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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Welcome to our study of our Apostle Paul’s letter to the Believers in Galatia and to our small, informal group known as HBS.
Paul usually dictated his letters to a scribe. The letter to the Believers in Rome closes with the following statement: I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord (Romans 16:2). Therefore we know Tertius transcribed this letter for Paul. However, Paul personally wrote the final greeting in some of his letters: I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand (1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18; Philemon 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:17).
Paul’s reason for using a scribe was probably due to his persistent eye condition; his vision was so poor he was unable to write properly. He mentions his eye problem in this letter saying, his bodily condition was a trial to the Galatians, and yet they did not despise or loathe him, but received him as an angel of God (Galatians 4:14). He wrote the last portion of this letter using “large letters” (Galatians 6:11).
Some people in the church say his eye condition was his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). This may be, but there’s no biblical evidence to support it. For centuries Bible commentators have offered countless theories as to what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. A few of the more interesting ones are: epilepsy, haunting guilt for persecuting God’s Church, malaria, Ophthalmia, etc. One commentator suggests Paul’s thorn wasn’t a physical illness at all. According to the text (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) Paul’s “thorn” was a person or group of individuals. It was a metaphor for the false apostles who were emissaries of Satan, and enemies of God, that had been sent to discredit Paul and to disrupt his ministry (Galatians 1:7, 5:10, 12; 2 Timothy 3:10-11).
And that describes the situation in the Galatian churches which were located up in Asia Minor in an area called Galatia; the area known as Turkey today. These folks were falling for one of Satan’s schemes, promoted by the false teachers, called legalism. Paul wrote this letter to correct the Gentile coverts, his spiritual children, because they were giving up on him, denying Christ’s finished work and the effect of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This letter was written with one perspective in mind: “were not under the Law, we’re under God’s Grace.” Paul’s letter to the Galatian Churches was not only appropriate it was obligatory because these Believers who thought they were merely adding a few Jewish customs to their daily life were in fact deserting the gospel (Galatians 1:6-10).
There are many people in the church today who still believe they have to do earn God’s favor in order to be saved, and that’s legalism. I was raised in a works-based religious system. In that system it’s all about “toeing the line. If you walk the straight and narrow, maybe you’ll make it into God’s heaven and maybe you won’t. But here’s the thing, God’s Grace can’t be earned! Humanity is undeserving of salvation: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). If this were the case, we could boast regarding our redemption, however, this isn’t possible. We are saved by grace through faith (plus nothing else) – Ephesians 2:8-9. God’s Grace is accessed by faith (alone) in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-2; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Please open your Bible at Galatians 4:21
Bond and Free
21: Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?
What’s the point of this question? I’m glad you asked. Paul has taught the Galatians Abraham is the spiritual father of all Believers:
In Galatians 3:7, Paul wrote: Therefore, be sure that it is those who are faith who are sons of Abraham.
In Galatians 3:29 Paul said: And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
But here, considering the entire text, Paul is in effect saying, “You know Abraham is your spiritual father, but who is your spiritual mother?”
I believe the key to this entire passage is verse 21: Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?
Paul just stated his case with the people who wanted to return to Judaism and take the Lord Jesus Christ with them. Think about that for a minute. They intend to believe in Jesus, but they want to live under the law as a means of pleasing God to win His favor. Everything in this passage is directed toward those confused Believers who were planning to go back to the Mosaic Law. Paul’s point is this: Have you considered the implications of what you’re about to do?
The folks in Galatia had been playing cat and mouse with the Judaizers and the law for far too long, per Paul. The false teachers had been very persuasive. They said, “We, the Jews, were God’s chosen people. Abraham is our father. The sign of the covenant people was circumcision. If you Gentiles really want to be part of God’s people, if you want to be “right with God, then you must submit yourself to circumcision and keep the entire law – be good!” The Judaizers were very convincing. The Galatians heard their message; and they believe it. They wanted to do the “right thing,” so they were moving toward the Law.
Paul challenged his readers, who claimed to value the Law so highly, to consider all it taught. By the way, when Paul used the term “the Law” he means to say the first 5 books of the Bible, the Mosaic Law, or the Pentateuch written by Moses.
We’re going to be looking at passages in “the book of beginnings” so you may want to use a couple of bookmarks as we flip back and forth from Galatians to the book of Genesis.
22-23: For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the freewoman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the freewoman through the promise.
It’s a biblical fact Abraham had 8 sons all totaled six of them from a woman name Keturah. He married her after Sarah died (Genesis 25:1-2). But the birth of the two sons, Ishmael and Issac, provided Paul with the material he needed to teach the biblical lesson the folks in Galatia needed to become acquainted with. The history behind this account is found in Genesis 12:2 where the LORD God promised Abram: I will make you a great nation; And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing (Genesis 12:2).
That sounded great to Abram, except he was 75 years old and Sarai his wife was 65, and they had no children. Still, Abram left the city or Ur in faith, trusting in what the LORD God had said and eventually they arrived in Canaan, the land the LORD promised them. In Canaan, the LORD God repeated His promise to Abram, saying, “And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered (Genesis 13:16).
Ten years passed by and they still had no children. Sarai was very concerned because her biological clock was ticking away, so she suggested her husband take Hagar, her Egyptian maid, as his wife. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai (Genesis 16:2).
The rest of the story is history, as they say, Hagar became pregnant with Abram’s son, and Ishmael was born. Sarai had concluded, since she was 75 years old and barren, she would never have a child. There’s nothing inherently wrong with her attitude; it’s a reasonable “human” response to a problem. However, both she and Abram acted against the LORD’s expressed will. They took matters into their own hands to help God out. But, did God ask for help? That would be no. So what happened? Things went from bad to worse and the negative consequences of their bad decision are still being felt by the nation of Israel today…
Genesis 16 informs us animosity arose between Sarai and Hagar, and who is surprised to hear that? You have two women sharing the same man with one woman holding a definite advantage because she’s the mother of the only male child. So, young Ishmael grows up in a divided, unsettled home situation. Fourteen years pass by. Abram is now 99 years old; Sarai is 89. The opportunity to have that promised, male child seems long past due, but at this precise moment in time (God is never early or late) the LORD God appeared to Abraham and said: "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah (means lady or princess) shall be her name. "And I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her." Then Abraham (name means father of a multitude or many people) fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child" (Genesis 17:15-17).
To make sure Abram understood Ishmael was not the child of promise, the LORD said to Abram: “But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year” (Genesis 17:21). The LORD kept His promise and exactly one year later Isaac was born. His name means laughter. Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was 99. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me (Genesis 21:6).
Here’s why Paul uses this O.T. example. The Jews revered Abraham as their spiritual father. As far as they were concerned, if you were a physical descendant of Abraham, then you were already in good standing with God. As long as Abraham was found somewhere in your family tree, you didn’t need anything else to be saved. To them, it was simply a matter of heritage. Paul’s saying, “Not so fast!” Today, God’s family is made up of those who have a relationship with His Son, through faith.
Paul said, Ishmael was born “according to the flesh,” and Isaac was born as a result of God’s promise. Ishmael is born a slave, because his mother was a bond woman; Isaac is born free, because his mother was a free woman. The phrase, “according to the flesh,” means: by human effort; apart from God. This means Ishmael was born according to Abram and Sarai’s lack of faith in what the LORD had promised. Instead of “waiting on God,” they came up with their own plan and implemented it. So, in the sense of human effort, or being “apart from God, “ the Jews who relied on the Law as a means of salvation were really the descendants of Ishmael, while the Church was the true descendant of Sarah, the child of the promise.
Galatians 24-25: This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.
Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
for these women are two covenants –this isn’t an illustration these were real people who actually lived at one time. Their stories are recorded for us in the book of Genesis. Paul is recalling historical events surrounding these women and draws certain conclusions from them, mainly: they are two covenants. Hagar and Sarah represent the Old and the New Covenants.
Please turn with me to Hebrews 8:7-8: For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says, "BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH;
That first covenant was good; it was perfect but it could not justify anyone. It could only condemn those under the Law to death: Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:5-6; Galatians 3:21).
God’s Law and His Covenants with man are perfect and forever will be faultless; any and all imperfections are reflected in the sinful nature of the human race who lacks the capacity to understand what the LORD means to say by them and then follow that up with obedience and reverence (Psalm 18:30).
Our Apostle Paul sees a huge difference between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah represents “grace” and Hagar represents “law.” In another sense, Sarah stands for trusting in what God has said (His promises), and Hagar stands for trying to please God on your own. And the sons born to them represent the “way of faith (Isaac), versus the way of works (Ishmael). Thus, Paul has given us two real people, from scripture, which stand for or represent certain spiritual truths. Sarah is the line of faith, and Hagar is the line of works. And all of humanity (both then and now) is in one of these two lines. There is no third line!
Those people who believe there is something more than Jesus; the ones who are running around trying to earn God’s favor are following in Hagar’s line. Those who follow Sarah are the people who have rejected self-effort and have chosen to believe what God has said even though they may not understand all of it. They have decided to put their faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and leave it there (Matthew 7:13-14).
Of these two covenants, Paul said: "One proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children” (v24-25).
Paul mentions Mt Sinai twice in the verses above and this is meant to direct his reader’s attention back in time to the giving of the Law to Moses. The “present Jerusalem” is the Jerusalem of the first century. Up until the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD it was the primary place of Jewish worship. But, as our Apostle Paul consistently points out, since no one can be saved by trying to keep the Law, the Jewish people were actually enslaved by the Law. In other words, the Law became a death sentence for those who tried to keep it. Their hope instead lay in Abrahamic faith, i.e. trusting in the Truth, or God’s Word. This is the only way to obtain righteousness, by faith.
The allegory thus declares that “earthly Israel” (the twelve tribes) is to be regarded as Ishmael, because they are enslaved to the law and not free. The true Church of Gentile and Jew (in which all distinctions of race, degree, and privilege are forever abolished) is the true Israel to whom the promises made to Abraham apply.
Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia – Paul isn’t speaking literally. He means to say Hagar and Ishmael is the spiritual equivalent of the Law given at Mt. Sinai and Judaism. Sarah is identified with God’s one Church and the New Covenant.
Paul’s statement that Hagar is the spiritual equivalent of the Law given at Mt Sinai would have upset any Jew who heard it. This is because all Jews viewed the descendants of Hagar and Ishmael as being essentially in the same category as Gentiles. They were viewed as “dogs” or the lowest social class imaginable. Yet, that’s what Paul said and meant. Physically, they were descended from Sarah, but spiritually speaking, they were apart from faith in Christ Jesus, which means they were descendants of Hagar. The true sons of Sarah, “like Isaac,” are children of “the promise.”
26: But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
To determine what the Jerusalem above is; who is our mother, you must keep in mind Paul is comparing the two covenants. Earthly Jerusalem represents the Old Covenant, so the Jerusalem above represents the New Covenant consisting of both Jew and Gentile.
'He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name (Revelation 3:12).
The Apostle John informs us the new Jerusalem is the city of God. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, represents the New Covenant which corresponds to the Kingdom of God; she is the mother of all true Believers. Let’s look at what Genesis 17:16 says: “I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be (what) a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Again, Sarah’s name means princess or lady.
Do you see where this is going? Sarah equals Issac, who equals the New Covenant, which equals the Jerusalem above, which equals God’s one Church. What this is saying is the New Covenant, the Jerusalem above, and God’s one Church are all synonyms. The Jerusalem above represents the dwelling place of God. Sarah represents that city because she gave birth to Isaac, not by self-effort, but by an act of God from above in fulfillment of His promise. Therefore, spiritually speaking, she is the mother of all true Believers- of people whose lives are not merely the product of human effort, but of God's supernatural work in their heart.
27: For it is written, “REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.”
Paul recites Isaiah 54:1 here to establish the relationship of Sarah to heavenly Jerusalem. This prophecy assures Israel, during the barren time of the Babylonian captivity, she will one day have more children than ever before. The Jews accepted it as prophecy, not only of the restoration of Israel, but also of the time (future) when multitudes of Gentiles would turn to the one true God and claim the nation of Israel as their mother by becoming full members of the Jewish nation. Paul sees the fulfillment of the prophecy in the birth and growth of God’s one Church.
Paul applies the text from Isaiah to Sarah and Hagar as follows: Sarah had no child at first, but when the promise of Isaac was fulfilled, her descendants exceeded Hagar’s. But when you consider the spiritual fulfillment of this, the numberless "Sons of Sarah" in God’s one Church even more overwhelmingly outnumber those of Hagar. So as Paul said from the start the question at hand is not, "Who's your father," but "Who's your mother?"
28: And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.
Paul’s saying you brethren, you true Believers, are the children of promise and not of works. All those who believe the gospel are descendants of Abraham through Issac. We are not the sons of Ishmael. We have believed what God has said and God calls that’s faith. Thus, we are God’s children and heirs of God.
29: But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.
The phrase according to the Spirit is synonymous with “according to the promise” and stands opposed to the phrase, “after the flesh.” It means he who was born was by the miraculous agency of God. Our Apostle Paul said, as at that time, referring to Ishmael’s persecution of Isaac. Then he said, “so it is now also” referring to the Jewish persecution of the early Believers in the first century church. If you’ve read through the book of Acts, then you are aware Paul’s greatest threat were not the pagan philosophers of Athens, or the Roman general population, but the fanatical Jews. Paul rarely had problems from the Gentiles, unless they were first “stirred up” by the Jews.
One of the underlying truths revealed in the book of Acts is this, just as Abraham had two sons which existed side by side for a time in the same household, these two sons are typical of the two Israel’s of God; one born “after the flesh” (the Old Covenant), and the other born “after the Spirit” (the New Covenant) which existed side by side for a time (40 years – see the book of Acts). During this time of coexistence, the one born after the flesh persecuted the one born of the Spirit. Now, notice God’s solution to this persecution:
30: But what does the Scriptures say? “CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN.”
What does the Scripture teach on this subject? Here Paul is quoting Sarah in Genesis 21:10 as she speaks to Abraham: “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Issac.” Paul, in speaking to the Galatians, means to say “True Believers are free men and women in Christ Jesus, so rid yourselves of everything connected to bondage and serving the Law.” Earthly Jerusalem will never share in the promise made to Isaac. It was not for them because they are destitute of faith. They are not the true Israel of God (Galatians 6:15-16; Hebrews 11:6), and were always the children of the bondwoman.
31: So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
This is Paul’s summary statement. We who trust in Jesus Christ are full heirs of the Abrahamic promise unlike those who rely on genetic ancestry alone as their means of salvation. This same truth is expressed by Paul in Romans 9-11.
We are not children of the bondwoman – Paul wants the Galatians (and us) to understand there is a significant difference between the descendants of Hagar and Sarah or “who is your mother?” The Ishmael’s of this world trust in themselves or their self-effort to obtain salvation. The Isaac’s of this world trust in God alone for salvation, so Paul’s question “who is your mother” is justifiable.
(To be continued)
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