This is the tenth message in a series of studies by pastor Murray McClellan. It is our prayer that you are blessed through his labors in God’s Word.
But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not Gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all. You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?
All the world is born into the slavery of sin. Since man is dead spirtually, they are limited to and live according to the flesh. They are sensual persons, not having the Spirit (Jude 19). Thus they live according to the physical senses and not according to the Spirit. It is no surprise then to find men flocking to religions that concern themselves with touching and tasting and handling – things which perish with the using. Man attempts to exalt himself through things that he can do; physical things such as rules and regulations. Man does not like to think of himself as entirely bad – wicked and corrupt. In his “doing” he fathoms that he is not really too bad of guy. In fact, when decorated with religious trinkets and ceremonies, he appears “altogether lovely” on the outside. The truth is, though, that self-righteousness is terribly ugly. It is grave wickedness to exalt oneself as God. It is inexcusable to exchange the truth of God for the lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. It truly shows that this man has no clear view of his sinful and condemned state, nor of the holiness and glory of God.
But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not Gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain. (v. 8-11)
The Galatians had been slaves to sin and had been involved in the foolishness of the kind of ungodly religion condemned in Romans chapter 1. When they “did not know God”, they were enslaved to heathenism and its profitless external services. The fleshs profits nothing. All their doings could not free them from the darkness and condemnation they were under. They could not free themselves from the lusts of their own flesh and the destructiveness of that pursuit. They had no true love of God, nor of their fellow man.
Paul reminds them that they were once slaves but have now been set free. He asks in amazement, if they wish to be slaves again. Paul is trying to show them that as far as salvation goes, there is much in common with the rites of religion they had been enslaved to, and trying to be saved or perfected through the ceremonies of the Mosaic law, for which they appeared to be becoming fond of. They both deal with externals and may “indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col. 2:23) The only difference now would be that they’d be wearing white-washed, gold-covered, Judaistic chains. But both hold one under the condemnation of death and judgment. Can they attain higher than the Pharisee in Luke 18 who fasted twice a week and gave tithes of all he possessed? Yet this man was not justified in the sight of God! However the miserable sinner who beat his breast in humiliation and looked to God alone for mercy; it is he who is justified. All the ceremonies in the world will not change your nature. It is only the gospel that, through the power of God, transformed a sinner like Paul. It is the grace of God that motivates Paul and all other regenerated sinners, to a life of holiness. It is the grace of God that has exalted us as His own sons. It is the grace of God that loves us as His own that moves us to want to walk fully pleasing Him.
Thus, Paul asks, how, when they now know God, they could turn again to be in bondage to the weak and beggarly elements and the observance of externals, like the keeping of days. Especially since they “are known by God.” This is a relationship “know” (i.e. since they are loved by God – known as a son whereby they can cry out, “Abba, Father!”) . How can anyone turn from this to rules and regulations? This grace and love is all the motivation that a child of God needs.
No wonder Paul is afraid for them. For if one can turn so easily to the bondage of weak and beggarly elements, were they ever truly set free? This would be like the prodigal son after receiving grace and forgiveness, going back to his old task master to try to earn the love and blessing of his father. What blind foolishness! Your father has welcomed you as a son and given you the best robes. He has shown love and grace as you could not imagine. You were just hoping to be forgiven and given a place with the servants. Yet, when your father saw you still a great way off, he ran and fell on your neck and kissed you. He has clothed you with the best robe and put a ring on your hand and sandals on your feet. He has killed the fatted calf and celebrates in merriness. Will you ever earn such grace? Will you say, “Wait a minute. Stop all the merriment. I’m going to go back to the swine and I’m going to earn my way into your favor. I am going to work hard so that I’ll be deserving of all this.” That will never be. It is too late for the one who has despised and shown contempt for the father, and has wasted all with prodigal living – unless there be grace!
Oh, after knowing the kind of compassionate and gracious and loving father that has received him as a son, or rather, having the father know him as a son, how could he possibly return to the empty husks of the world?
Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all. (v. 12)
Paul knows what it is like to have on the yoke of Judaism. His heart’s desire towards them is true love. He wants them to know and walk in the true freedom of Jesus Christ. As a proud pharisee, Paul had esteemed himself highly. Now, that he has been set free, he esteems others better than himself. Now he looks out for the interests of others. Paul now has become an earthen vessel through whom Jesus Christ can manifest His life. Thus Paul is not writing this letter out of hurt. This is not about his hurt feelings because some were forsaking his leadership and turning to the Judaizers. No, he is concerned for their souls! He is “them – centered”. He loved them and cared for them even as he would love his own children (Gal. 4:19). Paul had compassion.
You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? (v. 13-16)
Paul reminds them of how they received him when he was hurt and injured. He says, “You helped me. You took pity. In fact, despite my physical affliction (which in the ancient world was usually considered a form of divine judgment – John 9:2, Acts 28:3-4, Job), you received me as an angel or messenger, even as Jesus Himself. They loved and sacrificed for Paul and ” would have plucked out [their] own eyes and given them to” Paul. What law made them live this way? No law could produce such sacrificial love and willingness. Such love is not motivated be external rules but from a new desire of a new and living heart. This was freedom from the bondage of sin and selfishness. Paul wants them to see the power of the gospel of grace.
Paul’s letter of warning and rebuke is motivated by this same love of Christ and of them. It is now very strange that the same truth that, when they had received it, filled them with such joy and peace and made them highly esteem and love Paul (who had made it known to them), is causing them to view Paul as an enemy. There is a barrier formed because he’s told them the truth! Paul’s plain and truthful speech is the very proof of his love and friendship. ‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Prov. 27:6)
Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:11)
May Paul’s “faithful wounds” continue to “chasten” people today. May the God of grace be praised. May the grace of God be preached and lived. For out of grace comes sacrificial and unselfish love, bursting forth from hearts that are completely satisfied in the infinite love of God that has exalted us as sons.
Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.