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BRUCE C WEARNE looks at the opening verses of Galatians chapter four…

But [- to return to the discussion of wills], while the heir is still a child, under guardians and stewards until the time set by his father, he may be the [designated] lord but [until the due date] he is no better than [one of his] slaves. So also in our case; when we were children, we were [but] slaves subject to the basic ways of the cosmos. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as [His] sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God [His own work] you are no longer a slave but a son, and, if a son, then an heir.
     Previously, when you did not know God, you were in bondage to those basic ways which are not gods; but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you now return again to such weak and beggarly basic ways, whose slaves you want to be once more? You will observe days, and months, and seasons and years! I am afraid that my labour over you has been wasted. – Galatians 4:1-11/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne


“Previously you were in bondage…” Bruce C Wearne says Paul is warning against such “weak and beggarly ways” of thinking. PICTURE: Mitch Lensink/Unsplash.



Should the Galatians proceed down their present path they will only show they have completely misunderstood their standing before the Almighty.

Paul reiterates it once more. The Law was given to the people of the Promise so that they could continue living in the hope of the coming of Christ. Otherwise, their subjection to the basic ways of the cosmos (STOIKEIA TOU KOSMOU – what the RSV and other Bible translations confusingly refer to as “elemental spirits of the universe”), which all mankind had experienced since the fall, simply left them with no hope.

However, the Law was given as a negative constraint to remind them of Who they belonged to by promise, before Whom they were called to live until the fulfillment when the Spirit of Blessing would be poured out upon all nations.

Now, since the coming of the Promised One, Paul affirms that the Lord is intent upon starting afresh with His chosen image-bearers – the redemption, the ongoing faithfulness of the Lord, restoring humankind to His plan for healthy life in the garden (Genesis 2). As the culmination of a once-for-all initiative begun with Abram, the Lord God is now revealed to be actively breathing new life into humankind according to His promises in Jesus Christ. He had made Himself known as an ongoing walking partner through His promises to Abram – “walk before Me!” meaning “walk along with Me!” – and the people caught up on this freshly breathed promised way found themselves constrained – even as in a prison or a school – subject to a Law by which the Lord helped them wait with wisdom, keeping them on track.

Human wills may be neither annulled (3:12-18) nor augmented (3:19) once they have been ratified, but in this case the Promise was augmented and repeatedly updated by God’s sending His Word, His prophets. Why? It is because those who were the inheritors of the will needed ongoing help since they were indeed transgressors. The Law became a burden to them. It simply confirmed their need for redemption from what the Law disclosed to them – apart from the Promise they were living under the Law’s curse. The prophets had come at God’s command to help them continue with patience for the Promised Offspring, just as Abraham and Sarah had been called to do in their time.

The Law is not opposed to the Promise, but now the Promise has been fulfilled. The Messiah has come. Those called to keep the hope of the Promise alive (Israel) are, after all, only another bunch of sinners, called to walk away from the weak and utterly pathetic ways of the cosmos which would dominate them – the STOIKEIA TOU KOSMOU (4:3). In their walking, they were called to the walk of faith, to the repentant waiting for God to act and grant the promised right standing for all people under the rule of God’s chosen King.

Now, it is almost as if Paul is saying: “You want to undo all that? You want to return to a condition in which you are no better than a slave? You really want to annul your true inheritance, as a child of the Promise? You want to ignore the fact that the Promise has been fulfilled, that the Law was instituted in order to keep the Promise alive. You want to return to living under the Law! How come?”

And that is why the clincher of Paul’s argument is purely and simply: “So, I am afraid that my labour on your behalf has been in vain.”

In other words: “I am completely gazumped by your turning back to the basic ways [STOIKEIA TOU KOSMOU] in which you are effectively asserting a desire not to be brought near, a demand to be separated from the Messiah who has come, a wish to be alienated from that fulfilled governance [POLITEIA] of Israel, and therefore strangers to the covenant of Promise itself and having no hope without God in the world [see Ephesians 1:11-12].”

At this point, Paul has made his case by saying what needs to be said to clarify the situation and is confident that this is the way to win these wandering sheep back to walking the paths of the Spirit that alone bring forth the Spirit’s fruit (see 3:2 and 6:22-23).



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