St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Galatians – 4:8-31
Father,we confess this morning that we are not worthy to hear your Word but we ask that in your mercy and goodness you would nevertheless speak to us. We confess that we are foolish and we need your wisdom. We are weak and we need your strength.
We pray that this morning you would be pleased to teach us and show us wonderful things that are in your Word. We pray this in Jesus’ Name – Amen.
Would you reach again for a Bible everybody and turn to Galatians chapter 4 (page 1153)? Galatians chapter verse 8.
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 marches 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.
And what we are going to do today quite surprisingly is we are going to get a window into what it is like to have somebody love you because we are 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 necessarily flatter you or stroke you or even make you happy but they will really love you. And 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.
So Galatians chapter 4 from verse 8 – it’s a very important letter for us to be studying on these Sunday mornings. It’s a letter which is designed to keep Christians on the path of grace and once you have got Galatians (and I hope some of you are starting to get Galatians – this is Week No.7 in a little series of 10) – 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 very difficult letter to apply as somebody who came to see me this week reminded me and one of the difficulties of apply 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 and so he sets before our eyes many deceits”. And again if I might paraphrase Luther – he says “if your chief sin is beer,how easy to imagine that God is favourable towards you when you are disciplined and dismissive of you when you fail – the gospel of grace needs continual remembrance”.
So I hope you will give me in this series if you feel as though I have been raising this tendency to legalism and it’s hard to point at or pin down and you feel as though I have been raving at you – I have had a number of sort of responses after the sermons which are kind of like ‘how are you? You are talking rubbish,are you going to get better soon? So I sort of feel the struggle of explaining Galatians. But I do believe the Galatian heresy is alive and well in a thousand different forms and I hope you will not only believe it but you will root it out.
So we are going to look at the passage under 3 headings.
Brotherly Fear – verses 8-11
Pastoral Pain – verses 12-20
Biblical Application – 21-31
First of all Brotherly Fear – if you look at verses 8,9,10 & 11,you’ll see in verse 11 “I fear for you”. The point of these verses in chapter 4:8-9 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 are in danger of moving back into slavery.
Last week if you were 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 put your faith in Jesus,then you’ve got a Father in heaven.
And the Galatians have put their faith in Jesus and they had moved into sonship. Now if you look at verse 10 – something weird is going on – they are committed to the Jewish calendar. You see verse 10? He says you are observing special days,months,seasons and years. They have been tricked into thinking that if they keep the Jewish Feasts and the special days,this will somehow strengthen or secure their salvation but how can they improve on what Christ has done?
Now you will notice if you look at verse 10 they have begun to do this. The first chink in the armour is they have begun to be tempted to take the Jewish calendar seriously. If you look over to chapter 5 verse 2 you will see that they have not yet fallen into the ritual of circumcision. But Paul is afraid that if they fall for the first – they will fall for the second and if they begin to trust these things for salvation,then they will obviously distrust Christ for salvation and if you distrust Christ for salvation,that is no small danger. That is a major,major danger.
Now friends,we observe some 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 a busy timetable but try and fit a timetable into being one of God’s family. We have to get our priorities right here – we have 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 together because we are grateful to have received salvation.
Now what would you do if you were aware of some dear people in the fellowship who had 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 had fallen into a kind of a slavery – I hope you would.
And what the Apostle says in verse 8 is when you didn’t know God you were slaves – you were slaves to law or you were slaves to error but now that you have come to know God through Jesus Christ,his question is: – why go back? And that’s why he says in verse 11 “I fear for you”.
Now the reason,friends,Paul talks like this is because he is so sharp. He is so theologically sharp. He wouldn’t be afraid if he couldn’t see so clearly the danger. If we are not afraid for people,theologically,pastorally,eternally – if we are 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 were 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 and they would often say somewhere in the conversation – “we are going to let our children make their own minds up” and I immediately thought you could only talk like that if you don’t really think very strongly about this.
Because you are not going to let your children make their own minds up about stranger danger.
Because you are not going to let your children make their own minds up about whether they can cross the highway in the middle of the night.
Because you are not going to let your children make their own minds up about whether they can stick a fork into a power point.
These are things you are persuaded of and when you are persuaded that Jesus is the Way,the Truth and the Life – you are afraid for those who don’t trust him. And you are afraid for your children – you are concerned for your children.
The first thing that Paul sees very clearly is that unless a person knows Christ,they don’t know God. Now this is an incredibly politically incorrect thing to say. It just happens to be a Biblically true thing to say.
A person is religious doesn’t mean they have 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 the Apostle sees very clearly is that idols (and we might equally say other religions – verse 8) are not gods. Now of course we believe very 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 are 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 affect in the short term or the long term. They are not harmless and religions which are empty or idols which are nothing more than statues are not harmless because if they are being treated as gods,sufficient,supportive,saving things – when they are not – then they are extremely sinister.
If a 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. And of course we’ve watched truck loads of statues come into our shops in the last 10 or 20 years and there are millions of ideas about God and inventions of God in people’s minds but the question we need to ask is –
Are they all safe?
Are they all fine?
Dal Ralph Davis tells the story of an Egyptian Christian friend with very limited English who had serious liver problems and was taken to the doctor – to the Specialist. And as he lay on the table,he beat his chest and he said to the doctor “Jesus here – everything OK”.
Now Biblically,that’s an absolutely wonderful reality but you can imagine the doctor sort of smiling at that if he is not a Christian and thinking – well Jesus,Buddha,Krishna,Ali or whatever keeps you happy pal! The question we need to ask is “is there any reality to “Jesus here – everything OK”. And what lies behind “Jesus here – everything OK” is –
History – that he came
Resurrection – that he rose
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 are not just picking our breakfast cereal – we are picking the aeroplane that really flies.
And 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 is incredibly interested in our safely,our welfare and our joy. So he talks here about brotherly fear – good brotherly fear.
Now the second thing that he talks about is Pastoral pain – verses 12-20. 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 am in pain for you”.
Somebody has said that when our children are little they step on our toes and when they are big they step on our hearts.
And I hope you know that pastors (you’ve got some pastors in this church) I don’t need to tell you that pastors are sinful (you’ve worked that our) 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 the souls.
Well Calvin Miller was an American Pastor and he dies a year ago. 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 and I thought I would just show you an example of Calvin Miller’s addressing some more humorous pastoral problems.
He said – I used to have a man at my 8 o’clock service who would yawn at precisely 8.42 every Sunday when I was 11 minutes into my sermon. I am not talking about a casual little yawn of grace. His uvular 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 re-defined 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 there is 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. The parents always sat there smiling. How does she know every week that you are into the very best part of your sermon? She is too young to think it all through – you have to guess she is in league with the anti-sermon demons! (That is meant to be a joke!)
My first rule is to have a talk with the parents of little baby bladder,remind them that while everybody has to go to the bathroom in life sooner or later,the facilities are always open before and after services. Point out that of the 300/400 other bladders in each service,most of them really 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 a number of times. Usually when I have suggested this,the parents tell me that they believe a child’s place is in the adult services with their parents. They get misty eyed and tell me they believe families should worship together. After all,”the family that prays together stays together”.
I’ve known pastors who try to pray the family into other congregations! And while it deepened their prayer lives,nothing much happens.
Now let me read to 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 6 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 am 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 as soon the fronts started filling up with weeping people. They came to the front and wept and they hugged each other and the 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 and 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 and you will see if you look at chapter 4 verse 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 had 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 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 “that 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 trouble makers have come in who are getting the Galatians not only to turn from Christ to legalism but they are also turning from Paul to themselves. They want the Galatians to be devoted to them not Paul.
Paul does not really care whether they are 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 (verse 19) “my dear children” and he longs to see his spiritual children growing like Christ. He likens himself almost as a mid-wife or a mother who has given birth to these children and now he longs for them to be growing like Christ.
Now I don’t know if you can see the emotion in this?
He is afraid for them.
He is anxious.
He is in pain.
He is in distress.
He is a friend,He is a brother,He is a pastor,He is a parent,and He is 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,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 and month after month and year after year and 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 very much part of the place. And there are gaping holes in their knowledge of the Scriptures and their understanding tends to be infantile when it should be mature.
There is pastoral pain of course for people who are physically unwell in their bodies but there is real pastoral pain for people whose souls are in trouble. And I,and I am sure the 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 are 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 are an angel – now you are an enemy –
You are useful – you are useless –
I for you – I am against you –
I am with you – I am 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 are sinful and we have sinful hearts but God is pure and perfect. So take whatever feelings you have for people and concerns for their spiritual welfare and multiply that by millions and millions and you are getting close to what God feels for you. It’s a remarkable passage.
And God of course 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 we would be well and 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 – that is looks or personality but is Christ proclaimed?
And he says that pastors should see their people not superficially as some kind of audience or servants to do their programmes but is Christ formed in them?
So you see the people see the pastor in terms of Christ.
The pastor sees the people in terms of Christ.
That is pastoral pain. The third and last point this morning – Biblical Application – verses 21-31.
Very quickly – we didn’t read these verses because they are so unusual but Paul takes an Old Testament situation and he applies it to the Galatian situation. He is 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 the opposition in Galatia had opened their Bibles to Abraham and said to the Galatians – ‘well I gather you have 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 and one was free.
One was born of a slave woman,one was born of his wife.
One came by manipulation and trickery and cunning,and one came by promise and miracle and a 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.
Well 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 and clever piece of application the Galatian letter.
Now I finish friends,this morning by simply saying to you that when you love somebody,you are really concerned for their spiritual welfare and you won’t leave them in danger. And 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 are going to love somebody,you are 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 but came and put himself in maximum danger in order that we who trust in him would find ourselves in maximum freedom and blessing and safety and security and welfare and joy. That’s why we are deeply thankful for not just the Apostle Paul and what he has given us in this letter but for the way in which he is a small signpost to a very great God who cares about you and me more than we can probably 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 be members of your family through the Lord Jesus. We thank you for your concern for us when we drift and 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 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.