Chapter 21


“I Am Afraid of You”


"Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all."

Galatians 4:8-12


The last words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy, his son in the ministry and the young pastor of the church at Ephesus, were in the form of a charge. Those words form the charge and make up the binding oath of every faithful gospel preacher. In those words the Holy Spirit makes an unmistakable assertion of the duties of those who labor in the gospel.


“I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom; preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry” (2 Tim. 4:1-5).


Paul was as good as his word. He loved the souls of God’s people and was faithful to them, proving himself to be the servant of Jesus Christ. He was watchful over the souls of men. He did the work of an evangelist. He carefully declared all the counsel of God, when it was popular to do so and when it was unpopular to do so. When the people of God erred, he was faithful and longsuffering, reproving their backslidings, rebuking their sins, and exhorting them to repentance. For all of this, he was abused, criticized, misunderstood, misrepresented, afflicted, and imprisoned. But he was, nonetheless, faithful to his calling; and when no man stood with him, notwithstanding, the Lord stood with him and strengthened him.


That is what is involved in the work of the ministry. The greatest blessing that God can give to any community is a faithful gospel preacher and a church wherein the gospel is freely proclaimed and boldly upheld. And the most terrible curse that can be brought upon any society of men is for God to stop the mouths of his servants. How clearly this is proven both in the Word of God and in history.


The Apostle Paul was, in the broadest sense of the term, a man of God. His work in the gospel was truly a labor of love. He had gone, at great sacrifice to himself, into the region of Galatia preaching the gospel of God’s redeeming grace and many were brought to Christ. As a result of his faithful labors, a gospel church was formed in Galatia. But after he left, the Galatians became influenced by Judaism and began to “heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts.” These teachers pampered their “itching ears,” caring more for their popularity and good name than for the souls of men. Soon, the Galatians would no longer stand for the sharp, but loving rebukes of Paul. He had become an enemy to them. Yet, he remained faithful to their souls. He loved them. Therefore, in the passage before us we see this broken hearted, loving preacher pleading with the erring children of God to repent of their evil ways and return to Christ.


The Galatians seemed ready to sacrifice all the blessings of the gospel: Full redemption by the blood of Christ, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit giving them the assurance of sons before the Father and free access to heaven, and eternal glory. They seemed ready to give all of this up and return to their former state of slavery. For this, Paul’s heart was breaking. And now he pleads with their very souls.


Once Idolaters


Paul knew that perhaps the surest way to win the hearts of these believers back to Christ and his gospel was to remind them of what he had done for them. Therefore, Paul reminds the Galatians of what they were before God, by his free-grace, called them. God had saved them out of heathen idolatry. ― "Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods" (v. 8). Let us be reminded of what God has done for us by his grace (1 Cor. 6:9-11).


Men by nature are ignorant of God. Paul does not here teach that men have no knowledge of God at all, but that they have no proper, saving knowledge of him. All men by nature know that there is a God (Rom. 1:19-20); and the law of God is written in their hearts (Rom. 2:14-15). They suppress this knowledge in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Their rebellion to that which they know, because God has revealed himself in creation, renders all men without excuse; but it can never save them. They refuse to acknowledge God (Rom. 1:21). And, refusing to acknowledge him, all men are by nature ignorant of the glory of God revealed in Christ (Eph. 2:12). They are blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4).


Yet, all men have a God consciousness, from which they cannot escape. Man is both a spiritual and a physical creature. Therefore, he must have an object of worship. Yet, all are so depraved and blind to all things spiritual that they turn to some creature of their own hands and worship it (Rom. 1:25; 1 Thess. 1:9). Men delight to have a god after their own image. It may be a physical object, or it may be a mental concept. Such idols are, as Paul puts it here, “no gods.” All the idols of men are nothing 10:19; 8:4-5). Not only are they not gods, they are nothing.


These Galatians had been delivered from heathen idolatry by the grace of God. And now they were despising God’s free-grace and returning to the doctrines of men. For this, Paul sharply rebukes them. ― “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (vv. 9-11).


Knowing God


Salvation is knowing God (John 17:3). It is the result of being known of God (Isa. 53:11). Paul asserts that those who were born of God and taught of God at Galatia knew God. This saving knowledge of God is the promise of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:33-34). This knowledge of God is the knowledge of Christ (John 6:44-46; 1:14, 18; 2 Cor. 4:6; Heb. 1:3). It is knowing God as he is revealed in Christ. It comes to chosen, redeemed sinners by divine revelation, by the irresistible power and grace of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4-7). Paul brought the knowledge of God to these Galatians by the preaching of the gospel (Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:15).


They knew God because they were “known of God.” Those words are full of instruction. Paul is saying, “You were actively known by God before there was any action on your part to win his knowledge.” God’s knowledge of us is more than a bare, factual acquaintance of our existence and acts. It is an active, loving, eternal knowledge (John 10:14; 2 Tim. 2:19; Ex. 3:12, 17; Nahum 1:7; John 10:28; Rom. 8:28-29). God’s knowledge of his elect is particular (Matt. 7:23), distinguishing (Rom. 8:29-30), and eternal. His knowledge of us is his everlasting love for and delight with us in Christ. All our acquaintance with God begins with him. We know him because he first knew us.


“Beggarly Elements”


Paul was shocked that those men and women who had experienced such rich and bounteous grace at the hands of God would now turn from the riches of Christ (Eph. 1:18) to the “beggarly elements” of the law. Therefore, he gives them this sharp, but loving rebuke. ― “How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” These "weak and beggarly elements" are the vain traditions of sinful men, the religious ideas and principles that sinful men come to by nature as a means of finding favor with God. Jewish legalists and pagan idolaters alike are subject to them. They are the attempts of lost religionists to obtain salvation by something they do. Specifically, the Galatian saints, Gentiles to whom the law was never given, were being seduced into law observance by Jewish teachers who claimed to be followers of Christ.


Paul used words of scorn, words that were sure to offend the Judaizers and hopefully shame those who were being influenced by them. He speaks of all those ordinances of divine worship in the Old Testament, which have now been fulfilled by Christ, as “weak and beggarly elements.


      The law is weak, so weak that it is utterly incapable of helping anyone. It cannot give life. It is a ministration of death. It cannot give joy. It cannot give peace. It cannot give comfort. It cannot produce righteousness. It cannot bring salvation. The law is beggarly, too. It lies in the observation of poor things (meat and drinks and holy days), in comparison with Christ, in whom we have grace and mercy and life. The law is only a shadow of the riches of grace and glory revealed in Christ. Serving the law is nothing more than bondage and will-worship (Col. 2:18-23).


      Martin Luther wrote, “People who prefer the law to the gospel are like Aesop’s dog who let go of the meat to snatch at the shadow in the water…The law is weak and poor, the sinner is weak and poor: two feeble beggars trying to help each other. They cannot do it. They only wear each other out. But through Christ a weak and poor sinner is revived and enriched unto eternal life.”


      Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years” (v. 10). ― Paul’s obvious reference is to the Old Testament law requiring the Jews to observe certain holy days and the sabbath days prescribed in the Mosaic age (Col. 2:16). The Judaizers were trying to impose these things upon Gentile believers, to whom such laws were never given. Legal ritualism and human tradition are the ruin of religion. They numb the soul and harden the heart.


All human religion is freewill/works religion, inherently legalistic and ritualistic, substituting the choice and works of man and the bondage of the law for a living, saving knowledge of God and eternal life in Christ, the life of liberty in the Spirit by faith in Christ alone, the glorious liberty of free justification by faith in Christ, a life ruled, animated, and motivated by grace, love, and gratitude. Christ has delivered us from that by his grace. Let us ever cling to him, refusing to be “entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”


Having found that life that is worthy to be called life, why would anyone think of giving it up to go back to the bondage and futility of the law? The question is rhetorical, of course. The reason should be obvious. The human heart, as Calvin put it, is an "idol factory." And, as Charles Simeon wrote, "The human mind is very fond of fetters, and is apt to forge them for itself." Sin makes fools of us all!


Paul’s Fear


I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (v. 11). ― True gospel preachers are men who labor in the work of the gospel for the souls of men and the glory of God. They labor in the study of the Scriptures (1 Tim. 4:12-15) and in prayer, under the burden of the Lord.


      Paul knew that the servant of God never labors in vain (Isa. 49:5; 2 Cor. 2:14-16). He is speaking here with reference to those who were following the Judaizers back to Moses. If they persisted in mixing legal ceremonies and human works with the grace of God and the work of Christ to make God’s grace and Christ’s redemptive work effectual, they would prove that for them his labor had been in vain. Any such mixture is a frustration of grace and damning (Gal. 2:21; 5:1-4).


      Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all” (v. 12). ― Here Paul calls upon the Galatian believers and us, in love and tenderness, to turn from their backsliding ways and return to the worship and service of the Savior. He says, “I want you to be like me, free from the bondage of the law.” Reckon yourselves to be dead to the law, which has been fulfilled by Christ. Count these things as loss and rubbish for Christ (Phil. 3:7-11).


      I am as ye are.” ― He became as they (Gentiles) were with respect to things spiritual. We are both alike in Christ: chosen in him, redeemed in him, perfected in him and free in him. “Ye have not injured me at all.” ― They had not injured Paul by their behavior, but only themselves. His feelings for them had not changed. Rather, their feelings toward him had changed (4:16). Paul wanted them to cling to Christ alone, as he did (Gal. 6:14). He would have us renounce all personal righteousness for Christ, that we might be found in him, not having our “own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”


Multitudes forsake Christ and the gospel of God’s free grace in him, while claiming to uphold and defend it. They even do so without knowing it. They introduce works (self-salvation) into their “gospel” and make it another gospel, but are thoroughly convinced that their new works “gospel” is the gospel of God. These Gentile believers at Galatia, I am sure, did not think they had fundamentally shifted the foundation of their faith. They did not think they were returning to their former bondage. They did not imagine that they were abandoning the faith they had embraced, when by their baptism they professed faith in Christ. They would have vigorously denied that they had in any sense turned their backs on the knowledge of God. They did not see that their embracing Jewish ceremonies was nothing but idolatry and the same thing as embracing the human traditions and barbaric religious rituals of their idolatrous ancestors. They never dreamed that their law observance was a repudiation of the gospel. They thought they would be more holy, more spiritual, stronger Christians by keeping the law. Paul had to tell them what a catastrophic mistake they were making, how immense the error was; and he had to do so with such blunt force that they could not misunderstand him. They would never have imagined it otherwise.


The Scriptures teach us that vast multitudes of people will be surprised on the Day of Judgment to discover that their religion, with all their religious works and ceremonies, will be as a mill stone around their necks to drag them forever down to hell (Matt. 7:21-23). Let us not be numbered among them (Rom. 4:16; 11:6; Col. 2:6, 8, 16-23).


“Nothing, either great or small;

Nothing, sinner, no;

Jesus did it, did it all,

Long, long ago!


When He, from His lofty throne,

Stooped to do and die,

Everything was fully done;

Hearken to His cry -


It is finished! Yes indeed,

Finished every jot.

Sinner, this is all you need.

Tell me, Is it not?


Weary, working, plodding one,

Why toil you so?

Cease your doing, all was done

Long, long ago!


Till to Jesus’ work you cling

By a simple faith,

Doing is a deadly thing.

Doing ends in death!


Cast your deadly ‘doing’ down,

Down at Jesus’ feet.

Stand in Him, in Him alone,

Gloriously complete!”

          James Procter