Lesson 4 - The Doctrine of Christian Liberty / An Appeal - Galatians 4

Lesson Four: The Doctrine of Christian Liberty / An Appeal

(Galatians 4:8-31)

After presenting his arguments to support his doctrine of Christian liberty, the apostle Paul reaches out to the Galatians with an appeal. 


An Appeal to Turn from Legalism  (4:8-10)

Before the Galatians heard the gospel of grace, they were idolaters.  "When you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods."  One of the churches of Galatia was the church at Lystra.  It was there that the apostle Paul shouted to a man crippled from birth, "Stand up straight on your feet."  And the man both walked and leaped.  The people responded, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!"  They believed that Barnabas was Zeus, and Paul was Hermes.  Read Acts 14:8-20.

In Galatians 3:1-5 we saw that they had responded to Paul's message, and experienced evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their midst.

Paul was perplexed at the sudden turning away of the Galatians.  "But now after you have known God (man's perspective of salvation), or rather are known by God (God's perspective of salvation), how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?"  But as quickly as they came to God, they turned from Him.  Galatians 1:6.  They turned to "weak and beggarly elements."  This was demonstrated in their observation of "days" (weekly Sabbaths) and "months" (new moons) and "seasons" (festivals, such as Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), and "years" (sabbatical and jubilee).  Ritualistic observances are heathenism in principle.  The Galatians had succumbed to the teaching of the Judaizers.  There is no liberty of the Spirit in legalism, only bondage.


An Appeal to Return to Love  (4:11-20)

Paul wrote, "Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you."  What did he mean?  In essence he was saying, "Become free from the bondage of the law like me, because after my conversion from Judaism I became like you Gentiles, no longer living under law."  He himself had laid aside the privileges and prejudices of the Jew's religion for Christ.  Philippians 3:4-8.

When Paul preached the gospel to the Galatians, he did so with a "physical infirmity."  Paul describes it as a trial in his flesh.  Paul writes that despite this apparent trial "you did not despise or reject...."  The word "despise" (Greek, exoutheneo) is strong language meaning "to treat with contempt."  The word "reject" (Greek, ekptuo) is more interesting in that it literally means "to spit out."  It was not uncommon in Paul's day for people to expectorate when they saw someone with a physical impairment or handicap.

Exactly what his malady was we do not know for sure.  However, it appears that it may have been a problem with his eyes.  Paul's statement, "You would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me," supports the view that he suffered ophthalmia, an Oriental eye disease prevalent in the lowlands of Asia Minor.  Despite Paul's physical disorder he had been received warmly as a messenger of God, even as the Lord Himself.  It was a graphic description of the great love and devotion that the churches of Galatia had for the apostle.  That was a time of enjoyed blessings, not bondage.

"Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?"  The legalists had accused Paul of not telling the truth, and of keeping the Galatians in a retarded spiritual condition by his stand against circumcision.

The religious Jews had been zealous in preaching their gospel.  Paul agrees that "it is good to be zealous in a good thing always...."  All Christians should be fervent in their evangelistic zeal.  The legalists were men of intense passion, but in a bad thing.

In Galatians 3:1 Paul addressed the people, "O foolish Galatians!"  In his appeal he refers to them as "brethren," and "my little children."  Throughout these Scriptures we can understand something of Paul's love and concern for the churches of Galatia.  The apostle expresses his loving concern and fear for those who had been victimized by the false teachers.  In Galatians 4:11 the apostle mentions how he "labored" for them during his first visit.  Then in Galatians 4:19 he likens himself to a childbearing woman in labor.  "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you...."  He concludes his appeal for love by expressing his desire to be with them.


An Appeal through Allegory  (4:21-31)

Paul ends his appeal by use of an allegory, which is a story with a hidden or symbolic meaning.

The apostle begins with a Bible story in Genesis, the first book of the law of Moses.  How clever!  Here is the story.  "Abraham had two sons (Ishmael and Isaac): the one by a bondwoman (Hagar), the other by a freewoman (Sarah)."  See Genesis 16:15; 21:2.  "But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh (Ishmael), and he of the freewoman through promise (Isaac)."  God had promised Abraham a son, even though the patriarch's wife, Sarah, was well beyond childbearing years.  Genesis 18:10.  Isaac was the child of promise.  These are the historical facts recorded by Moses.

Paul makes it clear that these "things are symbolic."  This does not relegate the biblical account to a lower, less significant level, where hidden, unrelated meanings have more important meanings.  Symbolic language should be interpreted symbolically.  In this instance, and only this instance, Paul uses allegory as a means to convey a truth.  And he expressly states that he is appealing through allegory.

In this allegory the apostle Paul is contrasting law and grace, bondage and liberty.  According to his symbolic interpretation there are "the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai (the law) which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar...."  The second covenant of grace is not mentioned.  Instead Paul contrasts two Jerusalems.  "For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.---but Jerusalem above is free, which is mother of us all."  It is interesting that the writer to the Hebrews contrasts Mount Sinai and the law with Mount Zion and grace.  See Hebrews 12:18-29.

What is the application of the allegory?  What is the lesson to be learned?  "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise."  In Galatians 4:27 Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1.  "Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear!  Break forth and shout, You who do not travail!  For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband."  How significant that this verse follows Isaiah 53, where we read about the suffering Savior, who was wounded for our transgressions!

Paul also contrasts the persecutors and the persecuted.  Those who preached the legalistic gospel of works persecuted those who were born again by the Spirit of God.  "But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now."  See Galatians 5:11.

"Nevertheless what does the Scripture say?  'Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.'"  Genesis 21:10.  The conclusion: "So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free."

As a preface to his allegory the apostle asked, "Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?"  The legalists will not be heard singing:

"Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,
Yonder on Calvary's mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Sin and despair like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with infinite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the Refuge, the Mighty Cross."

Thank God for His amazing grace!


Lesson Five: The Life
of Christian Liberty / The Call - Galatians 5



All About God

Scripture taken from the
New King James Version.
Copyright ©
1979, 1980, 1982
by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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