Friday, 19 September 2014
Galatians 4:21-31: Barren
Barrenness is painful, no matter what form it takes.
I know a man who felt called by God to leave his career and go into ministry. At great sacrifice, he and his wife moved across the country for training at their own expense, then moved a second time back to their home state to begin the adventure of “planting” a church.
Planting is descriptive of the hard work it takes to establish a body of believers in a new location. You have to till the soil of your community, gather the seed of local Christians who want to join you, pray and sow the good news through works and words, water it with tears and prayers. There’s paperwork, pastor work, prayer work, evangelistic work, not to mention earning a living and taking care of your own family.
This man did that labor, in faith, against many obstacles. Then finally the opposition gained the upper hand. His wife’s health failed, his tiny church dwindled due to hard times both outside and within. The plant that had begun to take root died. The church closed.
Oh, the agony of barrenness. But the gospel gives hope to the barren.
Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
Break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.
This section of Galatians brings hope for all of us who’ve experienced a lack of fruit from our labors. It instructs us, too.
Paul’s closing argument. Paul has been arguing with the Galatians about the gospel. He doesn’t want them to turn from the purity of trusting Christ alone, to some mixture of law and faith. His reasoning has turned to pleading in the last section. Now he finishes with a flourish that ends on a note of triumph.
We turn back to Abraham one more time, or rather to Abraham’s wives.
This week’s questions.
1. What does it mean to be “under the law” (4:21, see also 3:23, 25)? What does the law say to those who look to it as judge and savior? See Galatians 3:10-12.
2. Trusting in the law means trusting in myself, my efforts. Faith means trusting God, his work. How does the story of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah illustrate the contrast between law and faith? See Genesis 16:1-4; 18:10-14; 21:1-10.
3. What is the difference in the fruit of law and the fruit of faith? Galatians 4:23. How is this vividly portrayed in the two sons and their descendents?
4. Paul takes a jump into allegory or symbolism in 4:24-26. How would this have sounded to the Galatians and their hyper-Jewish teachers? Who ends up in slavery? Which city now a symbol of barrenness? How was this offensive to Paul’s audience? How was it instructive?
5. Isaac’s miraculous birth points to a birth even more miraculous. How did the birth of Jesus point to an end of barrenness and the power of God? See Luke 1:7, 24-25, 36-37, 45.
6. How did the final days and hours of Jesus’ life look like barrenness? What did his death for us actually produce? See Isaiah 53:10 and Revelation 7:9-10.
7. In what area of your life are you tempted to make a work of God happen by your own efforts? Your marriage? Your children? Your witness? Seek God today for faith in his promises. He will show you how to work from faith.
8. Are you sad or hopeless today because of barrenness? Memorize and meditate on Galatians 4:27 (Isaiah 54:1). It is true! Pray it back to your Father and bank on the truth of it.
I hope his word restores your joy this week.