Monday: Enslaved to Elementary Principles

Having just compared our relationship to God with that of sons and heirs, Paul now elaborates on this metaphor by including the theme of inheritance in Galatians 4:1-3. Paul’s terminology evokes a situation in which an owner of a large estate has died, leaving all his property to his oldest son. His son, however, is still a minor.

Learning Basic Principles

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As is often the case with wills even today, the father’s will stipulates that his son is to be under the supervision of guardians and managers until he reaches maturity. Though he is master of his father’s estate by title, as a minor he is little more than a slave in practice.

Paul’s analogy is similar to that of the pedagogue in Galatians 3:24, but in this case the power of the stewards and managers is far superior and much more important. They are responsible not only for the upbringing of the master’s son, but they are also in charge of all the financial and administrative affairs until the son is mature enough to assume those duties himself.

Read Galatians 4:1-3. What is Paul saying there that, again, should help clarify what the role of the law should be in our lives, now that we are in Christ?

Exactly what Paul means by the phrase “elementary principles” (Gal. 4:3Gal. 4:8, ESV) is disputed. The Greek word stoicheia literally means “elements.” Some have seen it as a description of the basic elements that compose the universe (2 Pet. 3:102 Peter 3:12); or as demonic powers that control this evil age (Col. 2:15); or as the rudimentary principles of religious life, the ABC’s of religion (Heb. 5:12). Paul’s emphasis on humanity’s status as “minors” before the coming of Christ (Gal. 4:1-3suggests that he is referring here to the rudimentary principles of religious life. If so, Paul is saying that the Old Testament period, with its laws and sacrifices, was merely a gospel primer that outlined the basics of salvation. Thus, as important and instructional as the ceremonial laws were to Israel, they were only shadows of what was to come. They never were intended to take the place of Christ.

To regulate one’s life around these rules instead of Christ is like wanting to go back in time. For the Galatians to return to those basic elements after Christ had already come was like the adult son in Paul’s analogy wanting to be a minor again!

While a childlike faith can be positive (Matt. 18:3), is it necessarily the same thing as spiritual maturity? Or could you argue that the more you grow spiritually, the more childlike your faith will be? How childlike and “innocent” and trusting is your faith?

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Source: Daily Sabbath School Lessons