The Joys of Growing Up
Sixth in a Series
(March, 2003 POL)

Topic: Grace
Text: Galatians 4:3-5

The Apostle Paul is unrelenting as, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he confronts you and me with the privilege of living under grace, not law.

Let me somewhat arbitrarily divide today’s text, Galatians 4:1-20, into three succinct paraphrases of what Paul addressed to the Galatians and, in turn, to you and me. He is challenging you and me in three specific ways.

Challenge One: Claim the Joys of Growing Up.

Our contemporary culture here in the United States does not have the distinct rite of passage of so many other cultures. We sort of quickly evolve from childhood into adulthood. That adulthood is often quite childish. Or we could reverse that and say we have a childhood that is quite pseudo-adult. Our childrens’ beauty pageants, cosmetics and dress patterns attest to that.

In the first century, Paul was quite aware of the clear distinction between childhood and adulthood in the three cultures he was called on to address.

In the Jewish culture, when a boy passed his twelfth birthday, on the very next Sabbath, his father took the boy to the synagogue where the father uttered a benediction, “Blessed be Thou, O God, who has taken from me the responsibility for this boy.” The boy prayed a prayer in which he said in response, “O my God, and God of my fathers! On this solemn and sacred day, which marks my passage from boyhood to manhood, I humbly raise my eyes unto Thee and declare with sincerity and truth that henceforth I will keep Thy commandments and undertake and bear the responsibility of mine actions toward Thee.”

In the Greek culture, a boy was under his father’s care from age 7 until age 18. At age 18 there was a special ceremonial act in which his long, boyish hair was cut off and offered to the gods. He then became what we could translate a “cadet” and for the next two years was under the direction of the state. Once again you can see how arbitrary and distinct was the transition from childhood to adulthood.

The Roman culture functioned in a somewhat similar way. The actual year in which a boy grew up was not definitely fixed. It was always between the ages of 14 and 17. We alluded to this event last week–a sacred festival at which his family took off his childish toga and exchanged it for the “toga virilis,” which was the plain toga worn by a Roman adult male. He then was conducted by his friends and relatives down to the forum and formally introduced to public life. The Romans had a custom that, on the day that a boy or girl grew up, the boy offered his ball and the girl offered her doll to Apollo to show that each of them had put away childish things. When a boy was “an infant” in the eyes of the law, he might be, in reality, the owner of a vast property, but he could make no legal decision. He was not in control of his own life. Everything was done and directed for him. For all practical purposes, he had no more freedom than if he were a slave. But when he became a man, he entered into his full inheritance and into the liberty, as well as responsibilities, of manhood.

This reality of first-century Jewish, Greek and Roman life helps us to understand more clearly why the Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, declares, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

Paul, in today’s text, building on this first-century reality, makes a clear distinction between who we are as children and who we are as adults. Paul explains what it is to be an inheritor of God’s riches in Christ Jesus.

Perhaps it can best be explained today by the story of the “Poor Little Rich Boy” or the “Poor Little Rich Girl.”

We all know him. We’ve all seen her. This child plays with our children, wears the same kind of clothes, goes to the same school, comes over to our house and, in some ways, wishes he had some of the things our kids have. But we know what he doesn’t know. Our children have very average means. We work for our paychecks, trying to meet the everyday financial responsibilities, while at the same time putting first fruits aside for the Lord and also trying to save a bit for the education of our children and our retirement. The fact is, when we die, we may leave a bit to our children, but nothing like what this little fellow gets. He’s an heir to a great fortune and doesn’t know it.

One of the members of our church told me about how her son was best friend to a young fellow who was heir to one of Southern California’s greatest fortunes. You would recognize the name immediately if I mentioned it. The fact, though, was he was just an ordinary little kid, playing with her child until, one day, years later, he received his inheritance.

That’s what Paul is talking about when he writes, “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world” (Galatians 4:1-3).

You and I have a trust fund. It is filled with the riches of God’s love, faith, joy, hope, all purchased at such a price on the cross by Jesus Christ and administered to us by His Holy Spirit. Some of us live as little children, unaware of the inheritance, acting as slaves, trying every day to dress up and look good and religious, forgetting that all this is gifted to us in Jesus Christ.

Paul is telling us that when we were children we were “. . . in slavery under the basic principles of the world.” Every culture has its basic principles. This can be all the way from elementary knowledge, the kinds of things that were taught in grade school, to astrological concepts which were much in vogue in the first century, where people were convinced that their circumstances in life were fixed by the very stars in the sky. If you consult your astrological charts today, you are caught up in that same kind of deterministic, childish approach to life from which Jesus came to set you free.

Paul writes, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

A whole sermon could be done on the theme, ” . . . when the time had fully come . . .” or, in other translations, “in the fullness of time.” Paul here is making the argument from history, alerting us to the fact that in the first-century world there was a great expectation. People were waiting for a deliverer. Old religions were dying. God was preparing the world for the arrival of His Son. Even the Roman Empire itself, with all its pluses and minuses, provided a road system, laws that protected the rights of citizens, languages of Latin and Greek, and the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, which enabled Jesus Christ as God in human form to be born and carry out His atoning work on the cross at the right time, at the right place, under the right circumstances so the Gospel could quickly then make its way throughout the world of that day, penetrating by the power of the Holy Spirit the Jewish, Greek and Roman cultures.

Paul is declaring that now the inheritance is yours. You are of this age. He writes, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:6-7).

This is revolutionary to the Jewish, the Greek, the Roman mind. The Jew dared not even name the name of God without committing blasphemy, according to the Old Testament law. The Greek and the Roman had their own pantheon of gods who, at one level, were so much like humans and, at another level, were so abstract, remote, distant of any kind of spiritual reality. The religion of that day did its best to somehow capture the attention of God or the gods and appease divine wrath. We are here reminded that, far from needing symbols to get the attention of the gods, we are able to see ourselves no longer as slaves, but as sons and daughters of God, who are entitled to address God in the intimate terms of the Aramaic word, Abba, and the Greek word for father.

Our daughter, Carla, has been home visiting us this week. Anne, Carla and I, on Friday night, curled up together in the family room and watched the most recent version of the movie, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Most likely you are familiar with the magnificent novel by Alexander Dumas. It is a story of heartbreak and betrayal during the upheavals of the Napoleonic era. A young man, Edmund Dantes, is deeply in love with his fiancee but unable to marry her until he meets specific economic standards. Unknown to him, his best friend, Count Mondego, covets his fiancé and falsely accuses him of treason through a third party. Suddenly he is arrested and quickly sent off to an island dungeon. This is a lifelong solitary confinement with periodic beatings. After years of anguish and torture, one day another prisoner, a priest, who himself for years was trying to dig his way to freedom, ends up, by mistake, in his cell, that role being played by the late Richard Harris. Together they combine their efforts to continue in secrecy to dig their way to freedom. Through the years of bonding, the priest encourages the young man to not lose faith in God and tells him where a great treasure is hidden if, one day, he should be able to escape the prison. You can imagine the rest of the story. He makes the escape, finds the treasure, and then determines to get his vengeance on his former friend, his former fiancé, who, within a month of his disappearance, had married that friend and had a son. Imagine the moment of truth for all of these principals in the story when he discovers that his fiancé has always loved him and never taken off the string signifying their engagement and the consummation of that love. Imagine the moment of truth when the son of the marriage discovers that the man he thought was his father who had so selfishly, in affair after affair, been unfaithful to his mother, was not his father after all. Instead of being the son of a man who had betrayed his best friend, stolen his fiancé, built his life on deception and subterfuge, he discovers he is actually the son of the betrayed friend who now is the inheritor of all of his riches, and what was wrong is now set right.

You and I are privileged to discover who our real father is, to put away our childish misconceptions and claim the joys of growing up, to receive the trust fund which is ours, inheritors of the riches purchased at such a price by our Father, whose name is Jesus Christ and who is present in the Person and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Challenge Two: Don’t Try Turning Back the Clock

Paul actually is writing to men and women who had discovered what it was to be heirs. These were Gentile believers of Jesus Christ who had discovered that they were adopted sons and daughters of God, based not on religious legalism but on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Somehow they had regressed into childishness. They had turned back the clock, seduced by Satan, and a little group of Judaizers came along, telling them that they had to earn their salvation by being circumcised and abiding by the Old Testament law.

Paul writes these blunt words:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God–or rather are known by God–how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (Galatians 4:8-11)

In James Barrie’s book, Peter Pan, he describes a place called “Never-Never Land, where children never grow up. To get there you must take the second star to the right and go straight on til morning.”

Have you ever longed to be a child again? Have you ever yearned to be free from work, mortgage payments, bills and taxes? Remember the carefree days? Remember when, from morning to night, your job was to play? If you could be a child again for one week, what age would you pick? Why would you pick that age?

I’ve been thinking about that this week. I remember the carefree days before I went to school. There I was, little Johnnie Huffman, free as a bird, no responsibilities, playing in my sandbox, enjoying my little friends, having all my needs met by a loving father and mother. I loved to swing on that swing set.

But would I really want to go back being a four-year-old with no responsibilities? I still remember peeking out through the white picket fence at the older kids as they would go to school. I couldn’t wait to enter kindergarten. I was so excited about graduating from third grade to fourth grade. And I was so humiliated as a sixth-grader, at twelve years old, when for disciplinary reasons I was sent back for one whole day to second grade, having to sit at that desk with those little kids. I was one of the three tallest people in my class, and my lanky frame didn’t remotely fit into that second-grade desk and chair. We’ve got a lot of this stuff romanticized, don’t we? Yes, there are responsibilities in being an adult. But there also are great privileges.

Paul asks us if we really want to go back to pagan practices.

Paul asks us if we really want to adopt a whole new system of legalism.

Paul asks us if we enjoy being “backsliders.”

He wants to know if we really want to be locked into those pagan astrological charts. He wants to know if we really want to exchange the freedom which is ours in Jesus Christ to becoming Jews, as adult males, to be circumcised, as adult men and women to go back to the Old Testament observances. Then all of that which is designed to lead us to Christ has now been replaced by Jesus Christ himself and the freedom that is ours in the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is astonished at our tendency to so quickly write off our inheritance, to turn back the clock, to disavow our adoption as sons and daughters to live as slaves.

He wonders, he expresses the fear that somehow he has wasted his time.

Challenge Three: Let’s Get Very Personal!

At this point, Paul shifts gears. He has given what we have seen as his personal argument in Galatians 3:1-5 in which he asked the Galatians to remember their personal experience with Christ when they were first saved. He has argued his scriptural argument in Galatians 3:6-14 in which he has given the case study of Abraham and quoted six Old Testament passages to prove his point. He has given his logical argument inGalatians 3:15-29, reasoning with his readers as to what a covenant is and how it works. You have just seen his historical argument in Galatians 4:1-11, explaining the place of the law in the history of Israel, preparing the way for the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, at this point, Paul can’t help but gush forth with a highly sentimental argument in Galatians 4:12-18, appealing to the Galatians to simply remember how much he loved them, the happy relationship they had when he came preaching the Good News of salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ.

He is done with “spanking them” and now he wants to “embrace them,” reminding them of better days. He’s making an appeal to their hearts. He reminds them of how it used to be. He writes, “I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Jesus Christ himself” (Galatians 4:12-14).

He is reminding him of the fact that he, a blue-ribbon Jewish Pharisee, had become a Gentile for their sakes. He had cut himself off from the traditions that had been so important to him. Now he is appealing to them that they should not try to become Jews, that they should put their trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

He reminds them of his own personal physical struggles, apparently making reference to his “thorn in the flesh.” He was very ill when they first met him. We don’t know what the thorn in the flesh was. Some Roman Catholic scholars would declare it to be some kind of a besetting sexual temptation. Some would say that he had contracted malaria on his first missionary journey, something that plagued him throughout the rest of his life but was particularly acute while he was there in Galatia. Some would think that he had epileptic seizures or severe migraine headaches. This particular text would imply that perhaps it was an ophthalmological problem, perhaps some result of the blinding light which he saw on the road to Damascus. Their love had been so great for him that they would have torn out their own eyes and given them to him. That may be the definitive clue as to what his thorn in the flesh was. But the point he is making here is that they, together, enthusiastically, drawn to the foot of the cross, equals in Jesus Christ, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, are one in Jesus Christ. Remember! Remember! He appeals with all resources at his command to encourage them not to forget the wonderful experience they held in common.

Then he wants to know what’s happened to their joy. He writes, “What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (Galatians 4:15). You see the mutual enthusiasm they once had? He’s not going to let them forget this. Perhaps this is the most dramatic of his arguments.

I am convinced that if a person once knows Jesus Christ, having repented of sin and put their trust in Him alone for salvation, they will have experienced a joy that goes beyond any contrived human happiness. In fact, I am convinced, both from what the Bible says and what I have observed in over 40 years of pastoring, that a person will never again be happy until they come back to the Lord in a restored relationship with Him. The most unhappy people I know are people who have exchanged their simple trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation for some kind of complicated system of religious activity and self-righteousness.

It robs the joy.

You see it all the time in married couples. They started out in love. They didn’t try to earn each other’s favor. They genuinely loved each other. The joy came from being loved and returning that love, living in relationship, celebrating what they had in common and rejoicing in how the other brought the relationship something that met some part of an unmet need in one’s self. Now, years later, they’re technically together as husband and wife, they fulfill all the obligations. After all, they promised to do so. But where’s the joy? The joy comes in the relationship.

Now Paul expresses concern that perhaps they have become enemies because of his honest confrontation with the truth.

He writes, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Galatians 4:16).

Thank God for friends who will be honest. Thank God for friends who care enough for you to confront you with reality. God has a way of speaking through people who are honest.

Paul also addressed the fact that there are those who are determined to alienate you and me from God.

He writes, “Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them” (Galatians 4:17).

Let’s face it. You and I are engaged in a spiritual struggle. Satan is not going to let go of you easily. He will do everything he can to reclaim you. Just remember the power that is in you is greater than the power of the evil one.

Then Paul underlines the fact that it is good to be zealous, provided it is for the right purpose.

He writes, “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you” (Galatians 4:18).

Zeal is wonderful, as long as it is directed by the Holy Spirit in the right direction.

Finally, Paul says he wants to be reassured so he can change his tone of writing.

He puts it in these words: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!” (Galatians 4:19-20).

Paul writes with a paternal love to his sons and daughters in the faith. He feels like he is once again in the pains of childbirth, trying to bring them back into this born-again experience with Jesus Christ. He doesn’t like to use all these arguments. He doesn’t want to have to call them “foolish” and “bewitched.” He wants to just be part of the family of God with them.

And everything Paul has said to these brothers and sisters in Galatia he says to the brothers and sisters in Newport Beach. He is not throwing these words off into the first century with no relevance to the twenty-first century. He knows how easy it is for us to revert to jumping through religious hoops, priding ourselves in what we do and don’t do, the organizations to which we belong, the accomplishments of the past, filling up those old hefty bags– one with sin and one with righteousness, weighing them off against each other instead of dumping the load at the foot of the cross.

Let me conclude with a homey story.

There was a little boy visiting his grandparents on their farm. He was given a slingshot to play out in the woods. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit the target. Getting a little discouraged, he headed back for dinner. As he was walking back, he saw Grandma’s pet duck. Just out of impulse, he let the slingshot fly, hit the duck square in the head and killed it. He was shocked. He was grieved.

In panic, he hid the dead duck in the woodpile, only to see his sister watching. Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.

After lunch the next day, Grandma said, “Sally, let’s wash the dishes.” But Sally said, “Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen.” Then she whispered to him, “Remember the duck?” So Johnny did the dishes.

Later that day, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing, and Grandma said, “I’m sorry, but I need Sally to help make supper.” Sally just smiled and said, “Well, that’s all right because Johnny told me he wanted to help.” She whispered again, “Remember the duck?” So Sally went fishing and Johnny stayed to help.

After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally’s, he finally couldn’t stand it any longer. He came to Grandma and confessed that he had killed the duck. Grandma knelt down, gave him a big hug and said, “Sweetheart, I know. You see, I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. I was just wondering how long you would let Sally make a slave of you.”

What is it in your past that you have done or left undone that the devil keeps throwing up in your face? Is it a lie you have told? Is it fear that immobilizes you? Is it a hatred you have toward someone? Is it an unforgiving spirit? Is it a sexual sin that you are trying to keep covered? Is it something you have stolen?

Whatever it is, you need to know that God was standing in the shadows, and He saw it. He has seen everything.

In a way, that’s pretty scary, isn’t it? But it need not be!

You see, He is your Father. He wants you to grow up and no longer live in fear. He wants you to know that He loves you and that you are forgiven. He is just wondering how long you will let Satan make a slave of you. The great thing about God is, when you ask for His forgiveness, He not only forgives you but He forgets. It is by His grace and mercy that we are saved. He wants to restore the joy of your salvation, the vitality of a life lived in daily relationship with Him.

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