Freedom through Weakness: Galatians 4.21-5.1

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Old Woman on Tashirojima by Nic Walker on Flikr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This week we Americans received a new president. Amidst the bluster about greatness (again) through strength, we just might be forgetting what it means to be free.

This week at Woodland, we’ll consider freedom. Not a nation state, but an outpost of the Kingdom of God, where do we, as American Christians, really find our freedom?

Paul’s brilliant little allegory, found in Galatians 4.21-5.1, recounts and recasts the story of two boys, and their mothers. Set against the story of Genesis 15-21, we remember Abraham and Sarai, old and nearly infirm, expecting, of all things, a son. Not able to take God at His word, they went the route of strength: find the young and vibrant Hagar, bring about a son in the usual way, assume this is what God had in mind. But God would have none of it. “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (Gen 17.19). Then, later, “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman” (Gal 4.30). Not that God didn’t care for Ishmael and his mother, but they would not inherit. Apparently, strength counts for nothing in God’s economy.

The reversal, in Paul’s recounting of Israel’s core narrative, requires us to consider whom we identify with. Will we come to God through strength, human ingenuity, cleverness, the natural advantages to belittle those without means—just as Hagar and Ishmael ridiculed Sarah and Isaac? Paul attaches Hagar and Ishmael to Mt. Sinai and the Mosaic Covenant, long the place of freedom from bondage in the Israelite imagination.

But, is Sinai really about freedom? While boasting of strength and will and moral might (Ex 24.3), Israel failed under the Law. Like Hagar and Ishmael failed before them. Like strength and human effort fail always. And, like you and I fail apart from Christ. Sinai, along with the earthly Jerusalem, is really about slavery and bondage.

Then, there’s Sarah and Isaac. Paul attaches them to the Abrahamic Covenant. Those who approach God in weakness and faith come as true sons of Abraham (3.7-9), as sons not slaves, as those who will inherit (4.28).

It’s always been so, and it was so with Christ. “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear” (Is 54.1). Paul’s quotation from the Servant Songs of Isaiah references (in Isaiah’s day) the One who would come to rule. Consider 54.1 in context, the verse just before, ” … he bore the sins of many and made intercession for the transgressors” (53.12). Paul’s tale of two mothers and sons is really about three sets of mothers and sons. But only one of the mothers, Sarah and her son, Isaac, anticipates Jesus and his mother, barren because she’d known no man.

Even including the rabbinic argumentation involving allegory and typology, Galatians 4.21-5.1 speaks to American Christians today. Where do we find our freedom, especially in an environment where we can expect downward mobility in culture, even ridicule?

Find a friend or group of friends and consider some questions from Galatians 4.21-5.1.

Looking outward—

Where do we as American Christians increasingly find ourselves in positions of natural disadvantage? 

How does this reaffirm us as New Covenant believers who are looking forward to the fulness of God’s Kingdom (Phil 3.20; Heb 12.22; Rev 3.12)?

Where does this passage point us as we seek freedom? 

Looking within our church family—

Does the circle of those we include in church events only include those who are like us? Or, does it include an eclectic variety of sinners united only by weakness and dependence on God? 

Do we allocate time to the kinds of problems we’d find in the middle of the newspaper—the crises in developing nations that seem far away? Or, are we only front page and sports page Christians? 

Do we continue to consider those who can’t care for themselves—the unborn, orphans, the mentally handicapped, refugees, children in our Sunday school program? 

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