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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Galatians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-31

HOW CHILDREN ARE ADOPTED AS SONS

(vs.1-7)

The first few verses of chapter 4 give us the distinctive Christian position in more detail. This position is the result of promise accomplished, as contrasted to the position under the Law, promise being then an object of indefinite hope, a prospect unfulfilled. Verses 1 to 3 show the Jewish position under law, the position even of the believer then, for it is of believers he is speaking. Though the child is heir and lord of all, yet in childhood he must be under government, trained, guided, held in check, and in this respect has no more freedom, no more position of dignity than a servant. Assuredly, he is a child of his father and has the same life his father has: the relationship actually exists. But as a child he must learn subjection, though he may not understand the reasons for his father's commands. This is the proper place of the child -- submission to his father's will even without understanding the reasons for it.

So the believer in Old Testament times is looked at as a child virtually in infancy, far from maturity. As such he must be controlled, governed, trained up in the way the Father appoints. Therefore he was "under law" or "under guardians and stewards" (v.2), "in bondage" (v.3). This existed "until the time appointed by the Father" (v.2), when there is, so to speak, graduation from the child's place to that of sonship, from the place of bondage to that of liberty, from the place of mere submission to that of understanding, approval and enjoyment of that will. This is proper maturity.

"The fullness of the time" (v.4) then is the time appointed by the Father, when "God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (vs.4-5).

How wonderful to see that it is God's Son whom He sends, the One ever His delight, One perfectly in accord with every thought, word and movement of the Father. Such an One must be the Redeemer, and is Himself the Pattern of the pure liberty and dignity of Sonship. It was no legal constraint that led Him to the cross. It was rather His delight in doing the Father's will.

Yet He was "born of a woman" (v.4). It was through a woman that sin first entered the world. He was "born under the Law" (v.4), - the Law which demanded facing the question of sin. He fully identified Himself with the circumstances of His creatures, though Himself altogether pure. If He placed Himself in a realm where sin was, and where the Law condemned sin, He willingly took the responsibility of facing these questions. Consequently, He gave Himself in suffering and death "to redeem those who were under the law," not merely that we might be forgiven, but "that we might receive the adoption of sons" (v.5).

It was not God's purpose to have people under legal bondage, but rather to give them a place near to His heart, a place of approval of and delight in His ways. This is what redemption has accomplished, transforming the believer from a servant to a son, for redemption is the liberating of one from a place of bondage, to introduce into a state of freedom by virtue of a price paid. Adoption also implies this changing of position as in bondage to that of liberty and trust. The child has come to maturity and no longer needs the restraining hand of government: he is capable of being entrusted with responsibility. Not that his liberty is title to do his own will, but is a freedom that finds real fellowship and delight in the Father's will. This is the place of a son though it does not follow that believers always act as sons. Still, they are sons, and any action apart from the will of the Father is shameful inconsistency with the place given them.

Christ, the Son of God, is the perfect Pattern for us in this position of liberty, dignity and trust. 'The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand" (John 3:35). His Son is perfectly and thoroughly worthy of having all things entrusted to Him. This faithful devotedness of the Lord Jesus beautifully displays the liberty and dignity of sonship. A son's place is one worthy of trust, where the blessedness of privilege is not abused. As for instance again concerning Christ, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do" (John 5:19). Blessed example for us who have received the adoption of sons. Also, "The Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22). Here is the evidence of perfect coordination in the mind of the Son with that of the Father, the height of which we of course can never attain. Still, such is our portion that we "will judge the world" and "shall judge angels" (1 Corinthians 6:2-3) as associated with Christ. Therefore, being sons, the privilege and responsibility of wise judgment and discernment is ours now. If I abuse this, I am plainly not acting as a son, but it is not my action that makes me a son. Rather, through the virtue of the redeeming blood of Christ we, believers in Christ, have received the adoption of sons.

The cross of Christ is the sharp dividing line that transforms a servant into a son, fulfills the claims of the Law, sets the believer in the immediate presence of God, rends the veil, and reveals God in the light. Adoption brings all believers of this present Church age into the position of sonship. Such was not the case in the Old Testament, though those believers were born again as children of God. So it is God's own children that He has adopted, to give them a position of dignity as virtually in partnership with Him. Therefore believers are both children of God and sons of God, but each designation has its own line of truth.

"And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out Abba Father" (v.6). In the previous verse we saw that the cross of Christ gave believers the place of sonship. They were therefore sons before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but the Holy Spirit came because they were sons, and through Him they give expression to this nearness to the Father In this is the distinct revelation of the Trinity. Each person of the Godhead is revealed, a revelation that the Law could not provide. The Son redeems. The Holy Spirit makes good to the soul the fruits of that redemption, bringing the believer into the presence of the Father, to whom the heart cries out with delight. Where is there any place for law here? Law would only mar the beauty of the revelation, and put a question upon the character of God Himself! Let us remember that the Law manifests people, but Christ manifests God! The first therefore brings a curse, the second, blessing: they cannot be mixed.

Romans 8:1-39 considers the same subject: "You did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out Abba Father" (v.15). The previous verse [14] speaks of "sons of God." However, verse 16 goes on, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." This is family relationship. Such was the fact for every saint before the cross, but was not apprehended by them. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the witness with our spirit that we are God's children (Romans 8:16). Now that we are sons having the Spirit of God, we understand by the Spirit that we are children also.

"Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir of God through Christ" (v.7). The question here is one of assurance. We do not become heirs by adoption, because Old Testament saints were heirs, though they did not have "the adoption of sons." But they had no assurance of being heirs, just as a little child would not understand his heirship. Every child of God is an heir of God (Romans 8:17). Hence, when the place of sonship is given by virtue of the death of Christ, and the Holy Spirit sent at Pentecost to confirm this to the souls of saints, this is absolute proof that they were both children and heirs of God. Having this place, why would we want a servant's place? Would it not dishonor any father to have his full-grown son cringing before him as a slave? Can God be honored when His sons, for whom He has prepared the best that He has and to whom He has given "the best robe," take the cold, distant place of serving Him as it were for wages? This was the folly of the Galatians.

INCONSISTENCY PRODUCED BY LEGALISM

(vs.8-11)

The Galatians' introduction of the Law, which they thought was a fine complement to Christianity, was in the sight of God no service to Him at all, but as much as turning back to the paganism from which they came. "When you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods" (v.8). Their motives in paganism had been selfish, and they had attempted to cover this by worship of false gods. "But now, after that you have known God, or rather have been 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?" (v.2). How solemn a charge! How grievous a departure! After the true God is revealed, after receiving infinite blessing from Him, these Galatians dared to return to their motives of selfishness, thinking that the addition of the Law gave Christianity a more brilliant light. Rather, it catered to the same principles of self-pleasing and self-exaltation that their repudiated paganism had done. In practice the only difference was that these motives were covered by the outward worship of the true God. How necessary for all of us is that warning, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (Luke 12:1).

"You observe days and months and seasons and years" (v.10), the formalism calculated to draw attention to themselves, and involving the assumption that more righteousness was required of them at some times than at others. Such actions subtly sanction unrighteousness on "ordinary" days. What witness of this pervades Christendom today! There are holy days, holy seasons, attended by great pretensions of spirituality, which is thrown to the winds in ordinary life, and even in wild feasts just preceding the holy days. This great inconsistency results in the mockery and contempt of the world and the inevitable judgment of God. Such things caused the apostle to fear that he had labored with the Galatians in vain

(v.11).

PAUL'S PERSONAL URGENT APPEAL

(vs.12-20)

Little wonder that the apostle raises his voice in pathetic words of remonstrance. Can it be that his labor has gone for nothing? Is there only to be disappointment so far as the Galatians are concerned? What a weight on his tender heart! "Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you" (v.12). As did Paul, let their hearts rest on the deep, unchanging grace of Christ, and not turn coldly away from one who had labored to show them the love of the heart of God. For he was as they. What kindness and concern is this, no pretensions of superiority, no boast of standing on higher ground than they. They were really Christ's, as Paul knew. They had trusted Him, confessed Him, so they actually stood on the same firm ground as Paul. He made no claim of being more than a sinner who was now a saint saved by divine grace. Was not this also their place? Why then would they not act consistently with it? Why not be what they actually were, as Paul was?

"You have not injured me at all" (v.12). Their profession of the necessity of law- keeping was no personal injury to Paul. He still retained the same place of blessing before God. He was still as they were, and this being so, was not their addition of the Law thoroughly empty?

He goes back to the first, when the gospel was new to them, to remind them they had not despised the physical infirmity that so tried him, but had received him as an angel of God, in fact, as Christ Jesus. Note that Paul gave a similar reminder to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 2:1-5), there speaking more at length of this. Yet the evils to be corrected in each case were very different; the Galatians having fallen into legality, the Corinthians into moral laxity; the Galatians putting themselves under subjection to the Law, the Corinthians knowing no real subjection except to their own wills. Opposite extremes as these were, they both have the effect of puffing up the flesh. But Paul had "a thorn in the flesh" to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure (2 Corinthians 12:7), and he was in subjection to the One who had given him the thorn. He could not trust in the flesh, his old nature, whether it were the will of the flesh or the ability of the flesh to keep the Law.

The Galatians had seen Paul's weakness, and had also seen, through his trust in God, the power of God working in him. They had not despised him. Appearances of personal strength and ability had not attracted them, yet they received him as an angel of God, and more, "as Christ Jesus" (v.14). He came to them in grace -- as Christ had come to the world -- and was received, not on account of power, but of love and grace. The energy and warmth of the love of God only shone the more brightly in the weakness of the vessel, and the response of the Galatians had been simply to that love. Therefore, the vessel had been treated in the due (not exaggerated) regard that God desires for His servants. Drawn to love God, they loved the least esteemed of His saints also.

What had become of this devoted simplicity that was theirs at the first? Where was the fervency of affection that once would have given their very eyes to the apostle, had it been possible? (v.15). Could they believe it was the true gospel that had thrown this spiritual chill over their minds and built a barrier of cold reserve against one to whom they were thoroughly indebted for the knowledge of Christ? Sad indeed is the depth of the self-deception into which a believer out of communion can fall. Let the child of God even begin to look away from the Lord, how rapidly his spirituality withers away! Thank God it is not our hold of Him that saves or keeps us for eternal blessing, but rather His hold of His saints that saves and keeps (John 10:27-30; 1 Peter 1:5). Eternal salvation is dependent on His ability to save and hold, but our enjoyment and communion depend on our clinging to the Lord with purpose of heart, not on clinging to the law or to our ability or our merits.

"Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" (v.16). Can it be that Paul, once esteemed their closest earthly friend for the sake of the truth he brought them, has become their enemy because he continues to tell them the same truth? Had he changed? Not at all; but some had been influencing these Galatians to oppose Paul's teaching, and he does not fail to expose them. "They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them" (v.17). These judaizers were diligent in seeking followers, and craftily sought to exclude the Galatians from the apostles so as to attach them only to themselves. It will be always so that those who seek a following will selfishly preach a system of works as a means of salvation, for it attaches importance to the flesh and therefore to themselves. To be zealously affected is good, if the cause is good (v.18). Had the zeal and earnestness of the Galatians at their conversion to Christ been exercised on behalf of a good thing or an evil? If good, why not always be zealous in it? Do they need Paul's presence to be diligent in good? That is surely not walking by faith. It is more the attitude of a little child, able only to act properly when under supervision.

Paul calls them "my little children" (v.19), he himself laboring in travail as though seeking to bring them again to birth. They hardly realized they were spiritually alive. While trusting Christ, they were practically destitute of the inward, experimental knowledge of who and what He is. He had not been formed in them, that is, they had not comprehended His fullness for all their needs. They had given Him a place, but had confined Him to a small place, instead of allowing Him to take His full, true form in them.

Paul desired to be present with them and to change his tone of speaking (v.20). He had no delight in reproving them. Perhaps his presence with them might again revive their zeal in good things. If this was needed, he would desire to come, for he was doubtful of their stability. Not being able to stand faithfully alone, they practically required him to come.

ABRAHAM'S SONS, ISHMAEL AND ISAAC

(vs.21-31)

Paul abruptly reverts from his entreaty back to reasoning from Scripture. It is most instructive and refreshing to see that he will leave no stone unturned in seeking the welfare of those whom he loves. He will appeal to the conscience, heart and intelligence until he leaves them no occasion for self-defense, no excuse for their legality, nothing to lean on but Christ.

If they suppose it an intellectual advance to be under the Law, why not inquire as to the intelligence the Law would furnish? Does the Law (the Old Testament) demand that a person should be in bondage to it? Does it attach all importance to itself? Certainly not! As the next few verses prove, it turns or directs people away from its bondage, giving all honor and glory to Christ Himself, who is "the end of the law" (Romans 10:4).

It may seem astonishing that Paul would use Abraham's two sons to prove the vast distinction between the covenants of law and of grace, but it is the interpretation of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit's interpretation here opens the door to much of Abraham's history in its marvelous typical bearing, that is, in its picturing many truths now revealed in the New Testament.

Abraham had two sons, the first (Ishmael) by a bond-maid; the second (Isaac) by a free-woman. The God of glory had appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran (cf.Gen.12 and Acts 7:1-60), and promised him, "I will make you a great nation" (Genesis 12:2). This was confirmed in Genesis 15:4. Yet at 85 years of age, Abraham had no son. In Genesis 16:1-16, both Sarai's and Abram's anxiety about this prompted them to devise a plan to seek to fulfill God's promise. They could not wait for God to fulfill this in His own way and His own time. Interposing their own ingenuity, Abram had a son by the bonds-woman, Hagar. How striking a picture of Israel seeking to obtain the promise of God by their own righteousness, by their law-keeping! Going about to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3). So Abraham, going about to establish God's promise in his own way. showed no real faith in the promise being altogether God's promise. Hence, the son of the bonds-woman was born after the flesh. The whole affair was of fleshly devising and no fulfillment whatever of the promise of God. The son of the bonds-woman cannot enjoy the full liberty of the son's place: he is really himself in bondage, a servant. How plainly it answers to "Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children" (v.25). Mount Sinai in Arabia is a symbol of this bondage, a symbol of the Law and of great distance between God and the people (Exodus 19:18-24; Hebrews 12:18-21).

Thus the Law is the standard by which man's work is measured, and if depending on his own work, the result is bondage. No one can make himself free or keep himself free. Freedom must depend on the work of God. "If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). So, for the child of promise, Abraham must depend entirely on God.

Isaac is this child of promise, born to Sarah when she was 90 years old, and Abraham 100, when their bodies were virtually "already dead" (Romans 4:19), and any natural hope of childbearing long gone. But it was God who intervened in sovereign grace to fulfill His own word. Sarah is the free-woman, in intimate relationship to Abraham, who is a type of God the Father, and Sarah a type of the godly remnant of faith according to grace in Israel, from whom Christ came (typified in Isaac), when all natural hope of blessing was gone. Isaac then is a beautiful picture of Christ, the promised Seed (Galatians 3:16), who came to earth, not on account of man's successful law-keeping or any such thing, but on account of the unbreakable promise of God, fulfilled by grace alone.

Jerusalem which is above (v.26) is then that fruitful principle of grace, Christ coming from above, from the intimate presence of God, not from a place of distance, but from a place of full liberty of Sonship. His own place is that into which by grace, we have been brought. This is beautifully pictured in Genesis 24:1-67, where Rebekah (type of the Church) is chosen as a bride for Isaac. Hence by marriage she (once far off) is made the seed of Abraham, the daughter of the free-woman. So it can be said, we, as Isaac was, are the children of promise, by grace brought into the same position that Christ as Man has.

Verse 27 is quoted from Isaiah 54:1. The complete fulfillment of that chapter will be when Israel is brought into blessing in the Millennium, but this does not hinder the application, at least a partial fulfillment, to the Church's entrance by faith into this grace wherein we stand. The married wife speaks of Israel in earlier days when they obeyed God in the wilderness, but with an attitude of legalism instead of the intimacy of true affection. Only bondage, misery and desolation came from this. So she was disowned, put away (Jeremiah 2:2; Jeremiah 3:8-10). Christ came "as a root out of dry ground" (Isaiah 53:2), yet from that dry root, the despised remnant of the people, God saw fit by grace to produce unbounded, eternal fruit. She who was desolate has many children. How marvelous are God's ways!

Did the Galatians not consider the fact that the most zealous of the professed law-keepers, the most religious of Israelites, were the persecutors of those who confessed Jesus as Lord? Those making the most flowery profession and display of religiousness were the strongest, most bitter opposers of the truth of salvation only by the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The bitterness of such people is always directed against those who simply confess Him as Lord.

"Nevertheless, what does the Scripture say? Cast out the bond-woman and her son, for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with the son of the free-woman" (v.30). There is strong insistence here on the typical interpretation, for these were actually Sarah's words. But it was a history designed by God, and the words of Sarah also were designed by God to apply with striking force to legal-minded Israel. This casting out was accomplished at the introduction of Christianity, when the nation of Israel continuing its cruel persecution of those redeemed by grace, was cast out from God's presence for the time being, until mercy will restore her (Romans 11:1-36). God sent His armies (although the Roman armies did not understand that God had sent them) and burned up their city (Matthew 22:7), and Israel was scattered to the four winds. Such was the governmental result of their self-dependence and self-confidence. Only recently, God has begun to bring the Jews back to their land, though still without faith in the Lord Jesus, but God will yet work in marvelous blessing for them. Meanwhile, during this age of grace, the Church alone enjoys the distinct favor of God of being owned as "children of promise" (v.28), for this can only have effect insofar as Christ is recognized. Creature merit in all its forms is repudiated. God has decreed that all blessing is in Christ alone. Precious resting place for every believer!

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Galatians 4:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/galatians-4.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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