the will of God in Christ.

We worshiped gods of our own making. For these gods of our own making we have to perform religious act or ceremonies. It does not matter whether or not you understand the “elementary principles of the world” to mean the Law of Moses. It can refer to any false religion or anything that take the place of God Himself. Anyone who exchanges the Gospel for the law, any law, or any type of law, is the same as those who exchange grace for idolatry. Without Christ all religion is idolatry.

The greater the grace of God is towards us, the greater our guilt is in rejecting Him. Paul reminds the Galatians that they received grace from God. They did not come to knowledge of God. Rather God had given to them knowledge of Himself. But Paul, in his amazement that the Galatians would so quickly turn from the doctrine of grace to the law, says, “Do you not know God. That is the only reason I can think of as to why you would reject the grace of God.”

Paul calls the law weak and worthless. Your first reaction may be to say, “Hold on there Paul, the law came from God. It is the holy law of God. Therefore, it cannot be worthless.” Paul is talking in terms of comparing the role of grace to the law. The law cannot save nor was it ever intended to save. Therefore, in its ability to save, the law is not only weak it is worthless. The law’s value comes in that it condemns and brings you to a state of despair. The law breaks you. The Gospel heals you. But without the law, the good news of the Gospel cannot be understood.

Paul’s fears is after all his work with the Galatians, they will reject the grace of God. They would rather cling to what they were familiar with, religion. Paul feared they would chose religion over grace.

Part way through this passage, Paul’s tone changes. He takes on a more pastoral tone. He says be like me, I am like you. After being so harsh with the Galatians Paul knew that his concern and harshness would be misused by the false teachers.

Paul is hoping the Galatians would remember him and the kindness they had shown him. That they would then remember the love he had for them. Paul softens his words but does not take them back. Paul’s concern was not about himself but about the welfare of the Galatians. He believes hell is real and did not want the Galatians to end up there.

Paul reminds the Galatians of his physical condition when he first came to them and how they cared for him. They loved him and he loved them. He still loves them. He loves them enough not to flatter them. He loves them enough to chasten them. He asks rhetorically, “Am I now your enemy because I tell you the truth?” They were not to think things have change in their relationship because Paul has chastised them.

Application

Why would a slave, once freed, voluntarily return to slavery? Perhaps it is because of feeling comfortable with the familiar. We are comfortable with the bondage of the law. It is familiar. We know what to expect.

With the law we and look back at the end of a day and can count the number of time we have broken the law. We can then compare today to previous days and allow ourselves to believe we are trending better or worse. Because we create a measurement of what we perceive as righteousness we even compare ourselves to others. Of course we can always find people we who are worse than us and better than us. We love the law, even the cruelty of the law.

When we reject grace and revert to the law, it is a form of idolatry. When we rely on the law we are relying on ourselves for righteousness rather than trusting in the grace of God. When we lose justification by grace alone through faith alone, nothing remains except error, hypocrisy, godlessness, and idolatry.

God can only be known through Christ “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17-18. In Christ, we understand that God is not a cruel taskmaster but a loving and merciful Father. That is truly knowing God.

Those who do not know God in Christ arrive at these erroneous conclusions such as: “I will serve God in this way or that way. God will bless me because I have done this and not done that.” They try to manipulate God by their actions. This means their actions, they believe, are causing God to behave in a certain manner. This means, though they would deny it, they truly believe that they are God’s master. They are the ultimate cause of God’s blessing or cursing.

God never promised to save anyone for his religious observance or acts of piety. If you rely upon such things you do serve a god, but it is a god of your own invention, not the true God.

There are those, who are false teachers in the church today, who will even say men are delivered from their sins by the death of Christ. But they attach more importance to acts of charity and works than to faith in Christ. In teaching such things they dishonor Christ and pervert His Gospel. They serve a false god and god of their own invention. The true God has never blessed anyone for his charity or virtues. Rather He blesses only for the sake of Christ’s merits and His glory.

Paul’s concern was neither maintaining nor restoring harmony within the church. Paul was concerned about restoring the correct doctrine of salvation. There are many subjects that are interesting to discuss but not essential. And while we may disagree about them we should never divide over them. However, there are those who maintain the peace must be maintained within the church at all cost. They state causing disharmony in the church is unchristian. Paul demonstrates that is not true. When it comes to doctrine of grace that is an essential and even if it causes division we must correct those who teach a doctrine of works rather than grace. I must agree with Luther who said, “They tell me that by my stubbornness in this doctrine of the Sacrament I am destroying the harmony of the church. They say it would be better if we would make some slight concession rather than cause such commotion and controversy in the Church regarding an article which is not even one of the fundamental doctrines. My reply is, cursed be any love or harmony which demands for its preservation that we place the Word of God in jeopardy!”

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