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Lowell Brueckner

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The Slaves and the Free


Galatian 4:17-31

V. 17-20   They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 
18.  It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 
19.  my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 
20.  I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. 

Paul has just told of his relationship with the Galatians from the beginning of the time that he came to them. On his part, he had not originally intended to visit their area, but his infirmity was God’s means to obligate him to stop there. Their mutual relationship became deeply rooted in the love of God that passes understanding.

It was not natural love, for it manifested itself in things that would naturally be repulsive. They loved Paul, in spite of his physical appearance and received him as a messenger of Christ. And what was his message? It was the message of the cross, “a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Co.1:23). This points to something supernatural and unearthly. Above all, their relationship was based on eternal truth.

Now he turns to the new relationship, which has begun between the false Judaic teachers and the churches in Galatia. The will of God is not being fulfilled and no good will come from it. They have been attracted and deceived through the ways, which they had learned from the world, and these are the ways of the flesh. They have turned away from the spiritual, heavenly ways.

It is characteristic of false sects to concentrate on believers, not on raw pagans. Paul reveals their methods. First of all, he states, “They make much of you.” They cater to the pride of the flesh, making the Galatians feel good about themselves. They use the scheme of self-importance, flattering their students, in contrast to Paul’s way of always speaking the truth.

Secondly, they try to isolate them, “they want to shut you out”, and this is the principle of exclusivism. They want to cut their disciples off from any other influence, so as to fully indoctrinate them in their views and ways. As a result, and this is the third step in their deception: It is to make their presence all-important in the believers’ lives, “that you may make much of them”.

Today, this is always the method of cultism. They degrade other churches and pretend that they are the only true Christians or, at least, they are the best. Teaching from other sources, literature and recordings, is discouraged, if not outright forbidden. They are bringing the people into dependence upon them and, we have seen, this is Paul’s chief concern from the beginning of the epistle; the Galatians are looking to men and not God.

The Scripture says of Paul and Barnabas, concerning their stay in Galatia, that “they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Ac.14:23). The maximum time that Paul spent in any place was three years. “I betrothed you to one husband” (2 Co.11:2), he declared. He worked his way out of a job, presented the believers to Christ and went his way.

Paul has already shown that there is a good purpose in an important relationship with others. I have been thinking in the last two or three days of words about Lazarus from John’s Gospel: “Lord, he whom you love is ill” and Jesus’ statement to his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep” (Jn.11:3,11). To make much of people or, in other words, to have believing people in your life, who are important to you, is a beautiful part of true Christianity.

There is an old adage that states, “Out of sight, out of mind”, but referring to true relationships, there is another expression, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” This is the heart feeling that Paul wants to see in the Galatians, because this is what he has in his heart. The love of God can only ‘grow fonder’, when Christians are separated.

It is a heart-felt love that brings on the next statement, “My little children.” Paul loves them with the love of the Lord and his love is now hurting. Someone noted, concerning Paul’s statement to the Ephesians, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God”, that only love can cause grief. Anger may be aroused between enemies, as well as friends, but grief is a manifestation of love.

Paul is grieved to the point of having the “anguish of childbirth”. He is working in conjunction with the Holy Spirit and he is under the same heart motivation. God is in anguish and Paul is in anguish. Warren Wiersbe comments about something that my wife and I have certainly found to be true, “We parents never seem to outgrow our children. ‘When they’re little, they’re a handful; but when they’re grown, they’re a heartful!’ I remember hearing my mother say, ‘When they’re little, they step on your toes; but when they’re grown, they step on your heart.’”

The Galatians are falling back into the old ways of legalism and are not manifesting the presence of Christ through their lives. Paul wished he could be present with them, talk with them face-to-face, and answer the questions that have formed in his heart. Now, having uncovered his feelings, he returns to doctrinal teaching and this must always be taken from Scripture. He goes back to Genesis.

V. 21-31 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 
22.  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 
23.  But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 
24.  Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 
25.  Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 
26.  But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 
27.  For it is written, "Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband." 
28.  Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 
29.  But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 
30.  But what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman." 
31.  So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. 

We have another chapter in the life of the patriarch, Abraham, and it concerns his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac is Sarah’s natural son, born in her old age. Ishmael is the son of Sarah’s slave, Hagar. Again, Paul is going to contrast slavery with freedom and he goes to a story from the Pentateuch, the five-fold book of Moses, called The Law, to teach concerning it. He will teach powerful truth from two powerful sources.

These two spiritual forces take a tremendous hold upon people’s lives. They are the forces of bondage and freedom, the flesh against the spirit, the covenant of Mount Sinai versus that of the heavenly Jerusalem, and the natural ways versus the promise of God. It was the promise of God, which first came into Abraham and Sarah’s life. There is nothing to compare to its power to bring to pass that which would seem impossible, to form the future, and produce that, which stands for eternity.

How many times have we witnessed, through the Scriptures, the power of promise at work? Most importantly, it relates to the coming Messiah and His kingdom and it overcomes all opposition, both natural and spiritual. Hear the angel speak to the virgin Mary, when she asks the question, “How will this be?” He answers, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk.1:34,37). 

Against the promise of God pit the plans and abilities of men. Although there is no comparison between the two, yet we have the Galatians accepting the latter, at the expense of the first, showing the tremendous power that men can give to that which is finite over that, which is infinite. It happened to Sarah and Abraham, as well. God spoke the impossible; Sarah at 90 years of age would conceive and bear a son. The couple devised a plan, which could be fulfilled merely through human resources.

Early in the story, God delivered His promise to Abraham. When he refuses the worldly offers of the king of Sodom, God brings him into contact with the king of Salem, who blesses him with spiritual blessings. God makes a heavenly covenant with Abraham, directly from the heavenly Jerusalem, which is above and is free, Paul teaches.

Heavenly Jerusalem is the source of all freedom and every child, who is born from above, is free. Mount Sinai came into the picture centuries later and produced children of bondage (With this example, Paul looks into the book of Exodus). Paul is teaching that it is not the physical Jerusalem that is our mother church, as the Judaizers claimed. It is the heart of those who slavishly tied themselves to an earthly source and resort to carnal thinking, who were making the Jerusalem church a symbol of bondage to the law. They are living in the shadow of Mt. Sinai.

We are not dealing so much with places and people, as we are with a certain mentality and spirit, which tend to emphasize outward things. This is what it means to live according to the elementary principles of this world. These people rejoice in the accomplishments of the flesh. On the other hand, the naturally barren ones rejoice in the supernatural work of God.

Once again, Paul quotes the Old Testament, this time from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 54. This passage defines the free-born, who are engendered by her, who has no visible, outward, ‘worldly’ husband. She doesn’t pertain to natural Jerusalem (see again 1:17-20), which emphasized outward religion with physical signs. She is dependent upon a heavenly Husband to bring forth an inexplicable birth, accompanied by wonderful freedom. Christians ought to recognize one another in the spirit of heavenly Jerusalem and not by outward signs.

As Isaiah, who speaks and writes to a remnant, not only in his day, but throughout history, Paul particularly addresses his comments towards the free-born in Galatia. His teaching applies to the sheep of our time, as well. There are surely many spiritual slaves there, as there are in our midst these days, but the Word of God holds no comfort for them. The only word that applies to them is repent! Paul’s true brothers are struggling under this invasion of the law into their midst and must return from this Mt. Sinai desert into the Promised Land of full gospel truth and principle.

What are to be done to the sons of the slave, who are born into the system? These are the ones, who most easily adapt to the outward programs of the church and can function well in them, probably being among the most productive servants in the work. They are loyal and faithful to the system, but they show no signs of true heavenly life.

Paul makes it clear, “The son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” This brought tremendous pain to Abraham, for he loved Ishmael. He spent 13 years with him, before Isaac was ever born. He cried to the Lord, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Ge.17:18) It could not be. Let him inherit that which most interests him on a temporal, earthly basis, but his unregenerate nature will not allow him to partake in the heavenly ambience of the free.

The Bible makes it very clear that Isaac and Ishmael cannot live together peaceably and it is useless to try to bring them into unity. The only true New Testament unity is the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph.4:3) or “the unity of the faith” (Eph.4:13). To achieve anything outside of the faith or the Spirit is to work with frustrating impossibilities. “There must be factions (or heresies - Greek) among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (1 Co.11:19).

Isaac and Ishmael will eventually distance themselves from one another.  “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain they all are not of us” (1 Jn.2:19). This is true in any group of believers in any place at any time. It happened among the Galatians; it will happen among us.


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