Pastor David B. Curtis

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Slaves to Sons - Part 1

Galatians 4:1-5

Delivered 03/06/2005

As we have seen thus far in our studies, the problem of the Galatian believers was the conspiracy to impose upon them Jewish customs. Some were saying these Jewish rites were essential to salvation, and others were saying they were essential to spiritual growth. Paul repulses this conspiracy with unparalleled severity.

Paul defended his gospel and his apostleship in the first two chapters of Galatians. His salvation and growth as a Christian were largely independent of men and particularly of the apostles in Jerusalem (1:13-24). Nevertheless, they wholeheartedly accepted Paul, his message and his ministry, as signified by their giving him the "right hand of fellowship" (2:9).

Paul was willing to stand against everyone to defend the truth of the gospel. Even Peter came under his rebuke:

Galatians 2:11 (NASB) But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

Great men were temporarily swept away by the Jewish pretensions to perpetual privilege:

Galatians 2:13 (NASB) And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.

But Paul stood his ground; the last man on earth to stand between Judaistic heresy and the safety of the church:

Galatians 2:5 (NASB) But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.

When men came from Judea to Galatia teaching that God had set aside neither the Jewish nation nor Jewish privilege, and unless the Gentiles became as Jews they could not be right with God, Paul responded to the Galatians that the only true children of Abraham - the heirs to the Abrahamic covenant, blessing, and promise - are believers, whether Jew or Gentile:

Galatians 3:7 (NASB) Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.

In this one sentence Paul destroys the entire dispensational, pre-millennial and post-millennial edifice. It is foundational to all three systems that Jewish privilege and a special Jewish future must be maintained on the basis that the Abrahamic covenant was exclusive to the natural seed of Abraham.

But Paul shows in these two chapters that the "seed of Abraham" is Christ, and that they who are Christ's (and no one else) are "Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise"; that this "seed" abolishes all distinction of birth or privilege:

Galatians 3:28 (NASB) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In light of this verse, how can those who say they hold to a "literal" interpretation of the Bible say that the temple and Levitical priesthood and sacrifice, are to be restored in the "Millennium"? If they were only established as a "tutor" until faith should come, who will re-establish them now that faith has come?

Galatians 3:23-25 (NASB) But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Christ has come, and yet they want to go back under the "tutor." They want to go back to shadows and types. And they call preterists heretics?

The conclusion of chapter three (vv. 26-29) is the charter of the New Testament Church and the ground of her invincible claim to be the lawful successor of Abraham, the true Israel, the true circumcision (not in the flesh but in the spirit), the inheritor of the promises and privileges and hope of Old Testament Israel. Hence:

Galatians 3:29 (NASB) And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

This glorious sentence winds up the Old Covenant; abolishes the law, the temple, and circumcision; terminates the mission of the Jewish nation; ends their exclusive rights and privileges; and provides the key to the understanding of the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets of the Old Testament.

This one sentence is the death blow to the dispensational heresy, which has filled the Church for years, and aims to reimpose in an age yet to come all those laws and restrictions which Christ died once and for all to abolish. The subtle doctrine that the gospel of Christ's free grace is going to give way to an imagined millennium of reimposed Jewish privileges is reinforced by the teaching that there will be in that "golden age" another "gospel" preached, the so-called "gospel of the kingdom," which, whatever way we look at it, becomes a gospel of works and not of grace.

In chapter three of Galatians, it was Paul's intent to show that being a child of God is related directly to the matter of believing in the same manner as did Abraham to whom the promises were given.

The last words of chapter 3, "heirs according to promise," are now further discussed in chapter 4:

Galatians 4:1 (NASB) 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,

Let's imagine that I am a multimillionaire, and I don't have any children - I don't have any heirs. So, for whatever reason, I go to the state penitentiary and find a young man there whom I decide to adopt as my son. I adopt him not only as my son, but as the heir to my fortune.

Now, as long as he is there in prison, it is hard to tell the difference between my son and the other inmates. But there is a dramatic difference; he is now a multimillionaire. It's not until he gets out of prison that the difference becomes obvious. I pour out my inheritance on him; he buys a house and gets a vehicle and starts a business. But more than all those material things, I bring him into the life of my family and treat him like my son. He really experiences a life he has never known before, and everything seems to be great - except he just can't take it. He doesn't know what to do with this new life. So he goes out and commits a crime; he turns himself in; and he intentionally goes back to prison. I'm then left with the question: "Why would he do that?" That is the question: "Why would they do that?" That is what Paul talks about in Galatians 4. In chapter 3 Paul has been telling us that we are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26). Then verse 29: "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise."

Galatians 4:1-2 (NASB) 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, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father.

In chapter 3 Paul has established, on biblical and theological grounds, the superiority of grace over law, of receiving the blessings of God through faith as opposed to the curse which comes through the works of the Law. He now seeks to illustrate and apply this truth by turning to a well-known practice in the ancient world, that of an heir coming of age, so as to enjoy all that he has legally possessed, but which has been beyond his personal control.

The word rendered "child" means: "an infant; literally, one not speaking." In both Jewish and Greek cultures, they were much more dramatic about the passing from childhood to adulthood. It was a very defined passing. For example, in the Hebrew culture it was the bar mitzvah at age 12, which literally means "sons of the Law." At that point the child was no longer a child, but was now responsible for his own behavior under the Law. He was a man.

A Roman child became an adult at the sacred family festival known as the Liberalia, held annually on the seventeenth of March. At this time the child was formally adopted by the father as his acknowledged son and heir and received the toga virilisin place of the toga praetexta, which he had previously worn.

Noble Roman households had Olympian figures as fathers, men who lived in a kind of transcendency above the ordinary, run-of-the-mill home life. Children were not raised by their fathers, but rather by highly educated slaves who taught and directed them. Here Paul points out the irony of that kind of family situation; the son will someday be master of the estate, will some day actually own the slaves from whom he must now take direction. Meanwhile the slave is master over the son: he tells him when to go to bed, when to get up; he disciplines him. Thus for the young child there is very little difference between being an infant and being a slave. In fact, there is no appreciable difference between being a slave and being a son until the child reaches his majority. Then he becomes owner of the very slave from whom he took directions.

Paul is saying that in Old Testament times the believers, the true people of God, were in a state of minority. Not having "come of age," they were treated as a child in a rich man's household; the heir to all the father's estates and privileges, but not yet at that age when that inheritance could properly be bestowed. Therefore, the child-heir finds himself fenced about with restrictions and officers who regulate his life so that he has no liberty to enjoy his privileges but must wait "the time appointed of the Father."

What happens when the date set by the Father arrives? The heir receives his inheritance. And the inheritance referred to here is soteriological life. This can be proven from verses 4 and 5 of this chapter.

There is a young Greek girl who understands what Paul is saying to us today. On January 28th, two years ago, she arrived at the appointed time set by her family, and now she has received her inheritance. Athina Onassis is the grand-daughter of the late Aristotle Onassis, the richest man in the world at the time of his death. Athina's mother, Christina, inherited her father's wealth and was the CEO of his shipping business until she died at the age of 38. Athina was three years old at the time. For fifteen years Athina has been taken care of by her father and a host of hired hands.

Coming from such a well-to-do family that in many ways has suffered greatly because of their opulent and indulgent lifestyles, her father wanted to make sure that Athina had a normal childhood. Athina attended a regular state school, and the family has lived in a five bedroom house - pretty conservative for a billionaire's family.

There have been constant kidnapping threats, so security has always been present to protect Athina. A team of former SAS guards drove her to and from home and school in a bullet-proof limousine and kept watch over her at all times while she was a child. Other than personal bodyguards, Athina has not been indulged anything like her mother's excessive lifestyle when she was her age.

When Athina's mother died, there was a trust set up for the little girl that would be hers when she turned eighteen. Well, Athina turned eighteen on January 28th of 2003, and she received her inheritance at the appointed time. She received an estimated 2.7 billion in cash, homes, companies, art, shares, a private jet, and a Greek island. She will inherit a further $2 billion on her 21st birthday when she will also take control of the Onassis Foundation.

For eighteen years Athina Onassis Roussel was under the authority of others, but now she has received her inheritance. My friend, you might look at Athina's vast fortune and be envious of her idyllic situation, but let me assure you that her inheritance can't even come close to matching the inheritance of those who have placed their faith in Jesus! Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote,

No man living has ever realized to the full what this means. Believers are at this moment heirs, but what is the estate? It is God himself! We are heirs of God! Not only of the promises, of the covenant engagements, and of all the blessings which belong to the chosen seed, but heirs of God himself. "The Lord is my portion, saith my soul." "This God is our God for ever and ever." We are not only heirs to God, to all that he gives to his firstborn, but heirs of God himself. David said, "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup." As he said to Abraham, "Fear not Abraham, I am thy shield and thine exceeding great reward," so saith he to every man that is born of the Spirit. These are his own words -"I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." Why, then, O believer, are you poor? All riches are yours. Why then are you sorrowful? The ever-blessed God is yours. Why do you tremble? Omnipotence waits to help you. Why do you distrust? His immutability will abide with you even to the end, and make His promise steadfast. (C.H. Spurgeon, Adoption: The Spirit and The Cry, April 14, 1878)

In verses 3-5 Paul makes the analogy to the status of the believing Jews who lived under the Law. The "heir" under Roman law had legal ownership of his father's wealth; he did not actually possess it or enjoy it. So, too, the believing Jews had the promises of God to Abraham, yet they were not yet realized or enjoyed. Just as the Roman "heir" was under the dictates of the appointed "tutor" and "curator," the Israelite was under the Law, with all of its restrictions and mediators. The time for both preparatory periods to end was established by the father. For the "heir," it was the age determined by the Roman law or specified by the father. For the believer, the Law's tutelage ended at the appointed time when the Father determined for the Son to be sent to the earth to redeem fallen man.

Galatians 4:3 (NASB) So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.

Paul seems to speak specifically here of the Jews, as implied by the term "we", which is paralleled in verse 5 by "those who were under the Law."

The childhood of the church was in Israelitish form under the Old Testament. The "bondage" was the subjection of the people of God to those earthly "rudiments" of visible temple, sacrifices, circumcision, and all other legal observances "in the flesh," which constituted the preparatory condition of the people of God before the coming of Christ.

The expression "elemental things of the world" in verse 3 has been the source of considerable discussion. What exactly are "the elementary principles of the world"? The words "elementary principles" are from the noun "stoicheion," which is understood in several different ways. The KJV and the NKJV translate it: "elements", the NIV translates it: "basic principles," the New English Bible: "elemental spirits." Well, a "stoichos" was anything in a row or series. It was used of the letters of the alphabet (alpha, beta, gamma, delta; or in our vernacular, a, b, c, d). It was used of numbers in a series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). It was used of soldiers in rank and file down a line. So what it had to do with was anything in a series. So it came to be understood in the sense of elementary things (like the ABC's of life).

Adam Clark, in his commentary on Galatians, says this, "A mere Jewish phrase, yesodey olam hazzeh, 'the principles of this world;' that is, the rudiments or principlesof the Jewish religion."

I agree with Clark, I believe that the "elementary principles (stoicheion) of the world" probably refer to the observance of the Law of Moses. Stoicheion is only used seven times in the New Testament. The biblical meaning of stoicheion seems to be: "the elements of religious training, or the ceremonial precepts that are common to the worship of Jews." Let's look at the 7 uses of Stoicheion and see if we can determine its meaning:

Colossians 2:8 (NASB) See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles [stoicheion] of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Colossians 2:20 (NASB) If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles [stoicheion] of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,

If you check the context of these verses, you'll see he is talking about Jewish laws:

Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB) Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

"...or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths." - Representing, respectively, annual, monthly, and weekly celebrations that were tied in with the Mosaic Law. This phrase is indicative of all the appointed festivals of Israel (see Leviticus 23) and is used as such in at least three different places in the Old Testament.

In Galatians, you again see its Jewish usage:

Galatians 4:3-5 (NASB) So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things [stoicheion] of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

We said that the "we" here refers to the Jews - they were in bondage to the law. A careful comparison of the phrase "under the elemental things of the world" with the following phrase in verse 5, "under the law," will reveal that the "law" and the "elemental things of the world" are one and the same thing - the Jewish law.

Paul also uses this Greek word in:

Galatians 4:9 (NASB) 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 [stoicheion], to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?

If we compare this verse to the very next verse, its meaning is clear:

Galatians 4:10 (NASB) You observe days and months and seasons and years.

This shows us that the "elemental things" [stoicheion] have to do with the regulations of the Jewish law.

The writer of Hebrews also uses this word stoicheion:

Hebrews 5:12 (NASB) For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles [stoicheion] of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

These Hebrew believers should be able to teach others, but the writer says, "You have need again for someone to teach you." Let's back up and see the context so we can understand how he is using this word:

Hebrews 5:10-11 (NASB) being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. 11 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

"Concerning him" is a neuter pronoun referring to the teaching of the Melchisedecan priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. About this priesthood, the writer has "much to say." He anticipates that this discussion would be "hard to explain" - this is because they have become "dull of hearing." And they need to go back to the ABC's; they need to understand the Aaronic and Melchizedekian priesthoods so they can grasp the significance of Christ's high priesthood.

According to Adam Clark, "The literal translation of the passage is this: Ye have need that one teach you a second time certain elements of the doctrines of Christ, or oracles of God i.e. the notices which the prophets gave concerning the priesthood of Jesus Christ, such as are found in Psalm 110, and in Isaiah 53: By the oracles of God, the writings of the Old Testament are undoubtedly meant."

So, in five of its uses, stoicheion has the meaning of: "the principles of Jewish law." Why is this so important? Do you know where the other two uses of stoicheion are? They are found in 2 Peter in a passage dealing with the "day of the Lord" and the destruction of the heavens and earth:

2 Peter 3:10-12 (NASB) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements [stoicheion] will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements [stoicheion] will melt with intense heat!

We know what Peter said, but what did he mean? Was he talking about a time to come when the earth will be destroyed by fire? A time when the whole planet will explode and life, as we now know it, will end? It sure looks like that to us, doesn't it?

One of the fundamentals of hermeneutics is to ask, "What did the passage mean to the recipients of the message?" Modern prophetic interpreters would tell you that these passages meant little or nothing to the hearers, because the text dealt with matters that would take place 2,000 years later. That is, God really intended these prophecies for us and not for the people to whom they were spoken or written.

But is this what the Bible teaches? If you want to know what a term means in the New Testament in relation to prophecy, you need to go back to the Old Testament and see what it meant there. If it was used a certain way in the Old Testament, wouldn't it make sense that Jesus and the New Testament writer would use those expressions in the same way? We must get our understanding of "heaven and earth" from the Old Testament.

The "day of the Lord" is an expression also taken from the Old Testament and was used many times as regards to the judgments and destruction of various nations. It usually meant a time when God Himself would punish or judge people by the means of armies of other people. The invading armies of other nations brought judgement and destruction upon various nations, and these times were each called "the day of the Lord" when they were proclaimed of the Lord.

In biblical apocalyptic language "heavens" refers to governments and rulers, and "earth" refers to the nation of people. This can be seen in the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah 1:1-2 (NASB) The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2 Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; For the LORD speaks, "Sons I have reared and brought up, But they have revolted against Me.
Isaiah 1:10 (NASB) Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah.

God is still talking to Israel, and He calls them, "Sodom and Gomorrah." The literal Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed for some time. Here we see "rulers" used for "heavens" in verse 2, and "people" used for "earth." So the terms, "heaven and earth" are used to speak of rulers and people of a nation.

In 2 Peter 3 Peter is talking about Jesus' second coming at the end of the Jewish age. When the Lord comes, the heaven and earth of the Old Covenant age will pass away. When we read the word "elements" here, we think of the scientific idea of the elements of matter, all the atoms of the universe burning up. But this is not what the word "elements" means. What is being dissolved here is the Old Covenant system, not the universe. It is "the principles of Jewish law" that are being burned up. This is why it is important to understand this Greek word, it sheds much light on our understanding of 2 Peter 3.

Alright, let's get back to Galatians 4. Paul is telling us that when the Hebrew people were in their childhood, when they were under the Law, it was hard to tell those who were heirs according to the promise and those who were slaves under the Law. In other words, it was hard to tell those who believed the promise by faith and lived in obedience under the Law as an outflow of their belief in that promise, versus those who were trying to merit righteousness by obeying the Law. It was hard to tell, but Paul says there was a big difference: one was a slave, and one was an heir to the inheritance to come.

Galatians 4:4 (NASB) But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,

Notice the contrast here "but" - during the law period, the believers were indistinguishable from the non-believers - "But when the fullness of the time came."

The idea behind the phrase "the fullness of time" is: "when the time was right." Jesus came at just the right time in God's redemptive plan, when the world was perfectly prepared for God's work. It was a time when the world was at peace. The temple of Janus, closed only in times of peace, was then shut, though it had only been closed once before during the Roman history. What an appropriate time for the "Prince of Peace" to come! The world was, to a great extent, under the Roman spectre. Communications between different parts of the world were then more rapid and secure than they had been at any former period, and the gospel could be more easily propagated. Roads were top notch; travel easier, more protection for travelers. Further, the Jews were scattered in almost all lands; acquainted with the promises, looking for the Messiah, furnishing facilities to their own countrymen, the apostles, to preach the gospel in numerous synagogues; and qualified, if they embraced the Messiah, to become most zealous and devoted missionaries.

The Greek language was, after the time of Alexander the Great, the common language of most of the world, or at least was spoken and understood among a considerable portion of the nations of the earth. At no period before had there been so extensive a use of the same language. All of these factors contributed to the rapid spread of Christianity in the 1st century.

Did God tell His people when Messiah would come? Did those faithful believers have any idea as to when Messiah would show up? Yes! In Daniel, chapter 2 God tells about a statue that represents four kingdoms and He says:

Daniel 2:34 (NASB) "You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and crushed them.

This stone was the Lord Jesus Christ:

Dan. 2:44 "And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.

Daniel said "In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom..." As he interprets Neuchadnezzar's dream, he says that Nebuchadnezzar was the first of four kingdoms. It was in the days of the kings of the fourth kingdom that the eternal kingdom, which would take in all other kingdoms, was to be set up. Most agree that this was in the days of the Roman empire. Christ was prophesied to come during the Roman empire. It was the time "appointed by the Father."

Paul tells us that when the fullness of time came, "God sent forth His son" - this implies that the Son of God had an existence before His incarnation:

John 16:28 (NASB) "I came forth from the Father, and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again, and going to the Father."

The Savior is often represented as sent into the world, and as coming forth from God.

Paul also tells us that He was: "Born of a woman" - Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, came to earth born of a woman and born under the law. From its beginning the Church has held fast to the biblical teaching that Jesus was fully God and at the same time fully human. He was fully man, born of a woman like all other men, yet He was fully God. Otherwise, He could not have been Savior of the world. He had to be fully God in order for His sacrifice to have the infinite worth necessary to atone for the sin of the elect. He also had to be fully man in order to represent mankind and take the penalty of sin upon Himself in man's behalf. It was man who sinned, who was under the curse, and who was condemned to forfeit his life to God. Jesus, therefore, could not have substituted for sinful man on the cross had He not taken upon Himself "the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:7). He had to be God to have the power of Savior, and He had to be man to have the position of Substitute.

"Born under the Law." - Sometimes we forget that Jesus was born under the Old Covenant - that Jesus was under the Law. Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly. Jesus was the one man throughout all of history who obeyed the Law perfectly. He had to be without sin in order to pay for someone else's sin on the cross.

It is interesting, when you think about it, how we often look to Jesus as the model of grace living and forget that Jesus modeled grace under the Law. The Law didn't make Jesus holy; the Law merely revealed that He was holy.

I know one of the great fears that the legalist has is that grace produces lawlessness. We fear that grace produces this license, and that's why we have this need to try to go back to our rules and our lists that control people's behavior. But that doesn't make any sense when you understand that the life that we now have is the very life of Jesus, and Jesus lived perfectly under the Law. It is not license; it's the ability to live out the very character of God in a way we never could have imagined before. Jesus models that.

This is the difference between the experience of the people of God in the Old Testament and those in the New Testament. The difference is not one of the quality of salvation or the nature of faith, but in the status and privilege enjoyed. Living after the second coming of Christ, which procured the full restoration of the soul to direct communion with God, the believer now has full access to God; and is an heir of all the promises of God.

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