1. Paul is talking here about the role of the Law as pedagogue. In Greek culture, the pedagogue was in charge of the child’s moral welfare. His duty was to help the child acquire the qualities essential to manhood. He took the child to and from school but he was not the teacher. He was in charge of the child’s safety until he grew up. He was a hedge from harm – both to the child and to keep the child from harming himself or others.
But, what if the child could not turn loose of the pedagogue or if the pedagogue tried to keep the child or even become the teacher? That would be unnatural and strange. There was a certain period of time and a certain role the pedagogue had in the life of the child.
But, that is exactly what the Judaizers in the churches were doing. They were insisting that the new converts were to continue to keep the Law and the observances of the Law. Again, it is important to understand that the Law was not just a set of rules for the Jew. It was their identity as a people and giving up the Law meant giving up their identity. Just as Martin Luther probably never meant for the Reformation of the Catholic Church to go outside the Catholic Church or to create a separate Protestant church, the Jewish converts could not understand Paul’s insistence on giving up the Law and their identity as Jews. Had Paul not been there, the early church would have become a Jewish reformation instead of a universal church. It would have meant the capture of the early church by Jewish tradition and limited the promise to Jews only.
They were pedagogues who could not turn loose of the child. They knew they were being left behind. They represented something that had been good and necessary in the life of the child but that time was over and they were now a threat to the future of the child. Paul was having to pry them loose. He didn’t hate the Law. He saw the limits of its role…and the pedagogues hated him for it. Tyrants almost always mean well in the beginning.
2. Of course, you can understand their reaction when Paul goes on to say what he does about them. While he says there was a time for them that time is over and they are obsolete. Worse than that. They are now dangerous. While there was a time for being subject to guardians and trustees that time is over. The children are now ready to be adults and sons. They have outgrown their pedagogues. It is time to move on. Oswald Chambers wrote: “The greatest spiritual crisis comes when a person has to move a little farther on in his faith than the belief he has already accepted.”
Galatians 4:8-11: “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.”
Weak principles share something in common – whether they are religious or not. Weak principles require minute rules and strong chains to deal with unprincipled behavior and habits. People without principles are like children without pedagogues. They might have the finest educations but they have no moral guidelines and nothing to guide the use of their knowledge. They have weak principles and only operate when they are restricted by rules and regulations. They cannot regulate themselves.
What happened in the financial markets a few years ago? Extremely well educated and intelligent quants operating without principles and, worse, without rules. They could not self-regulate. They had no moral compass or sense of consequences to other people. They gave in to what we call “moral hazard” or lack of incentive to guard against risk where one is protected from its consequences.
What happens when sports figures – like Lance Armstrong – not only have weak principles but have no regard for the rules?
What happens when the only principle is taking care of yourself and finding ways to do that at the expense of others is actually applauded?
Why do we need so many rules? Because we do not have principles or we have weak principles.
John Adams said it well. “The constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The Greek philosopher Demorax said much the same. “Probably all laws are useless; for good men do not want laws at all, and bad men are not made better by them.”
The proliferation of rules is always a sign of the failure to teach principles. Great companies have a few strong principles – like Nordstrom’s principle that says “take care of the customer” and organizations with many rules have few principles that matter. Strong principles allow for freedom and flexibility.
For Christians there are few rules but strong principles. Look at Colossians 3:12-13: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And then we have the organizing principle of our life: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Love your neighbor is not a rule but a principle…and that is why people who need rules about what it means to love their neighbor are so confused by it. You remember parable of the Good Samaritan as a response to the question? It was not a list of rules about neighbors. It was the legal expert realizing that mercy was the principle. Show mercy. Show kindness.
God’s desire is for a few strong principles and not many rules. God wants free adults, not simply good children. Children and slaves need rules. I’ve met an increasing number of young men who want rules instead of principles. They are far more comfortable with Leviticus than Proverbs. They want a formulae instead of acquiring wisdom and a detailed map for their future instead of a compass. If you look at the causes of Obsessive Compulsive behavior you will find rituals and activities that are adopted to relieve anxiety and for many people that is what religion becomes. They would rather be sure than be loved. It is a way of making the world safe and predictable. “Weak and miserable principles” do not turn you into a rebel shaking your fist at God but someone who prefers the routine and rituals of religion. It is a way to relieve anxiety but not a way to live in freedom. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (5:1)
It’s not just the Galatians, is it? I find myself falling into the same longing for certainty and structure and simple answers to all my questions. I want the relief from anxiety and the striving to meet the demands of a voice that says, “You are not good enough. You will never be good enough. Work harder. Obey more rules.” This week I was talking to an artist friend and he told me about what he called “The inner-critic”. It is the voice that is constantly goading you to compare yourself to others and to criticize yourself for not being successful and even while envying their success tearing them down. It is the voice that says you are finished or you are plateaued and your best years are behind you. It is the voice that says the world is passing you by and whatever you have done will be forgotten. It is the voice that says you will never get through this or you are not worthy or this is too hard. It is the voice of the inner critic for whom nothing is ever enough.
We’ve talked before about the three domains of Lord Moulton. On the one end of the spectrum is Positive Law, where certain actions are required of us by law and where obedience is enforced. At the other end is the domain of Free Choice where spontaneity and creativity thrive. Between those domains is the third – Obedience to the Unenforceable. “The obedience is the obedience of a person to that which they cannot be forced to obey. They are the enforcers of the law upon themselves.” Without this domain in a society, we end up with the abuse of freedom and no sense of our obligation to others or what Moulton calls the “lust for governing where everything is regulated. “The true test of a nation is the extent to which individuals composing the nation can be trusted to obey the self-imposed law.”
But, without principles you have the slavery of rules and the atrophy of creative life. “What has happened to all your joy?” “Why are you wanting to return to the slavery of the “inner-critic” instead of the freedom of a loving Father?” Paul asks in verse 15.
3. Paul is in agony over his life’s work being wasted and his anger is toward those who are keeping the Galatians from freedom and growing up. Those who seek to enslave them again are zealous but for all the wrong things. Justice Louis Brandeis said, “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”
The work of implanting core values in people is not just the work of education, is it? It is not just the work of teachers but the work of all the pedagogues in the life of a child. All the education, the Bible knowledge, the slavish obedience to rules will not substitute for principles. We can never do enough for people who, like the children of Israel in the wilderness, long for the security of slavery and the certainty of Egypt – the simplicities and easy answers of childhood. The Catholic author Flannery O’Connor put it this way. “Life is ambiguous. There are loose ends. It takes maturity to live with the ambiguity and the chaos, the absurdity and the untidiness. If we refuse to live with it, we exclude something, and what we exclude may very well be the essential and dear – the hazards of faith, the mysteries of God.” For people who are uncomfortable with loose ends and ambiguity there is always the return to the slavery of rules and total regulation.
The former catcher of the Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Bench, put it this way, “Growing old is inevitable. Growing up is optional.” Growing up is harder.
We resist the freedom and maturity God offers because it is complicated and difficult. We prefer the structure of a well-defined religion to the uncertainty of a relationship with a Father committed to our becoming adults. Isn’t that the role of a father? To protect the child from harm and prepare the child for the responsibility of freedom. Too often we burden children with finding “God’s perfect will” instead of giving them a compass and a few strong principles for them to use.
- “Have you gone back to what you were after experiencing the joy of real life? How could you choose that? How tragic!”
Some of you will remember the movie “Charly” based on the book “Flowers for Algernon”. Charlie Gordon has an IQ of 68 and through the use of an experimental drug becomes a genius whose life is filled with complications – far more complications than the life he had before. However, the drug’s effects are not permanent and he regresses back to his former self but with a tragic consequence – he can remember what he was for a brief period of time. So, he goes to an institute for mentally handicapped to live with people who will not remind him of what he was for a brief moment in time.
That is what the Galatians are doing with their freedom. The complications of the life of freedom are too much for them. They cannot live in the domain of few rules. But, Paul is saying to them “Don’t choose to go back to what you were because you cannot handle freedom and ambiguity and complications.”
George Bernard Shaw said, “Liberty means responsibility and that is why most people dread it.”
And, of course, the world of childhood and the world of pedagogues and rules is always attractive and relieves the anxiety of freedom. But, our Father’s purpose is for us to be heirs – not slaves. You might know that our word “inheritance” does not just mean wealth you receive. It also means an “assignment” or a “task”. It means being an heir is a responsibility and not just a privilege. In Genesis 12 God tells Abraham that “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” and in Genesis 22 God says, “I will surely bless you..and through your offspring all nations of the earth will be blessed…”
We have been given an inheritance but what is the purpose of the blessing? It is to be a blessing and point people toward God. That is the purpose of maturity. It is not just about our becoming mature sons and daughters but our fulfilling God’s ultimate purpose in our individual lives and the work of the church. It is to be a blessing to the world.
“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Be merciful. Be kind. Be self-controlled. Be faithful. That is what it means to be mature – and not a child any longer. That is what it means to be free.