galatians - week four

Here is the introductory page for Galatians 4:1 through 5:1 and week four of our congregational conversation about Paul's Letter to the Galatians ...

The words “slave”, “slavery” and “enslaved” occur thirteen times in this passage. Twice Paul speaks of being “enslaved to the elemental spirits of the word” (Gal. 4:3 & 4:9). “Why should Paul speak to the Galatians about the elements of the cosmos, and how does he intend them to construe his references? What, precisely, are these elements, how did they enslave, and how is it that their universally enslaving power has been broken by the advent of Christ? Was it not sufficient in Paul’s mind to characterize the period prior to Christ as one of imprisonment under the Law (3:23,25)? Why speak also of imprisonment under the elements, somehow identifying the Law as one of them? These are exceedingly thorny questions, as one can see from the extraordinary number of studies given to them, and from the striking absence of a consensus.” (J. Louis Martin, “Galatians”, p. 394). In what ways do we, and the world we inhabit, live in slavery “to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, to beings that by nature are not gods” (Gal 4:8)?

Why does Paul fear that “my work for you may have been wasted” (Gal 4:11) because the Galatians are “observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years” (Gal. 4:10)? What do you think Paul’s response would be to the Christian Seasons Calendar?

“The sentence comprising vss 3-5 is nothing less than the theological center of the entire letter. It contains nearly all of the letter’s major motifs, and it relates them to one another in such a way as to state what we may call the good news of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.” (J. Louis Martyn, “Galatians”, p.388). In what ways does this passage (Gal. 4:3-5) provide a helpful summary of the gospel for you? In what ways does it confuse things for you? How would you summarize the gospel if asked?

In Gal. 4:8-20 Paul speaks about his relationship with the churches in Galatia. He reminds them of their initial meeting and of their life together. He speaks of the way in which they are being misled by their current teachers. He describes his current pain as that of childbirth “until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). He speaks of wishing to be present with them and wishes he “could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you” (Gal. 4:20). What impression of Paul do you have when you read this passage? What type of a church does Paul have in mind when he says: “I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you”(Gal. 4:19)?

In Galatians 4:21-5:1 Paul makes reference to the story of Hagar & Sarah (Genesis 16:1 - 18:15 & Genesis 21:21). He quotes directly from Isaiah 54:1 (it is interesting to notice that this quotation comes just one chapter ahead of the sermon text from March 3). Paul says that Hagar “corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; for she is free, and she is our mother” (Gal. 4:25-26). Who do you think that Paul is intending to contrast in this passage: Jews (Hagar) over against Christians (Sarah) or Paul’s Jewish-Christian opponents (Hagar) over against Paul’s Gentile-Christian mission (Sarah)? Does it make a difference?

The title for our study of Galatians is found in this chapter: “Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac” (Gal. 4:28). What difference does it make for the church to identify itself with Isaac? Paul uses the metaphor of adoption to speak of life redeemed by Christ (“so that we might receive adoption as children” Gal. 4:5). Why do you think Paul is so concerned to portray life in Christ as that of an impossible conception (Isaac) and of a new family identity (adoption)? Who will find such a gospel to be good news?

The passage concludes with one of the most well known verses in Galatians: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1). How would you describe the freedom that Paul is speaking about? In what ways are we - is the church - tempted to abandon this freedom and “submit again to a yoke of slavery”? 

 Note also like rain and snow and this reflection on galatians.

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