Today’s Reading: Galatians 4-6
Today’s Reflection: Galatians 4:8-10
8) Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9) But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10) You observe days and months and seasons and years!
After the people of the church at Galatia had come to know (and to be known by) God, Paul cautioned them from returning to the ways they knew before receiving the Gospel. Most of the time when this text is discussed the emphasis is on the last verse and the months, seasons and years believed to refer to the dates and times Hebrews observed in the ceremonial feast day calendar established by God in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the bible). And certainly in his letter to the Galatians, Paul does speak against devotion to Hebrew ceremony devoid of real relationship with God, going so far as to call the attempt to enforce Hebrew ceremonial practices upon Gentile Christians ‘slavery’ (Galatians 2:3-5). But the context here seems to be more firmly established by the ‘worthless elementary principles of the world’ mentioned in verse 9. Whatever criticisms that can be leveled against Hebrew ceremonial practices or the way they were observed, they couldn’t be considered worldly, nor based upon worthless principles. In fact all Hebrew ceremony pointed to the Messiah and the coming of God’s kingdom, the very hope we as Christians are to centre our lives around. So what is Paul really talking about here?
The people of Galatia were a combination of Roman, Hellenistic (Greek) and Celtic peoples, many of whom would have practiced a variety of pagan and idolatrous rituals centred around practical considerations like food and wealth. So they would have paid attention to things like changes in weather and climate, the movement of the sun, moon and stars, and animal migratory practices—in other words: days, months, seasons and years. Their spiritual practices would have focused on mythic would-be gods who were believed to be small-minded and petty, requiring constant appeasement to receive their favour. This appeasement would come in the form of worshiping of earthly things like animals or plants, or idols of wood, metal or stone, dancing and chanting to the gods, the practice of sexual perversions, and even athletic pursuits and contests. In short, there was a lot of spiritual slavery common in their culture. There was much for them to be freed from. And apparently even after receiving the Gospel there was much for them to remain free of.
Of course we think we’re very different, but are we really? We don’t worship other gods, or do we? In our society in the relatively affluent western world, much of our sense of security is tied up in our jobs—our ability to provide the necessities of life, including food and wealth, is what occupies most of our time. Have you looked at the names and logos for the corporations and institutions most of us work for? Many of them are named after pagan gods and have pagan imagry in their logos. They’re talked about like living beings—in fact corporations are ‘legal persons’. We surrender time with family, friends and even with God in service of these organizations. Sometimes we do things that violate our values to keep a job. Do you sometimes feel like a slave to your job? Perhaps some of us are? We aren’t supposed to worry about our material needs, but let’s be honest, most of us do.
Matthew 6:31-33 – 31) Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32) For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33) But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
And what other seasons do we observe? Sports seasons? TV and movie seasons? Do you have to see your favorite show each week, and do you feel like you’ve lost something if you miss it? Do you have to catch every game of your favorite sports league? Are you depressed when your favorite sports league is on strike? Do you have a weekly night for going to the club or bar? Is it a ritual for you, with it’s own sacraments—food and beverages, songs and fellowship? If so how do you feel if you have to miss a night out? Are any of these rituals connected to any sexual behaviour displeasing to God—something about being at the game, or the bar, or the club that opens the door to temptation? Or perhaps something about how common adultery and fornication are depicted as normal in those TV shows or movies that makes them seem not so wrong in real life? Many of these things are echoes of the cultural and religious practices of idol worshippers and pagans. If we’re enjoying the same entertainment as the rest of the world and we can’t see any issues, can’t see anything unlike God and His ways in them, what does that say about us?
James 4:4 – You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Have we, after accepting Christ and the Gospel, returned to the elementary principles of the sinful world in which we live? We think we’re so much more sophisticated than ancient civilizations, but we fail to realize that human character devoid of God does not change. What gives us security, our God or our paycheck? What gives us comfort, our God or our favorite TV show? When we’re stressed to we pray, or do we go to our favorite hangout to unwind? What we call just living our lives may actually be the very slavery Jesus died to free us from.
Galatians 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
We each have to give an account for the lives we live. I know I’ve had to examine what I put into my being in terms of music, TV, movies, books, magazines, sports, culture and more. I’ve had to examine the place work takes in my life. And I’ve had to ask, does God really have first place in my life? Because this is the issue—a TV show, or sports game, or an evening out with friends doesn’t have to be a problem for us spiritually, but if it takes the place only God should have in our lives it is a grave issue, possibly even a fatal one. I know I have a way to go, but I’m encouraged because I know that through Jesus God has given me access to the power that can free me from anything that may keep me from the life He has for me. You should be encouraged too.
John 8:36 – So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
So what say you? Slave or free? And if you are a slave, what are you willing to give up in order to be free?