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- Free Bible Study Guides: Practical Answers—Real Hope
- Bible Study Guide Series
- Guidance for the Seasons of Life
In what way should the Galatian Christians become like Paul? Paul knew well that he wasn't sinlessly perfect. He wasn't standing before the Galatian Christians, saying "Look at how perfect I am. Don't worry about following Jesus, just follow me. Instead, Paul knew the Galatian Christians should imitate his consistency. The Galatians started out with the right understanding of the gospel, because Paul led them into the right understanding. But some of them didn't stay there like Paul did, and in that way, they should become like Paul. Paul knew the Galatian Christians should imitate his liberty.
Paul was free in Jesus, and he wanted them to know the same freedom.
In that way, they should become like Paul. Can you say to others, " become like me "? If you can't, then why not? If Christianity is true, shouldn't it be true in my life and your life? For I became like you: Paul can say to the Galatian Christians, "When it comes to legalism, I know where you are at. I used to live my whole life trying to be accepted by God because of what I did. In that regard, I became like you and saw that it was a dead end.
Take it from someone who knows where you are coming from. Or, Paul may have in mind the idea that he became as a Gentile when he was among them, according to the philosophy expressed in 1 Corinthians 9: In this thinking, he became "One who lives free from the restrictions imposed by the law.
This means he had thrown off his Jewish shackles and come to be like a Gentile; he beseeches his converts not to become like Jews. You have not injured me at all: Paul has used pretty strong words with the Galatians. It would be easy for them to think he spoke just out of a sense of personal hurt. Paul assures them that this wasn't the case at all. Paul wants them to get this right, but for their own sakes, not for his. We can feel Paul's heartfelt emotion in these verses.
As Stott puts it, "In Galatians we have been listening to Paul the apostle, Paul the theologian, Paul the defender of the faith; but now we are hearing Paul the man, Paul the pastor, Paul the passionate lover of souls. They cannot be straightened out in any other way. Oversharp criticism provokes anger and despair, but no repentance. You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first.
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. 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. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at first: Apparently, Paul was compelled to travel into the region of Galatia because of some type of physical infirmity he suffered while on his first missionary journey.
The book of Acts doesn't tell us as much about this as we would like to know, but we can piece together a few facts. We know that when Paul was in the region of south Galatia, they tried to execute him by stoning in the city of Lystra Acts His attackers gave him up for dead, yet he miraculously survived. Some think that this was the cause of the physical infirmity he mentions.
But Paul was already in the region of Galatia when that happened; his wording in Galatians 4 suggests that he came into the region because of a physical infirmity. What exactly was Paul's physical infirmity? Some believe his problem was depression, or epilepsy, or that his illness was connected with the thorn in the flesh mentioned in 2 Corinthians None of these can be established with certainty. According to Acts 13 , Paul came to the region of Galatia - specifically, the city of Pisidian Antioch - from the city of Perga in the region of Pamphylia.
Second, Perga was in a lowland, marshy area. The Galatian city of Pisidian Antioch was some 3, feet higher than Perga. It has been suggested that Paul's physical infirmity was a type of malaria common to the lowlands of Perga. William Barclay describes this malaria as producing a terrible pain that was like "a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead. However, we should remember what Morris quotes from Stamm: My trial that was in my flesh you did not despise or reject: Even though Paul was not a great example of strength and power because of his physical infirmity, the Galatians still received him, and they received him honorably.
They embraced Paul so generously that they would have plucked out [their] own eyes and given them to Paul if that could somehow meet his need. This leads some to believe that Paul's physical infirmity had something to do with his eyes. Noted Greek scholars such as Wuest, Rendall, and Robertson believe that the nuances of the Greek text indicate that Paul's physical infirmity as an eye problem.
But Cole rightly notes: Certainly with smoky fires, no chimneys, and oil lamps, one would expect a high incidence of eye trouble in the first-century Mediterranean world.
To one who had spent years poring over crabbed Hebrew tomes the risk might well be greater. But again we have no proof. But the real point here is that despite whatever Paul's infirmity was, the Galatians did not despise or reject him. Even though Paul seemed weak and afflicted, they embraced him and responded to his message of grace and God's love.
In light of the great love and honor the Galatians had shown towards Paul, and in light of the great blessing they received from God when they showed such to him, the Galatians should not think that Paul has now become their adversary when he confronts them with the truth. They needed the truth more than they needed to feel good about where they were at. Both are necessary; otherwise, their teaching will not have a sweet taste.
And he declares that both had been true of him among the Galatians. He had already spoken of their respect; he now speaks of their love. Ministers should not be received and evaluated on the basis of their personal appearance, intellectual attainments, or winsome manner, but as to whether or not they are indeed God's messengers bearing the word of Christ.
They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you. The zealously court you, but for no good: Paul will admit that the legalists zealously court the Galatians; and legalism often comes wrapped in a cloak of "love.
Many cults use a technique informally known as "love bombing. But it isn't really a sincere love for the prospect; it is really just a technique to gain another member. Christians - and legalistic groups among Christians - can use the same technique in some way or another. They want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them: Paul's legalistic opponents wanted to draw the Galatian Christians away into their own divisive group.
They actually wanted to exclude the Galatians from other Christians, and to bring them into the "super-spiritual" group of the legalists.
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The zeal cultivated by legalism is often more a zeal for the group itself than for Jesus Christ. Though they name the name of Jesus, in practice the group itself is exalted as the main focus, and usually exalted as the last refuge of the true "super-Christians. Exclude is literally "lock you up. Legalism is almost always associated with some kind of religious bondage. Having gotten them to adopt the festivals and perhaps the fast days, the Judaizers were now urging them to adopt circumcision.
It is good to be zealous in a good thing always: Paul certainly isn't against zeal. He wants Christians to be zealous in a good thing always. But it is important to make sure that our zeal is in a good thing , because zeal in a bad thing is dangerous. The Galatian Christians were no doubt impressed by the zeal of the legalists. They were so sincere, so passionate about their beliefs.
Paul will agree that it is good to be zealous - but only in a good thing always. Zeal in the service of a lie is a dangerous thing! Paul knew this well, because before he became a Christian, he had plenty of zeal, even persecuting the church Acts 7: Later, Paul looked back at that time of great zeal in the service of a lie and deeply regretted it 1 Corinthians And not only when I am present with you: Paul wanted the Galatians to be zealous for what is good when he was absent, not only when he was present among them.
My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you. Paul rightly considers himself to be a father to the Galatians. Yet this challenge has made him feel as if he must bring them to Jesus all over again for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you. Paul knew that his work of forming Christ in them was not complete until they stayed in a place of trusting Jesus.
The idea of Christ is formed in you is similar to the idea of Romans 8: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. It would be wrong for Paul to seek to form himself in the Galatians. That is never to be the job of the pastor. He is right to seek to form Christ in them. Through this section, Paul masterfully mixes metaphors to give a powerful picture. Paul likens himself to a "mother" who gave spiritual "birth" to the Galatians my little children. Something unnatural has happened - the Galatians are drifting away from Jesus and to the law.
So Paul has to labor in birth again , and this is unnatural to have labor pains a second time. Paul has the labor pains, but Christ is formed in them. Paul will keep laboring until it is Christmas for the Galatians, and Jesus is formed in them! This is a pattern found in all Biblical ministry.
The Holy Ghost impregnates the Word so that it brings forth the fruit of faith. In this manner every Christian pastor is a spiritual father who forms Christ in the hearts of his hearers. He had been in labour over them previously at the time of their conversion, when they were brought to birth; now their backsliding has caused him another confinement.
He is in labour again. The first time there had been a miscarriage; this time he longs that Christ will be truly formed in them. I would like to be present with you now and change my tone: Paul wished two things. First, that he could be present with the Galatians. But he also wished that he did not need to speak to them in such strong words, that he could change his tone. But their danger of leaving the true gospel has made such strong words necessary, and has made Paul's doubts necessary to address. This section, Galatians 4: Using the Old Testament, Paul shows that the systems of grace and law can't exist together as principles in our lives.
Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? Tell me, you who desire to be under the law: Now Paul writes directly, both to those who promoted legalism and to those who succumbed to legalism. He writes to those who desire to be under the law , living under law keeping as the basis for their relationship with God.
Who would ever desire to be under the law? There are many advantages to being under the law as your principle of relating to God. First, you always have the outward certainty of a list of rules to keep. Second, you can compliment yourself because you keep the rules better than others do. Finally, you can take the credit for your own salvation, because you earned it by keeping the list of rules.
Under the law , it is what you do for God that makes you right before Him. Under the grace of God, it is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ that makes us right before Him. Under the law , the focus is on my performance. Under the grace of God, the focus is on who Jesus is and what He has done. Under the law , we find fig leaves to cover our nakedness. Under the grace of God, we receive the covering, won through sacrifice, that God provides. The Christian has no business living under the law. It is not above a Christian - it is under a Christian.
Some men hold God's law like a rod in terrorem , over Christians, and say, 'If you sin you will be punished with it. The law is under a Christian; it is for him to walk on, to be his guide, his rule, his pattern … Law is the road which guides us, not the rod which drives us, nor the spirit which actuates us. Do you not hear the law? Paul senses that he hasn't made his point yet, so he will now approach the matter with another illustration from the Old Testament.
Essentially, Paul says "Let's have a Bible study. Open your Bibles to Genesis chapter Paul took it for granted that his readers knew the Bible. He explains his point from the story of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah in Genesis 16 without a lot of detail from the story. He assumes that they knew the story. It is important that Paul refer back to the Scriptures again and again. The legalists among the Galatians presented themselves as the "back to the Bible" bunch. Yet Paul will show that they are not handling the Old Testament Scriptures correctly, and he will show that a true understanding of the Law of Moses will support the true gospel he preaches.
For it is written that Abraham had two sons: But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise. The legalists who troubled the Galatians protested that they were children of Abraham, and therefore blessed. Paul will admit they are children of Abraham, but they forget that Abraham had two sons!
The one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman: Abraham's first son was named Ishmael. He was born not from his wife, but from his wife's servant the bondwoman , from a misguided surrogate mother scheme to "help God out" when it Abraham's wife Sarah couldn't become pregnant. The first contrast Paul draws between real Christianity and legalism is the contrast between freedom and slavery.
One son of Abraham was born by a freewoman , and one was born by a bondwoman. Which son of Abraham illustrates your life with God? Born according to the flesh: Ishmael was Abraham's son, but he was the son according to the flesh and unbelief and trying to make your own way before God. It often doesn't look like it, but legalism is living according to the flesh.
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It denies God's promise and tries to make your own way to God through the law. This is living like a descendant of Abraham - but it is living like Ishmael. It also means judging other believers on the basis of these standards. He of the freewoman through promise: Abraham's second son was named Isaac. He was born, miraculously, through Abraham's wife Sarah the freewoman.
Isaac was Abraham's son, and he was the son of God's promise and faith and God's miracle for Abraham. The second contrast Paul draws between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between a work done by God's promised miracle and a work done by the flesh. Is your relationship with God based on your own works, or the work of God's promised miracle? Which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: For it is written: Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children Than she who has a husband.
Which things are symbolic: Paul wants it understood that he speaks using pictures from the Old Testament. His reference to Hagar and Ishmael were pictures, meant to illustrate his point. Now he will bring in another picture. Paul was clearly guided by the Holy Spirit here. For us, we must be careful about reading allegorical or symbolic things into the Scriptures. I acknowledge that Scripture is the most rich and inexhaustible fount of all wisdom. But I deny that its fertility consists in the various meanings which anyone may fasten to it at his pleasure.
Let us know, then, that the true meaning of Scripture is the natural and simple one, and let us embrace and hold it resolutely. In the Bible, a covenant is a "contract" that sets the rules for our relationship with God. Paul brings it right down to the issues confronting the Galatian Christians. The legalists wanted them to relate to God under one set of rules, and Paul wanted them to relate to God under the "rules" presented by the gospel.
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It's worth reminding ourselves of the extreme relevance of all this. Many people look at the issues Paul is passionate about here and they just yawn. They say, "Paul, you are dealing with theological speculation. I've got other problems. My marriage is in trouble. I can't pay my bills. I've got a lot of personal problems. You would do me much more good by teaching me about those things than going on and on with your theology about being right with God.
If that isn't right, than nothing else really matters. If that is right, God will bless you and teach you about your marriage, your money, and your personal problems. Regarding the solutions to our day-to-day problems, Jesus said seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. The one from Mount Sinai: This covenant gives birth to bondage. Since it is all about what we must do for God to be accepted by Him, it doesn't set us free.
It puts us on a perpetual treadmill of having to prove ourselves and earn our way before God. This covenant is associated with Hagar , the "surrogate mother" who gave birth to Ishmael. It is therefore, if used wrongly, a covenant according to the flesh Galatians 4: This covenant corresponds to Jerusalem which now is , that is, earthly Jerusalem which was the capital of religious Judaism. This was the way most Jewish people in Paul's day tried to be right with God - by trusting in their ability to please God by keeping the law. Paul emphasizes the point again: But the Jerusalem above: The other covenant is associated with Jerusalem, with Mount Zion - but not the Mount Zion of this earth.
Instead, it is associated with the Jerusalem above - God's own New Jerusalem in heaven. The third contrast Paul draws between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between heaven and earth. Is your relationship with God a matter of heaven coming down to earth, or is it like earth reaching up to heaven? The Jerusalem above is free: Paul will now tell us more about the covenant represented by the heavenly Jerusalem. This covenant brings freedom - it is free. It is free because it recognizes that Jesus paid the price, and we don't have to pay it ourselves. It was under the rule of the Romans.
But the spiritual or heavenly Jerusalem is not in bondage; it is free. Which is the mother of us all: This covenant has many children; it is the mother of us all. Every Christian through the centuries belongs to this new covenant, the covenant of the heavenly Jerusalem.
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And every birth under this covenant is a miracle, like the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah Every one is born because of a miracle by God. The desolate has many more children: The quotation from Isaiah The fourth contrast Paul draws between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between many more and many. The abundance and glory of the New Covenant is shown by the fact that it would soon have more followers than the Old Covenant. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was , are children of promise.
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. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise: As Christians, we don't identify with Ishmael. We identify with Isaac , as children of a promise that was received by faith. 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: Ishmael and his descendants persecuted Isaac and his descendants. So we should not be surprised that the modern day people who follow God in the flesh persecute those who follow God in faith through the promise.
The fifth contrast Paul draws between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between persecuted and persecuting. The legalists - represented by Ishmael - have always persecuted true Christianity, represented by Isaac. As we walk in the glory, in the freedom, in the miraculous power of this New Covenant, we should expect to be mistreated by those who don't.
Guidance for the Seasons of Life
Great men of God through the ages have known this persecution, like Martin Luther, who wrote: No wonder our opponents think they are doing God a favor by hating and persecuting us. Ismael will persecute Isaac. There is no specific mention of Ishmael persecuting Isaac, though Genesis Paul may be referring to this mocking, he may be recalling a Jewish tradition, or he may be adding something by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we didn't know before.
The persecution Christians face "will not always be by the world but also and indeed more often by their half-brothers - the unbelieving but religious people in the nominal church. This is the lesson of history … Today the greatest enemies of the believing church are found among the members of the unbelieving church, the greatest opposition emanating from pulpits and church hierarchies. The answer to this problem is clear, though not easy. We must cast out the bondwoman and her son. Law and grace cannot live together as principles for our Christian life.
Hagar and Sarah could not live together in the same house Genesis We could argue all day long whose fault it was, but that isn't the point. The point is that God told Abraham to send Hagar away. Feast of Unleavened Bread: War and Rescue Lesson 7: Satan Bound, Humanity Freed! Picturing the Millennium of Peace Lesson 9: How to Celebrate God's Festivals Today. Getting to Really Know God Armor of God Series Lesson 1: The Belt of Truth Lesson 3: The Breastplate of Righteousness Lesson 4: The Shield of Faith Lesson 6: Helmet of Salvation Lesson 7: The Cloak of Zeal.
Series 1 - The Bible and You: Practical Answers—Real Hope These hands-on, introductory lessons cover practical issues that are relevant to your life now, and that give solid hope for your future. Series 2 - Bible Answers for These lessons will give biblical answers to a wide variety of practical questions about how to live a Christian life in the modern world.
Relationships, communications, finances, addictions and challenges of all types will be answered from the sure and practical wisdom of the Word of God. Understanding prophecy, the Ten Commandments, the benefits of having God's Spirit, the tools for spiritual growth, the spiritual armor of God and other fundamental teachings of the Bible will be covered. Series 4 - God's Plan for You and the Entire World This series will look at God's master plan that offers human beings the opportunity for eternal life!
We will look at it through the lens of God's festivals and Holy Days and their profound meaning. These often-neglected biblical festivals can help unlock what Jesus called the "mystery of the kingdom of God. The Bible gives a road map of specific steps we should take in making that personal transformation. This series will look at the biblical answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?
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