The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians
3- Righteousness by Christ, by Faith and Not by the Works of the Law (2: 15 – 5:12, contd.)
+ Righteousness is by faith in Christ who was crucified for us (2:15-21, described in Part 3)
+ Reproaching the Galatians for their Return Back to the Flesh (3:1-5, described in Part 4)
+ Abraham as an example of Justification by Faith and not by the Works of the Law (3:6-9, described in Part 4)
+ The Role of the Law (3:10-25, described in Part 4)
+ We are All One in Christ: Sons & Heirs (3:26 – 4:7)
By faith in Christ Jesus we all became “sons (children) of God” (3:26). “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ (i.e. we died in Him and through Him) have put on Christ (through His resurrection in us)” (3:27). Therefore, all divisions have disappeared, and all believers became children of God, and heirs of the kingdom. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28)1. Therefore, through faith in Christ, Jews and Gentiles became related to Abraham who received the promise, and through the promise they became heirs of the kingdom of Christ.
The status of the law is like the position of a guardian or a trustee (it was also said that the law is a discipliner or ‘tutor’) in relation to an heir who is underage. Although, one day this heir will receive the inheritance, and will become the owner, because he is underage, he resembles a slave who cannot use his possessions “until the time appointed by his father (i.e. the fullness of time)” (4:2). The law has fulfilled its duty, and brought out through history good examples of godliness, and obedience to God, appropriate to receive salvation, either from the prophets and saints of the Old Testament, or the early heroes of the New Testament, like St. Mary (and those who were affiliated with her and her Son: Zachariah and Elisabeth, John the Baptist, Simeon the elder, and Henna the prophetess), the disciples and the apostles. Nevertheless, the truth is that the majority were incapable (before the coming of the Lord) because they “were in bondage under the elements (human philosophies and traditions) of the world” (4:3), like the worship of idols for the Gentiles (4:8) or being entrapped in the superficialities of worship for the Jews (4:9, 10).
Then, salvation came at the ‘fullness of time’ ordained by God according to His intention before the foundation of the world, when “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law” (4:4). The eternal Son entered the domain of time, taking flesh from a Jewish woman obedient to the law, being Himself “born under the law”. But the law did not reign over Him, because He did not sin, and in His mouth there was no deceit. He took our sins in His flesh through the cross, and redeemed by His blood ‘those who were under the law’. Thus we received ‘the adoption as sons’ (4:5).
As we became children, we received the grace of the pouring of the Spirit of the Son of God in our hearts, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16). And through Him we cry out as children “Abba (Aramaic), Father” (4:6), “O Father” (John 12:27, 28; 17:1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25), and “Our Father” (Mat. 6:9; Luke 11:2).
In fact whoever believes, is no more a slave, but a son, and therefore, “an heir of God through Christ” (4:7). St. Paul confirms this truth in his letter to the Romans, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17).
+ Return to a loving reproach (4:8–20)
Again, St. Paul reproaches the Galatians, but this time with plenty of love, as they became children and heirs of God. He reminds them with their past when they did not know God’s truth, and worshiped false gods. “But now that you know God – or rather are known by God (4:9), who granted you His grace – how is it that you are turning back to those weak (superficial) and beggarly (futile, poor) elements (principles)? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years (Jewish feasts)! I fear for you, lest I have labored for you in vain” (4:10-11). He pleads with them, reminding them of his preaching to them, and their first love, and how they accepted him as Christ Jesus, in spite of his apparent weakness in the flesh, and how they did not disdain of his illness, “my trial which was in my flesh” (4:14), ‘the thorn’ in his flesh (2 Cor. 12: 7), which could have been a disease in his eyes or a weakness in his sight2. On the contrary, they treated him like an “angel from God” (4:14) praising him and expressing very touching feelings, “For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me” (4:15).
What happened then? Did I become your enemy because I differ with you because of what you became, and I am confronting you with the truth? Those who want to change your mind and your faith are not helping you. Their zeal is false, and fake, and they want you to yield to their zeal, and follow them. “But it is good to be zealous in a good thing (in what is true) always, and not only when I am present with you (i.e., being just personally nice with him only in front of him)” (4:18).
He then addresses them as a mother dealing with her children3. “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again (I am again in pain, struggling for you to return to your faith, as a mother in the pains of childbirth) until Christ is formed in you (to become in the image of Christ who lives in you)”, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, blaming you face to face, because I am perplexed about you (4:19, 20). And he was rightly justified to do that.
+ We are the Children of the Promise, the Children of the Free Woman (4:21 – 5:1)
St. Paul continues his defense of the true Gospel, offering new evidence using the story of Hagar and Sarah from the Old Testament. He begins by saying “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law (understand what it says)? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman (slave), the other by a free woman” (4:21). According to the scriptures, Abraham had two sons, one (Ishmael) from the slave (Hagar), and the other (Isaac) from the free (Sarah). The first one was born according to the flesh (i.e. according to the will of men/women, Abraham and Sarah, ignoring the promise of God), but the second one was according to the promise (4:22, 23).
This was a symbol of the two covenants: The first one between God and Abraham, when Ishmael, the son of Hagar was thirteen years old, was the covenant of circumcision (Gen 17:9–13). The second covenant was related to Isaac, the son of the free Sarah, through him all generations of the earth will be blessed (Gen 17:18, 19; 21:1-3; 22:15-18).
+ St. Paul relates The First Covenant to slavery, the Law, and Mount Sinai, and says about it “The one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar – for this Hagar is (stands for) Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem, which now is (exists), and is in bondage (slavery) with her children -” (3:23, 25). The present Jerusalem is enslaved with her children under the rule of the Romans, and the captivity of the Law.
+ The second Covenant corresponds to Jerusalem that is above (The Kingdom, the new Heaven, the new earth, the glorified Church at the Lord’s coming, Rev 21:2, 10), who is the mother of us all (Jews and Gentiles) who are free. This was given to us by Jesus Christ who has freed us and we became truly free (Jn. 8:36) (4:26). He refers then to the prophecy of Isaiah (Is 54:1) on the last days, comparing the status of Jerusalem who is enslaved with her children, and its status when she is transfigured as the Spiritual Zion (the Church), where the returning Jews and the believing Gentiles will get together. “Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear (the Gentiles)! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor! For the desolate (the Gentiles) has many more children (believers) than she (present Israel) who has a husband (the Law).” (4:27).
+ The application: We the believers in Christ, like Isaac, are children of promise (4:28), and are “fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). As it was in the Old Testament time, “he who was born according to the flesh (Ishmael) then persecuted him who was according to the Spirit (Isaac), even so it is now” (4:29). Those who follow the Law oppose and resist (persecute) those who have accepted the faith. The solution is what the Lord has commanded in the past, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman” (4:30, Gen 21:10). In other words, “put away from yourselves the evil person” (1Cor. 5:13). Reject those who want to bring you back, who want to take away your freedom, and want you to submit to the Law again, because “we are not children of the bondwoman (the Law) but of the free (the new Covenant in Christ.” (4:31). “Stand fast therefore in the liberty (salvation by grace and faith) by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled with a yoke of bondage (the Law)” (5:1).
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- Compare with Rom. 10:12, 13; 1Cor. 12:3; Eph. 2:13, 14; and Col. 3:9-11. ↩
- A probable support to this opinion is what St. Paul said at the end of his epistle, “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand” (6:11). He might have not been able to see the small letters. ↩
- He keeps on talking on his role as a mother in another place. He compares himself in his missionary work to a nursing mother “But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children” (1Thes 2:7). He points to the teaching ministry (live of salvation) after accepting the faith (beginning of salvation). He adds how he escalates in his teaching based on their level, a phase after another “Brothers I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly, mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it” (1Cor 3:1, 2). St. Peter also writes “like new-born babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1Pet 2:2). ↩