Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Galatians 4 - Under a Tutor

In the Fullness of Time


We have seen how in Galatians chapter 3 the apostle Paul surveyed 2,000 years of Old Testament history. He explained how God gave Abraham a promise to bless all the families of the earth through his posterity; how He gave Moses a law which, far from annulling the promise, actually made it more necessary and urgent; and how the promise was fulfilled in Christ. Now in Galatians 4:1-11 Paul rehearses the same history again, contrasting man's condition under the law (1-3) with his condition when he is in Christ (4-7)” (Stott, p. 101­). “There (3:24), law, or the tutor, was prominent; here, the son, or pupil, is the chief object of consideration. The point now illustrated is the reason why the bondage of the law preceded the liberty of the gospel. It was for the purposes of development, similar to those by which youth is trained to manhood” (McGarvey, pp. 271-272).


Galatians 4:1 “Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything” “Though the will provides that the son shall eventually be heir of all things, yet for the present (while he is a minor) is governed and restricted by the inflexible terms of the will that his condition differs, so far as comfort and freedom are concerned, in no respect from that of a bondservant, or slave” (McGarvey, p. 272). Here we see the terrible mistake that many of the Jewish people made. God desired that they would inherit the promise given to Abraham, along with everyone else. Yet they refused to fulfill the conditions of God's "will", that is, many of them refused to believe in God's Son and thus they forfeited their inheritance (Acts 13:46), and this truth broke Paul's heart (Romans 9:1-3).


Galatians 4:2 “but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father”


“By Roman law until the heir came of age at fourteen, he was under a tutor. Then until the heir became twenty-five, he was under a curator appointed by the leader of the city. While these Latin terms do not correspond exactly with ‘guardian’ and ‘trustees’ (stewards), they typify the situation of the underage heir in that society” (Boles, p. 102).

  • The Application to Them

Galatians 4:3 “So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world”


“So we also”: Primarily Christians of a Jewish background. The past of Gentile Christians will be the focus of 4:8-9. “When we were children”: Before Jesus arrived, we were under the Law as a tutor and were viewed as minor children (Galatians 3:24-25). “Under the elemental things of the world”: “We were under the ABC instruction, in the primer department” (Lenski, p. 195). “It means ‘elements (of learning), fundamental principles’ (Hebrews 5:12)” (Willis, p. 178). It seems clear from the context that the above phrase is intended to describe the Law of Moses, because the Law of Moses is the "custodian” or “steward" of the context (3:24), and it is also viewed as a form of bondage (3:23). Even though the Law of Moses taught some tremendous spiritual principles (Matthew 22:36-40) and contained a very high moral standard (Exodus 20:12-17), God still viewed it as a law containing basic fundamental principles. “Of the world”: How can the Law of Moses be described as "of the world?" “This preliminary education was given to the Hebrews (included such things as the moral principles in the Ten Commandments, as well in the rest of the law), it was imparted to a wider world (other nations, societies and civilizations as they saw the wisdom in such laws, Deuteronomy 4:6-8) and was incorporated in Greek civilization, Roman law and government, and in other forms of national and social life” (Gr. Ex. N.T., p. 176). See Romans 2:14-15. Others take "of the world" to refer to the fact that the Law of Moses contained many ordinances and regulations dealing with the material or physical realm (Hebrews 9:10).


Galatians 4:4 “but when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law”


“The fullness of time came”: Compare with the statement, “until the date set by the father” (3:2). Or we might say, “when the time was right”, or “when everything was put in place”. “The meaning of the word -- that which is completed, full complement” (Vincent, p. 135). “This phrase implies God's control over and direction of history so that the sending of Jesus was done at a time selected and appointed by the Father” (Willis, p. 180). “God knew when the proper time had arrived” (Lenski, p. 197). Various writers cite the following facts which might have composed this "fullness": “It was the time when Rome had conquered and subdued the known inhabited earth, when Roman roads had been built to facilitate travel and Roman legions had been stationed to guard them” (Stott, pp. 105-106). “Never before had travel been so easy and safe (i.e. to aid in the spread of the gospel); not again for another 1500 years would it be so” (Boles, p. 103).


“It was also a time when the Greek language and culture had given a certain cohesion to society” (Stott, p. 106). Hence an ease of communication existed. “The Jews had made this moment in time ripe by establishing synagogues throughout the known world, and by translating the Septuagint, the Old Testament Scriptures in Greek” (Boles, p. 103). Therefore, a ready audience already existed in most towns for Paul and others to teach. “At the same time, the old mythological gods of Greece and Rome were losing their hold on the common people, so that the hearts and minds of men everywhere were hungry for a religion that was real and satisfying” (Stott, p. 106). See also the following Scriptures, Mark 1:15-16 “The time is fulfilled”; 1 Timothy 2:5-6 “at the proper time”. Titus 1:2-3


Galatians 4:5 “so that He might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons”


“So that”: “The purpose of the incarnation was redemption. “Them that were under the Law”: The Jews. “That we might”: The death of Jesus did not automatically redeem anyone, He died that people might have redemption. Being redeemed by the blood of Christ is conditional (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10). Those who were under the Law needed to be redeemed. “The adoption of sons”: I only qualify as a son of God if I obey Christ (Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1).


Galatians 4:6 “And because you are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father”


“God sent forth”: Notice the close parallel with “God sent forth His Son” (4:4). “The Spirit of His Son”: The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is called the "Spirit of His Son", because He was sent in the name of Christ (John 14:26), or sent by Christ Himself (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit would simply reveal the will of Jesus and glorify Jesus in the process (John 16:13-14). The purpose of this verse is to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit had a role in creating this relationship of sonship. “Into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba Father’”: “It (Abba) was the usual informal word applied by a child to its father within the home” (Cole, p. 117). This was an "objective" experience that all the Galatians had experienced. Observe the statement "our hearts". Each one of them had been convicted of their sins by the Spirit's message and convinced that Jesus was the Son of God, the answer for their sin. The acceptance of such facts had moved them to cry out for deliverance and express gratitude and affection towards the Father who had made all this possible. The steps for sonship have just been mentioned (Galatians 3:26-27).


Galatians 4:7 “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God”


“Therefore”: This verse concludes this section. “No longer a bondservant”: The pre-Christian state of both Jews and Gentiles (John 8:31-34; Galatians 4:1ff). “But a son”: Only in Christ are we truly sons of God. “Then an heir through God”: Only God makes being one of His sons possible. Since Christians have all of this in Christ, why then would anyone ever want to return to the Law of Moses? Why would one choose to be a slave when one was already a son and heir?

  • Their Former Condition of Bondage

It appears that the following section is an exhortation to the Galatians who were from a formerly Gentile or pagan background.


Galatians 4:8 “However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods”


While the Jews were "minor children" under the Law, this was the condition of the Gentiles. Observe that prior to Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles were in bondage. “Not knowing God”: That is, ignorant of the true God (Acts 17:22-23; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Acts 17:30; 1 Thessalonians 4:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; Ephesians 2:12). Thus, Paul is now addressing Christians from a non-Jewish background, for the Jews under the Law did know God. “Which by nature are no gods”: “To gods that have no real being” (Con). “To gods who are really no gods at all” (Mof). See 1 Corinthians 8:6.


Galatians 4:9 “but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?”


“Or rather to be known by God”: “To know with affect and effect, a knowing with approval and love, with full acceptance, Matthew 7:23; 2 Timothy 2:19” (Lenksi, p. 211). While God knows everybody (mentally), God only knows (approves of, accepts) those in Christ, that is, Christians. “To state that God knows them is to state more than to say that one knows God even as to say, ‘The president knows me’ says more than ‘I know the president’” (Willis, p. 192). “How is it that you back again”: These Gentile Christians are not in danger of turning back to idolatry, rather they are being pressured to turn back to Judaism. “To the weak and worthless elemental things”: Weak because they have no power to save or justify their devotees and beggarly (literally poor), because they have no spiritual riches to bestow upon the Galatians in short, they ‘have nothing at all to offer but enslavement’” (Fung, p. 192). The Law of Moses is called "weak and beggarly" because it was and still is powerless to grant salvation. “The impotency of the Law to save mankind is seen in Romans 7” (Willis, p. 193).


Galatians 4:10 “You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years”


“Ye observe”: “As evidence to demonstrate that the Galatians were reverting to a state of bondage.  Paul cited their observance of the special holy days of Judaism. This passage demonstrates just how far the Galatians had already been led astray” (Willis, p. 194). “Observe”: “The word denotes careful, scrupulous observance, an intent watching lest any of the prescribed seasons should be overlooked” (Vincent, p. 140). Some commentators see this verse as referring to a relapse into paganism and the observance of heathen rites, yet that does not fit the context. These Christian were not being lured back into idolatry, rather they were being lured into Judaism (3:1; 4:21). “Days”: The Sabbath Day. “Months”: The festival of the new moon. “Seasons”: Such as Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. “Years”: Sabbatical years, the year of Jubilee. Compare with Colossians 2:16


Galatians 4:11 “I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain”.


There would be no fear if a Christian could never lose his or her salvation. Yet Paul is afraid that all his efforts with the Galatians will have been in vain.

  • Personal Exhortations Based on a Former Friendship

Galatians 4:12 “I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. Ye have done me no wrong”


“Become as I am”: “Present middle imperative, ‘Keep on becoming as I am’” (Robertson, p. 304). That is, realize that you are free from the bondage of the Law of Moses, as Paul realized. “All Christians should be able to say something like this especially to unbelievers, namely that we are so satisfied with Jesus Christ, with His freedom, joy, and salvation, that we want other people to become like us” (Stott, p. 112). “For I also have become as you are”: “Literally it reads ‘Be like me, as I too (have become) like you’. ‘Put yourselves in my place for I have put myself in yours’” (Cole, pp. 120-121). “In order to reach the Galatian people, Paul crossed cultural and religious barriers that were virtually unthinkable for a person who had grown up as a Jew. But now, ironically, his converts had cut themselves off from Paul by re-erecting those same barriers” (Boles, p. 109). When Paul had come to the Galatians, he came simply as a Christian, even though he had come from a proud Jewish background (Philippians 3:4-7). “When Paul came to them in Galatia, he did not keep his distance or stand on his dignity. Although he was a Jew (of Jewish heritage), he became like the Gentiles they were 1 Corinthians 9:20-22” (Stott, p. 112).


“You have done me no wrong” (NASV): “Paul has no complaint to make concerning the treatment he had received during his past relation with the Galatians” (Lenski p. 217). “The things that I'm writing to you are not the results of vengeance because of unkindness shown to me. Just the opposite is true”. (Denton Lectures, 1986, Bryon Denman, p. 157)


Galatians 4:13 “but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time”


They knew the facts surrounding his first visit. “Because of a bodily illness”: “The exact nature of Paul's illness has excited a good deal of speculation. Sir William Ramsay believed the ailment as malaria.  Paul could have contracted the disease in the lowlands of Pamphylia (Acts 13:13), causing John Mark to flee back to Jerusalem, and Paul himself to seek relief and recovery in the higher altitude of Pisidian Antioch” (Boles, pp. 109-110). Some see in verse 14, a physical handicap such as epilepsy that might have tempted some to view Paul with contempt. Others see in verse 15 a possible suggestion that Paul suffered from some type of eye disease. In the end, no one really knows. “The point to remember in the context of Galatians is that Paul came to them a sick man, one they could have treated with disdain, but they welcomed him into their hearts” (Boles, p. 110).


Galatians 4:14 “and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself’


“Paul's bodily condition was a trial to the Galatians: apparently his illness had given his appearance a certain repulsiveness and the temptation would have been for them to ‘show scorn or disgust’ at the state of his body” (Fung, pp. 197-198). People are not destined to fail. We can overcome the temptations that face us each day, and we can even overcome strong temptations. Lenksi has some additional good comments concerning how the Galatians might have been tempted to reject Paul and his message: “A sick man is never impressive and assuring. A sick man who claims miraculous powers and heals others while he himself remains sick would certainly raise serious doubts regarding any message he might bring” (p. 220). In addition, the Galatians could have succumbed to the view advocated by the friends of Job, that physical suffering is proof that one is a sinner. See also Acts 28:4.


“You received me as an angel of God”: This means that the Galatians had realized that Paul was God's messenger, and that spurning God's messenger, even if it is a human being, is spurning God.  Jesus taught the same principle (Matthew 10:40; John 13:20). Note carefully that this is one more verse that makes a distinction between Jesus and angels (Hebrews 1:4-13) 


Galatians 4:15 “Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me”


“Now the situation has changed. They had been so pleased, so proud, to have Paul among them in those days” (Stott, p. 115). “Have you forgotten how happy you thought yourselves in having me with you” (NEB)“For I bear you witness”: Paul was there, he had personally experienced their generosity and hospitality, they might try to deny it, or forget it, but he cannot. “Plucked out your eyes”: “The expression about digging out the eyes and giving them to another is surely proverbial for making a sacrifice of something that is really priceless. So greatly blessed the Galatians counted themselves that nothing that they had could be too great a price to offer in return” (Lenski, p. 221).


Galatians 4:16 “So then am I become your enemy, by telling you the truth?”


“Am I become your enemy”: “The one they had received as God’s angel, as God’s Son, they now regarded as their enemy! Why? Simply because he had been telling them some painful home truths(Stott, p. 115). “By telling you the truth?”: Telling the truth is risky business, but Christians must be always willing to take that risk  (Proverbs 23:23; 2 Timothy 4:2). “There is an important lesson here. When the Galatians recognized Paul’s apostolic authority, they treated him as an angel. But when they did not like his message, he became their enemy. An apostle’s authority does not cease when he begins to teach unpopular truths. We cannot be selective in our reading of the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament, the apostles of Jesus Christ have authority in everything they teach, whether we happen to like it or not” (Stott, p. 115). “He had not changed; the gospel is not changed. Why, then, do they treat him like an enemy?” (Erdman, p. 99).

  • False and True Concern

Galatians 4:17 “They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will see them”


“They”: The false teachers. “Eagerly seek you”: These false brethren have been zealous “personal workers” and were seeking the win the Galatians. “He seems to be accusing the false teachers of flattering the Galatians insincerely. In order to win them to their perverted gospel, the false teachers fawned on them and fussed over them” (Stott, p. 115). “Not commendably”: Their motives are not genuine. “They wish to shut you out”: “They would like to see you and me separated altogether, and have your zeal all to themselves” (Phi).


Galatians 4:18 “But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you”. “It is a fine thing to have people interested in you, if it is for a right cause” (Nor). “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good” (NIV).


Galatians 4:19 “My little children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you”


This is what Paul meant by his statement in 2 Corinthians 11:28-29, that he was constantly concerned about Christians in other areas. He is experiencing tremendous pain, due to the unfaithfulness of these Christians, and this pain will not be relieved, until he sees them come back to Christ. “Until Christ is formed in you”: He is not satisfied that they claim to believe in Christ; he longs to see Christ formed in them, to see them transformed into the image of Christ, "until you take the shape of Christ" (NEB). It is never enough to simply claim that one is a Christian. Believing error makes it impossible to demonstrate true Christ-mindedness (Philippians 2:3-5). Salvation is much more than just "going to heaven". It involves the transformation of selfish people, into a character that glorifies and reflects the greatness of God (Ephesians 4:24). 


Galatians 4:20 “but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you”


Many of us have felt a similar frustration when dealing with an unfaithful Christian, yet notice such perplexity did not stop Paul from offering another argument (4:21-31). When in doubt, just make another argument or appeal from Scripture.

Mark Dunagan |
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017