Bible Passage: Galatians 4:1-11
This is another passage in Galatians that has a chiasm (or ‘sandwich’) structure. In this structure, the beginning and the end of the passage cover a similar theme, with the crescendo found in the middle. Paul uses this as part of his argument against Gentile Christians needing to obey the law. The opening and closing sections are both on the theme of enslavement, and we are supposed to see the parallel between the enslavement of Jews under the law and the enslavement of Gentiles to their idolatry. Both needed to be set free, and this is where the crescendo comes as God brings us into the family through sending his Son into the world and sending his Spirit into our hearts.
No Longer Slaves (1-3, 8-11): In verses 1-3, Paul speaks of the situation of the Jews (‘we’) apart from Christ. Though they were heirs to the promises that God has made to Abraham, they were under the guardianship of the law and this put them in a situation no better than slaves, required to comply with every rule and regulation imposed on them. In verses 8-11 he turns his attentions to the Gentiles apart from God (‘you’), and again he says that they were slaves, this time to ‘beings that by nature are not gods.’ He is speaking about the pagan idols that they had given themselves to worship.
In both instances he describes the enslavement as ‘ to the elemental spirits’. He is talking about spiritual beings who are not God. He has already mentioned in 3:19 that the law was mediated by angels, and this is what he means by describing the Jews as enslaved by the elemental spirits, whereas in the case of the Gentiles he means the idols themselves.
The purpose of bringing this up is to make the challenge that he does in verses 9-10. As redeemed Christians, the Galatians are returning to their enslavement as they submit again to the law. He particularly challenges them about observing special days, months, seasons and years. It is not clear whether the days and seasons he has in mind come from pagan culture or the Jewish law, and this is not suggesting it is wrong to enjoy particular rhythms (days off, Christmas, Easter etc – although some have applied this verse against those things). The point here is that making such observance necessary or compulsory for relationship with God is legalistic and does not lead to gospel freedom.
God Sent His Son (4-5): The solution to the slavery for both Jews and Gentiles is found in Christ. God gave his Son to bring freedom and redemption. In these verses, Paul shares a few important details about the coming of Jesus. The first was that it happened when the ‘fullness of time had come.’ The timing of the coming of Jesus was no accident, but it was perfectly in line with God’s good plan. We are also told that he is God’s Son, truly divine, and at the same time he was born of a woman, speaking to his true humanity. He was born under the law so that he could fulfil the law and bring freedom and redemption for all who were under the law. Had Jesus not been subject to the law himself, then the law’s demands could not have been met. Because of his perfect life, death and resurrection, we are brought into the family of God and given adoption as his children.
These verses are a great articulation of the person and work of Christ. It gives an objective grounding for our assurance that we are God’s children, and gives us a rock solid truth on which to base our hope.
God Sent His Spirit (6-7): Building on from the previous verses, God did not send only his Son into the world but also sent his Spirit into our hearts. As the coming of the Son gives us an objective grounds for assurance of our adoption, the Spirit makes that assurance experienced and subjective. It is the Spirit in us that testifies to us of God’s fatherhood of us, and he joins with our Spirit to cry ‘Abba! Father!’. The word Abba is a very familiar and personal term for father. It doesn’t carry the same childish undertones that the English word ‘daddy’ does, and so the closest equivalent that we have may simply be ‘dad.’
This is a great point to linger on. Many people find it easy to see God as an authority figure but struggle to relate to him with the intimacy of a Father, and this is something that the indwelling Spirit teaches us to do. Of course, there will be a variety of experiences that people have had with their human fathers, and so we do not want to project our own experiences onto God, but instead look to God’s fatherhood and let that show us what true fatherhood should look like.
- The framing of this passage is the slavery of legalism or idolatry. In both cases it is about seeking approval and validation by our actions. Ask people to reflect on whether there are things in their lives that are putting them back under the yoke of slavery.
- In these verses we get a really clear explanation of the gospel. This is a great moment to invite people to respond to what Jesus has done.
- This is an excellent opportunity to pray for people to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit. There is an opportunity for some ministry time inviting people to connect with the Father heart of God and cry out to him.