Comparing a Son and a Servant Gal. 4:1-11 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
In Chapter Four, Paul uses three examples to convince the Galatians that they do not need to go back under the law in order to be saved or to stay saved. In Gal 4:1-11, Paul uses the example of comparing a son and a servant. A son is like a servant until he is old enough to receive the inheritance. The second example is in Gal 4:12-20, the example of Paul himself. And the third example is in Gal 4:21-31, the allegory of Hagar and Ishmael contrasted with Sarah and Isaac. Today we will study the first example.
Briefly stated, this example is a very simple illustration of a common truth. When a child is born into a household, he is too young to be trusted with the family inheritance and so he is under tutors and governors who instruct him and look after him. He has to abide by the laws they impose on him. In that capacity, he is much like a servant, because he cannot rule; he is under the rule of those who are training him. However, at some point in time he is grown and trained enough to be able to inherit the family assets and to manage them. Suddenly, he is no longer under those who trained him. In fact, they are under him. And he certainly would not subject himself to the rules he had followed when he was a little child.
Likewise, the Jews in the Old Testament were like the child being raised under tutors and governors. They had to follow the law the same way a child has to follow the house rules. When Jesus came and fulfilled the law, the Jews, as little children, had now come to full age, whereby they could receive their inheritance. By receiving Jesus Christ as their Savior, they would be adopted and inherit the promises that they could not obtain as long as they were as servants under the law. Instantly, like the child who had come of full age, those who were born again were no longer under the law. Thus, it would be foolish to expect saved Jews to go back under the law. That would be as foolish as an heir subjecting himself to the same rules that he had followed as a child.
Now we will simply run through the verses to be sure that we understand the details in light of the example Paul has given.
Comparison of a son to a servant – Gal 4:1-2 – these verses set forth the illustration that Paul uses to teach the Galatians that they no longer need to be under the law. The illustration is based on the fact that a son who is “heir” to his father is no different than a servant when he is a child even though he is lord of all, by virtue of the fact that he is the heir. The son is like a servant because he is under the rule of “tutors and governors” who tell him what to do, just like a servant is under the rule of his master. The “tutors and governors” are likened to the law, and “the time appointed of the father” typifies the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ [Gal 4:4].
Jews therefore likened to servants – Gal 4:3 – as a son is under tutors and governors, even so, Israel was in bondage “under the elements of the world.” The elements of the world refer to the law [Col 2:20-22] under which the Jews were “in bondage” [Rom 8:15, Gal 5:1] as “servants” rather than “sons.”
Jews likened to servants who become sons – Gal 4:4-7 – “The fullness of the time” is a reference to the time when the Lord was ready for the servants to become sons [like the child coming of age]. To accomplish this, God had to get the servants out from “under the law.” Therefore, he sent his Son, Jesus, who was “under the law” when he came [Matt 5:17; Lk 2:27; Lk 10:25-28; Matt 19:17] “to redeem them that were under the law” [Gal 3:13] so we could receive “the adoption of sons” [Eph 1:5; 1 Jn 3:1]. When we become sons, God sends forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts “crying, Abba, Father,” [Rom 8:14-16]. Thus, we are no more servants but sons, and as sons we are the “heirs of God through Christ,” [Rom 8:17]. Becoming a son of God is accomplished by adoption through Jesus Christ [Jn 1:12] rather than through service as a servant in bondage under the law.
Galatians likened to sons who desire to become servants again – Gal 4:8-10 – Before they were saved the Galatians “knew not God” because the way to know God is to receive his Son [Lk 10:22; Jn 14:9]. Their service then, under the law, was to men, “which by nature are no gods,” rather than to God [Mk 7:8-9]. But now that they were saved they were “known of God,” [2 Tim 2:19; Matt 7:21-23]. So, to be back under the law was to be in “bondage” to “the weak and beggarly elements,” [Rom 8:3]. Observing such things as “days, and months, and times, and years,” [Col 2:16; Num 28-29] is the service of servants not the inheritance of sons.
Paul’s concern – Gal 4:11 – Paul’s fear was that he may have “bestowed upon [them] labor in vain,” because, as sons, they were ready to return to the bondage of servants which is absolutely contrary to nature. They were not responding as saved children of the Lord. It’s like Paul was going to have to start all over with these guys.
Conclusion: the first of three examples is complete and Paul has made a worthy case for why these Galatians should not be back under the law as servants since they were now sons of God.