4:8-11–Paul Explains the Freedom of the Believer



VERSE 8:  Paul Reminds these Galatians of their Pagan Past
“Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.”

Paul now beings to remind the Galatian believers of what they were before their conversion to the faith of Christ, and what a blessed change their conversion had made upon them; and also tries to convince them of their great weakness in listening to those who would bring them under the bondage of the Mosaic Law.

      They Did Not Know the True God
     “Howbeit then, when ye knew not God,”
      Literally:  “But then, indeed, not knowing God”

In your state of paganism, you had no knowledge of the true God and of His service. The object, is not to apologize for what they did, because they did not know God; it is to state the fact that they were in a state of gross and galling servitude. They did not know God either intellectually or spiritually.  They neither knew Who He is, nor What He demanded.  They walked, “…in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:17b-18).

      They Were Slaves to False Gods
       “ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.”–
      Literally:  “you served as slaves {to} the {ones} not by nature gods.”

            The Greek word that is rendered as “did service” literally means, “serve as slaves.”  Paul is reminding these Galatians that before they heard the gospel they were slaves to these false deities; in bondage under a system of legalism. They were in a condition of servitude, as opposed to the freedom of the gospel. Their bondage was expressed by their pagan system of temples, priests, sacrifices, feasts and legal restrictions.  In short, they were non-persons.
            It appears that there were some who had been converted from heathenism.  Paul terms these pagan gods as “demons,” in I Cor. 10:20 and  the “so-called gods” (I Cor. 8:5), and refers to worshipping images made by hands (Acts 17:29).  Being pagans they worshiped such “gods” as Jupiter and Mercury (Acts 14:11-13), but these gods did not really exist.  They “by nature are no gods.”

           Even though these pagans gave personal names to their gods, this does not mean that their god actually did live–“For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in heart, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us {there is but} one God, the Father… (I Cor. 8:5-6).  In fact, they were worshiping Satan and hid demons through their misrepresentations–“But {I say}, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils (demons) and not to God…”  (I Cor. 10:20).  There is only ONE true God, regardless of what men think or believe.
           Many of these “gods” were imaginary beings; many were the objects of creation, as the sun, and winds, and streams; and many were departed heroes that had been exalted to be objects of worship. Yet the servitude was real. It fettered their faculties; controlled their powers; bound their imagination; and commanded their time and property, and made them slaves. Idolatry is always degenerative; and it is always slavery; and the servitude of sinners to their passions and appetites, to lust, and gold, and ambition, is not less galling and severe than was the servitude to the pagan gods or the Jewish rites, or than is the servitude of the African now to a harsh and cruel master. Of all Christians it may be said that before their conversion they “did service,” or were slaves to harsh and cruel masters; and nothing but the gospel has made them free. It may be added, that the chains of idolatry all over the world are as fast riveted and as galling as they were in Galatia; and that nothing but the same gospel which Paul preached there can break those chains, and restore man to freedom.

VERSE 9:  Paul Reminds these Galatians of their Present Position
“But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?”

            Now They Know the True God
            “But now, after that ye have known God,”
             Literally:  “But now, knowing God”

Now that you know the true God, and the ease and freedom of His service in the gospel.  The phrase, “but now,” shows the contrast between their present condition with their past unbelief, “then.”  The word “known” in the Greek is an experiential, personal knowledge.  To know God in this way is to have eternal life.

            Now the True God Know Them
            “or rather are known of God,”
            Literally:  “but rather being known by God”

           The sense of this phrase is, “Or, to speak more accurately or precisely, are known by God.”  Are approved of Him, having received the adoption of sons.  Are known of God as His beloved children.  A true believer both knows God and is known by Him.  Paul’s first statement–“knowing God”–views salvation from man’s perspective; but his second statement–“are known by God”–views salvation from God’s perspective; from His sovereign purpose.  Christ said that He knew His sheep by name (John 10:3, 27).  Paul said that , “the Lord knoweth them that are His” (II Tim. 2:19).  We know Him because He first knew us (Rom. 8:29; I John 4:19).
            Paul is reminding the Galatians to believe that they do not owe their knowledge of God to themselves, but to Him.   Their escape from their enslavement to idolatry and bondage to Law did not come about by any knowledge they had acquired of God, but by God coming to know them in a saving way.  Therefore, they should see their error and stupidity of abandoning this wonderful position in which they were in to take upon themselves an inferior one from which they had already been rescued.


They Were Turning to Legalism
how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements,”
Literally:  “how do you turn again to the weak and poor elements”

              “how”–The Greek word rendered as “how” is one that expresses extreme wonder or amazement at such a thing being possible, and even actually occurring (1:6).

“do you turn again”–Is literally in the present active tense and would have been better rendered as, “are ye turning again.”

“to the weak and poor elements”–To the Jewish rites and forms, which can give you no real good; which impose a servitude really not less severe than the customs of paganism.

“After receiving all this, will ye turn again to the ineffectual rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law-rites too weak to counteract your sinful habits, and too poor to purchase pardon and eternal life for you?  If the Galatians were turning again to them, it is evident that they had been once addicted to them.  And this they might have been, allowing that they had become converts from heathenism to Judaism, and from Judaism to Christianity.  This makes the sense consistent between the 8th and 9th verses.”–Adam Clarke’s Commentary  

          ELEMENTS:  The word rendered “elements” properly means a row or series; a little step; a pin or peg, as the name of a dial; and then anything elementary, as a sound, a letter. It then denotes the elements or rudiments of any kind of instruction, and in the NT is applied to the first lessons or principles of religion.. It is applied to the elements or component parts of the physical world, (II Pet. 3:10,12). Here the figure is kept up of the reference to the infant, vv. 1, 3); and the idea is, that lessons were taught under the Jewish system adapted to their nonage–to a state of childhood.

           WEAK:  They are called “weak” because they had no power to save the soul; no power to justify the sinner before God.  Utterly unable to purge your conscience from guilt, or to give that son-like confidence in God. powerless to justify: in contrast to the justifying power of faith (3:24; compare Heb. 7:18).

            BEGGARLY:  They are called “beggarly,” (Greek, poor,) because they could not impart spiritual riches. They really could confer few benefits on man. Or it may be, as Locke supposes, because the law kept men in the poor estate of pupils from the full enjoyment of the inheritance, (vv. 1, 3).  Contrasted with the riches of the inheritance of believers in Christ (Eph. 1:18). The state of the “child” (v. 1) is weak, as not having attained manhood; “beggarly,” as not having attained the inheritance.

“Ye observe days and months and times, and years”

The object of this verse is to specify some of the things to which they had become enslaved. 

            Such as were required in the ceremonial law. This has no reference to the weekly Sabbath, which was established at the creation, and set apart by God, to be observed by all men in all ages, and was required in the moral law; but to the feasts, new moons, and sabbaths required in the ceremonial law, which was never binding except on Jews and those who embraced their religion, and when Paul wrote had for years been done away.
            The meticulous observance of the Pharisees Paul knew to a nicety. It hurt him to the quick after his own merciful deliverance to see these Gentile Christians drawn into this spider-web of Judaizing Christians, once set free, now enslaved again. Paul does not itemize the “days” (Sabbaths, fast-days, feast-days, new moons) nor the “months” (Isa. 66:23) which were particularly observed in the exile nor the “seasons” (passover, pentecost, tabernacles, etc.) nor the “years” (sabbatical years every seventh year and the Year of Jubilee). Paul does not object to these observances for he kept them himself as a Jew. He objected to Gentiles taking to them as a means of salvation.

            “Ye observe days”

            You superstitiously regard the Sabbaths and particular days of your own appointment.  The word rendered as “observe” denotes carefully, scrupulously observance, so intently watching lest any of the prescribed seasons be overlooked.  Merely legal or ritualistic systems of religion always develops such scrupulousness.   To keep holy days and practice symbolical ceremonies is contrary to the very spirit of Christianity; and those who do so lead us to suspect that they do not know the gospel at all.  Unfortunately, many so-called “protestant” churches are observing these same days and times that Paul here condemns.  This is because they never study the writings of our one-and-only apostle to us gentiles (the uncircumcised).
             Sadly to say, such practices are even practiced by many of our “fundamental” churchs; practices such as special “Easter” (a pagan name in itself; the name comes from the pagan Canaanite goddess Ishtar) sunrise services which are totally unscriptural since Jesus arose before sunrise (John 20:1).  Besides, sunrise services were centuries before condemned by God Who said such observances provoked Him to anger (Ezek. 8:16-17).  Since seeing people stand out and observe the sun rising drove God to anger 2600 years ago, and since God never changes (Mal. 3:6), “…The Father of Lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning(James 1:7); “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever(Heb. 13:8), does not it make sense that seeing people do the same thing, in the name of “Easter” today also drive Him to anger?  Come on, Christians, WAKE UP!  Jeremiah tells us “Thus saith the LORD, ‘Learn not the way of the heathen…’”  We not only have learned the ways of the heathen (pagans), we have brought them into the Church and our worship services.

        “The days here referred to are doubtless the days of the Jewish festivals. They had numerous days of such observances; and in addition to those specified in the Old Testament, the Jews had added many others, as days commemorative of the destruction and rebuilding of the temple, and of other important events in their history.
         “… It is a fair interpretation to apply it to all those days which are not commanded to be kept holy in the Scriptures; and hence the passage is as applicable to the observance of saints' days, and days in honor of particular events in sacred history, as to the days observed by the Galatians. There is as real servitude in the observance of the numerous festivals and fasts in the Papal communion, and in some Protestant churches, as there was in the observance of the days in the Jewish ecclesiastical calendar; and, for anything that can see, such observances are as inconsistent now, with the freedom of the gospel, as they were in the time of Paul. We should observe as seasons of holy time what it can be proved God has commanded us, and no more.”–Albert Barnes NT Commentary

“To regard the observance of certain days as in itself meritorious as a work, is alien to the free spirit of Christianity. This is not incompatible with observing the Sabbath or the Christian Lord's day as obligatory, though not as a work (which was the Jewish and Gentile error in the observance of days), but as a holy mean appointed by the Lord for attaining the great end, holiness. The whole life alike belongs to the Lord in the Gospel view, just as the whole world, and not the Jews only, belong to Him. But as in Paradise, so now one portion of time is needed wherein to draw off the soul more entirely from secular business to God (Col 2:16).”–Jamieson–Fausset-Brown Commentary

            “and months and times,”          
             Literally:  “and months and seasons”

            This has no reference to the weekly Sabbath, which was established at the creation, and set apart by God, to be observed by all men in all ages, and was required in the moral law; but to the feasts, new moons, and sabbaths required in the ceremonial law, which was never binding except on Jews and those who embraced their religion, and when Paul wrote had for years been done away.

MONTHS:  The “months” refer to the monthly (new moons or the especially sacred first and seventh months–Num. 29).

TIMESGreek, “seasons,” namely, those of the three great feasts: the Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

            “and years”
            Annual solemnities such as annual atonements, sabbatical years, and jubilees.  The sabbatical year was about the time of writing this Epistle, A.D. 48.

“I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.”

            “I am afraid of you,”
           Literally:  “I fear {for} you”

I am beginning to be seriously alarmed for you, and think you are so thoroughly perverted from the Gospel of Christ. Paul seems to be quite concerned about the consequences of their actions.  He fears that they had no real Christian principle. They had been so easily perverted and turned back to the servitude of ceremonies and rites, that he was apprehensive that there could be no real Christian principle in their case.

            “lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.”
            Literally:  “lest somehow I have labored among you in vain.”

            Paul fears that the worst has happened.  He was fearful that they were depending for salvation on Jewish ceremonies, not on Christ; in which case his labor to bring them to Christ would be lost. There has always been a proneness in some professors (not true possessors) of Christianity to depend for salvation upon the observance of rites, forms, and ceremonies, rather than on Christ. In such cases there is reason to fear that all efforts to save them and all their professions have hitherto been in vain.
            Martin Luther said of this verse, “These words of Paul breathe tears.”  The construction in the Greek does not give the impression that Paul has fears about the future of the Galatians.  It is clear that what he feared has already happened.  He fears for the spiritual welfare of his Galatian converts. 

LABORIn the original Greek this means, “to labor to the point of exhaustion.”  Literally this verse might read, “I am afraid about you lest perhaps in vain I have labored to the point of exhaustion for you.”  Did he labor in vain?  It may be that he was fearful that they might even submit to circumcision.  If they did that, it would demonstrate that they were not really saved.

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