NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER FOUR
It is apparent that the Apostle Paul starts this chapter dealing plainly with outsiders who urged the Galatians to obey the Law of Moses along with the Gospel of the Anointed One. They aimed to bring those living in freedom under bondage once more to the Law. It is evident that neither these Judaizers or Galatians fully understand the meaning of the Law as given by Moses. And as that occurred during a period of spiritual darkness, it also included the burden of slavery to sin. This is illustrated by their being tied to many burdensome rites, rituals, and regulations by which they were taught and under forced obedience like a child under mentors and governors.
But Paul helps us see the happier state of Christians under the Gospel. From these verses, we admire the wonders of Divine love and mercy, particularly of God the Father in sending His Son into the world to redeem and save all of us. Also, the Son of God, in willingly stooping so low, and suffering so much for us; and of the divine Holy Spirit, in lowering Himself to dwell in the hearts of human believers in order for Grace to fulfill its intent and purpose. Also, we see the advantages Christians enjoy under the Gospel. Although of a sinful nature, the children of rebellion and disobedience became children of love and obedience by grace and partakers of God’s nature as His children. He desired that all His children resemble Him in spirit.
In those days, among human families, the first-born son was the heir apparent to his father’s estate. But under grace, all God’s children will be given an inheritance because they are in union with God’s first-born son – the Son of Man. May our attitude and conduct as God’s children always show our relationship through adoption, and may the Holy Spirit witness with our spirits that we are children and truly heirs of almighty God.
Then, the happy change came when the Galatians were turned from dead idols to a living God, and through the Anointed One received their adoption, which was the effect of His free and rich grace; they were placed under a more responsible obligation to keep to the liberty by which He made them free. All our knowledge of God begins on His part; we know Him because we are known by Him. Though our faith forbids idolatry, unfortunately, many still practice spiritual idolatry in their hearts. For what a person loves most, and cares most about becomes their god: some have riches as their god, some find their god in worldly pleasures, lust, and greed. And many ignorantly worship a god of their own making but who can show no mercy or forgiveness.
Somehow, they convinced themselves that there is mercy for them with God, although they never repent, but go on in their sins. It is possible for those who have made great professions of religion, to be afterward drawn aside from walking in holiness on the straight and narrow way. However, the more mercy God shows in bringing any who will believe in His Son to hear and understand the Gospel, and the liberties and privileges it brings, seem to allow themselves to be deprived of these graces because of their pursuit of sinful pleasures. That’s why all who are members of the external church should learn to doubt the wayward steps they have taken. We must not be content because we have a few good virtues in ourselves.
The failure of the Galatians to do this caused Paul to fear that his labor had been in vain. Yet, he still cares and wants to do what he can in the spirit of true wisdom and reverence for God. But that was not enough, the Apostle desires that they would be of one mind with him respecting the Law of Moses, as well as united with Him in love. When disciplining others, we should take care to convince them that our criticisms are from a sincere desire to honor God, their faith, and their spiritual welfare.
The Apostle reminds the Galatians of the difficulty under which he labored when he first came among them. But he notices that he was a welcomed messenger. Yet, how very uncertain are the favor and respect of people! Let us labor to be accepted by God. Paul told the Galatians, You once thought yourselves happy in receiving the Gospel; have you any reason now to think otherwise? Christians must not refrain from speaking the truth, for fear of offending others. The false teachers who drew the Galatians from the truth of the Gospel were scheming individuals. They pretended to be affectionate, but they were not sincere and truthful. Matthew Henry says there is an excellent rule to be found here: “It is good to be zealous always in a good thing; not for a short time only, or now and then, but always. How happy this would be for the Church if this zeal was more faithfully maintained.”
Finally, the Galatians were ready to count Paul as their enemy, but he assures them he was their friend; he had the feelings of a father toward his children. He was in doubt as to their spiritual state and was anxious to know the result of their present misunderstandings and misgivings. Nothing could offer more proof than that a sinner has been justified than seeing the Anointed One being formed in them by the renewal of the Holy Spirit. But this cannot be achieved while continuing to depend on the Law for acceptance with God and salvation. The difference between believers who depend on the Anointed One, and those who trust in the Law, is explained by the histories of Isaac and Ishmael. Hagar and Sarah were also appropriate emblems of the two resulting covenants. And, the heavenly Jerusalem, – the true Church from above, represented by Sarah, is in a state of freedom and is the mother of all believers, who are born of the Holy Spirit. They were by regeneration and true faith, made a part of the true seed of Abraham, according to the promise made to him by God.
This lesson from history was explained as it applied to those Paul mentions. So then, as believers, we are not children of the bond-woman, but the free woman. If the privileges of all the Jewish believers were so wonderful according to the Final Covenant, how absurd for them to be under that Law again, which could not deliver them from bondage or condemnation! We would not have understood this allegory in the history of Sarah and Hagar if it had not been shown to us by Paul, yet we cannot doubt that it was intended by the Holy Spirit to be used as such.
Therefore, the two covenants of Works and Grace, and the Legal and Enthusiastic believers are foretold. Also, good works are brought into reality by a person’s own strength, as we find in strict Legalism. But when arising from faith in the Anointed One, they are the fruit of grace. The First Covenant spirit is one of slavery to sin and death. In the Final Covenant, however, is the spirit of liberty and freedom, not the liberty to sin, but the liberty to serve. The first is a spirit of hostility; the second is a spirit of love.
So, let those professors of religion who have a violent, harsh, imposing spirit towards the people of God, take note. As Abraham turned aside to Hagar to bring about the promised son, a believer can turn aside to the covenant of works to bring about union with the Promised Son. Where through unbelief and neglect of the promise they act according to the Law, in their own strength; in a way of violence, not of love, towards their fellow believers, they fail to gain any ground with God. Obviously, this is not the right way, nor the right attitude to do such a thing. That’s why all will not be well with their souls until they return to their dependence on the Anointed One. As many great Bible scholars have said: Let us rest our souls on the Scriptures, and a Gospel hope and cheerful obedience, to show that our communion and treasure are indeed in heaven. – Dr. Robert R Seyda