October 31, 2019
Daybreak: Galatians 4:1-31
“But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
Have you ever experienced a situation when the perfect timing of an event seemed nothing short of miraculous? A number of years ago, a Christian man from Taiwan, Hse-Sheng Kuan, visited Portland, Oregon, as Chief Officer on board the ship Grand Integrity. He was invited to services by the people of our church and became acquainted with several of them. After the ship left Portland and started its voyage back across the Pacific Ocean, a crew member discovered a bomb on board. There was an explosion that resulted in the death of the captain and another officer. Brother Kuan lost his eyesight and was severely burned, and several other crewmen were also injured.
Brother Kuan was the highest-ranking surviving officer trained in navigation, so responsibility defaulted to him. He asked the bosun, the highest-ranking member of the deck crew, to bring his Bible to him. Putting his hands on the Bible, he prayed for God’s help, and then instructed the bosun in how to bring the ship the four hundred miles back to Astoria, Oregon, the closest port city. A Coast Guard vessel met the ship there, and the injured men were hospitalized. Eventually, Brother Kuan was transferred to Portland for an operation that doctors hoped would save the sight in one eye.
Months later, while he was recuperating in a care home, the church headquarters was notified about another Chinese seaman who had visited our church in Tacoma, Washington, and was in a hospital in Portland. A couple from the Portland church was asked to visit that man. Not knowing if he could speak English, the couple asked Brother Kuan to accompany them. When they came to the door of the man’s hospital room, they noticed a white-haired Caucasian woman visiting with the ill crewman, and she was speaking in Chinese. After listening for a few moments, Brother Kuan said in surprise, “She is speaking my dialect!” He and the woman began talking, and after a moment, they embraced each other with joy. Later, he explained that this woman had been his teacher at a mission school in mainland China when he was just a young boy!
That “chance” meeting changed the course of Brother Kuan’s life. His former teacher worked with immigration officials in the United States to arrange for his wife and their three children to emigrate from Taiwan to Portland. The family was reunited, and she went on to help them get their citizenship, and to assist in finding employment in Portland for both Brother Kuan and his wife.
Think of the amazing timing of this incident. What but a divine hand could have arranged for Brother Kuan to go to a hospital where he had never been, to visit a man he had never met, at the precise moment when he would meet an acquaintance of decades earlier who had the connections needed to assist his family in beginning a new life in the United States?
While Brother Kuan’s experience was life changing for him and his family, our key verse today tells of a divinely orchestrated event that impacted not just one family, but all of humanity. More than two thousand years ago, “when the fullness of the time was come,” God sent His Son Jesus to this earth to be our Savior. For centuries, the Jewish people had been wondering when their Messiah would come. The moment of Jesus’ birth was not random; it was pre-ordained and precisely timed by God. Everything was set in place for the prophecies of the ages to be fulfilled. Jesus came at the exact right time in the divine plan, and His arrival brought the possibility of a whole new life — both here and hereafter — for all people everywhere.
Sometimes we may wonder why events happen as they do. We may not understand the challenges that come our way, but we can trust the One who knows every detail of our lives and has the power to orchestrate events to fit His divine plan. He is in control, and we can rest confidently in the knowledge that His plan — even in times when circumstances are painful or perplexing — is a good plan!
In chapter 4, Paul continued his explanation of spiritual liberty that he had begun in chapter 3 by describing the difference between slaves and sons. He reminded the Galatians that they had previously been promoted from servitude to sonship (verses 1-7), and described their choice to return to enslavement (verses 8-11). He then made a personal appeal for them to have an attitude like his toward the Law (verses 12-20), and concluded with an illustration of the two sons of Abraham — Ishmael, born of a slave (Hagar), and Isaac, born of a free woman (Sarah).
Paul referenced a familiar custom to illustrate the slavery of the Jews under the Law. It was customary in that era to place a minor boy under the supervision of a senior servant until a time designated by the father. The child’s position during that period was no different than that of a servant in that he received instruction and correction from the senior servant. In both Jewish and Greek cultures, there were specific coming of age ceremonies in which a boy was recognized as being a man with legal rights as an heir.
In the Roman culture, however, it was left to the father’s discretion as to when the boy was mature, with sufficient knowledge to manage his responsibilities as an adult. The “fullness of the time” in verse 4 refers to that designated time appointed by the father. The time had come when the Law, allegorically that senior servant, had completed the child’s instruction and now mankind was to be brought into a more mature relationship with God, though built upon what had been learned under the Law’s tutelage.
The celebration of sonship described in verses 6-7 is highlighted by the use of the word “Abba” in relation to God the Father. “Abba” was an Aramaic affectionate term for “father” that had been adopted into the vocabulary of Greek-speaking Christians. It was used in the intimate setting of the home, and reflective of the close union between God and His children.
The present tense of the verb “turn” in Paul’s question in verse 9 indicates that the Galatians were in the process of reversing direction, and reveals the Apostle’s incredulity that they could wish to go back to the enslaving aspects of the Law. The specific aspects of the Law that the Galatians were turning back to related to circumcision, as well as the observance of Jewish festivals and prescribed fasts (verse 10).
Paul’s statement that “ye have not injured me at all” (verse 12), was meant to set straight any assumption that his strong words were spoken out of personal hurt caused by the rejection of his prior teaching. This was not the case; Paul wanted the Galatians to see the danger of turning back for their own sakes, not for his.
In verses 17-20, the Apostle made the point that not all religious zeal is from God. He warned that the false teachers who claimed religious authority “would exclude you, that ye might affect them.” The word translated exclude literally means “to lock up.” Paul wanted the Galatian converts to know that the motive of the false teachers was self-serving. If the Galatians turned away from the liberty of the true Gospel, they would again be in religious bondage.
Verses 21-31 are an instructive allegory based on Abraham’s two sons, with the two mothers, Hagar and Sarah, representing the two covenants. Paul developed the allegory by presenting a set of contrasts. The old covenant, which originated at Mt. Sinai, was characterized by slavery (illustrated by Hagar); the new covenant, coming from “the Jerusalem which is above” (verse 26), is characterized by liberty (illustrated by Sarah). Ishmael was born “after the flesh” according to the normal means of human conception; Isaac’s miraculous birth established him as the child of promise. The bondwoman and her son (representing those depending upon the works of the Law) would inherit nothing; the heir of the free woman (representing those delivered from the requirements of the Law through faith in Christ) would inherit all things. Paul concluded his illustration in verse 31 by stating that “we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.”
(Hannah's Bible Outline - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
III. Paul’s Gospel defined
B. The priority of the promise established
3. The position under the Law and in Christ elaborated
c. Illustration (4:1-7)
(1) Infancy under the Law (4:1-3)
(2) Adulthood in Christ (4:4-7)
C. The personal entreaty of Paul (4:8-31)
1. In light of their retrogression (4:8-11)
2. In light of their reception of Paul (4:12-20)
a. The attitude of the Galatians (4:12-16)
b. The aim of the legalists (4:17)
c. The affection of Paul (4:18-20)
3. In light of an Old Testament illustration (4:21-31)
a. The historical situation (4:21-23)
b. The allegorical interpretation (4:24-27)
c. The practical application (4:28-31)
A Closer Look
- According to verses 4-5, what was God’s purpose in sending His Son?
- In verse 5, Paul referred to “the adoption of sons.” What are the legal implications of adoption, and what rights do adopted children possess?
- What are some blessings and privileges you enjoy as a child of God and joint heir with His own Son?
Paul was concerned that the Galatians were moving away from the liberty of the Gospel, so he used every persuasive power he had to encourage them to live in the freedom that was theirs, and not be reshackled by placing their faith in the strictures of the Law.