October 15, 2017

No Turning Back!

Galatians 4:8-20

Paul, as we’ve seen throughout this letter, is quite torn up over the spiritual state of the Galatians.  You can really feel the emotion of his words in verse 20 when he exclaims “I am perplexed about you” or in verse 11 when he wonders aloud “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.”

What is the issue?  It’s what Paul has returned to many times in this letter.  After beginning with the gospel, it would seem that the Galatians are seeking to “add” to that gospel.  They began with faith in Christ but are now seeking to move forward through obedience to the law.  And Paul is emphatic on this point.  He is saying You think you are moving forward through the law but you aren’t moving forward at all — you are actually going back! 

When we try make ourselves more acceptable to God through anything other than faith in Christ alone, we are not moving forward.  We are actually going back.  When we add the law on top of the gospel, we are not moving forward.  Jesus plus anything equals nothing!  For if righteousness were through the law then Christ died for no purpose.

We’ll look at this passage in two parts.  In the first section Paul is drawing a comparison between their former life and the gospel life they now live.  We see in this section the concern that Paul has for the Galatians.  In the second section Paul is drawing a comparison between gospel ministry (that is his ministry) and worldly ministry (that of the false teachers).  We see in this section Paul’s heart for the Galatians.

#1 Your Former Life vs. The Gospel Life

8Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9But 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? 10You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.  Galatians 4:8-11

Paul is saying here: Look, you are not who you used to be.  Before you did not know God.  You thought you did at the time but now you see you knew about Him but you didn’t really know Him.  Back then you were enslaved.  Do you remember that bondage?  You were held captive to so-called “gods,” but you know they were not really gods at all.  Paul has been drawing this contrast through out the letter.  Once you were under the law but now you are in Christ.  Once you were slaves but now you are sons.

And now you live in a new reality.  You have come to know God.  Actually you have come to be known by God.  Not only does God know you personally, he loves you, he sent his son specifically for you.

In light of all of this, Paul asks, how can you turn back?  How can you turn back to those “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world?”   This must have been surprising for the Galatians to hear.  After all, they were quite serious in their their devotion.  They must have been thinking to themselves, we have not forsaken Christ!  We are simply trying to add on to his work in our lives.  But Paul says your attempts to add to the cross are not moving you forward, they are taking you back!  Is the cross of Christ sufficient or not?  Or do you feel that you need to add something to it?

What does this mean for us?

(1) We must have a living memory of the depravity of our former life.  

God says to the Israelites, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today (Deuteronomy 15:15).” Why were they commanded to remember?  Precisely because they tended to forget.  And we do the same thing.  We must remember the depravity of our former life.  Not only will this help us to have the right perspective on our current life, it will perhaps produce compassion in our hearts over the lost.

(2) We must be on guard for legalism in our own lives.

Like the Galatians we can seek to supplement the gospel with the law.  We fall into legalism far too easily with our own lists of dos and don’ts.  The Galatians were observing “days and months and seasons and years.”  What are you observing or not observing in an attempt to make yourself more acceptable to God?  John Stott is helpful on this point:

“The devil has exploited God’s good law, in order to tyrannize men in ways God never intended. God intended the law to revel sin and to drive men to Christ; Satan uses it to reveal sin and to drive men to despair. God meant the law as interim step to man’s justification; Satan uses it as the final step to his condemnation. God meant the law to be a stepping-stone to liberty; Satan uses it as a cul-de-sac, deceiving his dupes into supposing that from its fearful bondage there is no escape (John Stott, Message of Galatians, p.105.”

We transition now from Paul’s concern for the Galatians to Paul’s heart for the Galatians.  In this final section Paul compares gospel ministry with worldly ministry.

#2 Gospel Ministry vs. Worldly Ministry

12Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14and 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. 15What 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.  16Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Here’s the big idea Paul wants to get across:  gospel ministry makes much of Christ whereas worldly ministry makes much of man.   When Paul comes to town, which seemed to be some kind of detour from his original plan, he is received as Christ himself. Paul is laboring over the Galatians as if they were his little children, eagerly desiring to see Christ formed in them.  When he says “become as I am” he is not exalting himself but rather pointing the Galatians to Christ.

On the other hand, worldly ministry exalts man rather than Christ.  These false teachers have come into town making “much” of the Galatians.  They are puffing the Galatians up.  For what purpose?  So that the Galatians will make much of them!

Discussion Questions

Thank you Pastor Dave for writing discussion questions this week!

Read Galatians 4:8. In places such as India, household idols are still common and are worshipped with incense daily at dawn and dusk. What are some of our Western idols that those who don’t know God serve day and night? Think of the first thing you went to in the morning or the last thing you went to at night before you knew God. How can these things enslave us? Why is it important to remember where we came from?

Read verses 9-11. Some of the Galatians were observing special days and seasons such as New Moon festivals, Passover, and Saturday Sabbaths as a ladder in order to gain merit before God. These had never been, and can never be, in themselves means of sanctification. Many churches use a liturgical calendar following seasons such as Lent, Christmas, and Pentecost (and even “non-liturgical” churches have rituals and patterns of worship). Is observing days or seasons wrong? What should be our attitude towards them? What am I observing or not observing in an attempt to make myself more acceptable to God?

Read verses 12-17. The false teachers probably used flattery and scorn as some of their methods to puff up themselves and belittle Paul (see also Romans 16:17-18). How does Paul’s method contrast with this? How can I encourage others, yet also speak the truth (including rebuke) in love?

Read verses 18-20. What do we see here about Paul’s heart for the Galatians? How does Paul think the best of them? What can we learn from this passage about warm communication (e.g. face-to-face) versus colder forms of communication such as letters, email, text messages, etc.?



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