"The drag of the past, the zeal to move on and the principles that hold us captive."


Scripture: Galatians 4:1 – 20 (NIV)

1 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his 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 God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. Paul’s Concern for the Galatians 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 forces? 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 and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. 13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, 14 and 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 Where, then, is your blessing of me now? 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 have zeal for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, 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!

Introduction:

The sheep path illustration – the more you do something the harder it is to see it as a problem or bad thinking. It is ingrained as the path around a hill that sheep persist in following.

The power of the past is its habitual nature and our persistence to do what we do without thought, or self-evaluation. Bad doctrine, bad habits, ritualism or just bad behavior is often just ingrained thinking we fail to challenge, or what we justify to get what we want.

You see, the brain is a fantastic and amazing part of our makeup. It is able to perform many tasks at once without you consciously being aware of it. It can learn skills, develop ideas, plan concepts and so much more. It is brilliant, but has a flaw in it. Our brains fool us at times to do “stupid” things simply because it is used to it, and like our sheep tracks we wander over the same thing simply because it is an ingrained habit in our brain processing.

This shows up in the most unusual ways, for the Galatian church it was in the pull towards rituals and merit system as they were exposed to the Judaizers.

Point 1: So What? The Jewish issue (4:1-7)

1 What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world.

Imagine being promised a large estate. We are talking big, wealthy and productive. This estate has everything a person could enjoy and sustain themselves with. Servants, crops, fruit, a big homestead and all the toys needed to make life comfortable and meaningful.

Now imagine yourself as a child of the owner who has left on a very long-term journey. Can you imagine all the advantages you might have in living in this dream home?

Now let’s contextualise it to the 1st century. The reality is that this child would be put under the care, guidance and supervision of a slave or servant who had earned the masters respect. Their job would be to tutor and govern the child. The child might have a great home to live in, and all the food necessary to eat – but no freedom to enjoy the estate until they were matured.

Imagine being a freed roman boy, with a privileged background and all the potential, but being under the control of servants and tutors. You had to be where they said, do what they said, learn what they expected and even could be disciplined by them. In a sense, the servant holds you under their control, and all your privilege means nothing.

So, who then is the real free one here?

The servants are bound to the master and their masters, the tutors are under the employ of the master’s requirements and the son is bound up by both. This is a picture of paradise not realised. And the picture Paul is painting here. The son “…is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.” (v.1)

Until the boy becomes the age set by the father he is bondage to those who control his life. According to Gills there were several age possibilities.

  1. Roman law was until a man was 25 years of age.

  2. Jewish law 13 years and 1 day, though it could be extended to much older if the father required it.

Why does Paul draw from a cultural example here?

Prior to the Lord coming with the gospel of adoption and grace the Jewish nation had been bond by the law of Moses, held as a child to guardians and tutors, not free to enjoy all the good things God had from them. They were under rituals, law and sacrifices bond by their requirements and not yet benefiting from the reality they held.

Paul uses this strange phrase when he speaks of them being under the elemental spiritual forces – what does this mean?

The reason for the translational issues is found in the Greek word “(AGNT) στοιχεῖα” which means any first things, from which other things flow from. The basics from which the universe is created from and the simple sounds that make up words. An idea hard to capture in the English context.

Think of it as the first step that defines where you are heading, or the first action that created what follows it – the cause and basics.

Let me start by telling you what it does not mean:

  1. Not demons and spiritual beings.

  2. Not curses.

  3. Not spiritual mystical influences per see.

What it does mean is a selection of things that are the first principles that effected the world.

  1. Adam and Eve’s sin – selfish desires “You will be like God…”

  2. Sin in the Garden that dragged in another – corruptive nature of evil.

  3. The desire to cover our own shame – Works.

  4. The law brought as a tutor to teach us or true sinful state.

  5. The sacrificial system pointing to the Lord, but not the real substance.

  6. The prophets preparing Israel for the saviour.

Basically, the steps that got us to where Jesus came to bring us redemption.

4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his 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 God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Paul shows four points in this section:

  1. The plan – at the right time the Father would send the Son as a man under the law to save those bound by it.

  2. His purpose – In redeeming them he would bring them to full son and daughter ship in Christ.

  3. Our new position – As His children He places His Spirit in our lives and this changes us from being judged by the law to being His children free from condemnation.

  4. The result – No longer slaves held in waiting for sin to condemn us. Now we are heirs of God, His children waiting for the full inheritance.

In verse 6 he draws the Galatian Greek saints into the picture as also being Gods’ children and no more slaves like their Jewish Christians. Remember there is “neither Jew or Gentile” in Christ.

The Judaizers were trying to use the law, rituals and the sacrificial system to show themselves as better and more complete in the faith. Paul showed them that the very things they were bragging about were the “basic principles” or “Elemental things” that were leading to the gospel holding the Jewish nation like slaves to the law. But Jesus brings salvation and we are now fully Gods’ children, free from all the weight and judgement of sins effects.

Why would they go back to being slaves – why not enjoy all Jesus has brought to the Church?

Point 2: Greek enslavement exposed by Paul (8-11)

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 forces? 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.

The Greeks were also held in captivity to these basic elements found in this life. As the Jews were held by the law, they were held by their breaking of the law through idolatry. They worshipped false gods which proved they were affected by the very same principles the law was sent to tutor against – all are sinners.

  • The Jews were held captive by the law – the gentiles by false gods.

  • The Jews felt the pull back to ritualism – the gentiles were used to this idea so were willing to follow the Jewish customs.

  • The Jews ritualism would not redeem them – The Gentiles were buying into a failed system that was set up to prepare for the messiah, not replace him.

  • The Jews had their special days – the gentiles were used to their special days and so were habitually able to replace one set for another.

Truth is all this would be the way the church functioned when it adopted the roman religions through Constantine a few centuries from here, and over time it became Roman Catholicism.

Point 3: The zeal that binds or liberates us. (12 – 20)

12 I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. 13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, 14 and 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 Where, then, is your blessing of me now? 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?

Paul calls them to become like him as he became like them – another word “I rejected all legal ordinances of Judaism, you too ought to do the same.” Another way of saying it might be “Stop wasting your time on what I now see as pointless and useless.”

Church history is littered by religious practices and rituals that are all futile for they are more linked to ritual and merit than grace and faith. Many Christians have become zealous for the wrong thing. They argue about what is right or wrong, what food ought to be eaten and how people ought to dress and act in church or on the street - as if looking like a Christian makes you one.

The influences of the Judaizers on the Galatia Church can be summarized as:

Once…

Paul shared with them in their lives – true fellowship.

The shared with Paul in his suffering – true care.

They felt his pain and struggles – true empathy.

Enter the Judaizers onto the stage and:

Paul now is an enemy to them – the truth has caused them to turn on him. Now their past was used to validate their choices. They had reignited their past patterns, and these Judaizers were able to take advantages of their ingrained patterns of behavior to move them towards Jews patterns of rituals – truly an example of human behaviorism when exposed to manipulating people.

All it took was for someone to come along and strum their habits with the right words and back they would ge.

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 have zeal for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, 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!

Evil zeal is corruptive and separates Christian from Christian. It is the ground of power play, manipulation, putting one person against another and using religion to justify selfish intentions. Paul talks about the effect these Judaizers where having on this fellowship:

  • Exposed to the manipulation of the Judaizers.

  • Being isolated from the truth and from Paul the apostle.

  • Outside of Jesus teachings as outside apostolic truth.

  • Separated from the blessings of God.

  • Caught in their past practices and futility.

  • Changing loyalties requires a zeal to justify bad choices.

What would be required to correct the effect of the Judaizers?

  1. To be zealous for good (kalos). (v18a)

  2. Good, beautiful, with a basic meaning healthy, sound, fit. What brings us closer as “children of God” and not pulling us from Him.

  3. Being consistent in the zeal to bring change. (18b)

  4. People committed to grow and mature us in faith. (v19)

Point 4: Our faith is defined by our zeal.

“It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always…”

Zeal is like the heat that boils to water, it is the desire and passion to achieve something. It always produces momentum.

The Greek word for good is kalos, as already said, and in Christian context it is that which brings us closer to God in affection and action.

Paul speaks here of two types of zeal:

It is no different today. There are as many influences on the church that bears down on us here in New Zealand – expressions of Christianity that demand performance, merit, ritual and pretence so we look right or feel right. They can be mystical, spiritual, religious, emotional and habitual – anything that draws us from the word of God, faith in God and away from the Cross of Christ.

We must be zealous for what is good, and not what pleases our past habits, rituals or needs.

Conclusion: The brain fools us – self validation.

We often tell ourselves what we need to stay where we are because it feels right.

We often attract the people we need to justify our behaviours.

We learn to filter what we don’t like to hear what we want to.

True change requires zeal for good. For what is excellent, precious, useful, admirable and noble.

The Galatian Christians were fooled into looking back to ritualism and legalism because they were used to it, it was the way they worshipped their false gods, so when Jewish believers came along they were already predisposed to believe what they were told to do. Such predisposed behaviour meant they would even turn on Paul who laboured for them, sweated over them and gave up comfort for them.

The past pulls on us when we are in the middle of change and growth.

Why?

  1. The brain plays tricks on us – the flesh, habitual patterns and engrained thinking.

  2. We validate our choices – self-deception.

  3. We abdicate responsibility – co-dependency.

  4. It’s what we do – Habitual behaviour.

  5. It’s not our fault – blame shifting.

  6. This is how it really is – justification and retelling the story.

  7. “I feel God told me that…” – spiritualising, toxic religion or mysticism.

  8. It’s the way I was brought up – infantilism or lack of ownership.

  9. My favourite teacher said – lack of personal ownership of discipleship.

There are always many excuses for poor decision making, it takes courage to own the issues of the past and bring a change of direction in our lives.

The Galatian Christians fell back on the patterns, beliefs and habits of their past. They allowed bad people to validate their thinking, which lead to a separation from the grace of God, and rejection of the truth of the Bible.

Pauls solution – ZEAL FOR WHAT IS GOOD.

A continual passion and desire for what is healthy, noble, fit, right and godly that spurs us on to change and “transformation by renewing of our thinking, behaviour and habits.”


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