Galatians 4:8-20: Back to Slavery

Galatians 4:8‑28  •  29 min. read  •  grade level: 6
“But then, on the one hand, not knowing God, you were enslaved to the ones by nature not being gods; now, on the other hand, having come to know God, rather indeed having become known by God, how are you turning back again (to rest) on the weak and poverty-stricken principles, to which you are wishing to be again enslaved anew? Days you are scrupulously observing, and months, and seasons, and years. I am frightened about you, lest perhaps I have toiled without reason for you.
"Become as I (am), for I also (became, or, am) as you, brothers, I beseech you. You have not wronged me at all: but you know that through [or, in] weakness of the flesh I announced the good news to you at the first, and my temptation in my flesh you did not scorn or loathe, but as an angel of God you received me, as Christ Jesus. Where, then, (is) that [literally, the] blessedness of yours? For I bear you witness that, if possible, having dug out your eyes, you would have given (them) to me. So I have become your enemy in speaking the truth to you [or, by telling you the truth]? They are not zealously seeking you in a good way, but they are desiring to shut you out, in order that you may zealously seek them. But it is good to be zealously sought at all times in a good way [or, course], and not only when I am present with you. My bairns, of whom I again am travailing in birth until Christ should be formed in you; but I have been wishing to be present with you at this very moment, and to change my tone, because I am perplexed as to you.” ch. 4:8-20.
Our last chapter ended with a consideration of the words, “But because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, our Father! So thou art no longer a slave but a son; but if a son, also an heir through God.” ch. 4:6,7. No more a slave, but a son! If a son, then an heir! That is the glorious position into which God has brought us. As we have seen, it gives us a little glimpse into the glory that awaits us. The Galatians knew something at least of all this. They had tasted the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Yet in spite of all this blessed knowledge, they were turning back to their old slavery. So we find a sharp contrast between the liberty of vv. 6, 7 and the slavery of vv. 8, 9.
In those former days, says the Apostle, not knowing God, you were enslaved to the ones by nature not being gods. Now, on the other hand, having come to know God (rather, indeed, having become known by God), how, the Apostle indignantly asks, are you turning back again (to rest) on the weak and poverty-stricken principles, to which you are wishing to be again enslaved anew? These are most solemn words. In those former days they did not know God. They only served their dumb idols. They knew nothing better. The idols they served were not gods, and yet they were slaves to them. But now they have learned to know the true and living God, or rather, the true and living God knows them. Now they have tasted the liberty of His service. How can it be possible after this, the Apostle asks, that you should be turning back again? Please notice especially these words “turning back again”. They had left their idols, and now they are turning to the law. No man would have written these words, “turning back again.” But the Holy Spirit says that, in God’s sight, for the Galatians to turn aside from the simple good news they had received to the law is just the same as “turning back again to the weak and poverty-stricken principles, to which you are wishing to be again enslaved anew.” What were the weak and poverty-stricken principles to which they had been slaves before? These were their idols and all the practices of heathenism. And now they were wishing to turn back again to be enslaved again anew. Notice those words again. They tell us that it is the same old slavery to which they wished to go as they had been under once before. The law is just as weak as the idols to save anybody; the one is as hopeless as the other. The one is as poverty-stricken as the other; there is no food for my soul either in the law or in heathenism. And yet you wish to put on again the chains of slavery from which the Lord had set you free! You are wishing to be a slave once more! And notice that little word “anew” at the end of the sentence. It tells us that it is the same old slavery to which they were going, but it is a new master. They had been slaves to those idols which are not gods; now they wish to be slaves of law. A slave may change masters, but he is still a slave. The slavery is the same though the masters may be different.
O, no! I think the Galatians cry. You are entirely mistaken. We are going now to the Old Testament, God’s own Book. We are learning now about the things God taught Israel, as recorded in that Book; and we are adding these to the doctrines of Christ.
Reader, note. The Holy Spirit says (no human being would have dared to say it) that to go back to the law and to these outward forms and ceremonies is nothing different in God’s sight than going back to the old heathen practices from which the Lord had delivered them. The bondage of the law is just as bitter bondage as the bondage of the idols. Hear the words of a man who in modern times slaved under that master for some twenty-eight years: “... the long and bitter experiences I had in that bondage [the law].” (The Lord’s Day From Neither Catholics Nor Pagans, by D. M. Canright, p. 19.) Listen to other testimonies quoted by the same modern writer: “Here I am, bound with these chains.” From another: “It seems they will crush me. They are a yoke of bondage which I cannot stand up under. Still I do want to be right.” From another: “How am I straightened, while the fetters are being forged for most unwilling limbs!... What distress we are in as a people! how miserable! and is there no relief?”
Peter and Paul had tasted this bondage: the one spoke of it as “a yoke... which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:1010Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? (Acts 15:10)); and the other writes of it as “the yoke of bondage” (ch. 5:1). So we see that whether in the days of Peter and Paul or in our own day the yoke is the same; the slavery and the bondage have not changed in the least. We find the same groans of despair both now and 1900 years ago.
Please be quite clear: the law, the feast days and circumcision are as utterly unable to save men, or to help to save them, as dumb idols. The Galatians thought they were becoming more holy and religious, but God says they were going back to the same principles as heathenism. They thought they were obtaining a more reverent value for the Scriptures. God says, No, you are turning back again to your own old slavery from which grace delivered you. They thought that Christianity would be better for adding to it the old and beautiful forms and ceremonies of the law. Not at all, says the Apostle. You are going straight back to your old heathenish principles without even knowing it. The Thessalonians turned to God from idols (1 Thess. 1:99For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; (1 Thessalonians 1:9)), but the Galatians were turning from God back to the old slavery they had endured under the dominion of idols.
The Apostle has shown that Christ has bought out even the Jew from under the slavery of law. How, then, can a Gentile, on whom the law never had a claim, willingly put himself as a slave under it? But this is just what the Galatians were doing. They had been born and brought up under heathenism, and they had learned from childhood all the wicked things connected with idolatry. They had served idols all their lives, just as many in China do now. They were altogether ignorant of the law of Israel. Then Paul had come and told them the good news of salvation through Christ alone and, believing, they were saved. God’s grace had made them one with all other believers, Jews and Gentiles— all one in Christ. Christ had bought out the Jews from the slavery of the law, and He had rescued the Gentiles from the slavery of their idols, making all one in Himself. But these false teachers come, and tell them they must be circumcised, they must keep the law, they must observe the feast days. Then the Holy Spirit tells them that, for a Gentile Christian to put himself under the law and these outward ceremonies, is not only obeying Jewish customs but is the same as going back again to his heathen idols.
The Lord had patience with the Jews who went on with these Jewish principles. In Rom. 14 we see that a Gentile must also have patience towards the Jew who still is under the bondage of his days and his meats and other outward ceremonies. But for a Gentile to put himself under these Jewish principles is nothing better than heathenism. Who would have dared to say this, if the Holy Spirit Himself had not told us that it is so.
How many there are in this day who are doing exactly what these Galatians did! How many try to force on Christians the seventh day, the old Jewish Sabbath! How many say that on certain days we must not eat meat, while others try to tell us we must not eat it at all! How many openly tell us we must observe the Jewish law, and make us slaves to the Ten Commandments, a yoke which no man yet has been able to bear! See the outward forms which so many teachers observe today. See the robes and vestments that they wear! See the names and titles they take to themselves! How little do they realize that in the sight of God all this is not only worthless and useless, but is in reality going back to the slavery of heathenism. How many true Christians have prepared for themselves an unwritten list (or code) of rules. In God’s sight these are all but weak and poverty-stricken principles. These are strong words, but they are the clear teaching of the Holy Spirit in these verses in Galatians.
Notice also how the Apostle speaks of the idols of the Galatians—and the idols of China are no different. They were by nature not gods. This includes the idols, those horrible wood, stone and mud, or even silver and gold, images that we see in the temples everywhere in China. It includes the great men of old whom men love to worship as gods. It includes the demons of which we read in 1 Cor. 10:2020But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. (1 Corinthians 10:20). It includes the ancestors whom so many worship. It includes “Shang Ti” whose name blasphemously insults so many copies of the Chinese Scriptures. These, one and all, “are by nature not gods.” They have been made gods by men, but they are gods in name only. “By nature they are not gods.” The Greek negative used here not only denies the fact that these objects, which men have formerly worshipped, are gods, but it denies the possibility that they could be gods. (See 2 Chron. 13:99Have ye not cast out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and have made you priests after the manner of the nations of other lands? so that whosoever cometh to consecrate himself with a young bullock and seven rams, the same may be a priest of them that are no gods. (2 Chronicles 13:9).) Do not think that this idolatry has its character improved because those practicing it worship Jesus. Do not think Shang Ti had been converted because men have put him into the pages of the Chinese Bible. True Christianity refuses any mixture such as this. Christianity is the most tender, gentle, loving thing in all the world. No sinner is too bad to receive a welcome. But Christianity is also the sternest and strongest opponent of anything and everything that men wish to add to it or mix with it. True Christianity is the most exclusive thing in all the world. I mean by this exclusive of sin and falsehood. True Christianity will not tolerate having forms and ceremonies added to it. True Christianity will not tolerate any addition, or any mixture, not even God’s law. All such in God’s sight are simply heathenism and idolatry. You have noticed how fervent, how intense, how stern is the epistle to the Galatians. What have they done? Have they committed some great sin? Listen, “I am frightened about you: days you are scrupulously observing, and months, and seasons, and years.” The days, what were they? See Col. 2:1616Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: (Colossians 2:16). Listen, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days.”
Who would have suspected that keeping the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, the day commanded by God in the law, was so evil a thing? Yet, it was just this that frightened the Apostle Paul about the Galatians. It meant slavery under the law; that is what made it so evil. To what did Paul refer by the “months”? I believe that is the same as the “new moons” of which we so often read. See 2 Chron. 2:4; 8:134Behold, I build an house to the name of the Lord my God, to dedicate it to him, and to burn before him sweet incense, and for the continual showbread, and for the burnt offerings morning and evening, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts of the Lord our God. This is an ordinance for ever to Israel. (2 Chronicles 2:4)
13Even after a certain rate every day, offering according to the commandment of Moses, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts, three times in the year, even in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles. (2 Chronicles 8:13)
. We know much about them in China and how they are celebrated. God condemns all this. The “seasons” would refer to the Jewish feast days. See Lev. 23. The years would refer to the Sabbath year. See Lev. 25:1-81And the Lord spake unto Moses in mount Sinai, saying, 2Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the Lord. 3Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; 4But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the Lord: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. 5That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land. 6And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you; for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant, and for thy stranger that sojourneth with thee, 7And for thy cattle, and for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat. 8And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. (Leviticus 25:1‑8).
It is well for Christians to remember that the religious observance of days is not consistent with the spirit of the good news. To keep one day different to another is to say that in some sense this day is holier than other days; but to the Christian every day is holy. It is true that the Lord has marked out for us the first day of the week as set apart from the other days. It is the day of our Lord’s resurrection. It is the day on which the Holy Spirit was given. (Lev. 23:15, 1615And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: 16Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. (Leviticus 23:15‑16); Acts 2:11And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. (Acts 2:1).) It is the day on which the disciples came together to break bread. (Acts 20:77And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. (Acts 20:7).) The Apostle told the Galatians and the Corinthians on this day to lay by them in store as God had prospered them. (1 Cor. 16:1, 21Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. 2Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:1‑2).) If we compare this with Heb. 13 we will see that this is included as one of the sacrifices we may offer to God on that first day of the week. Finally, we find in Rev. 1:1010I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, (Revelation 1:10) that the Spirit of God calls this day “the Lord’s day” (Rev. 1:1010I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, (Revelation 1:10)). In Greek the word “Lord’s” is an adjective; so we might better translate it “the Lordly day.” This word is only used in this way twice in the New Testament: “the Lordly day” and “the Lordly supper” in 1 Cor. 11:2020When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. (1 Corinthians 11:20). This word beautifully links together the supper and the day. In many lands the Lord’s people have liberty to use “the Lordly day” for their Lord. In many lands it is set apart as a day on which we may turn away from our usual employment and use this day not for ourselves but for our Lord. The Sabbath of old was a day of rest. Often for the Christian, the Lord’s Day is the busiest day in the week. The Sabbath of old was made for man. (Mark 2:2727And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: (Mark 2:27).) The Lord’s Day belongs to the Lord, and we have the privilege of using it for Himself. Alas, in China many have not this privilege, and it may be that the Lord’s people can only use it in this way at very great cost to themselves. But let us remember that the Lord has said, “Them that honor Me, I will honor, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam. 2:3030Wherefore the Lord God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the Lord saith, Be it far from me; for them that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed. (1 Samuel 2:30)).
Some people talk about the “Christian Sabbath” meaning the first day of the week. There is no such thing in the Bible as the “Christian Sabbath.” “Sabbath” means “rest,” and the Lord said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:1717But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. (John 5:17)). The Lord Jesus could not rest in a world full of sin and suffering: He could not keep the Sabbath down here; and so we find that continually the Jewish leaders were finding fault with Him because He broke the Sabbath. No more can a true Christian keep the Sabbath in such a world. He has no more right to be resting here than his Master. If his Master must work, so must he. But in Heb. 4:99There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. (Hebrews 4:9) we read: “There remaineth a keeping of a sabbath to the people of God.” The Sabbath rest is ahead of us. Soon, in the glory, we will rest with Him who has purchased that rest for us. Then we will keep Sabbath, but not now. Col. 2:16, 1716Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16‑17) tells us the Sabbath was a shadow. The Sabbath was a rest for bodies. Now we have (what is far more important) rest of heart. In that coming day we will have both rest of bodies and of hearts.
In Rom. 14 the Spirit of God gives us further teaching on the subject of days from another point of view. We have suggested that this chapter referred especially to the Jewish believers who had been brought up to such things; and there are many who, though Gentiles, in our own day are in a very similar position. They have been brought up to forms and ceremonies, and they have a conscience that they should observe them. We are to bear with these saints, and remember they keep the day as to the Lord. We sometimes hear very bitter things said against those who keep Christmas day. But there are many dear children of God who esteem this day above other days: not in the spirit of Gal. 4, but in the spirit of Rom. 14. To such the Spirit says, “He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord” (Rom. 14:66He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. (Romans 14:6)). And to those who judge and criticize their brethren for this act, the Lord says very plainly, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own Master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.... But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.... Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” Rom. 14:4, 10, 134Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4)
10But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Romans 14:10)
13Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. (Romans 14:13)
. It is true that the one who is under the dominion of days and meats is called by the Holy Spirit “weak in the faith” (Rom. 14:11Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. (Romans 14:1)). But we are to receive such, and not judge him. (See Rom. 14:11Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. (Romans 14:1).) And in all these things may we ever remember the words: “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace” (Rom. 14:1919Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. (Romans 14:19)).
In Gal. 4:1212Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. (Galatians 4:12) we read, “Become as I (am), for I (became) as you, brothers, I beseech you.” How tender the Apostle becomes towards his dear brethren, and children in the faith! Once more he uses that sweet name “brothers.” “Become as I,” he cries. Was Paul under the law? They knew well he was not. “I became to the Jews as a Jew, in order that I might gain the Jews: to those under law, as under law, not being myself under law, in order that I might gain those under law: to those without law, as without law, (not as without law to God, but as legitimately subject to Christ,) in order that I might gain those without law.” 1 Cor. 9:20, 2120And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; 21To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. (1 Corinthians 9:20‑21) JND. They knew well he was free. Once he had been under the law. Once he had groaned in that slavery, but now he was free. So he can joyfully say, “I became as you.” I left the slavery and yoke of law, and became as you who are free from it. Now you become as I am. Then at the end he adds that sweet little word, “I beseech you!” Can we not see these words flowing out from a heart that is ready to break with love and sorrow! What earnestness, what severity, what fervor, what tenderness, what love all combined. Surely it tells us of the heart of Christ to us, when we turn away from Himself.
The Apostle continues: “You have not wronged me at all: on the contrary you know that through weakness of the flesh I announced the good news to you at the first, and your trial in my flesh you did not scorn nor loathe, but as an angel of God you received me, as Christ Jesus.” Perhaps the Galatians would think that the Apostle’s strong words were because he felt offended, because they had turned from his teaching to that of others. Oh, no, says Paul. It is not a matter of personal wrong: on the contrary, I only look back to the loving welcome you gave me on my first visit with you; then, you would have dug out your eyes and given them to me. It seems as though Paul had not intended to preach the good news to the Galatians, but sickness of some kind kept him among them. “Through weakness of the flesh” (v.13) might be translated, “on account of weakness of the flesh I announced the good news to you at the first.” We do not know what this weakness was; but it evidently hindered the Apostle in his journey, and kept him in the place where he “happened” to be. It was one of those interruptions to our plans which often makes us so cross, but let us remember that God orders these interruptions. Paul, no doubt, was earnestly pressing on to some field of labor for the Lord; instead, he is taken sick. Not only is he taken sick, but the sickness seems to have been one that was especially unpleasant and made him in such a condition that people who saw and heard him would be likely to scorn and loathe him not wish to have anything to do with him. It was on account of this sickness he first preached the gospel to the Galatians. It was at such a time as this that the Galatians gave him such a warm welcome that the Apostle could never forget it. They received him just as he was. It was a trial to them (“your trial in my flesh,” he calls it), but that made no difference to their love and their welcome. The most precious things they possessed, even their eyes, they would have dug out and given him if they could. Weak, sick, and perhaps loathsome, as he was, they received him, even as Christ Jesus. Could they have done more? No, indeed! And this love still lived in the Apostle’s heart, and this made the sorrow of their fall all the more bitter to him. This sickness may have been the “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:77And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:7)) which Paul three times asked the Lord to remove; we do not know if this is so.
“So I have become your enemy by telling you the truth?” In some old manuscripts, at the end of Acts 21:3636For the multitude of the people followed after, crying, Away with him. (Acts 21:36), we read the words: “Down with our enemy!” Paul had been seized by the crowd in the temple at Jerusalem and then arrested by the Romans. As the soldiers carried him along to the castle, the people followed crying, “Away with him!” Here, some old copies read: “Away with him! Down with our enemy!” These words were probably not written by Luke, but they probably tell us truthfully how the Jews spoke of him. A very old writer, who was a bitter enemy of the teaching of Paul, writing about 160-188 A.D., says, “Some of the Gentiles... have accepted the lawless and foolish teaching of an enemy.” It is very probable that these false teachers from Jerusalem who had come to Galatia had called Paul an enemy. Paul seems to have heard that something like this had happened, and so he upbraids them: “So I have become your enemy by telling you the truth?” They had forgotten that “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:66Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. (Proverbs 27:6)). He puts it in the form of a question, so as to leave a doubt and give the Galatians the opportunity to answer, “No, Paul, you are not our enemy! You are our best and dearest earthly friend.”
“They are not in a good way zealously seeking you honorably, but they are wishing [desiring] to shut you out, in order that you may zealously seek after them. But it is a good thing [or, honorable] to be zealously sought after in a good (cause) at all times, and not only when I am present with you.”
The words “zealously seek” probably come from a word meaning “to boil.” These false teachers were so “hot-hearted” in their efforts to win the Galatian Christians away from their love to Paul, and away from his teaching, so that they might “hot-heartedly” turn to themselves instead, that these teachers would do anything to make proselytes of them. They were not working in a good, a right, an honorable way. That is what the Greek word means. They were using underhanded methods to gain the Galatians. This is the difference between announcing the good news and making proselytes. In the first we are hot-hearted for Christ; in the second we are hot-hearted for a doctrine or for a party. These false teachers were hot-hearted after the Galatians in a wrong way. Compare Paul when he could say to the Corinthians, “I am jealous over you with godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:22For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)). Paul was glad to have others share the work of the good news. Paul might plant, and Apollos water. (1 Cor. 3:66I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. (1 Corinthians 3:6).) Titus and Timothy and Silas and Luke might have a share in the labors of the good news, and Paul would rejoice. Indeed he rejoiced that Christ was preached even when some did it of envy and strife, supposing to add affliction to his bonds. (Phil. 1:15, 16, 1815Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: 16The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: (Philippians 1:15‑16)
18What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:18)
.) But these false teachers were not preaching Christ but the law. For this reason Paul does not rejoice, but opposes them with all his strength. “My bairns!” Or, perhaps, “My bairns!” or, “My little bairns!”
The Apostle’s heart is too full to finish the sentence he had begun. He breaks off in the middle and cries, “My bairns!” It is not certain whether the Greek reads, “My bairns!” or “My bairns!” “My little bairns!” If it is “My little bairns” (as very possibly it is), then it is the only time Paul uses this word. Our Lord used it once, when He cried, “Little bairns, yet a little time I am with you!” John 13:3333Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. (John 13:33). John uses it seven times in his first epistle. We do not find it anywhere else in the New Testament. The Greek word translated “bairns” comes from the word meaning born, or begotten, just as the Scottish word “bairn” comes from the word born. It means a child (a boy or a girl), and especially emphasizes the relationship through birth. The word we considered in vv. 1-7 of this chapter, “son,” emphasizes the dignity of the position. Paul often uses the other word translated “bairns.”
“My bairns, of whom I again am travailing in birth until Christ should be formed in you.” Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:1515For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:15)). He looked on those who believed in Christ through his labors as his own children, whom he had begotten; and he well knew the pain of bringing them forth. He had suffered this once with the Galatians, when first they had believed in Christ, and now he is suffering it a second time. We read in Gal. 2:2020I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)“Christ liveth in me.” If Christ lives in us, then we should manifest forth Christ in all our walk and ways. But the Galatians had turned from Christ to the law, and being occupied with the law will never help us to show forth Christ. There are many teachers today who are continually setting forth rules and regulations by which Christians must live: you may not do this, and you ought to do that. This is just putting me under law once more. It is all part of those weak and poverty-stricken principles that are totally unable to show forth Christ in our lives.
What we need in order to enable us to show forth Christ in our lives is that Christ should live in us. So the Apostle travails again in birth until Christ be formed in them. What a man truly believes affects his character and his daily walk down here. Doctrine that exalts Christ makes us holy. Doctrine that does not exalt Christ hinders the Holy Spirit working in us and forming us like Christ. When the false teachers told the Galatians that they must have circumcision and the law as well as Christ in order to be saved, this was in reality an attack on Christ Himself, and meant that Christ alone was not sufficient to save them. A defective Savior is no Savior at all. The result of the teaching of these law teachers was that the Galatians lost sight of Christ, they forgot that “Christ liveth in me,” (ch. 2:20) and the life which they lived in the flesh was according to the law, not by the faith of the Son of God. (ch. 2:20.) So the result was that Paul must travail in birth a second time that Christ might be formed in them. Love made him willing to do this —not like Moses, who, weary with the burden of God’s people, cries, “Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that Thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child” (Num. 11:1212Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? (Numbers 11:12)).
The word translated “formed” (vs. 19) is used only here in the New Testament. It does not mean what is outward and quickly passing away, but what is inward and real. It is made from a similar word meaning form, which is used three times, always of our Lord. (Mark 16:1212After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. (Mark 16:12); Phil. 2:6, 76Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: (Philippians 2:6‑7).) Another word, made from this one, is used in Rom. 12:22And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)— “Be not fashioned [made to resemble in outward form] according to this age; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Here we may see that the Lord brings about an outward change in the character and walk down here of the believer by means of the inward change in his spiritual condition. We find the same word in 2 Cor. 3:1818But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed [transformed by an inward change] into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” It is not when we are occupied with trying to keep the law, but it is when we look off unto Jesus, and are occupied with His glory, that we are changed to be like Him.
Gazing on the cloudless glory
Of the Lord we love,
Where unveiled He fills with radiance
Those bright courts above.
Day by day a change is passing
O’er each lifted brow,
Soon to shine like Christ in glory,
Though so dimly now.
Evermore that light transforms us
In the Father’s sight,
Not His love alone our portion,
But His full delight.
W.R.
“But I have been wishing [or, could wish] to be present with you at this very moment, and to change my tone, because I am perplexed as to you.”
The emphatic words in this sentence are, “at this very moment.” It was a crisis with the Galatian saints. They were giving up the true gospel. The Apostle longs to be with them, and to talk to them face to face. How much better, he feels, would words be than a letter. But, dear reader, how much better for you and for me was the letter! Paul was unable to go to his beloved children in the faith, much as he longed to do so, and so he wrote this letter that we have been considering. No doubt Paul bitterly regretted being hindered making this visit. How little he thought that this was God’s own arrangement, in order that His Church might have this priceless little epistle given to us by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle longed to change his tone from rebuke to love. Could he but be with them, and they hear the tones of loving entreaty, surely they must turn from their evil ways. “For I am perplexed as to you” (vs. 20). He believed they had received the Holy Spirit. (ch. 3:2.) He calls them brothers, and children, and even bairns. But Christ was so little manifested in their lives that he has to confess: “I am perplexed as to you” (vs. 20). He hoped they were true, and that only in their heads they had received the doctrine which totally perverted the gospel. Paul never had such perplexity about other converts, not even the Corinthians. I wonder if Paul would be perplexed as to us, dear brethren, if he watched our daily life? I wonder if he would see that Christ needed to be formed anew in us?