Saturday, August 13, 2011

Galatians Chapter 4 comments; Sermon 6

It’s interesting that this Galatians series has been a Hontz family affair. Paul Hontz preached the first three sermons, two of his daughters (Christy and Amanda) preached the next two, and last week the husband of their third daughter, Holly, preached. Dave Ward is an assistant professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University and a Ph.D. candidate in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. 
Up until now the sermons have navigated through fairly safe waters, but this week the shoals of Chapter 4 have taken their toll on the SSermon causing it to take on water as it veered off course. It reminds me of a voyage that the Apostle Paul would later take... Acts 27:39-41 “When it was day, they did not recognize the land; but they observed a bay with a beach, onto which they planned to run the ship if possible. And they let go the anchors and left [them] in the sea, meanwhile loosing the rudder ropes; and they hoisted the mainsail to the wind and made for shore. But striking a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the prow stuck fast and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves.”  Let’s read from the ship’s log how this sermon went:
“Just as there are 3 categories of children:
1. Perfectionist - performer - This is the child who is looking for the parent’s approval 
2. Role Playing Shadow - This is the child who wants to be like Mom or Dad
3. Rebellious, wild child - This is the child that gets into trouble; we pray for them a lot.
So Paul is dealing with three types of people in Galatians as he looks at them in the distance:
1. Legalist - Those who try to follow the law perfectly.
2. Nomist - Those who try to follow the Jewish pattern of living in order to please God.
3. Anti-Nomian (Against Law) Those who think they can do anything they please.
Which type of person are you?
Galatians 4:8-11: “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how [is it that] you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.”
Chasing a religious culture is a form of bondage. The “weak and beggarly elements” refer to the Jewish festivals. These were all fulfilled in Christ. The spring festivals were all fulfilled perfectly; in fact, many of the events happened on the very day and hour of the festival. But they are over - the One to whom they pointed has come.  The fall festivals will be fulfilled in Christ too. For example, the Feast of Trumpets refers to the blowing of the last trump when the believers will be gathered or raised. 
Do you remain in bondage to the faith? The festivals were like lamp posts leading the way. It’s as if the Galatians came along and handcuffed themselves to the lamp post that was pointing to Jerusalem. They shouldn’t fixate on the past; they need to go up to Jerusalem. The Galatians were passionate followers of whoever was there at the moment. First they flip-flopped to whatever was oldest (i.e., Judaism). That’s bondage to a religious culture. Then they flip-flopped for the newest teaching. Mature believers can worship in any environment. Paul wants believers to be passionate for whatever is good. 
[By application] The music we had today was great. It might not be exactly the style you like the most, but if you are mature, it doesn’t matter - it glorifies God.
Galatians 4:21-31 presents the child of the promise as portrayed in the analogy of the slave woman and the free woman. Paul tells us this story is to be taken figuratively - it was common to take Old Testament characters as metaphors for circumstances and conditions. 
It was culturally acceptable for a barren woman to give her personal slave to her husband to have a child. Abraham and Sarah used common sense to produce an heir; after all, it had been 30 years since God had spoken and nothing had happened. So Ishmael was born and became their child. God waited a while longer, perhaps long enough for both Abraham and Sarai to be physically beyond hope of having a child, and then brought the real promise of Isaac. Circumcision was given as a sign precisely at the place on Abraham’s body where the miracle took place. It was a constant reminder that we should not try to do for God what only He can do for us.
We live as children of the promise when we trust God’s:
timing, and
What has God promised you that you are trying to to achieve on your own?
The rocks appeared early in chapter 4 and they ripped a hole in the bow. These verses are talking about Paganism, not the Torah. The following is taken from Thomas Lancaster’s book Galatians.  page 205:
“The God-fearing Galatians were, of course, ex-pagans who participated in the imperial cult, worshipping the gods and the emperors as required by law. This was a critically important part of their previous life, as much a center to their society as getting a driver’s license and a social security number is to ours. Observing the calendar of the imperial cult was a required civic duty. To abstain from participation in these civic religious functions disrupted relationships with family, friends, business associates, and civic authorities. It also placed a person in jeopardy of persecution, arrest, and possibly execution for the crime of atheism. Roman law exempted only Jews from participation. The Galatian Gentile believers were not legally recognized converts to Judaism. They were God-Fearers, guests in the synagogue, so to speak. Though the Jewish community might have granted them the honorary guest status in the synagogue as God-Fearers, that was not an official legal status or religion. Claiming , “I’m a God-Fearer” would not exempt them from the duty of observing the imperial cult. This left the God-Fearing believers in a state of social limbo; not fully accepted by Judaism and, at the same time, in conflict with the authorities, their extended families, and all of society around them. The solution was to go the full distance and convert to Judaism. As Jews, they would be free from the pressure to conform to paganism or to observe the imperial-cult calendar. The Galatian Gentile believers felt forced to choose between two options:
(a) convert to Judaism and become legally Jewish
(b) at least nominally observe the calendar of the imperial cult”
“how [is it that] you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements?”
The word translated “elements” here is the Greek word stoicheia. “One of the definitions is “the heavenly bodies, either as parts of the heavens or (as others think) because in them the elements of man, life and destiny were supposed to reside.”
“It would seem that in Paul’s time…stoicheia…referred to the sun, moon, stars, and planets—all of them associated with gods or goddesses and, because they regulated the progression of the calendar, also associated with the great pagan festivals honoring the gods. In Paul’s view these gods were demons. Hence, he would be thinking of a demonic bondage in which the Galatians had indeed been held prior to the proclamation of the gospel…” (among others)

Furthermore, Paul would never call God’s appointed times “weak and beggarly elements”. These were set up by God and were considered holy, just, and good. 
Here is a paraphrase of Galatians 4:1-12 taken from Thomas Lancaster’s book Galatians page 207:
“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father [i.e., the Messianic Redemption]. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world [to pagan nations and their gods, the the Roman power, and the authority of the emperor]. But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, [the Messiah] born of woman, born under the law, [i.e., born Jewish] to redeem those who [are] under the law [i.e., those who are Jewish], so that we might receive adoption as sons [in the final redemption]. And because you [Gentile believers also] are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave [to idols either], but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months, and seasons and years [of the Roman imperial cult]! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, [Torah-keeping] for I also have become as you are.”
Gentiles have “freedom”, but before we do something, we should ask this simple question: “Has God said anything about this subject?” If He has, then we should study it and follow His wisdom. The commentaries I’ve been reading make it sound like the Torah is some terrible, onerous evil that we should avoid at all costs. I have a Galatians commentary written by M.R. DeHaan. On page 105 it says:
Free from the law, Oh, happy condition!
Jesus has died and there is remission.
We need balance. Haggai chapter 1 repeats this advice twice: 
"Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways.”"
Many years ago when my aircraft carrier was anchored off the coast of Valetta, Malta, I took a bus to St. Paul’s Bay and went snorkeling. The seas were calm and I tried to imagine what the storm was like that caused Paul and the crew to come ashore after the shipwreck. As we ride through the stormy seas of Galatians let’s remember to watch for the rocks and keep our balance.

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