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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

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Verses 1-7

From Child to Heir

Galatians 4:1-Exodus :. Chapter 4 is related to the previous chapter and in the first verses Paul takes a closer look at the heir. He describes the contrast between the heir under the law and those who are heirs through faith in Christ. The comparison between a child and a slave makes clear that, as long as a child is under the authority of his educators, there is no difference between them.

A child may have rich parents, but all those riches have no use for him as long as he is unable to access them independently. Until that time, in earlier days, a child lived under the authority of “guardians” (who especially took care of the personal well-being of the child) and “managers” (who especially watched over the possessions of the child). That lasted until the time when the father regarded the child as an adult who was responsible enough to make his own decisions.

Galatians 4:3. The period in which the child was not allowed to act independently, can be compared with the period in which the believer lived before the coming of Christ. During that period the law controlled his relationship with God. There was no relationship possible with God as Father, and therefore the Father could not share His thoughts with the believer about being an heir. This period of childhood was marked by a sort of slavery to the law. Whoever is under the ‘law’, whatever that may be, is not free. By any definition, being under the law, means slavery and bearing a yoke, just as Peter calls the law in Acts 15:10.

Here Paul uses another expression for the law, “elemental things of the world”. The law belongs to the world. Indeed, the law was given to a nation in the flesh, a natural people, with no care for the spiritual condition of their nation. The law was never intended to bring man into relationship with God in order to know Him as a Father. The essence of the law is that man should learn to know himself.

Galatians 4:4. The fact that the law didn’t bring man to know God as Father in order to possess the inheritance is most strikingly seen at the cross. The nation, to whom the law was given, brought the Giver of the law to the cross. Then “the fullness of the time” had come. The law had fully served its time as an opportunity for the nation to receive all the promises of God. Man is found to be a sinner in the deepest part of his nature and has lost all rights to the fulfillment of the promises. When the time had come that man revealed himself in full depravity, then that was the moment that God fully revealed Who He is.

God gave the law by the mediation of angels, but He gave His Son Himself, without involving anyone else. Christ was “born of a woman”, because sin also came into the world through a woman. He was born of a woman, but begotten by the Holy Spirit – therefore without the nature of sin. He always had the form of God (Philippians 2:6), but took a body, a body God had prepared for Him (Hebrews 10:5). That Christ was ‘born of a woman’ proves His true humanity. It also proves His true pre-existence as God. If it had not been so, what then would have been remarkable about the fact that He was born of a woman?

Galatians 4:5. It was also necessary that He was “born under the law”. Only then could He redeem those who were under the law. In His life He glorified the law, for He fulfilled it and bore in His death the curse of it. But by keeping the law faithfully He could never have saved a man. Moreover, His keeping of the law was an accusation against every man who violated the law. He became a substitute for the sinner not by His obedient life, but by bearing in the three hours of darkness the sins of all who believe in Him. And the magnificent result of His work on the cross is that we may stand as sons before God!

It is significant to know that there is a difference between being a child of God and being a son of God. To be a child of God means above all that you have the life of God, that you are a partaker of His nature (2 Peter 1:4). The nature of God is light and His essence is love. That is what a child of God shows in his life; he’s walking in the light and in love.

Sonship especially has to do with a position, with the value you have for God. He wants fellowship with sons. Sons are predestined for Himself (Ephesians 1:5). A believer is both a child and a son. It has nothing to do with a process of growing, in which you would outgrow the stage of being a child to become a son.

Galatians 4:6. Then Paul connects sonship to the fact that “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts”. First, God sent His Son; after that He sent the Spirit of His Son. Here you see how the three Persons of the Godhead accomplished the blessings of sonship in God’s plan of salvation. God sent His Son to give us sonship; He sent the Spirit of His Son in our hearts to give us the consciousness and the joy which come with that.

Here the Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of His Son”. This emphasizes that sons of God possess the same Spirit as the Son of God. That which the Spirit of the Son works out in the sons, is the same as what characterizes the Son: the conscious relation to God as Father.

The word “Abba” speaks of confidence; it is the word the child of God uses when he speaks to his Father, just as we might call our father ‘daddy’. The Father is pleased when we come to Him in that way.

Galatians 4:7. He who, conscious of being a son, says ’Abba, Father’, can’t be a slave anymore. Such a person knows that everything that belongs to the Father, He shares with His sons. They are the “fellow heirs” with the Son (Ephesians 3:6). That and that only and nothing else is the place God has destined for those who are His sons.

Now read Galatians 4:1-7 again.

Reflection: Do you already call God “Abba, Father”? What do you think this means to God? Praise Him that as a son you are an heir.

Verses 8-15

The Danger of Falling Back

Galatians 4:8. In the part of chapter 3:1 to chapter 4:7 Paul has made it clear that not the law, but only faith in the Lord Jesus is the way to salvation and all blessing. To this he now adds a very serious warning to not place oneself under the law, nor allow anyone else to. He reminds the Galatians of the time before their conversion when they didn’t know the true God and were prisoners of the idols they served as slaves.

In 1 Corinthians 12 he also gives a review of the past (1 Corinthians 12:2). It is a good thing to remind yourself sometimes of where you came from. Not to throw yourself back into the past again; Paul warns about that in Ephesians 4 (Ephesians 4:17-Psalms :). But if you are inclined to deviate in your faith, then you should think back on the simple gospel which was preached to you and which you have accepted.

Galatians 4:9. Because the Galatians were in danger of falling back into idolatry, Paul on the one hand looks back to “then” and on the other hand exposes the present, “now”. The so-called 'gods' had brought them no benefit – because there is only one God and one Lord (1 Corinthians 8:4-Joshua :). They now knew the true God; they were brought into connection with Him, became His sons and could therefore call Him “Abba, Father”. That is quite a lot.

But it is even greater to be known by God. It shows that everything has proceeded from Him. He has accepted them; He has chosen them, even before they were born; He called them when they were in bondage to sin and idolatry. If you realize that, how could it then be possible that you turn away from Him and return to the things that belong to the past?

Now you might wonder how the law, which was once given by God, can be compared with returning to idolatry. Well, consider the following. In earlier days the law was indeed given by God to His people. By fulfilling all regulations and ordinances, God’s people would honor the Giver of the law. However, God’s people failed miserably. Even if they had fulfilled all regulations and ordinances, still their relation to God would only be that of a slave to his master.

Then the Lord Jesus came. He has fulfilled all that is written in the law. He takes as it were the place of the law as the only way to God, as Mediator between God and man which is infinitely more than the law. By this the law is completely set aside as a means to be connected to God. Now no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). He who, in his relationship with the Father, wants to honor the law again, reverts to a means that brings him back into slavery again. The law cannot replace Christ; neither can it have a place beside Christ.

The law consists of all kinds of statutes and ceremonies. Anyone who submits to them again, gives credit to tangible things, outward ordinances, which belongs to the world. As long as these things were sanctified by God to serve Him, it was good to keep them. But now, because in Christ the reality has come, and God has abolished the law as a tutor, it is equal to returning to the world if these things take a place again in the service of God.

And besides that, they are also “weak and worthless elemental things”. They are ‘weak’, because the law with its ceremonies doesn’t have any power to deliver a man from his sins. They are ‘worthless’, because the law doesn’t have any possibility to make rich. The gospel possesses both power and richness for all who surrender to it in faith.

Galatians 4:10. Paul mentions some things the Galatians were maintaining which were signs that they had already been caught up in Judaism. Keeping all kinds of special days and feasts does not fit the life of Christians. All Christian feast days and holy days are originally pagan festivals which are Christianized.

The only special day that the Christian knows is Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of the Lord. That day speaks of the accomplished work of Christ which is accepted by God. On that day the church assembles together to remember all the great salvation truths, and above all Him, Who accomplished the work on the cross.

Galatians 4:11. The concern Paul expresses that he might have labored in vain for the Galatians, has unfortunately come true in Christianity! By keeping of certain days we see how the evil that Paul demonstrates here has infiltrated Christianity.

Galatians 4:12. After this urgent warning not to return to the ‘shadow service’ of the law, Paul even more intensely and emotionally appeals to the Galatian’s love for him. He beseeches them to become like him: that is being free from the law. At the same time, however, he is very careful not to give the impression that he was personally offended or hurt, in case they thought they may have wronged him personally. That they turned away from the true gospel was certainly a painful thing for him. But he speaks to them with a heart full of love and compassion, showing great concern about the way they had gone to their own detriment.

Galatians 4:13-2 Chronicles :. He reminds them of his first visit to them. They had accepted him and also the message of the gospel, despite his physically weak appearance. Many would rather have quickly run away (he was that repulsive), than listen to the message he preached. Still, the Galatians had listened to him and had not succumbed to the temptation to run away from him. They ignored Paul’s appearance because of the wonderful message of the gospel that he brought. They accepted him as a messenger from another world and they received him as if they received the Lord Jesus Himself (cf. Matthew 10:40).

Galatians 4:15. How happy they had been! But what was left of it? They had expressed their love and gratitude to him by putting their most valuable possession, their eyes, at his disposal. But their attitude has now changed. This is the result of their listening to false teachers!

Now read again Galatians 4:8-15 again.

Reflection: What does it mean to you to understand that God knows you?

Verses 16-23

Again in Labor

Galatians 4:16. In an emotional argument Paul tries to make clear to the Galatians how mistaken they were. He had brought them the truth of the gospel, not to connect them to himself but to the Lord Jesus. They had embraced the gospel and received it in their hearts. How grateful they were then.

But now other people had come. They had told the Galatians that Paul deceived them with his gospel. Those others were very well aware of the law and God’s commandments of the Old Testament. They said that Paul concealed that from them and that Paul didn’t seek the best for them. He wasn’t their friend but their enemy. Yeah, yeah, Paul said, I tell you the truth by which you are saved and then I become your enemy?

Everyone who wants to minister the truth will experience what is happening to Paul here. When you teach the doctrine of Paul, it will be accepted gratefully as a commandment from God, especially by people who can find an answer to their need in this doctrine. But if someone dislikes that doctrine, it can be used to try to turn people against the teacher. Take, for example, Paul’s teachings about the silence of women in the meeting: he has subsequently been called a woman hater, although it is a commandment of God as well (1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Corinthians 14:37).

Galatians 4:17. Then Paul points the Galatians to the false teachers and the way they behave. They come and bring a different gospel that Paul didn’t preach; neither did the ones who were with him (Galatians 1:8-1 Samuel :; 2 Corinthians 11:4). And the Galatians paid attention to that gospel willingly. The false teachers were allowed to spout their ideas and these people were diligent! But, Paul says, beware of the fact that they bring a separation between us. Their intention is that you commit yourselves to them.

Paul is trying to make the Galatians understand, that, while he had sought their spiritual welfare, the false teachers had in mind to make them followers of themselves. They were like the pharisees, who were traveling all over the country to convince people of their doctrine. Then they could boast of a great number of followers. The Lord Jesus pronounces ‘Woe’ unto them (Matthew 23:15).

Galatians 4:18. Now certainly there is a good kind of zeal, for example the kind of zeal the Lord Jesus showed. He was zealous for the honor of God’s house (John 2:17). It seems that the Galatians showed this good zeal during the time Paul was with them. It would have been great if they had also continued to do so during his absence.

Galatians 4:19. But no, Paul felt how the Galatians had departed “from the simplicity … to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Again, that caused him the pain and trouble he had experienced when he preached the gospel to them. In his spirit he experienced again the sufferings he had endured in his struggles to win the souls of the Galatians. At that time it was to deliver them from the slavery of idols. Now it was to deliver them from the legalistic and outward religion of the Jews.

Paul compares himself with a mother. How important are motherly feelings when you see that a believer is inclined to deviate. Only with such feelings it is possible to win the other. What a touching proof of his love for them this is: he could afford to suffer again the “labor” in birth. He wants to do everything possible to win them back and bring them back to the unmixed gospel. He appeals to them as “my children”. How this must have touched their hearts.

His only goal was that “Christ is formed” in them. Through the influence of legalism the image of Christ was disappearing more and more from the Galatians. All that a man wants to do in his own strength to serve God is detrimental to the image of Christ in his life.

Galatians 4:20. Their deviation from the truth had given him a sense of desperation. How he would love to be with them! How he would love to speak to them with more love (although this letter was exactly a clear expression that he loved them deeply).

Galatians 4:21. After this emotional plea to win their hearts, from Galatians 4:21 on he makes a new attempt to make them understand that they were doing wrong. Now he addresses their mind or understanding. In Galatians 4:21 the word ‘law’ is used two times. The first time this word means a legalistic principle, something you impose on yourself as a law. You can impose yourself to keep the Ten Commandments. The second time, to listen to the law, ‘the law’ has a broader meaning. Here that word means the five books of Moses. You can see this in the example Paul is quoting from the law.

Galatians 4:22. He brings forward Abraham, whose history is written in Genesis. Paul mentions Abraham, because the false teachers also mentioned him to emphasize their demand that the Galatians should be circumcised.

Paul introduces his example with “for it is written”. Thereby he focuses attention on the authority of the Scriptures (cf. Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:7Matthew 4:10). Then he points to Isaac and Ishmael and their mothers, whose names he doesn’t mention. It is not about their names, but about their positions, because that is what the mothers transmit to their children.

Galatians 4:23. After having discussed the position he points to the origin of both sons. Ishmael was born by a self-willed action of Abraham, but Isaac he received by God’s promise. What spiritual lessons there are, which the Galatians – and we as well – can learn from, are written in the following verses.

Now read Galatians 4:16-23 again.

Reflection: Have you ever been concerned about the spiritual development of someone else? What do you think you can do for such a person?

Verses 24-31

Children of the Bondwoman or of the Free Woman

Galatians 4:24. What Paul said in Galatians 4:21-Song of Solomon : “is allegorically speaking”. It means that this history has a deeper meaning than you would think at first glance. When the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write down this history, He did it just because of that deep meaning. In 1 Corinthians 10 you find the same and also in Romans 15 (1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Romans 15:4). Apart from that, the fact that Old Testament histories often have a deeper meaning doesn’t change the historical accuracy of the history itself.

What then is the deeper meaning Paul is quoting here? The two sons of Abraham “are two covenants”, that means, they represent two covenants. You can compare it with what the Lord Jesus says about the bread when He instituted the Supper: “This is My body” (Matthew 26:26). That also means: ‘This represents My body’.

Galatians 4:25. The one covenant, the first one, is the covenant that is made at Sinai. That covenant speaks of Hagar. Hagar was Abraham’s slave who gave birth to Ishmael. And because she was a slave, automatically Ishmael was a slave as well. Children get the position of the mother. At Sinai the law was given. That’s why the people of Israel came into bondage. Whoever puts himself under the law puts himself in the position of slave. The “present Jerusalem” [i.e. the earthly Jerusalem] is the centre of the law and therefore “is in slavery with her children” (her children are the citizens).

If the Galatians therefore, or like so many Christians today, accept the law in their lives, it means that they accept Hagar as mother. They want to keep the covenant of Sinai and therefore declare themselves citizens of the earthly Jerusalem. Another character of Mount Sinai is, it says, that it is situated “in Arabia”. That emphasizes again is, that whoever connects himself with this, connects himself with a place outside the country of blessing and that is Canaan. Whoever connects himself with the law, will be deprived of every blessing in Christ (Galatians 5:4).

Galatians 4:26. After stating the position of Christians who honor the law in their lives, Paul moves onto the real “mother” of the Christian: the free, heavenly Jerusalem. It is the place God has given, from where His promises in grace are given and where the Christian is at home. This is his ‘mother-city’. Here he gets his education and his Christian character is formed. It relates to what is written in the letter to the Philippians: “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). The big question today in Christianity is: By which mother are you being raised, or what is your mother-city?

Galatians 4:27. Paul cites from Isaiah 54 (Isaiah 54:1) to show what it means to belong to “the Jerusalem above”. This verse is originally intended as a comfort for Israel after a time of being dominated by foreign powers. It is a song of joy at the beginning of the millennium, when God has accepted His people – that is the remnant – again into His favor after they have confessed their sins in humility to God. Then they will be free to enjoy everything that God has prepared for them.

Paul uses this event and the time it will happen, as an application for the Christian in the present time. There, where there was nothing to be expected from human efforts and where there was only unfruitfulness, God performed a miracle in His grace and brought people to repentance. Like Isaac, the Galatians and all Christians are born in a supernatural manner. For the Christian it means that he is born “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

The amazing thing about this quotation from Isaiah is also that all Christians belong to the Jerusalem that soon will be the centre of the millennium. The present Jerusalem is not related to God. It is illustrated as the sent away woman because of her unfaithfulness (cf. Hosea 1:6; Hosea 1:8-1 Samuel :). As mentioned earlier, this situation will come to an end. Jerusalem will then look back to a time when she was not fruitful for God. But then she will see that in that fruitless period, God Himself has begotten a numerous posterity which He accounts to her.

In that time grace has made Jerusalem what God always had in mind: a city by which He can freely bless all people. It is the same grace by which He in these days has redeemed so many from the yoke of sin and has set them free.

Galatians 4:28. Paul assumes that the Galatians went in the wrong direction only outwardly, but that they inwardly had not yet accepted the wrong teachings. He speaks to them as being convinced that at heart they were true children of God.

Galatians 4:29. To this is connected a life by grace alone. To live that life consistently means persecution from people who want to serve God in their own strength. Persecution is inevitable, because to live by faith is a great accusation against any form of religion that emphasizes its own performance.

Galatians 4:30. The blessing of God can never be obtained by a kind of cooperation between law and grace. Everything that has to do with the law cannot be allowed anymore in the life and the mind of a Christian. Unfortunately, many Christians do not heed this call. Many are in the hands of the ‘wrong mother’, so they are constantly in doubt about their relationship with God. How visible is the influence of Judaism in Christianity: you see everywhere, sacred buildings, and also a clergy being maintained.

Galatians 4:31. It all fits in with the “children of a bondwoman”, but not with the children “of the free woman” and that is what we are!

Now read Galatians 4:24-31 again.

Reflection: By which mother are you being educated?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Galatians 4". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/galatians-4.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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