Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Galatians 4:8-11

V8-11 – 8Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

In his commentary on this passage, Vincent Cheung begins, “Paul has argued for his gospel of justification by faith on the basis of his personal history, the Galatians’ conversion history, and Scripture’s salvation history. His formal arguments are almost complete – one may consider 4:21-31 the actual conclusion. And now he turns to make a direct and personal appeal to his readers to come to their senses regarding this matter.”

Paul notes the previous condition of those saved by grace, and in v9, makes particular mention of the fact that knowing God is all about Him knowing us (as in a personal, intimate relationship that develops as we surrender our lives to Him); it comes not by our efforts or inquiry (as in our learning more about God) but is by His grace and revelation in opening our blind eyes and unlocking our deaf ears through monergistic regeneration (Isaiah 65:1; Jeremiah 9:24). Therefore, returning to “weak and miserable principles” – such as atheism, paganism, humanism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Polytheism, Pantheism, all the other –isms, and specifically here, ceremonial legalism – is like slavery to superstitious astrology (v9-10); to turn from a personal relationship with God for an –ism is a completely senseless decision. Calvin says, “The main inference is that the Galatians were less excusable for corrupting the gospel than they had formerly been for idolatry.” They had thirsted and tasted the living water, so how could they forsake it and dig their own wells, which were broken and could hold no water (Jeremiah 2:13)?

Paul is clearly intolerant of these –isms, openly declaring them “weak and miserable principles.” Vincent Cheung considers Christianity to be a non-violent intolerant faith. He says, “Tolerance is no virtue – it either means that the tolerant person does not know the truth (so that he must keep an ‘open’ mind), or that he does not value the truth (so that he will not defend truth and destroy error). He is either a fool or a coward. On the other hand, biblical intolerance arises from the knowledge of the truth, the conviction of its importance, and humility and obedience toward God. In any case, Paul is neither a fool nor a coward.” Paul fears for the Galatians, that their turning away from the true gospel not only reveals Paul’s wasted efforts to bring them to salvation but also their eternal damnation. These were dire straits. Calvin says, “In opposition to the grace of Christ, they set up holidays as meritorious performances, and pretended that this mode of worship would propitiate the divine favor. When such doctrines were received, the worship of God was corrupted, the grace of Christ made void, and the freedom of conscience oppressed.”

Undoubtedly from Paul’s argument here, the Judaizers included Jewish feasts and other ceremonial practices with circumcision in their legalistic demands. However, Vincent Cheung says, “There is a sense in which the observance of special days could be tolerated (Romans 14:5-6), but the Galatians are taught to observe them for justification before God and other spiritual attainments. Paul’s position is that this is like returning to paganism, back to ignorance and enslavement. And this is also his assessment of the Judaizers’ religion.” Calvin affirms this sentiment, saying, “When we, in the present age, intake a distinction of days, we do not represent them as necessary, and thus lay a snare for the conscience; we do not reckon one day to be more holy than another; we do not make days to be the same thing with religion and the worship of God; but merely attend to the preservation of order and harmony. The observance of days among us is a free service, and void of all superstition.”

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