- The Explore the Bible lesson for Sept. 23 focuses on Galatians 3:23-39; 4:1-7.
The opportunity to move from being a “slave” to an “heir” is perhaps one of the most unrealistic possibilities and at the same time one of the most sought-after storylines. This relates to stories we have heard, read or seen that show a person moving from poverty to wealth. These stories give us all hope for what is possible beyond our present condition.
Ask your group: What is your favorite “rags to riches” story? Why is that story so meaningful to you? No matter where we all stand in life, there is always something that is beyond us, something that we even long for.
How might this apply to moving from a slave to sin, to becoming an heir of perfection? The writings of the Apostle Paul show how this aligns with moving from being under the Law to living under grace (see Romans 6:14, for example). This message is at the heart of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
An Old Guardian (Galatians 3:23-25)
The imagery of the Old Testament Law as a “strict nanny” is a funny picture. This gives one an image of an elderly, out-of-touch, law-abiding citizen who would love nothing more than to see his or her subordinates in perfect obedience. While such obedience is necessary (as is discipline), being solely Law-focused can remove the relationship focus.
In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus declared he would fulfill the Law instead of remove it, so we are left to find that true balance between knowing the value of the Law and experiencing the salvation of Jesus. Paul’s point is that the Law’s greatest value is revealing our need for a Savior.
How do we balance the usefulness of the Law with the necessity of faith in Jesus? Can the Law and faith work well together? Back to the “nanny” analogy, a nanny still has a purpose even after a child has grown up and experienced the freedom of adulthood. In particular, without the “locking up” there would have been no need for being “let out.”
A New Community (Galatians 3:26-28)
The freedom of new faith especially is realized when enjoying that freedom with a new community that has shared the experience. In particular, this picture of adoption as “sons of God” even more shows a collective experience of moving from an orphan to being God’s child.
Consider stories such as “The Rescuers” or “The Secret Garden,” both of which end with the realization of adoption. Also, consider sharing any personal or related experiences of adoption, looking especially at the shared joy of adoption. How is this reflected by what Paul is saying?
The big punch to the Judaizers in verse 28 is seeing that God only looks at whether or not a person is his child by faith in Jesus. Being a law-abiding Jew holds no more weight than being a formerly pagan Greek. What matters is faith in Christ, and following Christ (which is initially shown by the portrait of baptism). This is what brings new members to the kingdom of God.
A New Position (Galatians 3:29; 4:1-7)
It is easy to simply jump forward to verse 7, but be sure not to miss the building tension of 3:29-4:6. There is a connection to the beginning of Judaism, which started with Abraham’s promise to be a great nation, but this matured in Jesus to include non-Jews. Through Christ, the circle was able to become bigger than a physical bloodline.
How does the maturing of a life, from child to adult, give us a better understanding of going from “slave” to “heir?” As minors are restricted, so are slaves restricted; but as growing and developing brings freedom, so are heirs given freedom (L. Ann Jervis, Galatians, 108-109). Paul’s point to the Galatians is that the time has come to be heirs, not slaves.
Think of one of the markers of adoption: calling one’s new father, “Daddy.” Verse 6 lays this out clearly, showing that an heir, an adopted child, is now able to call God such an endearing title, whereas a slave never would dream to say such a thing. God gives us such an opportunity through faith, so to stay in slavery is saying “no” to calling God “Abba, Father.”
Consider the topic of adoption as a way to conclude today’s lesson. Perhaps there are personal stories within your congregation or families of congregants that will help make this lesson more tangible. Be sure to connect those experiences to Paul’s message here.
Also, consider these questions in response to the stories shared: How did you witness God’s heart for adoption? Why do good stories of adoption warm hearts and even trigger a desire to adopt? How does God do adoption better than we ever could?
Adoption costs. For God the Father to adopt those who were not his, it cost him his only Son, Jesus Christ. The “blood” kin was sacrificed for the potential adoptees. We need to know that the opportunity to become heirs cost God greatly. It was worth it to him. Is it worth it to us?
Heath A. Kirkwood is lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Lorena.