From Slave to Son: Galatians 4

January 9, 2012

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This is a part of the 7 Minutes a Day Series. It might be helpful to scroll to the bottom and see previous portions of Galatians we’ve explored.

I have spent nearly 20 years working in missions. In my travels I meet many people who serve with different motivations. Some serve out of a desire to help those pushed down by life and society. Some serve in order to fulfill part of the Great Commission.

Those who are the most miserable on the missions field are those serving out of a sense of guilt or obligation. They begin their commitments with zeal and passion. Then things get tough. Culture shock hits. The converts don’t come rolling in. When this happens, those motivated by guilt respond in different ways.

Sometimes people give up and leave the field (or even their faith) completely. When we serve for the wrong reasons, the mission field will chew us up and spit us out.

Paul does not want the Galatians serving out of duty or obligation. We left off in Chapter 3, with Paul encouraging the believers to leave the prison of works and walk in their son-ship. He picks up this line of thinking in this portion.

Let’s read Galatians 4(click on this and read the passage. Yes, this is included in the 7 minutes!)

Verse 5 says that the Galatians were redeemed so that they could receive adoption as sons. Here is an amazing truth! Let’s see what it meant to the Galatians, and us!

In the first-century, the understanding of the word redemption came from the world of slavery. Not the brutal picture of slavery that many of us have in our minds, involving beatings and chains. First-century slavery was a normal part of life.

A slave would enter into an agreement with the master to serve for a set period of time, usually six years. The penalties for breaking this agreement by rebellion, theft, or running away carried severe penalties, even death. In spite of this, a slave could make a very good living in the first-century.

A slave entered into this contract at a slave market. The highest bidder would win the right to enter into an agreement with the future servant. At that point, a slave was no longer free. He was bound by contract to serve the master. Failure to do so resulted in the swift and severe penalties previously mentioned.

Once a person entered into the contract of slavery, redemption could factor in. A slave owner possessed the right of redemption. He ‘owned’ the slave and could do what he wished. Redemption occurred after the purchase was complete. An owner bought a redemption ticket with the words ‘For Freedom’ written on it.

The new master would inform the slave that he would exercise the right of redemption and give the ticket to him. He had already paid the money to employ the slave but chose to redeem him.

History tells us this was a rare gift and honor. When exercised, slaves would often go and live with the masters anyway. As they lived in the master’s house, they would inevitably end up serving, sometimes doing the very same tasks which they were bought to do.

However, something changed within the heart of the servant. Redeemed slaves serve from a place of freedom, not obligation or fear of punishment. The motivation for serving the master became gratitude for the incredible gift of freedom. No longer did they fear punishment, rather they freely served out of love for the master.

History also tells us when a slave master died, a redeemed slave in his household received equal parts inheritance as a natural-born son or daughter. They were considered adopted into the master’s family.

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Photo courtesy of  Creative Commons by Flicker

This gives an incredible picture to the words redeemed to be adopted as sons that Paul uses in verse 5. The Galatians would immediately recognize this picture from first century society.

He finishes the chapter with an elaborate allegory (4:21-31) to illustrate his point. Every point in the allegory represents something. The slave woman represents works (Law) and the free represents faith in Christ (New Covenant).  Paul shows the Galatians that they are free from the works of the law. Sons are not in prison, they are free!

The question beckons to us the same as the Galatians….are we serving God as a slave or a son? Or are we, like many missionaries, serving for the wrong reasons?

Please comment and let’s learn from each other!

Related Links for 7 Minutes a Day:  Galatians Series
Introduction and Summary of the book
Galatians 1:1-10
Galatians 1:11-24
Galatians 2:1-14
Galatians 2:15-22
Galatians 3:1-14
Galatians 3:15-29

Portions taken from “Death of the Modern SuperHero:How Grace Breaks our Rules” Copyright 2011. Ticket illustration by Sharon Ellis.

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Chris

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A missionary teacher for 24 years currently living in South Africa. I am a recovering superhero, daily in need of the grace of God