"Because of their Return to Bondage" Page 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on Galatians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

November 6, 2013

The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians
Tom Lowe


Chapter III.C.1.a: Because of their Return to Bondage (4:8-11)


Galatians 4.8-11 (KJV)

8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

Introduction

While salvation is the free gift of God (Rom. 6.23 ), it brings with it serious responsibility (Luke 12.48 ). God requires believers to live holy lives because they are children of a holy God and desire to love and worship Him (Matt. 5.48 ). That obligation was to the unchanging moral and spiritual principles that forever reflect the nature of God; however it did not include the rituals and ceremonies unique to Israel under the Mosaic Law as the Judaizers mistakenly claimed.
Commentary

8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.

As a missionary for Christ, Paul continued the battle which the synagogues had been waging for centuries. The Jews never ceased to ridicule idols and denounce idolaters.

Paul is reminding the Galatians that they had been idolaters before coming to Christ. Prior to their conversion they had been ignorant concerning the one true God, and they were in bondage to false gods such as Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14.11-13 ). But a great change took place and they came to know God (salvation from the perspective of man), or to be known by God (salvation according to God’s perspective). They did not at first know and love God, until He first loved them and called them to become His dear children. However, even though they had come to know the true God, the Galatians were turning back. Paul was amazed and dismayed. Did they understand they would be going back to a state of religious slavery?

Paul describes their idols of wood and stone as “no gods”—nothings. In 1 Corinthians 12.2 , he called them “dumb idols.” They were nothing; they could say nothing and they could do nothing. He is telling them that idols are not real, they are made by men, and therefore they cannot make themselves real to those who worship them.

What really happened when the Galatians turned from grace to Law? To begin with, they traded liberty for bondage. When they were ignorant sinners, they had served their false gods and had experienced the tragedy of such pagan slavery. But then they had trusted Christ and been delivered from superstition and slavery. Now they were abandoning their liberty in Christ and going back into bondage. They were “dropping out” of the school of grace and enrolling in the kindergarten of the Law! They were destroying all the good work the Lord had done in them through Paul’s ministry. They must not bring into the church of Christ the old paraphernalia of magic and superstition, nor could they imagine that the laws and customs of Moses would add to their assurance of salvation in Christ.

The word then means here “the time when they were servants” (Gal. 4.7). And the phrase ye knew not God refers to the time before coming to faith in Jesus Christ when they did not know Him as far as His eternity, His power as Creator, and His holiness are concerned. No unsaved person can really know God. Before they were saved they worshipped the Greco-Roman pantheon of nonexistent deities.

9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?

One of the strong influences that led the Galatians to Christ was their quest for a knowledge of God. But there was two kinds of

knowledge and two ways of seeking it. The way of Christ was hard, requiring men to bear the cross and live in moral fellowship with Christ. The way of the mystic was easy, to become one with God by eating a sacrament, accepting a creed, obeying a law; by keeping an eye on the stars and observing lucky days and special seasons; or by climbing the mountain of speculation where one could say; “I know God, I am in tune with the infinite; I can tap the resources of the Universe; I am God, and God is I.” All this was the essence of idolatry, because it was self-worship and self-salvation.

“After that ye have known God,” that is, after you were saved you began to know God, because we can know God only because he first knew us, just as we choose Him because He first chose us (John 6.44 ), and we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4.19 ).

“Known of God” actually means approved of God or to be acknowledged by God. They had come to God through faith in Jesus Christ, and God acknowledges that. The Galatian churches were comprised primarily of Gentiles. The problem that Paul has discovered there is that now that they are Christians, they were being led into observing certain elements of the Mosaic Law, which Paul tells them is like going back into the idolatry they came out of. How foolish of them to go back to the slavery of the law after being adopted as a son of God by grace! This was the thing that amazed and disturbed Paul so greatly. So he expresses his disappointment in them: “You who have been delivered from your pagan religious rites, ceremonies, rituals and empty works into the grace and liberty of Christ, how can you put yourselves back under the laws, rituals, ceremonies, and bondage of Judaism and legalism? What happened to you?”
In Galatians 4.15 he asks, “Where is then the (former) blessedness ye spake of?” Where is that love and joy you had at first? Where is the love you had for me that was so great that you would have given me your eyes in exchange for my weak ones (Gal. 4.15 )? Why is it that now I have become your enemy? What a tragedy that these people who had been won to Christ by Paul should to soon turn upon him and lose their love for him. And that is the test of grace. Those who preach the law are always intolerant of the proponents of grace. The fruit of true grace is love and tender regard for those who disagree with you. How tenderly Paul pleads with these wayward Christians in an effort to correct their error which was destroying their joy and victory.

Apply this test to yourself. Does the thing you believe make you kind and loving and zealous to win men and women to Christ? Or does it make you critical, condemnatory, bigoted, and intolerant? Do you attempt to win men and women to Christ, or are you trying to proselyte believers to your legalistic views? The false teachers in Paul’s day were not out winning souls for Christ, but were instead trying to unsettle believers by their legalistic doctrine of works. Oh, I pray that we might be more interested in preaching the grace of God to lost sinners, than going about arguing over doctrines, and promoting a sect or organization or denomination. God help us to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The phrase “weak and beggarly elements” tells us the extent of their regression. They were giving up the power of the Gospel for the weakness of the Law, and the wealth of the Gospel for the poverty of the Law. The Law never made anybody rich and powerful; on the contrary, the Law could only reveal man’s weakness and spiritual bankruptcy. No wonder Paul weeps over these believers, as he sees them abandon liberty for bondage, power for weakness, and wealth for poverty.

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