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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

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Verses 1-11

Christ redeemed us from the law

Galatians 4:1-11

In these verses Paul deals with the annulment of the ceremonial law under which the Old Testament people were as children under a tutor; he blames the Gentile believers for returning to that law when they had been freed from it!

Galatians 4:1-2 . To illustrate what he said in Galatians 3:23-24, Paul presents the case of an heir during his childhood. The heir is owner and lord of all by promise and testament; yet while he is a child and under-age, he is not his own man. He is under restraint. kept in school, taught, and corrected as if he were a servant and not the heir. The father appoints a time for his inheritance to come into effect.

Galatians 4:3 . Even so the Jews, when they were children in spiritual knowledge (in the infant state of the church), were kept like children in school under the ceremonies, sacrifices, and rituals of the Mosaic law. These are called ‘elements of the world’ because they lay in outward, worldly, and earthly things such as animal sacrifices, washings, meats, etc.

Galatians 4:4-5 . But when the time appointed by the Father was fulfilled, he sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, into the world.

1. Made of a woman not created as Adam or begotten of man as all other men are, but conceived by the Holy Spirit in a virgin's womb. He was made flesh, and he identified with us in every respect.

2. Made under the law under the civil and judicial law as a Jew, under the ceremonial law as a son of Abraham, and under the moral law as a man and the Surety of his people.

3. To redeem them by meeting and obeying the law in every jot and tittle. By going to the cross and suffering the penalty of our sins, Christ purchased our freedom, redeemed us from the curse of the law, and satisfied the justice of God that we might receive the power and privilege of sons of God (John 1:12-13; Galatians 3:13).

Galatians 4:6 . Now because you are truly sons of God (accepted in the Beloved, redeemed from all sin, having no condemnation), God has put his Spirit of adoption, of assurance, of comfort, of holiness in your heart whereby you can actually call God your loving Father.

The word ‘Abba’ is a Hebrew word meaning father. It may be that the word is in both Hebrew and Greek to show that God is the Father of both Jew and Gentile believers.

Galatians 4:7 . Therefore, we are no longer servants under tutors, schoolmasters, ceremonies, and types; but we are sons of God who have been made free from the law and have entered into the joy and enjoyment of all blessings of redemption in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 2:8-11).

Galatians 4:8 . When you Gentiles knew not the true God, you worshipped idols and were in bondage to gods that did not exist; they were of this world and the product of your imagination. You performed rites and ceremonies that were useless.

Galatians 4:9 . Now after God has revealed himself to you in Christ Jesus and you know the true and living God (who chose you and foreknew you), why do you turn back to rituals, ceremonies, and elementary, worthless things, such as circumcision, holy days, and foods and drinks which can do nothing for you before God? Paul is astonished that these professed believers would want to be in bondage to things from which Christ had set them free.

Galatians 4:10 . By ‘days’ he means seventh-day Sabbaths. The sabbath was typical of Christ, who is the true rest of his people.

‘Months,’ designs, new moons, or the beginning of months were kept by holding religious feasts and abstaining from work.

‘Times’ mean the three times during the year that the Jewish males appeared before the Lord at Jerusalem to keep the three feasts Tabernacle, Passover, and Pentecost.

‘Years’ are to indicate sabbatical. Every seventh year the fields were to be idle, no plowing or planting. Paul blamed these Gentiles because they were being drawn into these practices to obtain acceptance with God (Galatians 5:1-2).

Galatians 4:11 . Paul knew that the true minister of God never labors in vain (Isaiah 49:5; 2 Corinthians 2:14-16). He speaks with reference to them. If they should persist in bringing in the ceremonies, circumcision, and observance of these laws to make effectual the redemptive work of Christ, then, for them, the gospel is preached in vain. Salvation cannot be by grace and by works (Galatians 2:21; Galatians 5:1-4).

Verses 12-20

Christ formed in you

Galatians 4:12-20

Galatians 4:12 . Become as Paul, free from the bondage of ritualism and ceremonies. Reckon yourselves to be dead to the Levitical laws which have been fulfilled by Christ. Count these things as loss and rubbish for Christ.

‘I have become as you are (Gentiles) with respect to things spiritual. We are both alike in Christ chosen in him, redeemed in him, perfected in him, and free from the observance of ceremonies and laws. You have not injured me by your law observances. The offense is against Christ who fulfilled the law. My feelings for you have not changed, but your feelings toward me have ‘ (Galatians 1:6).

Galatians 4:13-16 . ‘When I first preached the gospel of God's grace to you, I did so in much weakness, humility, persecution, and bodily afflictions. You were not offended by my bodily ailments nor my sufferings (what they were we do not know); but you were so glad to hear the good news of Christ that you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ himself. What has become of that respect and regard you had for me? You would have given me your very eyes’ (this is what led many to believe that the apostle had severe eye trouble). What Paul is saying is that these people were happy in Christ (in the gospel of free grace); and now that the law-preachers had influenced them, they had not only turned from the gospel of Christ alone but had become Paul's enemies. Am I your enemy because I tell you the truth and deal sincerely with you? Am I your enemy because I preach that we are complete in Christ and have no need to be circumcised, to keep days, months, and years?

Galatians 4:17 . ‘These false preachers are courting you, pretending great love and concern for you, making much of you; but their purpose is not for God's glory nor your eternal good. What they are trying to do is to exclude me or to isolate you from me and other true apostles that you might follow them and bring them great favor and success’ (2 Peter 2:1-3). The zeal and enthusiasm of the false preachers was not to turn the Galatians to Christ but to win popular applause unto themselves.

Galatians 4:18 . Paul does not condemn all zeal and affection, but only that which has an ulterior motive and objective. It is good to be zealous and extremely dedicated if our zeal is toward Christ and the gospel. The Godly zeal and affection for the gospel and one another was to be constant, continuous, and not only when he was present with them. He loved them and desired their salvation, sanctification, and peace in Christ, not only when he was there but when he was away. It seemed that when he was there, they were attached to him and the truth; but when he left, their affection cooled and they turned to others.

‘Content with beholding his face,

my all to his pleasure resigned,

No changes of season or place

would make any change in my mind.’

Galatians 4:19 . ‘My little children.’ Paul speaks to the Galatians most affectionately as a father to his sons. They were sons of God and were still babes in Christ; consequently, the term ‘little children’ was appropriate; but they were also ‘Paul's children,’ for he was the instrument God used to bring them to faith in Christ.

‘Of whom I travail in birth again.’ He compares himself to a woman with child. All of his pains, sufferings, and labors in the ministry of the gospel he compares to the sorrows of a woman during the time of child-bearing. The woman is concerned, dedicated, and involved in one purpose; and that is to bring forth a living child. She counts her suffering and pains worthwhile if she can produce a living, healthy child. The apostle had not thought for himself but for them. All that he was concerned about and dedicated to in prayer, preaching, and suffering was that Christ might be formed in them.

‘Until Christ be formed in you.’ This is the same as to be saved, to be a new creature in Christ Jesus!

1. A form of religion with its laws, ordinances, and ceremonies is not eternal life.

2. A form of morality with its fleshly do's and do not’s is not eternal life.

3. A form of profession with its decisions, baptisms, and creeds is not eternal life.

‘Eternal life is to know God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent,’ to have the life of Christ, the presence of Christ, the Spirit and mind of Christ, and the very glory of Christ begotten, created, and formed in us (Galatians 2:20). Until this is done and unless this miracle of grace is accomplished, our religion is vain. It is no more than the Pharisees of old and of whom Christ said, ‘They neither know me nor my Father.’ Salvation is Christ in you; the hope of glory is Christ in you; the life of God is Christ in you (1 John 5:11-12).

Galatians 4:20 . ‘I wish I could be present with you in person that I might exhort you face to face. Your concern about circumcision, holy days, and ceremonies makes me fearful of your knowledge of Christ and causes me to doubt your real interest in Christ.’ A union with Christ produces fruit and evidences; and when these fruits and evidences are absent, true ministers of the gospel are concerned for the spiritual well-being of their hearers. When the lordship and sufficiency of Christ wane in a person, there is ample reason to question his profession.

Verses 21-31

Born free

Galatians 4:21-31

These verses present an allegory or a story in which people, things, and happenings have a symbolic meaning. Abraham had two sons one by a servant maid, the other by his wife. Hagar, the servant, represented the covenant at Mount Sinai; Sarah, the free woman, represented the covenant of grace and the gospel church state. Also, their two sons represented two sorts of professors-legalists and evangelical Christians. True believers in Christ are like Isaac, children of promise; legalists are like Ishmael, men after the flesh.

Galatians 4:21 . Tell me, ye that seek to be justified by the law and seek acceptance with God by obedience to the law, do you not hear what the law really says? The law never speaks peace or pardon but declares us all to be guilty (Romans 3:19-20). It sentences us to wrath and condemnation. Do you want to be under such a law?

Galatians 4:22-23 . Abraham had two sons. Ishmael was born of a servant, so he was but a servant himself and not the heir. Isaac was born of a free woman who was joined in the family with her husband; therefore, Isaac was no servant but a free man, even the heir. A second principle is here intended. Ishmael was ‘born after the flesh,’ or by the ordinary strength of nature (his mother being a young woman fit for conception). Isaac was not conceived from such a principle. His mother was ninety years old and unable to bear children, so he was born by promise, or by the miracle of God.

Galatians 4:24-25 . The two women represent the two covenants.

1. The covenant of grace under the old administration, which was greatly mistaken (it was never given to save) and was degenerated into a covenant of works by those who adhered to it.

2. The covenant of grace under the new administration (Hebrews 8:7-8).

The Sinai covenant was prefigured by Hagar, the servant, by the effect which it produced if life and acceptance are sought by it. It produces children of bondage! It cannot produce heirs of life. It speaks of human works, merit, and fear and is like Jerusalem today in bondage to the law, sin, and the wrath of God. Followers of the law can no more be heirs of God than Ishmael, son of the bondswoman, can be the true heir of Abraham. He will always be the servant, not the son.

Galatians 4:26 . Here Paul describes the covenant of grace in Christ our Mediator, our Representative, our sin-offering. The Messianic kingdom of Christ is from above, not from Sinai. The righteousness is in his obedience, not in ours. Its redemption is in his sacrifice and his satisfaction, not in the ordinances of the tabernacle. Its access to the throne of God is through Christ, our Great High Priest, not through an earthly priesthood! This covenant is free from the curse of the law and from the bondage of the law and is the mother of every believer, Jew and Gentile. We are born of grace.

Galatians 4:27 . This is a prophecy from Isaiah 54:1 and seems to refer to the church as it was in the early days after our Lord's death and under the ministry of the apostles. There were a few believers in a few cities, but the Lord promises that she shall be a fruitful mother with many children.

Galatians 4:28 . We believers are the children of promise, as Isaac was.

1. As Isaac was promised to Abraham, we were promised and given to the Lord Jesus Christ (John 6:37-39; Ephesians 1:3-4) .

2. As Isaac was conceived and born beyond the strength and course of nature, we are born spiritually by the power of God (John 1:12-13).

3. As Isaac was the heir by birth as the son of Abraham, we are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17).

Galatians 4:29 . Ishmael, the son of flesh, mocked and persecuted the son of promise. Even so, the false prophets of justification by works and advocates of the Levitical Law for acceptance with God will and do mock and persecute all who trust and rest only in Christ for justification and redemption. Salvation by works and salvation by grace are opposite and contrary. True believers mock and persecute no one, but those who trust in their works and deeds have always hated and persecuted children of promise.

Galatians 4:30 . Ishmael, the child of flesh and works, had to be cast out along with the mother who produced him. He could not be an heir with the true son. Even so, the system of works and human merit must be forsaken from our hearts, from our churches, and from our fellowship along with the children of flesh which this system produces. The heirs of God are the children of his grace in Christ Jesus. The self-righteous, the justified-by-works, the part-Christ-and-part flesh advocates cannot be heirs with children of promise.

Galatians 4:31 . So then, we who are born again are not children of the law, of the natural flesh; but we are supernatural children of free grace. To God be all the glory!

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on Galatians 4". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hms/galatians-4.html. 2013.
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