Paul didn’t want his readers to be in the dark. After all, they hadn’t been brought up their whole lives hearing the stories of the same ancestors Paul had. Because he wanted to figure out what their intentions truly were, he asked, “Tell me, you who want to live under the law, do you know what the law actually says?” I can just picture them looking around at each other with a blank stare. Who was going to speak up? What did they actually know other than what some Jews were spewing at them? Obviously, Paul wasn’t going to let them rely on what might be misinformation, even it if was from another Jew.
They Gentile congregation was starting to believe that circumcision was the way to be saved, not Jesus. We know that Jesus died to set us free from the law and the long list of regulations the Jews had followed for generations. Our freedom is in Christ. Paul goes back to Abraham and tells the story of Abraham’s two sons, one from his slave, Hagar, and one from his wife, Sarah.
Paul is getting personal here with the Galatians. He knows they are struggling in their faith walk because of the agitators trying to confuse them and cause them to feel unworthy. Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? What do you do? Perhaps you’ve tried to do something to get people to like you, accept you, allow you into the “in-crowd.” Paul is not only acting as their pastor but as their friend.
When we get off track, we often need someone to pull us back up. Paul is doing that by taking them back to the beginning. “Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News.” Paul doesn’t need to go into the details of his illness, because that statement alone will take the believers in Galatia back to their first encounter with Paul. We may be curious as to what was afflicting him, but it doesn’t matter. Paul reconnects with them by having them remember.
I loved Paul’s analogy here of an inheritance. Not that I want to see any children left as orphans, but it drives home the image of our Abba Father’s provision for us. As orphans, the children would be under the protection of a guardian until such time that their inheritance became available. I remember writing our own wills when the children were little with instructions on who would be guardians and how they would be cared for until they reached age 25. Would they be ready to handle the money they inherited at that age? There was a much better chance than if they were younger. How much wiser is God to know the right time to share the inheritance he had for his people!
“But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” At the right time, God acted. God sent his Son so that we could be free. Freedom from the law that was holding us captive is now ours! Paul had to explain it because the Gentiles didn’t share this history. They hadn’t been waiting and anticipating the coming Savior of the world. Yet, God always intended to include them as adopted children.
Who better to teach on the law than Paul? After all, he was so zealous in upholding it and enforcing it prior to his conversion experience. There is also the promise of God to Abraham we can’t overlook. The promise came first, and the law didn’t abolish it or change it. “For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise.” We read yesterday about how that promise of God now extends to us because of Jesus.
Paul asks a question we are probably all asking, “Why, then, was the law given?” We could probably all give our answer to this question, and scholars across the ages have wrestled with it, too. Simply put, God knew we needed it. I love how Paul gives us the picture of the law being our guardian as we waited for Jesus. As a guardian, the law gave us a measuring stick of our sinfulness. It protected us by giving us rules to live by. It also allowed the mediators and judges to have a basis to rule on “legal” matters. God knew his people would need to have these boundaries to keep them safe from their sinful tendencies and from being weak in the face of temptation.
Did you notice that today’s reading is made up of eight quotes from the Old Testament? Paul’s focus today is on how the “law” fits in to the scheme of salvation and the gospel truth we believe in. What does Paul mean by his reference to the “law?” I understand the law as including the law given through Moses, but more broadly, the entire principle of being made right with God by what we do.
While the law is important and given by God, we are never made right with God by following the law. When you think of it, who is Paul’s audience? The Gentiles. They don’t even have the same heritage or knowledge of what the law is. Can you imagine wanting to join a club that had been in existence for many years with lots of rules, both written and just tradition. Then you find out that you’re expected to know and follow every single one before you’d be allowed to join. First of all, it would take forever to feel like you fit in, and chances are pretty good you would eventually give up. If the law was crucial to our salvation, then everyone, including Gentiles, would be subject to it and need to know all about it.