For an introduction to this series, click here.
Paul is quite blunt in this chapter, as we shall see. It is obvious that his concern for these people is very strong, but he has to be an honest broker and tell them the truth. Anyway, the topic of sonship is very important in this chapter:
"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, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God." (4:1-7)
As Christians we are adopted into God's family. As children, we are not expected to live as slaves, but free. But the Galatians were not leading a free, fulfilled life:
"Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 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? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain." (4:8-11)
This is the first of several personal statements by Paul in which he expresses deep regret for the way the Galatians are doing things. I'm sure the false teachers did not appreciate their teachings being called "worthless elementary principles of the world," but that's what Paul calls them.
Next, the Apostle wants the Galatians to recall what it was like when he first came to them:
"You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 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. What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (4:12-16)
This is the passage which many point to as proof that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was an eye problem. It very well may have been, but I think it was left vague so that we all may be encouraged by Paul's example. These people loved Paul when he came to them, and they cared for him. But now they have been led astray by these false teachers, and Paul takes it personally. I'm sure these believers had no idea they were hurting Paul by adopting some of these practices, but Paul said they were. This is a perfect example of the concept presented in Hebrews 13:17, which reads: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." Clearly Paul was doing a lot of "groaning" as he watched these trusting believers be led astray by the Judaizers.
Finally, Paul brings an analogy between Isaac and Ishmael to demonstrate the relationship between Christians and Jews in this church age:
"I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 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.' Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 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. 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.' So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman." (4:20-31, ESV)
As I have mentioned before, it can be dangerous for us to come up with such allegories from the Bible. But as Apostles and inspired, Paul and the other writers had the authority to draw analogies like this. Paul said that Hagar represents the Jews of the church age. They are (temporarily of course) outside the promises of God. God's promises have fallen to the spiritual children, the church. Now of course this passage is used to prove the idea that God is through with any sort of dealings with the Jews, but there is too much other scripture that proves otherwise. Ishmael, Hagar's son, represents those who try to mix Christianity and Judaism, namely the Judaizers. Paul's command to the Galatians about the Judaizers comes straight from the mouth of Sarah: "Cast out the slave woman and her son!"