9/11/03 SALT Galatians 4:8-20
Galatians 4:8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God - or rather are known by God - how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. 12 I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. 13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14 Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15 What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
Bill Clinton, former President of the USA, "Just as war is freedom's cost, disagreement is freedom's privilege.
Today many people are remembering how many people have given their lives in times of war so that others may be free. Freedom is only a tool. It can never be an end in itself. As Bill Clinton said it can result in disagreement. Unhindered freedom can lead to anarchy. We should use freedom to realise our potential and benefit others. However, some people find freedom scary and prefer the security of slavery. Like an institutionalized criminal who will re-offend to return to the security of prison.
In today's reading Paul refers for a third time ( 3;23ff, 4:1ff ) to the way that the Galatian Christians were slaves but are now children, in verses 8 - 9. There was the danger that the Christians were going back to the security and slavery of being religious, rather than following God. Slavery to anything or anyone other than God is rooted in ignorance. Not that you need a degree to follow God! But everyone who is not a believer is enslaved to a false 'god', those who by nature are not gods. This may include other religions but also include the worship of oneself, or power, or pleasure or possessions, indeed anything that takes the rightful place of God. The antidote to following false 'gods' is a relationship with the one and only, true God. But now that you know God - or rather are known by God - how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?
This is not saying that before we came to faith God did not know of us or about us, because he knows everything. Paul uses the verb ginosko ("to know intimately and on a personal level") at this point rather than oida ("to know factually") or orao ("to know through perceiving something").
So this verse is saying that God took the initiative. How did God do this? 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
God made himself known to us through Jesus and revealed who Jesus is and what He has done by sending the Holy Spirit to work within us. We come to know God only because He knew us and loved us first. We cannot contribute towards our salvation. It is all due to God's grace, or undeserved favour as we looked at last week. We need to rely upon God and His Spirit. The Christian faith is about relationship, not religion.
Oscar Wilde; "Religion is the fashionable substitute for belief." Paul describes the religious way that some Galatians are turning to as verse 9 says, "weak and miserable principles" showing that religion is powerless of itself to change us and to put us right with God.
However, that does not mean that we are not to respond to the undeserved favour we have received from God by following His ways. After all, Paul was warning the Galatian Christians not to go back to being religious, that is to say relying upon 10 ...observing special days and months and seasons and years!
In his letter to the Corinthian Christians Paul encourages them to devote themselves to God using himself as an example. 1 Cor 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
The Galatians astonished Paul. They had turned from the truth to what they knew was a lie. They had turned from the real God to a non-existent god. They were doing this having experienced an intimate knowledge of God. No wonder he wrote, 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
We observe in this part of the letter the deep, personal concern and affection Paul has for the Galatians. We also read how this relationship deteriorated in verses 12-20.
12 I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. Paul had 'become like them'. This means that he had drawn alongside them to share the good news of Jesus. Elsewhere he wrote, I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some, 1 Cor. 9:22. This reminds us of Jesus who, though being God became a man to show us what God is like and to restore our relationship with God. It also challenges every one of us to ask ourselves 'How am I being like Jesus and like Paul in drawing alongside people to witness to God's saving love ?' This is a daunting challenge, but we can observe how God used the weakness of Paul to share the gospel at Galatia.
In turn Paul wants the Galatians to be 'like him'. That is to say to be set free by the gospel to become children of God.
13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14 Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15 What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.
Initially Paul had visited the Galatians because he was ill, verse 13. They could have despised him because of this illness yet they welcomed him as an angel or messenger from God, even as they would have accepted Jesus. They would have even torn their eyes out for Paul, perhaps suggesting that his problem was related to his eyes cf 6:11.
Today there are no 'apostles' in the way that Peter or Paul were. However, ministers or teachers of the Word should be given the same welcome and respect that the Galatians initially showed to Paul. They should not evaluated by outward things, e.g. appearance, accent, intellect or charm, but by the message that they bring. The gospel. The message from God which is to be received and acted upon.
The friendliness and joy of the Galatians disappeared. The reason? Paul told the truth, verse 16, Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? We saw last week how he did this to Peter, Galatians 2:11-21. The truth of the gospel was and is too important to be ignored at the expense of people's feelings. Yet, it is not to be a personal attack upon someone and the truth should not be used as a stick to beat people with. The goal is to win someone over for Christ, not to win an argument and appear cleverer or more spiritually mature than someone else. When a disagreement is forgotten about someone will still remember how we dealt with them. Was it with humility, respect and politeness?
This is what caused Frederick W. Faber 1814-1863, British Priest, Hymn Writer, to say,"Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning."
William Shakespeare (1564-1616), King Henry VIII, Act iii, Sc. 2
"Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies."
This is saying that zeal is not wrong of itself. Misguided or misdirected zeal is. The zeal of the Judaizers was aimed at separating the Galatian Christians from Paul so they could be enthusiastic for their religion, not real Christianity. 17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you.
The word 'alienate' verse 17 literally means 'to lock up'. The Judaizers were trying to tempt the Galatians away from the life giving gospel and lock them up under law so that they might be separated from Paul and Christ. But later, when they are separated from both Paul and Christ, then the roles will be reversed and the Galatians will find that they must serve the Judaizers.
Failure to maintain Christian liberty can lead to people becoming enslaved to organisations or leaders. We see this is the way that some of the 'cults' work. They seek to separate their members from their existing friends and family, even faith communities, and entrap them in their own organisation. Their liberty is taken away from them. They cannot study the Bible independently and are disciplined if they ask awkward questions. Their money and property may be controlled by the cult. Their whole life and relationships are so wrapped up in the cult that the prospect of leaving will strip them of their security.
We need to pray for those who are trapped in organisations that claim to be 'Christian'. We can perhaps pray for the opportunity to share God's love with them. Some of these such as Jehovah's Witnesses will call round our houses. Perhaps we can be welcoming when they call and share our own faith story. This is all we may be called to do but it could be important and speak to these people. God will honour us in our weakness, as He did Paul in Galatia.
Paul compares his pain to that of a woman in labour. 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! He calls them children perhaps alluding to a fatherly care for those he has helped to new birth. He obviously has deep feelings about the way that the Galatians are being led astray. His motives are clearly not selfish. His goal is for Christ to be formed in them, that they may be like Jesus. I am sure this is the desire of the vast majority of Christian ministers, and also a cause of most of their frustrations!
What does this passage tell us we should we be like if we are to have Christ formed in us?
We are to know God intimately though His Son by His Spirit. We can do this by prayer, Bible study, coming together with fellow believers, daring to trust Jesus with our lives. God wants our wholehearted commitment, He wants every day to be a day of worship as we offer ourselves back to Him in gratitude for what He has done for us..
We are not to return to our former life before we came to know Jesus. We should not let the 'religious' side of our faith become a substitute for the radical trust in Jesus that is at the centre of the Christian faith. As we have seen in this passage there are two ways in which we can practically live out our faith.
We are to unreservedly welcome those who minister in the name of Jesus and not judge them by external things. You will have the opportunity to do this next year as you will have visiting ministers and preachers most weeks. You may also have the opportunity to welcome a paid minister here later in the year. Please wholeheartedly welcome them, support them as they bring the gospel and, like Paul me and many other ministers, feel the pain and frustration of church leadership.
We are to welcome the opportunity to share God's love with those who have been led away from the truth of the gospel, such as those who are in 'cults'. I would imagine that we would have pity on the people who are illegally imported into this country and used in prostitution. Why should we be any less charitable to someone who is trapped in a religious cult, whether by fear or ignorance?
Woody Allen, 1935-, American Director, Screenwriter, Actor, Comedian; "A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark."
We need to ask ourselves this question, "Is my relationship with God moving forward or dying?" If it isn't moving forward in the way that it should be, what will I do about it?