by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 4 Paragraph # 4 Study # 3 November 4, 2012 Dayton, Texas (Download Audio)
(219)Thesis:The "births" of the sons of Abraham are made the illustration of the nature of the present world in which "law" and "promise" are at work.
Introduction:In our last study we looked into the claim that the "message" of "Law" is to be found in the historical narrative containing the records of the "births" of the sons of Abraham. We also saw that Paul's turn to historical narrative means that we can depend upon "history" to reveal reality. And we saw that the issue that is in focus in the narrative has to do with "bondage" and "freedom". That this is the point is shown by the constant repetition of the terms "bondwoman" and "freewoman" and by the opening verse of the next section of Galatians (5:1) wherein the issue is "freedom" as opposed to "bondage".
This evening we are going to consider Paul's descriptions of those sons in terms of their origins. He says that the son of the bondwoman was born "according to the standard of flesh" and that the son of the "freewoman" was "through promise".
I. Paul's "Flesh" Terminology.
1. Because the use in Galatians is so numerous, we know it is a major issue.
2. Because "flesh" in Galatians is consistently found in contexts of negative overtones, we know it is a problematic issue.
3. Because our paragraph pointedly declares that a major characteristic of "flesh" is its standard persecution of "spirit" (4:29), we know that it is an issue that we need to understand.
B. The strong contrast established in the opening of 4:23 means that when it comes to being able to grasp the message of "Law", we need to be very clear on the distinction between "flesh" and "promise".
C. The issues involved in the phrase "according to the standard of flesh".
1. The fact that Abraham and the bondwoman produced a son by the typical method of all human births and that Abraham and the freewoman produced a son by the same method means that "the standard of flesh" is not to be understood in terms of "method".
2. Since the action taken is the same in both cases, we have need to look for something else that will reveal what is "fleshly" and what is not.
3. When we look at the narrative, we find several issues involved before the "action".
a. First, it cannot be an accident that Abraham copied the behavior of Adam in his "fleshliness".
1) It is not automatically "wrong" for a man to listen to the plans of his "wife", but it is no accident that the historical narrative of the Old Testament makes the two biggest faults of man (Adam's eating of the fruit of the tree and Abraham's taking Hagar to his bed) the result of both of those men refusing to be the leaders that God intended them to be.
a) Because Paul "standardized" the issues of "flesh" vs. "spirit" in 4:29 so that it not only ran backward in history to Cain and Able but continues to this day (and is a major part of his argument in 5:17), we must see his argument as a large umbrella thesis wherein "men" falter in the face of difficulties when they allow their "wives" to guide them into their understanding of the will of God.
b) The root issue here, however, is not where the "men" got their "plans"; it is that the plans flew in the face of "Truth" at the most fundamental levels of "Love" and "Faith".
i. It is impossible for a man to "love" his wife and take another woman to his bed (no record exists in the Scriptures of such a contradiction).
ii. It is impossible for a man to "believe" God and take another woman to his bed.
2) In both cases the men involved are not "ignorant" (1 Timothy 2:14).
b. Second, it is as clear as it can be from the biblical narrative that Abraham was frustrated with God over the lack of a son (Genesis 15:2).
1) Being frustrated with God over the question of His integrity is an extremely dangerous attitude if it is not handled before God.
2) Being so committed to a desire, even when it is one God has encouraged, that the desire transcends the obvious will of God, is even more dangerous.
c. Third, the narrative tells us plainly that Sarai couched her "plan" in terms of "God's will" and realized after the fact that she was wrong (Genesis 16:1 and 5).
4. The consequent deduction regarding Paul's concept of "flesh".
a. Its roots are in false loves and deception regarding truth.
b. Its goals have to do with obtaining an end that is not supported by the Love and Truth of God.
c. It boils down to a most basic attitude wherein the human being involved intends to take the place of God in the contentious setting.
II. Paul's "Promise" Terminology.
A. "Promise" assumes a human interest: there is no point to promising a person something in which he/she has no interest.
B. "Promise" assumes a divine commitment that cannot be violated regardless of any other considerations other than "faith".
C. "Promise" typically contains few, if any, revealed timing commitments.
III. Paul's Point.
A. Clearly Paul wishes to get the Galatians to give up their attempts to control God.
B. Clearly Paul wishes to get the Galatians to see that letting God be God is the root of "freedom".