Saturday, September 26, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verses 10 & 11

Galatians 4:10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!
(11) I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Paul is criticizing the Galatians for exchanging the leading of the Holy Spirit for the tradition of following the calendar. The Jewish law and traditions are full of these, corresponding to each of Paul’s examples here in verse 10. “Special Days,” e.g. the Sabbath or the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16: 29-34); “months and seasons” e.g. new moon festivals (Numbers 28: 11-15, Isaiah 1:13-14), Passover (Exodus 12:18), or First Fruits (Leviticus 23:10); “years” e.g., the Sabbath year (Leviticus 25:4). None of these (in particular, the Day of Atonement) had ever been, could ever be, or would ever be in and of themselves a means of salvation or sanctification. Yet, the Pharisees meticulously observed all these to gain merit before God. But there’s even more here. Paul is suggesting that by returning to the ceremony of the calendar, the Galatians are returning to pagan bondage under the "spirits of the sky" referenced here and in verses 3 and 9. Jews, of course, would be offended by this – they felt Judaism and paganism had little in common. (Maybe the pagans would be offended too, but the issue in the Galatian churches was a drive to make everyone ethnically homogeneous under Jewish culture). But in a practical sense, the Jewish reliance on tradition and custom was no different than a pagan mindset. In both cases, the comparisons in verse 9 with a return to slavery, or going back earlier in Chapter 4, with the image of an adult going back to the guardianship of a child is appropriate. This is taking a step backward. Also a reliance on formula or our own efforts, negates the need for a personal relationship with God, which is always the ultimate goal of the promise. Its like the implied mistake the older brother made in the parable of the prodigal son. The older boy was offended when his history of good works and service on the family farm was not ostensibly good enough to “earn” a celebration from his father. But what the father wanted was a relationship – and the younger son, the prodigal, despite his sin, had availed himself of the promise and re-established the relationship with his Dad. The essence of Paul’s proofs and argument seems to always boil down to that concept – there is a need for a dependence on a RELATIONSHIP with God.

This argument regarding the emphasis on “special days” seems rather timely (I originally made this entry in my journal around Christmas time, so while it is currently in late September, I was originally thinking and meditating on these issues in late December or early January) with the recent controversy over some churches canceling their Christmas services so folks could spend time with their families. A lot of folks who are more on the conservative side in the evangelical community criticized this – it “wasn’t right,” and to do so would not"find favor" with God. Paul would seem to have a different view. Is it more important to follow tradition, and emphasize a “special day,” or emphasize the concept of relationship, with God, and with one another?

VERSE 11: An exasperated Paul appears to be giving up on the Galatians. But, as we will see in the next section, this is really genuine concern. There is also a connection here between Paul’s sense of “wasting his efforts” or as some translations put it, “laboring in vain,” with the prophets of the Old Testament, who had similar frustrations bringing their message to the nation of Israel. See Psalm 73:13, Isaiah 49:4, and Isaiah 65:23. Even God seemed to feel his judgments were “in vain” when the nation of Israel refused to return to Him (see Jeremiah 2:30). The image was always that of a great labor expended with no return because of the listener’s obstinacy (see Philippians 2:16, and Thessalonians 3:5) or the ineffectiveness of the message (see I Corinthians 15:2, 14,17, 58). Paul is experiencing both here. Anyone who ministers to people understands this concept.

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