I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
The third chapter ended assuring us that if we are Christ’s, then we are heirs according to the promise that was made to Abraham. Chapter four begins by illustrating a point about heirs. The concept is that heirs do not receive the inheritance until the time set by the one who owns it (Galatians 4:1). In a sense then, until the father decides that it is time to share the inheritance with the inheritor he/she is “under guardians and managers” (Galatians 4:2). And this is true in the spiritual sense also: before Christ came we were “enslaved to the elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:3). God, the one from whom the inheritance comes, chose the right time, what is called “the fullness of time,” to send Jesus, choosing to have him be born of a woman and under the law for the express purpose of (1) redeeming us from the law and (2) adopting us as sons (Galatians 4:5). Because we are sons of God, we are no longer slaves but children and thus able to address the God and Creator of the universe as “Father” (Galatians 4:6). This all happens “through God” (Galatians 4:7). The “fullness of time” is a way of saying “the right time” (see Ephesians 1:10 and Hebrews 1:1-2). Most translations use the term, “Abba! Father!” in Galatians 4:6. “Abba” is the Hebrew or Aramaic term for father. “Father” is the Greek term. Both are the familiar, close terms as opposed to formal. The significance of this terminology is to point out that God is the father of us all.
Formerly, 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.
Paul reminds the Galatians that before they became followers of Christ they were “enslaved” to idols made of wood, stone, etc. (Galatians 4:8). He does not understand why they would be willing, now that they know and are known by the Creator of the universe, to turn back to slavery, what he describes as the “weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:9). This is evidenced by their worship of days and months and seasons and years, a reference to pagan worship celebrations (Galatians 4:10). His fear is that after teaching them about Christ, his labor has been in vain (Galatians 4:11).
Brothers, 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 the blessing you felt? 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.
In this section, Paul reminds the Galatians of the closeness of the relationship he had with them when he was in their area. He reminds them that a part of the reason that he came to Galatia to preach was that he had a “bodily ailment” (Galatians 4:13). Exactly what this ailment was is not known. From his statement in Galatians 4:15, “…if possible, you would have gouged out your own eyes and given them to me,” many have drawn the conclusion that it was due to his eyesight. This seems consistent with his statement in Galatians 6:11 also. Whatever the ailment, Paul believed that it was from Satan and he actually prayed to have it removed, but God would not do it (II Corinthians 12:7-10). Despite the closeness of former days, now his worry is that he has become the Galatians’ enemy because he has told them the truth about the false teachers (Galatians 4:16). The false teachers were making over the Galatians so as to convince them to follow their teaching. Paul was in anguish for them because he wanted Christ formed in them (Galatians 4:17-19). He desired to be with them so that he would be able to talk more personally and completely (Galatians 4:20).
Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”
28Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
The final section might be aptly titled, “Who is your Mother?” In this section a comparison is made between Abraham’s two bearers of children: Hagar and Sarah. As background for this section, the student is encouraged to read Genesis chapters 16, 17 and 21. This comparison begins with a reminder of the fact: “Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman” (Galatians 4:22). We are also given to understand that, “Now this may be interpreted allegorically” (Galatians 4:24).
Born of a slave woman (4:22)
Represents Mount Sinai and the 10 Commandments – See Exodus 19 and 20
Born according to the flesh (4:29)
Represents physical Jerusalem (4:25)
Cast out/will not inherit (4:30)
Born of a free woman (4:22)
Represents spiritual Jerusalem (4:26)
Represents freedom – (4:26)
Born according to the Spirit (4:29)
Child of promise (4:28)
Paul’s conclusion is that “we are not the children of the slave but of the free woman” (Galatians 4:31). Ones who want to go back to the Old Covenant and be saved by following the ten commandments need to face the fact that they are giving up all the promises that come with the Child of Promise, Jesus Christ. His conclusion is stated emphatically in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” In other words, know who your Mother is and that you are a child of the promise given to Abraham and continued in the bloodline of Isaac, all the way down to Jesus Christ. This adds to the wonder found in the statement, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ’Abba, Father!’ (Galatians 4:6).
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