Princess Diana said a very famous thing on one occasion. She said, “The biggest disease in this day and age is being unloved.” I suspect for her that was a sentimental sort of thing, but it was a very profound piece of theology. We were made to experience the love of God. And the irony, the sadness is that as the world marches away from God and says, “Let’s not have anybody tell us what to do,” it also matches away from the love of God. And the vacuum that is created by marching away from the love of God cannot be easily filled by success or pleasure, or pills, or beer as you will know if you look at the emptiness of the conversations and the world that is around us.
Today we’re going to get a window into what it’s like to have somebody love you because we’re going to see a little bit of what the Apostle Paul is like in his love for the Galatians. If you have somebody love you, it doesn’t mean that they will necessarily flatter you or stroke you, or even make you happy, but they will really love you. The Apostle Paul in this section shows what it is like to have a friend or a brother, or a parent, or a pastor who really exercises concern for your welfare, your salvation, and your joy. And because we see a little bit of Paul, we see him reflecting what God Himself is like.
Galatians chapter 4:8, is a critical letter for us to be starting on these Sunday mornings. It’s a letter which is designed to keep Christians on the path of grace and once you’ve got Galatians.
Once you get Galatians in, it’s like getting the nose of a sniffer dog. You can sniff out legalism as it comes into the church or into our heads. It’s also a tough letter to apply as somebody who came to see me this week reminded me. One of the difficulties of applying the letter of Galatians is that heretics don’t often come into the church, walk down to morning tea with us, and say, “By the way, if you want to really enter into the A group of the church, here are some rules for you to keep.” It doesn’t tend to work like that. The problem is usually much more subtle, and I would suspect that today it comes into our heads more than our faces.
Martin Luther, a few hundred years ago, said, “We preach the gospel of grace, but the devil likes nothing less than grace. He sets before our eyes many deceits.” And again if I may paraphrase Luther, he says, “If your chief sin is beer, how easy to imagine that God is favourable towards you when you’re disciplined and dismissive of you when you fail. The gospel of grace needs continual remembrance.”
I hope you’ll forgive me in this series if you feel as though I’ve been raising this tendency to legalism and it’s hard to point at or pin down, and you feel as though I’ve been raving at you. I do believe the Galatian heresy is alive and well in a thousand different forms. And I hope you’ll not only believe it, but you’ll root it out.
The point of these verses in chapter 4:8 to 9 is that Paul is reminding the Galatians, you move from slavery to sonship by putting your trust in Jesus. Now, do you realise that you’re in danger of running back into slavery?
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Last week if you’re here, we looked at how Paul explains adoption into God’s family is not natural. Adoption into God’s family comes when you put your trust in His Son. You come to the Father through Jesus, the Son as the old hymn reminds us. When you’ve put your faith in Jesus, then you’ve got a Father in heaven, and the Galatians had put their faith in Jesus, and they’d moved into sonship.
If you look at verse 10, something weird is going on. They are committed to the Jewish calendar. Paul says, “You’re observing special days, months, seasons, and years.” They’ve been tricked into thinking that if they keep the Jewish feast and the special days, this will somehow strengthen or secure their salvation, but how can they improve on what Christ has done?
The first chink in the armour is they’ve begun to be tempted to take the Jewish calendar seriously. If you look over to chapter 5:2, you’ll see that they’ve not yet fallen into the ritual of circumcision. But Paul is afraid that if they fall for the first, they’ll fall for the second. And if they begin to trust these things for salvation, then they will naturally distrust Christ for salvation. And if you doubt Christ for salvation, that is no small danger. That is a significant danger.
We observe calendar stuff. We keep Sunday as a useful day to meet together. I hope that you will guard your Sundays and we need to try and not fit God’s family meeting into our busy timetable. But try and fit a timetable into being one of God’s family. We’ve got to get our properties right here. We’ve got to seek first the kingdom, and we also observe in this church and many other churches, Good Friday, Easter, Christmas Day, etc.
But we don’t observe those days to secure our salvation. We observe those days because we are grateful for salvation. We don’t think that if we are fanatical about Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas that God will award us salvation. We gather because we’re grateful to have received salvation.
What would you do if you were aware of some dear people in the fellowship who’d been tricked into thinking that if they did become fanatically devoted to Sunday or church calendar days, they could seal their salvation? I think you would think that they’d fallen into a kind of slavery. I hope you would. What the apostle says in verse 8 is when you didn’t know God, you were slaves. You are slaves to the law, or you are slaves to error. But now that you’ve come to know God through Jesus Christ, his question is, “Why go back?” And that’s what he says in verse 11, “I fear for you.”
The reason Paul talks like this is that he’s so sharp. He wouldn’t be afraid if he couldn’t see so clearly the danger. If we’re not afraid for people theologically, pastorally, eternally, if we’re not afraid for people, maybe we just don’t see the issues that clearly. But the Apostle Paul does.
I remember in some of my baptismal interviews that I would be meeting with couples who are well outside the church, but interested in some kind of baptism and I would talk to them about the Christian life. And you begin to realise that they didn’t believe and they didn’t want to believe. They would often say somewhere in the conversation, “We’re going to let our children make their own minds up.” And I immediately thought, “You can only talk like that if you don’t really think very strongly about this.” Because you’re not going to let your children make their own minds up about stranger danger and you’re not going to let your children make their minds up about whether they can cross the highway in the middle of the night. You’re not going to let your children make their minds up about whether they can stick a fork into a PowerPoint. These are things you’re persuaded of, and when you’re persuaded that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, you’re afraid for those who don’t trust him. And you’re worried for your children, you’re concerned about your children.
The first thing that Paul sees very clearly is that unless a person knows Christ, they don’t know God. This is an incredibly politically incorrect thing to say. It just happens to be a biblically correct thing to say. A person who is religious doesn’t mean they’ve got a relationship with God. The bridge to God is Jesus. We come to the Father through Jesus the Son, or we never come at all. The second thing that the apostle sees very clearly is that idols, and other religions are not gods.
Of course, we believe strongly that anybody can believe what they want in this world and they can proclaim what they want. We believe in freedom of speech. We believe that any religion should be allowed to proclaim their religion and we certainly believe that people should be allowed to practice their religion. But we don’t, therefore, believe that they’re all the same.
Just because there is the same freedom across the city doesn’t mean that all the religions are the same or will have the same effect in the short term or the long term. They’re not harmless and religions which are empty or idols which are nothing more than statues are not harmless. Because if they’re being treated as God’s sufficient, supportive, saving things when they’re not, then they’re extremely sinister. If the person settles for a statue or a symbol and says, “This will be my safety, this will be my sufficiency, this will be my salvation,” we know the devil is at work. But the question we need to ask is are they all safe? Are they all fine?
Dale Ralph Davis tells the story of an Egyptian Christian friend with very limited English who had severe liver problems and was taken to the doctor. As he lay on the table, he beat his chest, and he said to the doctor, “Jesus here, everything okay.” Now, biblically that’s an absolutely wonderful reality, but you can imagine the doctor sort of smiling at that if he’s not a Christian and thinking, “Well, Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Allah, whatever keeps you happy, pal.”
The question we need to ask is, is there any reality to “Jesus here, everything okay,” and what lies behind “Jesus here, everything okay,” is history that he came, the resurrection that he rose, the promises of the Holy Spirit, the transformation of a life. There is a reality in the Christian life which isn’t in the other religions. So we’re not just picking our breakfast cereal. We’re picking the aeroplane that really flies.
Paul longs for his Galatian friends to stay with Christ. And the question that we ought to ask ourselves is, “Are we that sort of friend for other friends? And do we have a friend like that to us who will care if we drift?” And even more wonderfully we ought to see through this passage that behind the Apostle Paul is a God who’s incredibly interested in our safety, our welfare, and our joy. So he talks here about brotherly fear, good brotherly fear.
The second thing that he talks about, verses 12 to 20 is pastoral pain. This is a section that is really very personal. Paul feels like a parent. You see, he says in verse 19, he says, “My dear children, I’m in pain for you.” Somebody has said that when our children are little, they step on their toes and when they’re big, they step on our hearts. I hope you know that pastors are sinful, you’ve worked that out. But you need to know that your pastors feel pastoral pain. And they should, and they do. Just as many of you here today feel pastoral pain for children, or family, or friends who are not believers, and you are concerned for their souls.
Calvin Miller was an American pastor. He wrote with great empathy for pastors. He was considered by many to be a pastor for the pastors, and he also writes with great humour. I thought I would just show you an example of Calvin Miller’s addressing some more humorous pastoral problems. He says,
“I used to have a man in my 8 o’clock service who would yawn at precisely 8:42 every Sunday when I was 11 minutes into my sermon. I’m not talking about a casual little yawn of grace. His uvula became a heavy pink stalactite that hung down in the centre of his laryngeal abyss, draining all life into the bottomless chasm. It sucked in pews, hymnals, pulpit furniture. The yawn of horror forever redefined the term “black hole” for me. The first time it happened, I wanted to fold my sermon into my Bible, but I began to realise he was just a deacon who stayed up too late on Saturday nights trying to improve his poker standings and I had to learn that his gaping pie hole shouldn’t be seen as anything personal.
Then those children going to the bathroom during your best illustration, the same child week after week, slamming the door as if to punctuate her Fifth Amendment rights. Parents always sat there smiling. How does she know every week that you’re into the very best part of your sermon? She’s too young to think it all through. You have to guess she’s in league with anti-sermon demons.”
That is meant to be a joke. My first rule is to have a talk with the parents of a little baby bladder, remind them that while everybody has to go to the bathroom in life sooner or later, the facilities are always open been before and after services. Point out that of the 300 or 400 other bladders in each service, most of them rarely leave their seats. Suggest kindly they may want to see to it that their child goes to the bathroom a few minutes before the service starts each Sunday. I’ve actually never seen this approach solve the problem, but I’ve tried it many times. Usually, when I have suggested this, the parents tell me they believe a child’s place is in the adult services with the parents, they get misty-eyed and tell me they believe family should worship together. After all, the family that prays together stays together. I’ve known pastors who tried to pray the family into other congregations, and while it deepened their prayer lives, nothing much happens.
Let me read you a different pastoral pain, a little more serious where after two years in the church, Calvin Miller decided having received a huge amount of opposition from his church that he would resign. And so, he resolved to get up on the Sunday and to make his speech. And as he gets to the end of the speech it goes like this,
“Nobody in the world should treat anyone like you have treated my family and me for the last six months. You’ve sent my wife to bed at night crying. I’ve looked at my children and asked what did they do to receive this kind of brutality. It was a pretty good rebuke as rebukes go, but then it started or better yet I started to weep. And an amazing thing happened. When I started to cry, so did they. I’m not a guy who cries with any finesse. I like how movie stars cry with strong leathery, masculine faces and a single tear rolls down the broad cheek. When I cry, my whole face wrinkles into a prune and those forced to watch are usually repulsed. Still, I must have come across as sincere for soon, the front started filling up with weeping people. They came to the front and wept, and they hugged each other, and they hugged me. And the long and the short of it is I didn’t resign, I didn’t leave the church, I stayed for 22 more years.”
Now, the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians, in a list of apostolic troubles where he mentions things like shipwreck, whipping, hunger, sleeplessness, thirst, he finishes the list by saying, “And on top of all of this is my concern for the church.” Many people think that the apostle is coming to the climax of his pastoral pain. And here in Galatians, you’ll see if you look at Chapter 4:14, they had welcomed him as if he was an angel. Possibly the angel, the messenger of God. But now in verse 16, they see him as an enemy. Angel, enemy. Some pastors, of course, may deserve congregational resentment. I don’t think the Apostle Paul quite fits. He’d gone verse 12 into Galatia, and he’d become like them which I presume means he served as a slave.
Now, he says verse 12, “I want you to be like me, free.” It’s possible that he went to them very sick. Some people think he went in with very bad eye trouble which is possibly why he says in verse 15, “You would have given me your own eyes if you could.” But something has changed in the relationship between this pastor and his people. And the thing that has changed is the troublemakers have come in who are getting the Galatians not only to turn from Christ to legalism, but they’re also turning from Paul to themselves. They want the Galatians to be devoted to them, not Paul. Paul does not really care whether they’re devoted to him, but he does want them to love the gospel. And he wants them to be safe in their salvation. And he calls them in verse 19 my dear children, and he longs to see his spiritual children growing like Christ. He likens himself almost as a midwife or a mother who’s given birth to these children, and now, he longs for them to be growing like Christ.
I don’t know if you can see the emotion in this. He’s afraid for them, he’s anxious, he’s in pain, he’s in distress. He’s a friend and a brother, and a pastor, and a parent, and a lover who wants these people to be spiritually well. I found this very comforting as I read it this week for two reasons. One is it made me realise that I feel a little of this myself. I feel for people who don’t yet believe. I grieve for people who come week after week, month after month, year after year, never, never seem to come to know Jesus. They know the church, they know the minister, they know the congregation, they don’t yet know Jesus. It’s grievous. I also feel some pastoral pain for people who come very seldom and then, of course, they don’t feel part of the place, and they are gaping holes in their knowledge of the scriptures. And their understanding tends to be infantile when it should be mature.
There’s pastoral pain, for people who are physically unwell in their bodies, but there is real pastoral painful for people whose souls are in trouble. I’m sure other pastors lose some sleep over this. The second reason that I find this section strangely comforting is that I realise that Paul is a little mini version of what God is like. Paul may have had some great longings for his people, but they’re a faint reflection of the longings that God has for his people.
When you consider that we frequently shift in our treatment of God from loving him to ignoring him, yes, you’re an angel, now you’re an enemy, you’re useful, you’re useless, I’m for you, I’m against you, I’m with you, I’m not with you, it’s remarkable, isn’t it? That God stays steadfast in his concern, patience, and desire for our welfare. So whatever we feel for people, and we do feel things for people, we remember that we’re sinful, we’ve got sinful hearts, but God is pure and perfect. So take whatever feelings you have for people and concerns for their spiritual welfare, multiply that by millions and millions, and you’re getting close to what God feels for you.
It’s a remarkable passage and God didn’t just feel these things for us. He turned it into action, and he sent his most precious Son. God demonstrated His love for us, Romans 5, in this while we were sinners Christ died for us. To make sure that we would be well, alive.
John Stott very helpfully summarises how people should see their pastor. He suggests that you should not take a superficial view of your pastor, about his looks or personality, but is Christ proclaimed. He says that pastors should see their people not superficially as some kind of audience or servants to do their programs, but is Christ formed in them.
The people see the pastor in terms of Christ, and the pastor sees the people in terms of Christ. That’s pastoral pain.
Third and last thing this morning, a biblical application. Very quickly, verses 21 to 31. We didn’t read these verses because they’re so unusual, but Paul takes an Old Testament situation, and he applies it to the Galatians situation. He’s not playing a biblical game by grabbing an Old Testament story and then milking it for what it’s not worth. He’s not doing some text twisting. It’s possible that the opposition in Galatia had opened their Bibles to Abraham and said to the Galatians, “Well, I got that you’ve become Christians.” But do you see that Abraham circumcised his sons? And if you want to be a true son of Abraham, well, you know what to do. And the Apostle Paul has turned the tables on these heretics by taking the same section of scripture and said, “Yes, Abraham had two sons. One was a slave, one was free. One was born of the slave woman, one was born of his wife. One came by manipulation and trickery, and cunning. And one came by promise and miracle, and work of God. Well, which one do you want to be? Do you want to go down the slave line?” says Paul. “Well, just put your trust in Jewish ritual. Do you want to go down the free line? Well, put your trust in the promises of God.” And one more thing he says at the end, “Abraham got rid of the slave woman, so you should get rid of your heretics.” It’s quite a bold, clever piece of application in the Galatian letter.
I’ll finish, friends, this morning by saying to you that when you love somebody, you’re really concerned about their spiritual welfare and you won’t leave them in danger. Paul you see, will not play the game nothing matters, let’s put doctrine away, let’s forget about our differences when it comes to salvation. He won’t do that. Because if you’re going to love somebody, you’re going to have to tell them the truth and the truth will set them free. We have a wonderful Saviour in the Lord Jesus who didn’t leave us in danger that came and put himself in maximum danger so that we, who trust him would find ourselves in maximum freedom, and blessing, and safety, and security, and welfare, and joy. That’s why we’re deeply thankful. Not just for the Apostle Paul and what he’s given us in this letter, but for the way in which he’s a small signpost to a very great God who cares about you and me more than we can probably ever fathom.
Let’s pray. Our Father, we thank you this morning for your concern that we not be in slavery, but freedom, your concern that we are members of your family through the Lord Jesus. We thank you for your concern for us when we drift, when we rebel. We thank you for sending faithful friends who will warn us and care for us. And we especially thank you for the Lord Jesus and for his coming into the world to endanger himself that we might be free from danger.
We pray, our Heavenly Father that you would help us as your people to rejoice in your love for us, your care, and your concern. And we pray that you would build into us something of that same care, concern, and love for people as we fellowship together and as we live in this world. And we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.