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Lowell Brueckner

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The World’s ABCs


Galatians 4:1-16

V. 1-7   “I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 
2.   but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.
3.   In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 
4.  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 
5.  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 
6.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 
7.  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. 

 Paul continues with the illustration of a child guardian. This custom among the well-to-do Romans and Greeks serves to show the purpose of the law and that of faith. It also shows that the spiritual heir belongs to the Father, even before the time, when he believes. His guardian has a part in his life, the law doing its work through him, and brings the child to see that he is a hopeless sinner. In time, he comes to a place of maturity, that is, a place of more perfect understanding, where he can enter into his inheritance.

You will notice also that the father sets the date of his “conversion” from a practicing slave into a son and heir. To understand this illustration is to understand the ways of God in bringing His own into the gospel. There is no legitimate way to misinterpret Paul’s point, in order to suit a conflicting doctrine, because he plainly states that “in the same way”, every believer goes through a similar, spiritual process.

Here is the spiritual parallel: We started our life in this world as slaves under a slave, with not much difference between the guardian and the child under his care. We learned the ways of slavery. We were slaves to sin and we were enslaved to the “elementary principles of the world”. The elementary principles are the “ABCs” of the world system, the basic laws by which the world functions, including its religious system. These are the ways of the flesh and never the ways of the Spirit of God.

Warren Wiersbe comments: “For some fifteen centuries, Israel had been in kindergarten and grade school, learning their “spiritual ABCs,” so that they would be ready when Christ would come. Then they would get the full revelation, for Jesus Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev_22:13, the A to Z); He encompasses all the alphabet of God’s revelation to man. He is God’s last Word (Heb_1:1-3)”.

The Galatians were going backwards into spiritual immaturity again, as do all Christians, who are drawn back under the law. I appreciate these comments, also by Wiersbe: “One of the tragedies of legalism is that it gives the appearance of spiritual maturity when, in reality, it leads the believer back into a “second childhood” of Christian experience. The Galatian Christians, like most believers, wanted to grow and go forward for Christ; but they were going about it in the wrong way. Their experience is not too different from that of Christians today who get involved in various legalistic movements, hoping to become better Christians. Their motives may be right, but their methods are wrong.”

The book of Ruth gives us an excellent example, based on an Old Testament law of redemption and inheritance. Ruth was destined to become the wife of Boaz, but there was a legal problem. There was a closer “redeemer”, who was obligated to act on the part of Ruth’s first husband, Mahlon, and to raise up an heir for him. The potential redeemer said to Boaz among witnesses, “I cannot redeem it…” (Ruth 4:6)  Then Boaz stepped in and fulfilled the law for Ruth and she was free to become his wife.

We learn from Paul’s doctrine that, when we were under the law, it was powerless to redeem us. He wrote, “… what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son… in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Ro.8:3,4).

Paul shows his doctrinal consistency, confirming the exact same teaching here. In His own sovereign time, God sent His Son with all the necessary requirements to fulfill His purpose. He was born of a woman; He must become man to redeem man. He was born under the law, and fulfilled it perfectly, the only One who was perfectly righteous by keeping the law. He was able to redeem us, because He had no sin of His own, for which He had to pay. As Boaz, I might add, He followed the law of the Spirit and not the flesh. The law of God is never perfectly fulfilled until it functions according to the dictates of the heart. I am speaking of the perfect law of liberty (Jam.1:25)… Christ acted according to the law of love. Finally, as God in the flesh, He had power to redeem.

We are adopted into the family of God as adults and come into all the inheritance that God has purposed for his sons. God always goes beyond the necessary into His abundant generosity. There is nothing on this earth to compare to it. We have a two-fold entrance into the family of God: by adoption and by birth. We are adopted, when we are born again, and all His promises are ours from birth.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father”, but Jesus Himself prayed, “Abba, Father” (Mk.14:36), "My Father" (Mt.26:39,41). Remember the promise to Abraham was from the Father to his Descendant. Paul brings us into the promise, making it singular and personal, “Abba, Father”… “My Father”. Every Christian has a direct relationship with the Father, with no one, except the Son, as a go-between. My friend, Protestants and evangelicals go back under Roman Catholicism, when they rely, in any way, upon a human priest, and nothing is gained by calling him a pastor. We are learning in this epistle that to be dependent upon man is a perversion of the gospel and an offense to God. Away with every perverted form of human paternalism!

Every Christian, who is dependent upon man, looks to him for intercession, and goes to him, instead of going directly to God in prayer, is still a slave and not a son. If a person is born-again, he is adopted into the family of God, and he is an heir to the Owner of everything. Through personal prayer, he comes before a loving Father and obtains his inheritance.

V. 8-16.  “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 
9.   But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 
10.  You observe days and months and seasons and years! 
11.   I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. 
12.   Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 
13.   You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 
14.    and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 
15.    What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. 
16.    Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” 

The apostle addresses the former pagan Gentiles, who knew nothing of the true God and were buried in idolatry. Idolatry is a part of the “elementary principles of the world” and all those principles bring slavery. The entire kingdom of darkness is a realm of slavery that knows nothing of freedom. It is governed by perverted, unnatural religion, which is harsh and cruel.

It was a few years ago that I discovered verse 9, although I had read it for 55-60 years. I believe that this discovery is an example of what the Greek word rhema signifies. The Charismatics teach it to be some kind of extra-biblical revelation, which they consider to be a word from God and sometimes they alter their lives in important ways, in obedience to it. I think that is extremely dangerous and I have seen sad consequences come from that doctrine. God can indeed speak to us in diverse ways, but these are never to be placed on the same level as Scripture. I believe that rhema is part of logos, which is the complete, revealed Word of God. Rhema comes to us personally at a particular point in our life, when needed, and makes that portion of logos come alive for us.

I had always thought that the greatest part of Christian living was our knowledge of God. I knew that Jesus prayed to the Father, "This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (Jn.17:3), revealing to us that our knowledge of the Father and the Son was hinged to eternal life. When we are saved, we meet God personally and come to know Him. What could be greater?

Paul said that there is something greater, indicated in the text by the word rather. The greatest knowledge in Christianity is to know that God knows you! Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 8:3, Paul teaches, “If anyone loves God, he is known by him.” He is first known by God, then he loves Him. This is the same order that we should see in the woman, who anointed Jesus. She was first forgiven, and for that reason, she loved Him. This is made very clear in the context around Luke 7:47.

Zacchaeus climbed a tree, because of a desire to know Christ, but before he met Him, Jesus called to him, “Zacchaeus”. Saul of Tarsus was an enemy of Christ, with no desire to know Him, when he was smitten by a light from heaven and heard a voice calling, “Saul, Saul…” Jesus taught us, when praying to the Father, that his disciples belong to the Father and are given to the Son.  

Once again Paul refers “to the weak and worthless elementary principles” of the religious world, which has nothing to do with Christianity. The Judaizers, helped by the local Jewish company of believers, were teaching the Galatian churches to observe the Jewish festivals and religious days. This was basically the problem towards the end of the book of Romans. Paul was teaching tolerance and patience towards those, especially the Jews, who were conscientiously continuing the practice of Sabbaths, feast days, and laws concerning food.

In the early church and throughout church history, Christians have met on Sunday, the first day of the week, in order to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection. The Lord arose from the dead on that day, Pentecost occurred on that day, and the Lord always appeared to His disciples after the resurrection on that day. (Without detailing this subject, I will simply leave a few verses for you to contemplate… Lk.23:56; 24:1, 4, 5, 6, Jn.20:19, 26; Ac.20:7; 1 Co.16:2). Early Christians termed this day “the day of the Lord” (Rev.1:10). Also, Christmas and Easter have been celebrated traditionally throughout Christendom.

Especially important in this matter is the attitude towards these observances and the key word that I am using is “celebrate”. It is wholesome to celebrate on these days, but it is slavish to guard them with legalistic fear. God looked for this in the Old Testament: “If you… call the Sabbath a delight and the holy of the Lord honorable… then you shall take delight in the Lord…” (Is.58:13.14).    

Paul appeals lovingly to the Galatians on a personal level, calling them brothers. He is afraid that his work there, in presenting and bringing them into the gospel, might be in vain. Was it a bodily ailment that detained Paul in Galatia, against his original intentions, and was this the reason that they were able to hear his message?  He had become like a Gentile, living freely among them, without bondage to his Jewish customs. He wants them to return to that freedom.

At the first, under the joy of the good news, they totally accepted Paul, who was apparently not an attractive person. The one, who preaches the cross, must live the crucified life, even with his appearance and personality. God, by His Spirit, will use that, which would normally repel the crowds, to attract them. Jesus said that He would draw men to the cross, as repulsive a scene, as one could ever imagine. No handsome face,  expensive clothes or human talents need be displayed. Leonard Ravenhill said often, “You don’t have to advertise a fire!” There is no fire that catches the attention of the public like the fire of the Holy Spirit. Moses was drawn to a fire! That principle is almost forgotten in this 21st Century.

To the eye of the world, Paul’s condition would call for disdain and mocking, but the eye of faith saw an angel, a messenger, sent from God. He came in the name of Christ and that is how he was received. Not only did they receive him, they loved him, to the extent that they would have exchanged their health for his ailment. Now the question is, what happened? Where and when did this blessed condition in the heart of the Galatian fade and disappear? Gradually, they came to believe a lie and the truth was no longer precious to them.

Ah, the world has a big problem with truth and, when the church returns to the “elementary principles of the world”, they inherit the world’s hatred for truth. It was the problem in Israel from the time of the prophets through the time of Christ. The false prophets were lauded and the bearers of truth were persecuted and killed. However, Jesus said, “I am the truth”, demonstrating the godhead's esteem for it. Nothing is more precious to God than truth and He loves it more than He loves the souls of men. I think the following verses are some of the most astonishing in Scripture: “Because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth” (2 Th.2:10-12).


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