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Paul to the Galatians

chapters  3,  4

Slave or free?


You idiots!   You must be bewitched,  to have lost the vision of Jesus Christ crucified.   Tell me:  did you gain life in the Spirit by meeting the law's requirements or by believing the good news?   How can you be so stupid?   Having begun on the spiritual path,  do you now expect keeping the rules to see you home?   Does all that you have experienced mean nothing now?   Is that where you have ended up?   Tell me:  when God gives you the Spirit and causes miracles to happen for you,  is that because you stick to the regulations or because you believe the Gospel?      [3:1-5]

Look at Abraham.   'He put his faith in God,  and that faith was counted to him for righteousness  (Genesis 15:6)'.   It is those who believe who are Abraham's children.   And scripture,  looking ahead to God's justification of the Gentiles through faith,  proclaimed the Gospel long ago:  'In you shall all the Gentiles be blessed  (Genesis 12:3)'.   The other side to it is that those who rely on keeping the law are under a curse:  'Cursed is the one who does not do everything written in the book of the law  (Deuteronomy 27:26)'.   As the scripture testifies,  the law never brings anyone to righteousness before God:  'It is the one justified by faith who shall gain life  (Habakkuk 2:4)'.   Now the law doesn't work through faith,  because we are told:  'Whoever  does  the works of the law will live by them  (Leviticus 18:5)'.   Christ brought freedom from the curse of the law by himself becoming accursed for us:  'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree  (Deuteronomy 21:23)'.   The purpose of it was that Abraham's blessing might,  through Christ,  reach the Gentiles,  so that we might all receive the promised Spirit,  through faith.      [3:6-14]

The legalists have an attitude to their Bible  -  especially the first five books  -  which we would now label  'fundamentalist'.   They regard what they perceive to be its fundamental prescriptions as an immutable obligation.   And indeed the Bible does say those things,  in incontrovertible black and white.  

Paul doesn't deny that.   But he knows that is not the clue to finding life with God.   It leaves no room for the Spirit to move  (even if they think it does).   As he says in another letter,  'the letter kills but the Spirit gives life'  (2 Corinthians 3:6):  sticking to the script leaves you dead  . . .   But since his opponents do claim to stick to the script,  and since in his own way Paul attaches the greatest significance to scripture,  he expounds scripture against them.   We no doubt find his interpretations stretched in places,  but he does demonstrate that there is a depth and subtlety to the sacred writings that the legalists have failed to see.   Paul reads the Bible,  not woodenly,  but as the Spirit opens it up for him.

Here is a comparison that may help.   Once a contract has been signed,  no one can come along and cancel or modify it.   Now the promise was made to Abraham and to his seed  (Genesis 13:15).   Notice,  incidentally,  that the word is 'seed' in the singular,  not 'seeds':  I take that to refer to Christ.   But the point I am making is this:  a covenant had already been sealed by God.   It can't be invalidated or rescinded by a law made four hundred and thirty years later.   After all it wasn't simply the matter of a legal inheritance.   It was a promise made to Abraham as a gift.      [3:15-18]

So why was the law needed?   It was given to show up sin for what it is,  until the 'seed' should arrive for whom the promise was made.   The law was issued through angels  [compare Hebrews 2:2]  and there was a human go-between.   But God,  being one,  required no go-between when the promise was given.   Then does the law counter the promise?   No.   But it did not in itself have the power to confer life,  or righteousness would have come from keeping the law.   What the scripture setting out the law accomplishes is to prove the whole world captive to sin.   The consequence is that the promised blessing can liberate only those who have faith in Jesus Christ.      [3:19-22]

Before faith came on the scene we were restrained by the law.   The law's task was to keep us under control until Christ should come and we might be made righteous through faith.   Now that Christ has come the law's work is done  -  you are joined with Christ Jesus as children of God.   You have been baptized into Christ:  you have clothed yourselves in him.   No longer is there Jew and Greek,  slave and free,  male and female.   You have become one in Christ Jesus.   And that means that you are the 'seed' of Abraham,  the future he was promised.      [3:23-29]

'No longer is there Jew and Greek,  slave and free,  male and female.   You have become one in Christ Jesus.'   Scholars say there is good reason to think that Paul is here quoting a formula that was part of the Christian baptism ritual.   It expressed the new reality into which converts were now entering.   Whether Paul borrowed it or created it he was committed to it.   Moreover,  he did not regard this as a spiritual development which left worldly circumstances untouched.   He struggled for an actual community of Jewish and Gentile Christians which transcended their cultural differences;  he accepted,  and no doubt welcomed,  equality in leadership between men and women;  he ruled out the possibility that two members of the community might remain master and slave.

Here is another way of looking at it.   While heirs are minors they are no better off than slaves,  even if they have inherited everything.   They are under guardians and trustees until the date set by their father.   It's like that with us.   During our minority we were captive to the primitive perceptions of this world.   But at the end of that time God sent his Son,  born of a woman,  born under the law,  to win freedom for those tied to the law,  so that we might enter into our inheritance as God's children.      [4:1-5]

The proof that you are God's children is the Spirit of God's Son sent into your hearts,  and the Spirit says:  "Abba!  Father!"   You are not slaves any more but God's children,  and therefore,  by God's action,  heirs.   There was a time when you did not know God and were enslaved to beings that are not really gods at all.   But now that you do know God,  or rather are known by God,  how on earth can you turn back to unrewarding worldly perceptions and put yourselves in their power again?   Your religion is now a matter of observing days and months and years!   I begin to wonder whether I have laboured over you in vain!      [4:6-11]

Try to understand what I am saying,  friends,  as I have tried to understand you.   I don't hold anything against you.   You will remember that it was physical infirmity that led to my bringing you the Gospel in the first place.   You showed no disgust at the state of my body.   You welcomed me as though I were an angel from God,  or Christ Jesus himself.   You were so pleased to have me with you.   I swear that you would have torn your eyes out and given them to me if you could.   Does speaking truth to you now make me your enemy?   Those people are so keen to win you over,  but they show little integrity.   They want to shut the door on you and then let you in only on their terms.   I am happy for you to receive encouragement that is honest,  and not just when I am there with you,  dear children.   But now I am,  as it were,  in the pains of childbirth all over again,  until Christ is formed within you.   I wish I were there with you now,  for then I could change my tone.   At this moment I can't be sure what is the best thing for me to do.      [4:12-20]

Look at scripture again.   If you are so keen to submit to the law,  listen to what the law itself says.   It is written that Abraham had two sons,  one by the slave, and one by his free-born wife.   The slave's son was born in the natural course of events.   The free woman's son was given through the promise of God.   Look at this as an allegory.   The two women stand for two covenants.   Hagar,  bearing children for slavery,  represents the covenant from Sinai.   Sinai is a mountain of Arabia that also symbolizes the Jerusalem of today,  with its children in slavery.   But the free woman represents the Jerusalem above,  and it is she who is our mother.   For the scripture says: 'Rejoice,  you who have no children;  sing and shout,  you who have not known the pains of childbirth!   There are more children for the forsaken one than for the one with husband.  (Isaiah 54:1)'.   You,  my friends,  are  -  like Isaac  -  children of the promise.   And just as then the child by nature persecuted the child through the Spirit,  so it is now.   But what does the scripture say?   'Drive out the slave and her child.   The slave's child is not to share the free-born's inheritance.  (Genesis 21:10)'   So you see we are not slave-children.   It is the free woman who is our mother.      [4:21-31]



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