"Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years." (Galatians 4:8-10)
There are lots of things going on in these three verses. Let me list out all of Paul's concerns so that we can look at them and then look at his response.
1. slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist
2. God knows them but maybe they don't quite know God
3. they are reverting back to their old ways
4. They are trying to earn favor with God
Remember that this is a letter written by Paul to the Galatians. Letters didn't just zip from one place to another by airplane or truck in those days. It took a long time for news and letters to travel from one place to another. This letter is going over and over some of the same things because Paul wants to be absolutely certain that they get it. And so he is reiterating some of the things he's discussed in previous chapters in different ways so that they fully understand. And his response after he lists these things out?
"I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws." (Galatians 4:11-12a)
I feel for Paul in those first sentences in this section. How many times have we gone through something tough with a friend, a family member, a child and thought that what we were doing was making a difference only to see that they weren't getting what we were saying at all? That's Paul's fear here too. Had he worked long and hard with the Galatians to introduce them to the freedom of Jesus's gift only to lose them after he left? That would be heart-breaking! This isn't some simple little issue like teaching a kid to use the potty, helping a friend to balance their budget, or getting a family member set up in a new apartment. This is life-changing, eternity-dependent stuff! It's vital that they understand what he's taught them. Their eternities depend on it. And Paul loves these people; he cares what happens to them. He needs them to understand that it's not what they do, it's not the law that saves them. It's Jesus, dying on the cross for them!
"You did not mistreat me when I first preached to you. Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News. But even though my condition tempted you to reject me, you did not despise me or turn me away. No, you took me in and cared for me as though I were an angel from God or even Christ Jesus himself. Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt then? I am sure you would have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible. Have I now become your enemy because I am telling you the truth?" (Galatians 4:12b-16)
Paul goes on to remind the Galatians of their time together, of how they embraced him and accepted him into their throng. I love how thoroughly Paul loves this group. He is willing to do whatever it takes to bring them back into the circle of Jesus. Can you imagine if we all did the same? Can you imagine if we dropped all of the judgment, the rules, the mistreatment, the "I'm better than you" stuff and really reached out to every single person in our lives and showed them this kind of fierce love and care for their eternities? I'd imagine that the world would be at least a little bit different. Maybe we should take down our walls and try things Paul's way, follow his example and embrace others fully.
"Those false teachers are so eager to win your favor, but their intentions are not good. They are trying to shut you off from me so that you will pay attention only to them. If someone is eager to do good things for you, that’s all right; but let them do it all the time, not just when I’m with you." (Galatians 4:17-18)
Paul's letter shifts slightly here. This is such a great reminder and a good way of measuring intentions. Who among you is loving you as often as they possibly can? And, alternatively, who is just trying to butter you up and pull you away from right thinking? These are the questions that Paul is posing to the Galatians but they apply today too. When Paul wrote this, Bibles weren't just waiting in every drawer in every hotel room. You couldn't stop by the Book Store and grab one or hit up your Play Store (App Store for the iPhone people) and download a copy. But today? We can check what's being said to us against what God says in the Bible. So if you aren't sure about something someone is trying to preach to you/say to you/convince you about- look it up. Figure out if they are right or leading you wrong.
"Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. I wish I were with you right now so I could change my tone. But at this distance I don’t know how else to help you." (Galatians 4:19-20)
When you care about your friends, family members, co-workers, kids, anyone- and they're making bad choices, it totally feels the way Paul is describing it in verse 19! Have you felt the sadness of someone you love choosing a way that doesn't align with Jesus? Because I have. And the only thing we can do for them beyond what Paul is describing here is the most important thing we can do- pray for them daily.
As we wrap up today's all-over-the-place devotional (seriously, I felt totally ADD today with this one), take a minute and really pray for someone in your life who isn't choosing to follow Jesus. Pray that you'll have an opportunity to share Him with them, that they will see Jesus in their life somewhere in someone or something, and don't forget to thank Jesus for what he's done for you.