CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXI)

Did Paul carry any particular idea in his mind when he speaks about “knowing God?” Was there some source the Galatians were all familiar with that needed no further explanation? We find that what Paul is speaking about knowing God, was part of Jewish thinking from ages past. When King Solomon consecrated the first Temple he built to God, part of his prayer was that when a stranger who is not one of God’s chosen people – Israel, comes from a far country to pay homage to Him, (for they heard of His great Name and His powerful hand and His long arm,) when they come and pray toward God’s house, for Him to please listen in heaven where He sits. For Him to fill all the requests, this stranger asks so that everyone everywhere on earth may know His Name and reverence Him, as did His people Israel. Then they may know, says Solomon, that this house I built was in honor of Your name.[1]

In other words, those who heard of God but do not know God must be willing to find Him because He will be right where He wants them to be when they meet. As the Psalmist said of the LORD: Those, who know Your reputation can put their trust in You, for You did not abandon those who seek You, Adonai.[2] And in his Proverbs, Solomon was certain of this truth: those who look for God like a person looking for silver or searching for hidden treasure will come to understand what it means to reverence the LORD, and thereby gain more knowledge about Him. We do not absorb God into our minds by meditation, nor do we increase in knowledge just by reading the Bible. It must be studied and examined, and questions asked of those with a greater understanding of God’s Word.[3]

When Jesus prayed concerning His disciples’ well-being during the time of His death and resurrection, that they did not forget the life He came to give was more than just what they experience down here. He told His Father in heaven, this is a life that lasts forever. It is to know You, the only true God, and know Me, Jesus, as the Messiah Whom You sent.[4]

Sad to say, but Paul found a similar situation in the Corinthian church. So, he wrote to them: Come to your senses! Live right and stop sinning! In fact, you have some members there who don’t know God at all – I say this to your shame. In other words, even though they attend church and participate in worship, they still don’t really know God!

Then, in his second letter, he reminded them of when God said, “Let there be light,” and when He sent His Son Jesus, He, more or less, again commanded that there be Light, only this time, Paul says, the light He caused to shine in our hearts and give us more light in getting to know Him was reflected from the face of Jesus the Anointed One.[5] So we can understand why the writer of Hebrews told us to keep our eyes on Jesus.[6]

Apparently, the believers in Ephesus were more advanced than those in Corinth or even Galatia. When Paul wrote, he told them he was praying that God the Father and the Lord Yeshua His Son would give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they might know them better.[7] The Apostle John was more direct when he wrote that we can be sure that we know Him if we obey His teachings. Anyone who says, “I know Him,” but does not obey His teaching, is not telling the truth because there is no truth in them.[8] But here is what can be known that is true: We know God’s Son came. He gave us an understanding to know who is the true God. We are joined in unison with the true God through His Son, Jesus the Anointed One. He is the true God and the Life everlasting.[9]

But it’s not only a case of knowing God but that He also knows us. When Moses prayed to God: If I’ve found favor in Your eyes, let me know Your ways. Then I may know You and find favor in Your eyes. Then the Lord answered Moses and told him: I’ll do what you asked me to do because you found favor in My eyes, and I know you by name.[10] That was another way of God saying, I know you personally, we’re good friends. The Psalmist also found this to be true. He said that the Lord keeps track of those who are right with Him.[11] That’s why Jesus was able to tell His disciples that as a Good Shepherd, He knows who His sheep are and His sheep know Him. So, when He calls out to His sheep, they know who is calling and follow His voice.[12]

In verse nine, Paul’s expression, “now you know the true God,” then adds, “but really it is God who knows you,” does not refer merely to a knowledge-based acquaintance on a purely religious sense or an intellectual sense. No doubt, the Apostle Paul regarded such knowledge by God as an eternal present fact. Therefore, the phrase must refer to God knowing the Galatians in a saving way.[13] In other words, both the Galatians and God experienced something that made them intimately aware of each other. And since God knew them all along, He was happy that now they got to know Him on an individual basis.

Furthermore, we see that Paul adds the phrase, “are known by God” to the phrase “after that you have known God,” for the following reasons: It is to remind the Galatians that they do not owe their knowledge of God to themselves, but only to Him. Their escape from idolatry and bondage to the Law was not affected by any knowledge they acquired about God on their own, but by them also getting to know God in a saving way. In other words, His hand was already extended toward them for redemption before they extended their hand toward Him for salvation. That’s why they should clearly see the folly and foolishness of abandoning this advantageous position to take an inferior one from which they were rescued.

John Eadie (1810-1876) put it this way: “God knew them before they knew Him, and His knowing them was the cause of their knowing Him.[14] Then, the Dean of Westminster in London, Arthur P. Stanley (1815-1881), remarks that “Our knowledge of God is more His act than ours.” If God knows a person, that means that something that God did was given to them. And, as the receiver of God’s knowledge, they enter into a personal relationship with Him. The Greek verb ginōskō translated as “known” (KJV), which in the Final Covenant most often implies that an individual’s relationship is between the knower and those who are known.[15]

That, then, begs the question: Did God know something He kept secret? No, says Paul, in fact, God knew from the beginning who would put their trust in Him. So, He chose them and made them be like His Son, the Anointed One who was first, and all those who belong to God are His brothers.[16] And when Paul wrote to Timothy who was dealing with false teachers and those claiming to be the Christians but were followers of some sect, Paul told him not to worry, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are His,[17] that’s because they don’t run with the crowd that continually practices sinful living.[18] [19]

Paul explained it to the Romans this way: We are not freed from sin’s slavery just by knowing God’s commandments because it lacks the power to make the old nature cooperate. So, God put into effect a different plan to save us. He did this by sending His own Son in a human body like ours – except that ours are sinful – and destroyed sin’s control over us by giving Himself on our behalf as a sacrifice for our sins.[20] So no wonder Paul was confused with the Colossians and wrote and asked them: Since, in a way, you died along with the Anointed One, and this set you free from the powers that influence this world’s behavior, why do you act as though you still belong to them by doing good deeds and obeying various rules? Why do you keep right on following them anyway? Don’t you know that this means you are still bound by directives that say: You must not put your hand on this; do not put this into your mouth; you must not put a finger on this or that, etc.?[21]

The writer of Hebrews dealt with a similar situation. He points to what the Scriptures say about the return of the Anointed One that may happen very soon. So, he cautions his readers that those who are right with God will continue to live by faith. God forbid that anyone turns back into what they once were.  Said the author, who many believe to be the Apostle Paul, he would not be pleased with them. Refuse to belong to the crowd that turns back and ends up being lost again. We are people saved by faith.[22]

What seemed to be these people’s problems? It appears, they just couldn’t follow all the ceremonial laws of Judaism even though they felt compelled to participate in all the observances anyway.[23] Paul found this so prevalent in the Church in Rome that he was forced to write them and caution them about being too harsh and strict with these conformists who just couldn’t break with their past allegiance to the ceremonial laws of the First Covenant. He advised them to be willing to accept those who still struggle with doubts about what believers can or cannot do and keep them as part of the fellowship. Don’t keep arguing over what they think is right as opposed to what you think is right.

For instance, there are some who believe they may eat any kind of food while another person with weak faith eats only grains and vegetables. The person who eats everything should not think they are better than the person who only eats meatless meals. The person who stays away from meat should not say the other person is wrong for eating meat. God also claims them as His own. Think of it this way, who are you to tell another person’s servant if you think they’re competent or incompetent? They don’t work for you, so it’s up to the owner to make that decision. Their master will take care of advising them. The same goes for the believer who thinks one day is more important than another, while another person thinks every day is the same. Everyone must be sure of where they stand on issues in their own mind.[24]

[1] 1 Kings 8:41-42

[2] Psalm 9:10 (11 in Jewish Bible)

[3] Acts of the Apostles, 17:11-12

[4] John 17:3

[5] 2 Corinthians 4:6

[6] Hebrews 12:2

[7] Ephesians 1:17

[8] 1 John 2:3-4

[9] Ibid. 5:20

[10] Exodus 33:13, 17

[11] Psalm 1:6

[12] John 10:14, 27

[13] See Psalm 1:6, Nahum 1:7, I Corinthians 8:3, Matthew 7:23.

[14] John Eadie: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 310

[15] See Kenneth S. Wuest: Word Studies on Galatians, op. cit., p. 62

[16] Romans 8:29

[17] Numbers 16:5; Nahum 1:7

[18] Numbers 16:26

[19] 2 Timothy 2:19

[20] Romans 8:3

[21] Colossians 2:20-21

[22] Hebrews 10:37-38

[23] See Leviticus 23:1-44; 25:1-13; Numbers 28:1-29

[24] Romans 14:1-5

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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