Series: “Set Free to be Free”
Rev. Matthew C. McCraw, EdD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson KY
May 21, 2017
I have the honor this week of sharing the Word of God with you.
We’re continuing our series, “Set Free to be Free.”
Introduction to the message
In this passage, Paul moves from a formal explanation of the problem that Galatians were going through, to a personal, heartfelt plea.
I want to let you know that this is sort of a big passage, so there’s a lot to cover. I’ve actually cut a lot out of my sermon, but I felt like there was some important stuff to cover. I’ve created a webpage that you can go to for additional study (but not right now). You can go to fbchenderson.org/forsakingfreedom, which is the title of the sermon today, “Forsaking Freedom.”
This passage is unique from other passages in Galatians because of its tone.
Paul is clearly upset in this passage and is therefore a bit flustered sounding in his writing here.
Let’s take a look at it.
Stand me with now as we read the passage.
Read Galatians 4:8-20
8 But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. 9 But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. 12 Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all. 13 You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. 15 What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? 17 They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. 18 But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you. 19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, 20 I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.
Let’s pray . . .
Let’s dive into the explanation of this passage right away.
We see first that Paul does not like the behavior in the Galatians. He fears the change in the Galatians.
I. Paul’s Fear of Change in the Galatians (verses 8-11)
See Galatians 4:8-11
8 But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. 9 But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.
Let’s take a walk through this passage one step at a time.
We see that Paul returns to the theme of slavery. He says, “ . . . you served those (things) . . .” and “ . . . you desire again to be in bondage.”
Remember, these Galatians had been set free from the slavery of sin. They were set free in order to be free!
See in verse eight that the Galatians served those that by nature are not gods. When did they do this? They did it when they did not know God.
We must remind ourselves that the Galatians, to whom Paul was writing, were worshippers of false gods; they were formerly pagan. They were not former Jews would had become Christians, they were Gentiles rescued from paganism.
So then, that from which they were set free was the worship of false gods. Notice that!
So far so good; the Galatians were set free from spiritual slavery to false paganism and brought into faith with the one true God.
Then, Paul moves to verse 9.
Paul says in verse 9, “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?”
Paul says, “but now.” Paul is saying God did this in your life! You were set free! But now! But now! Look what you’ve done!
Well what did they do? They turned to the, “weak and beggarly elements.”
This terminology is a bit foreign to us in the way that it reads in the NKJV.
The Christian Standard Bible is helpful here. It translates this part as “how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elements.” That’s what I believe Paul is trying to get across.
The Galatians had abandoned the worthlessness of bondage to a false religion, and Paul says that they have now returned to it.
I love the beauty of the phrase “. . . you have known God, or rather are known by God.” This is a beautiful picture of the gospel. There’s more on this on the additional study webpage. An entire sermon could be devoted to this phrase, but not this sermon 🙂
Paul tells the Galatians that they have returned to bondage.
At this point we must ask ourselves a very important question: Did the Galatians turn back to paganism and worship of false gods? No, they didn’t.
So, what is Paul talking about here.
This is where we must be very intentional in acknowledging that Paul compares the unnecessary practices proposed by those who are seeking to deceive the Galatians (the Judaizers) as equal in his mind to the pagan worship of false gods.
This is a big deal. This fact has huge implications for the Galatians, and also for us, which we will look at later.
Being a slave to religious legalism is no better than being a slave to worship of false gods. We must get that.
One New Testament scholar (Richard Longenecker) said, “for Paul . . . whatever leads one away from sole reliance on Christ, whether based on good intentions or depraved desires, is sub-Christian and there to be condemned.”
Paul asks, “how could you do this? How could you turn back to this sub-Christian slavery?”
Let us reflect on the words of Paul from the previous chapter. Look at chapter 3 verses 26-29.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
The Galatians were now sons of God, how could they forsake that? They were free from bondage! How could they forsake that freedom?
Think now of the story of the prodigal son. Can you imagine after the son has returned to his father, and the father welcomes him with a great feast, puts a ring on his hand, and celebrates him? Think of it. (pause) Now, imagine that he says, “I think that I’d rather return to feeding pigs and eating from the pig trough.” That would be ludicrous!
This is what is happening with the Galatians. They are forsaking freedom in order to return to slavery.
We see in verse 10 that Paul mentions these measures of times: days, months, seasons, and years.
This is most assuredly a reference to the Mosaic calendar used by the Jewish people.
The Judaizers were not only trying to deceive the Galatians into being circumcised, but also to practice other Jewish customs, such as observing the Jewish calendar.
We see in verse 11 that Paul fears this change in them. He says, “I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.”
In a sense, Paul is saying, “I am fearful that I have wasted my time on you.”
Remember, Paul fought hard for Gentiles to be able to receive the gospel without the bondage of the Mosaic law. He stood against false teachers, at times he risked his safety, he even stood against Peter and traveled to convince early church leaders that Gentiles could come to faith.
After all of that work, the Galatians are turning back to that from which Paul worked so hard to make sure they were free.
Paul is beside himself and he is fearful of the change that he sees in the Galatians.
Next, Paul reminds the Galatians of his former contact with them.
II. Paul’s Former Contact with the Galatians (verses 12-16)
Read Galatians 4:12-16
12 Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all. 13 You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. 14 And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. 15 What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?
This section is kind of wordy and perhaps difficult to understand for some. Let’s also walk through this on step at a time.
Paul first says that he wants the Galatians to become like him, because he became like them.
Now if that’s not confusing at first reading, I don’t know what is 🙂
Remember, that Paul was a Jew of Jews. He was a Pharisee, devoted to the ceremonial observance of the law to the extreme.
Yet, Paul gave that up in terms of viewing that as his righteousness and his justification before God.
Just as the Galatians did (initially), he gave up his bondage to false religion.
But then, the Galatians turned back to false religion. Paul is telling them to come back to where he is.
They both left the place of slavery (demonstrate by moving on the stage) and came to the place of freedom (move on stage again), but then the Galatians went back (move on stage again).
Paul is saying, “Become like I am now, as I became like you were then.”
Paul then adds, “ . . . you did not injure me at all.” In other words, “you have not wronged me at all.”
Paul wants them to know that his former relationship with them was healthy and friendly. A point which he will expand upon in the next verses.
In verse 13-14 Paul speaks of this physical infirmity.
We don’t know for sure if he got this infirmity while he was in Galatia, or if he came to Galatia to heal from this infirmity, but in any case he has it while he is there.
While he was there in Galatia, the people accepted him, just as he was. Paul and the Galatians loved each other and they allowed Paul to lead them in truth and growth.
In verse 15 Paul says that the Galatians would even have plucked out their eyes for him. Whoa!
Some commentators say this implies perhaps that Paul’s illness was in his eyes.
Others say that this was an expression used at the time for devotion to someone else. Similar to “giving the shirt off of your back.”
I’d definitely rather give someone my shirt than pluck out my eyes 🙂
In either case, Paul was devoted to the Galatians and they were devoted to him.
But now, this is not the case. The Galatians are not devoted to him any longer.
Some of the Galatians are now convinced that Paul is their enemy.
Paul questions this, reminding them that he is now as he was when he was among them. He has not changed; they have changed.
Paul is simply telling them the truth. He reminds them of his former contact with them. He is devoted to them. He is not their enemy.
Next, we see that Paul’s confidence in the Galatians is failing.
III. Paul’s Failing Confidence in the Galatians (verses 17-20)
Let’s look at Galatians 4:17-20
17 They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. 18 But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you. 19 My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, 20 I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.
The false teachers wanted to form an exclusive group of people that were “really” committed to the faith. They wanted to require more.
They were zealously going after the Galatians to deceive them by making them feel special if they joined them and alienated if they didn’t join them.
Paul was warning them not to fall for this foolishness.
All they needed was Christ!
Paul continues that’s it good to be zealous for something, it’s good to be totally devoted to something, as long as it’s the right thing, or the right one: Christ!
They were devoted to Christ when he was with them in person and they needed to continue to be devoted to Jesus, not these worthless practices that led them back into bondage.
Paul then draws them close with this term of affection, “my little children.”
We see here Paul’s heart for the Galatians.
Paul loves them.
Paul is for sure angry, but he’s angry because these people, so dear to him, have been deceived and seem to be welcoming the deception.
Paul hurts for them like a woman in labor.
He is in anguish for the faith of the Galatians.
He will continue to hurt for them until “Christ is formed in them.” Wow. What devotion! What commitment!
Finally, Paul says that he would like to be with the Galatians.
I imagine that he wanted to see them again and look them in the eye, face to face, to plead with them to turn back to the freedom that they had given up.
His confidence in them was failing. He ends this section by saying, “ . . . I have my doubts about you.” What a sad statement.
So, we see that Paul feared the change in the Galatians, he reminded them of his former contact with them, and his confidence in them is failing.
Let us now bring this to a summary.
Paul encouraged the Galatians to reject false religious hope.
We also should reject these “worthless” elements that we think bring us justification!
Paul hated that the Galatians did this!
You know, we do this same thing in our own lives. We add worthless elements to our religion. Shall I name some of the ways that we do this? No, I won’t do that right now. However, I’m happy to talk to you about them one on one if you are interested.
The irony is that the Galatians were following an actual biblical law, one from which they were set free, but a biblical law nevertheless.
We tend to create new non-biblical laws for our justification. We add things to our churches, to our pastors, to new converts, to our children, to our spouses, for no good reason other than to think that these things make us better before God.
This is an insult to the gospel! Paul would surely condemned this!
We are free, set free to be free, and we are free because of the work of Jesus alone!
Culture matters (just not for justification).
There are certain things that matter in certain cultural contexts.
Coat and tie at a funeral as an officiant of a funeral at HFBC (or most churches).
Freedom in Christ is not a license to sin.
Paul addresses this in Romans 6. Read this this afternoon (it’s on the additional resources webpage).
We are not left on our own when it comes to godly living.
Scripture does not make us figure out what to do on our own.
We are told that the Holy Spirit can guide us.
In fact, we are told that someone who is led by godliness will exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, which are found in Galatians 5, but alas that is a sermon for another time; one that Pastor Todd will probably bring in August or September.
We should show patience and grace towards those that we perceive as misinformed.
Some people genuinely think that some of these “worthless elements” are necessary for salvation. Have love and patience towards them. Gently guide them in the truth. Point them to the Word, not your opinion.
Ask yourself these three questions for application in your life:
Where is my justification found?
As good Bible-believing, evangelical, Baptists, we know that we are not saved by works, but we often live as if we are kept saved by good works.
I challenge us all to really examine ourselves here.
What are elements in my life that bring me false justification?
And, how can I get rid of those elements?
Again, think about this, write these down, really look into your heart and life.
How does my life demonstrate that the gospel is enough for me?
Journal about this. Think about it. Challenge yourself. Live as one set free by the gospel!
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