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 XLIV)

It appears that this same oddity of converts to Christianity being persecuted by their own people also happened in Thessalonica. Paul remembers when they were just like the congregations in Judea. They were treated badly by their own people the Gentiles, just as those Jewish believers in Jesus the Anointed One were mistreated by other Jews. It was the same Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets. And they forced the believing Jews to leave their country. They are not pleasing to God because they are against everything and everyone else.[1] And the writer of Hebrews mentioned that those among his readers sometimes heard people say hateful things to them and mistreated them in public. And occasionally they helped others being treated that same way. In fact, they visited those in prison and shared in their suffering. Yet they were still happy when everything they owned was taken away from them. They continued to be happy because they knew that there awaited them something much better – something that would last forever.[2] One question is whether we should expect to be treated any better by today’s world? But an even greater question is, how will we react?

British preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), continues his thoughts on the idea of spiritual heritage through the Promised Son, Isaac, instead of through the produced son, Ishmael: My brothers and sisters, says Spurgeon, you are children who were born because of God’s promise, just as Isaac was. But the other son of Abraham, who was born in a natural way, just as Ishmael was, caused trouble for the one who was born by the power of the Holy Spirit. It remains the same today, Spurgeon says, when siblings differ as greatly as Ishmael and Isaac, it is not surprising if they had a falling out, and indulge in unkind words and feelings. Ishmael was older than Isaac, and as they began to play with each other, Sarah, saw the older son of the bond-woman mocking her child, as older ones often do. This may serve us as an indication of what we might expect if we possess the God-given life, and are heirs according to the promise. Those who are under the bondage of the Law cannot love those who are free-born by the Gospel, and in some way or another, will soon display their hostility. While we may not witness the same Hebrew against Heathen confrontations in our lifetime, we can certainly see the similarity in the Godly and ungodly, the heavenly and the earthly members of society.

But Spurgeon sees another level of this kind of jeering and poking fun at Christians. Sometimes the world mocks Christians because they see them as uninformed and backward in their ways, more like children than adults. So, are believers really such weak-minded people that it excites the derision of those who think themselves strong-minded? No! Of course not! The world makes more of this than what really exists. If they laugh at our weaknesses, it’s because they don’t see the strength, we acquired to resist temptation and stay on the straight and narrow way. They may also discriminate against Christians because of what they see as their insignificance and imperfection by worldly standards. What they don’t realize is that we are children of the King and part of His Kingdom that is in us now and soon may be seen in its beauty with a New Jerusalem. Then, we will judge them instead of them judging us.[3]

Would it be too much of a stretch to also compare this same prejudice to how church-born Christians once treated born again believers? It was not too long ago that members of established nominal churches looked down on Evangelicals and Pentecostals. They also were thought of as coming from the less refined part of town and consider uneducated by the more elite members of society. The houses they lived in, the cars, if they had any, they drove were used models of the lower economic class. And even their jobs were at the minimum wage level. Yet, while the sophisticated stood somber and polite during worship services, the born again stood with arms raised as tears of joy flooded their eyes as they magnified their Redeemer with songs of praise and worship and prayers inspired by the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. But on resurrection day, those who prided themselves on being conformist to church rules, regulations, and ceremonies will remain silent in their graves while the saints go marching into God’s presence to live there forevermore. Thank God that such bigotry is now part of the past.

Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889) examines what Paul says here in verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine to the Jewish converts in Galatia to help them understand their status with God and Abraham. He told them, you are children who were born because of God’s promise, just as Isaac was. But the other son of Abraham, who was born in a natural way, caused trouble for the one who was born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same today. On this ground, says Edersheim, it was out of jealousy that Sarah demanded the bondwoman and her son be thrown out.

But Abraham, who possibly misunderstood her motives, was reluctant to comply because of his fatherly affection for a son, which is quite natural. It was only after God expressly directed Abram to let the woman go that he told her, “goodbye.” The expulsion of Ishmael became necessary, not only because of his illegitimacy due to his mother being a heathen, but in order to keep the heir of the promise unmixed with others, but also for the sake of Abraham himself, whose faith must be trained to give up his own intentions in order to be obedient to his Divine calling, everything – even his natural paternal affection for Ishmael.

And in His tender mercy notes Edersheim, God once more made the trial easier, by granting a special promise that Ishmael will become “a nation” on his own. Therefore, although Hagar and her son were literally thrown out with the barest of necessities – water and bread – for the journey was intended chiefly to try Abraham’s faith since God planned that their poverty would be temporary. Out of His mercy, we read afterward in Scripture that before his death, Abraham enriched his sons (by Hagar and Keturah) with “gifts,”[4] and at his burial, Ishmael appears, as an acknowledged son, by the side of Isaac, to perform the last rites of love to their father.[5] [6]

4:30-31 Nevertheless, let’s see what the Scripture says about that: “Get rid of the slave-wife and her son, for the son of the slave-wife will never share the family inheritance with the legitimate wife’s son.” So, it’s clear, my brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave-wife, Hagar, but of the legitimate wife, Sarah. 

Paul hopes the Galatians will see the truth through this illustration. If they insist on connecting with God through the religious rituals and regulations – many of which they invented themselves – they enjoy no more chance to be included in God’s promise to Abraham than Ishmael. He was conceived outside of God’s will. Why were they suddenly so blind? Their acceptance of Jesus the Anointed One brought them into the will and the promises of God. Why give that up? What could they gain? That’s why Paul quotes Sarah’s famous line when she saw how Hagar and Ishmael were seen making fun of Isaac, telling Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. Sarah did not want Ishmael to divide Isaac’s inheritance with him; she wanted Isaac to get it all.

As he usually does, Paul finds that the Scriptures are his best friend when it comes to any argument involving Faith verse Works. So, what can Abraham, the father of Jewish people, say about faith? First of all, if Abraham was made right with God by the things he did, that gave him plenty of reasons to think highly of himself. But both he and God knew differently. That’s why the Scriptures say, “Abraham believed God, and because of this, he was accepted as one who is right with God.”[7] [8] So, the descendants of Abraham were not given the enviable position of being the children of God by anything they did. In fact, says Paul, God chose the Israelites to be His people before they were even born.[9]

Therefore, any estrangement between God and the people of Israel was entirely their fault. God was not about to take those He gave His name to before they were born and then later throw them out of the house just because they didn’t turn out to be precisely what He wanted them to be. So, this is what happened: The people of Israel wanted God’s blessing, but not all of them received it. The people He chose did get His blessing, but the others became hardheaded and refused to listen to Him. As the Scriptures say, “God caused the people to fall asleep.”[10]God closed their eyes, making it impossible for them to see, and he closed their ears, making it impossible for them to hear. This continues until now.[11] And David says, “Let those people be caught and trapped at their own feasts. Let them fall and be punished. Let their eyes be closed so that they cannot see. And let them be troubled forever.[12] So I ask: When the Jews fell, did that fall destroy them? No! But their mistake brought salvation to those who were not Jews. The purpose of this was to make the Jews jealous.[13]

So, what made the Israelites, and now the Galatians, do such a stupid thing? Paul says that it all depends on what spirit controls our life. The Spirit that true believers receive is not a spirit that makes them slaves again to the Law and causes them to fear the coming judgment. The Spirit that dwells in believers makes them God’s chosen children. And with that Spirit, they cry out, “Abba, Father.” And the Spirit Himself speaks to their spirits and makes them sure that they are God’s children. Therefore, if they truly are God’s children, they will get the blessings God promised for His people. He will give them all that He gave to the Anointed One. But still, they must suffer as the Anointed One suffered. Then they will be able to share His glory.[14] So it should be easy for the Galatians to figure out what spirit they allowed to take over their lives.

Was Paul doing something new going back to the First Covenant and pulling out Scriptures just to back-up his argument for believers under the Final Covenant? No! It was common for Rabbi’s to point out where Scriptures help them make their point. For instance, some Rabbis were talking about prayers (Hebrew, “Tefillah”), and benedictions where they inserted Scriptures into these prayers. And one of them said that David’s words, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer,[15] fit in nicely at either the beginning or end of any prayer, no matter how short or long.[16]

[1] 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15

[2] Hebrews 10:33-34

[3] Charles H. Spurgeon, On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., According to Promise, Persecution Consequent on the Promise, pp, 18-21

[4] Genesis 25:6

[5] Ibid. 25:9

[6] Alfred Edersheim: Bible History, Old Testament, Vol. 1, Ch. 14, p. 91

[7] Genesis 15:6

[8] Romans 4:1-3

[9] Ibid. 2:2a

[10] Deuteronomy 29:3; Isaiah 29:10

[11] Psalm 69:23-24

[12] Deuteronomy 32:21

[13] Romans 11:7-11

[14] Ibid. 8:15-17

[15] Psalm 19:14

[16] Babylonian Talmud: Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Berakoth, folio 19b

About drbob76

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