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"A Preacher's Fears for a Backsliding Church"
Galatians 4:8-20

Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
March 22, 2006

One of the great needs of our Christian life is to remember two things: (1) what we were before Christ; and (2) what we now are in Christ. Just as God called Israel in Deuteronomy 15:15 - just before the nation entered the land He promised to them: "You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you . . ." - so we need to remember that, before Christ, we little more than slaves under the law; but now we are sons and daughters!

Christ had set the Galatians free from the shackles of bondage; but now - having been set free into the full blessings of sonship - they were actually seeking to place themselves under bondage again! What madness! This was nothing less then a backslide from the liberty we enjoy under grace. And out of serious doubts and fears about their spiritual state, Paul wrote to them to call them back to freedom.

Paul calls them "brethren" in verse 12, and "my little children" in verse 19. But looking through this passage, we see that Paul, with a passionate heart of love for his precious brothers and sisters in Christ, is concerned . . .

I. THAT HIS LABORS TOWARD THEM FOR THE GOSPEL WERE IN VAIN (vv. 8-11).

A. At one time - before they knew the one true God - the Galatians served those things which, by nature, were not gods (see 1 Corinthians 8:4-6).

B. But now, they have come to know the one true God. Paul makes it a special point to establish that their knowledge of the one true God is by grace; in that they actually have come to be known BY God. It was not through their efforts, but by His compassionate love (see Gal. 3:1-5; Ephesians 2:1-10).

C. Paul went to great lengths and sacrificed much of himself in order to bring them to the place where they knew the one true God by grace through faith. He "labored" (kopaű; to be spent in labor to the point of weariness). But now, he fears that his efforts were "in vain" (eik„; without cause).

1. His fear was based on the fact that they had returned to the "weak" (asthen„s) and "beggarly" (ptűchos) "elements" (stoicheia; same word as used in verse 3) to which the Jewish people were once in bondage (see Hebrews 7:18). In other words, they had turned away from the cross of Jesus; and sought instead to earn God's favor through the rules and regulations of Judaism.

2. This "turning back" was demonstrated in the fact that they observe the Judaistic calendar (see Col. 2:16-17); and in addition to circumcision (Gal. 5:2-3). Paul accused them of observing:

a. days (i.e., Sabbaths and daily sacrifices).

b. months (i.e., new moon observances).

c. seasons (i.e., yearly feasts).

d. years (i.e., jubilees).

D. To come to Christ, and to then turn from Christ's sacrifice to that which is vastly inferior by means of our own efforts, is enough to give Paul reason to fear that his efforts were in vain. May we prove, with our confident faith in Christ alone, that the efforts that were extended to bring us to grace were NOT in vain (1 Thess. 2:1).

II. THAT HIS EXAMPLE OF LIBERTY WILL NOT BE FOLLOWED (v. 12).

A. Paul came to the Gentiles as one "without law" (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). He became like them in the sense that he didn't hold back from them - as a Jewish man normally would from Gentiles; but instead, he warmly interacted with them and drew close to them. He ate their food, and went into their homes, and "being a Jew", lived "in the manner of the Gentiles" (Gal. 2:14). In all of this, they did him no harm. His righteousness was not based on the works of the law but on faith in Christ (2:16); and therefore, he could set the example of liberty in Christ.

B. Now, in fair turn, he urges them to be like him. If anyone would have been injured as a result of the imitation, it would have been him; because he was a real Jew. Now, he must appeal to them to come with him - as it were - into the waters of liberty in Christ and see that "the water's fine".

C. May we show a confidence in the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice for us by the fact that we follow Paul's admonition: "Sand fast in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again in a yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1).

III. THAT THEIR RECEPTION OF HIM HAD TURNED TO REJECTION (vv. 13-16).

A. Paul bears witness that, when he came to the Galatians the first time, they were very receptive to him as a preacher of the gospel:

1. He came to them, first, because of a physical infirmity; and this became an occasion for him to preach the gospel. We're not told what the infirmity was; but it may have been a disease in his eyes (see v. 15; also 6:11). He apparently suffered from bad vision (Acts 23:2-4). It may have even made him somewhat repulsive in appearance; but the Galatians did not despise or reject him for his "trial in the flesh".

2. Not only did they not reject him, but they very positively received him. They welcomed him as an "angel" or "messenger" from God; and even received him as they would Christ Himself (possibly a reference to the fact that they welcomed him as one of Christ's "sent ones" - see Matthew 10:40-42).

3. Their reception of him was so sacrificial and loving, in fact, that they were prepared to pluck out their own eyes - if they could - and give them to him.

B. But now, he asks were that blessing has gone. He fears that he has now become their enemy - in their minds - because he has told them the truth about Christ. This may be, in part, why he felt such a strong need to affirm his apostleship at the beginning of the letter.

C. As we grow in Christ, may our love and appreciation of those who first brought the gospel to us be a demonstration of our commitment to it (2 Tim. 3:14).

IV. THAT THOSE HE HELPED SET FREE IN CHRIST WILL FOLLOW MEN (vv. 17-18).

A. The false teachers where giving a show of being "zealous" for the Galatian believers. But they do so for an evil reason: they want to exclude the Galatians - that is, make the Galatian believers feel inferior and needy and dependent upon them - so that they will zealously desire these false teachers. This is always the trick of false teachers and leaders of cults.

B. Paul affirms that its always a good thing to be "zealous" - but only when the thing itself is good. Paul's desire was quite the opposite from the false teachers. He didn't want the Galatians to be zealous over him in an inappropriate way. Rather, he wanted them to be zealous for the gospel and for the freedom they enjoyed in it. True teachers of the gospel do not end up producing a group of followers around themselves, but rather around Christ.

C. May we too be zealous for liberty in Christ (Gal. 5:1).

V. THAT THOSE FOR WHOM HE LABORED BIRTH WILL PROVE TO BE STILLBORN (vv. 19-20).

A. Paul loved these errant Christians. He called them "my little children". They were dear to his heart.

B. He also felt a strong connection to them in that he labored in birth for them in Christ. But now, he feels something very unnatural. He feels almost as if he is having to give birth to them again - as if they were needing to be "born-again 'again' Christians"! They seem to have failed to understand the call of the gospel the first time they heard it; and their actions are suggesting that they had fallen short of grace.

C. Paul wishes he could be with them and change his manner toward them. Because he has very real "doubts" about their spiritual condition.

D. May we prove, by our confident trust in the grace of God through Christ, that we truly were born again.

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