Galatians 4:27-29 Let us not judge by what is visible, but by that which is hidden

Galatians 4:27-29 Let us not judge by what is visible, but by that which is hidden

27 For it is written,
“Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear;
Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor;
For more numerous are the children of the desolate
Than of the one who has
a husband.”
28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.

Background

The Galatian Christians were persecuted by the more established Jerusalem church because the cross is offensive to the Jews. And the Galatians were tempted to commit to the Mosaic law to relieve themselves of the persecutions. The infant church of Galatia saw themselves as inferior as they appeared barren and weak as compared to the “mother” church of Jerusalem. Paul encourages them to persevere in doing what is right and in due time their true glory will be apparent to all. Today’s devotion teaches us not to judge by what is visible, but by that which is hidden in the inner man.

Observation

Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor

“For it is written” introduces a biblical quotation lifted from Isaiah 54:1. Sarah’s barrenness allows Paul to connect Sarah to the “barren one” in Isaiah 54:1. “Barren one” refers to Jerusalem who is in a continual state of mourning, being oppressed by other nations. By God’s grace, Israel will produce descendants that are not only numerous but glorious (For more numerous are the children of the desolate). And in the light of God’s promise, Jerusalem will break forth into song and shout for joy. At the onset, the children of the bondwoman may appear prosperous and children of the free woman, barren. But eventually, the children of the bondwoman will be destroyed (see Isaiah 54:14-17), while the children of the free woman will prosper and be exalted. And so great and numerous are the children of the free woman, they will…

“… spread abroad to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities.” Isaiah 54:3

Paul makes it explicit to the Galatians: And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. The Galatians may appear barren and weak as compared to the Jewish establishment in Jerusalem. But in due time, the Galatians will surpass them in wisdom, stature and in influence.

But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.

Paul sees the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac being perpetuated even to his day. One born “according to the flesh”, represented by Ishmael refers to those who seek earthly grandeur, and the approval of men. Those born “according to the Spirit”, represented by Isaac refers to those who seek the heavenly glory, the approval of God. The scripture, without going into detail records Ishmael mocking (see Genesis 21:9). One can only assume Isaac did suffer some kind of persecution from the older Ishmael who supposed being the firstborn makes him heir to the Abrahamic promise. But, what kind of persecution did Isaac experience that Paul inferred the Galatians also suffered? It is clear that Isaac’s life was at that time not in any real danger, and neither was the case of the Galatians. For the Judaizers were not exactly endangering the Galatians but were instead courting them.

That said, there is a kind of persecution that is equally deadly, an assault not on one’s physical body, but on one’s spirit. The sting of the Judaizers’ scheme severs one from Christ causing him to fall from grace. The Judaizers’ scheme works insidiously through the lure of salvation obtained without the rigours of repentance and sanctification. As Ishmael attempted to rob Isaac’s inheritance, the Judaizers were doing the same by offering the Galatians a supposedly easy and grandiose route to salvation bypassing the persecutions due to the cross.

Truth

Let us not judge by what is visible, but by that which is hidden

True and enduring glory is invisible to the eye, for it is hidden in the inner man. The inner man can only be nurtured over time by overcoming the temptations and tribulations of life. While the outer man eventually waste away, the glory of the inner man endures forever. That is why believers must not lose heart, but to persevere in nurturing their inner man. The apostle Paul encourages believers not to seek reprieve from the momentary afflictions of life, but to do what is right,

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

The world thrives on the fleeting appearances of wealth and power. And those who are perceived as weak and barren will be despised and rejected. It is no wonder that even Christians strive to put on an appearance of wealth and strength so that they may not be persecuted. Such are like clouds that hold no rain, and a warm body emptied of its soul. They spend most of their time labouring for earthly things, leaving the children to their own devices. Church leaders puffed up with ambition, and while seeking to increase the size of their membership, they tout the message of cheap grace. Such may look attractive and vibrant on the outside, but are hollowed out on the inside. Many of their members are unable to transcend the cares of life, or break away from the vices of their former selves. They equate ministry excitement with spiritual vibrancy and growth. True spirituality is about growing in divine wisdom, love and authority. It is about staying the course of the kingdom, and being steadfast in the midst of challenges. Regrettably, many became discontented with their lot, and while looking for a change they passed up on their calling. The Judaizers abused their heritage as descendants of Abraham which afforded them some credibility before the Gentiles. The Gentiles in turn, were enticed by the prospects of an easier route to salvation and the grandeur of being associated with the “mother” church of Jerusalem. In the heat of great expectations, the Galatians almost fall prey to the Judaizers’ scheme.

That said, it is important to understand that one according to the Spirit will appear weak and barren at the onset. Any attempt to mask the appearance of barrenness will only hold back the process of sanctification. But as one keeps sanctifying himself, his glory will emerge and he will become greater than one according to the flesh. While one according to the flesh puts on an appearance to mask the poverty of his inner man, one according to the Spirit focuses on sanctification so that what is true and glorious will eventually be apparent to all.

True strength is a matter of character and spirit as written in Isaiah’s prophecy concerning God’s Servant, Jesus… that even when He was on the cross, disfigured beyond recognition, He is pregnant with the glory of God (see Isaiah 52:13-14). A healthy and glorious church comprises a community that bears the Spirit’s fruits and gifts. There, words are spoken not to destroy, but to edify the hearer, and to bring out the best in another. It is also a place where people serve out of goodwill without asking for recognition. There are also abundance of miracles and angelic activities. Such a church may not have the greatest worship team, or stage presence, and the people may not be well packaged, but they are faithful to Christ and to one another. And members do not compete with one another, but instead, they complement.

The glory of God hidden in weak and barren vessels, will find its ultimate expression in the resurrection. Therefore, let us not judge by the appearance, but by that which is hidden. In so doing, we continue to nurture our inner man in righteousness. It will take years and perhaps decades to see the emerging glory which is our eternal reward. The palmist wrote concerning the emerging glory of the righteous,

Praise the Lord!
How blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
Who greatly delights in His commandments.
His descendants will be mighty on earth;
The generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in his house,
And his righteousness endures forever.
Light arises in the darkness for the upright;
He is gracious and compassionate and righteous.
It is well with the man who is gracious and lends;
He will maintain his cause in judgment.
For he will never be shaken;
The righteous will be remembered forever. Psalms 112:1-6

Application

Are you constantly bothered by what others think of you? Those who despise you are likened to the children of Hagar the bondwoman who persecuted the children of the free woman. Do not be perturbed by them, but rather continue to do what is right… for that is pleasing and honourable to God. And God will exalt you in due time above those who persecute you.

Dear Lord, I glory in my inner man and pay no regard to those who glory in their false appearance of power and wealth. Sanctify my inner man and cause me to do what is right even though that may bring me inconveniences. In due time, lift me up and exalt me so that I may glorify your name. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.


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