Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.
Interpretation & Explanation
Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
He reminds them that in their past they did service unto the gods of their religion. This was not just service, but rather it was slavery. They performed many rituals to please the gods and sacrificed many things to please them. These naturally are not gods (Isaiah 44:9-20). These gods are only gods in their imagination, yet they were slaves to them. God is the only true God of nature.
Now, they know God — the true God. Rather are known of God. Truly, no one knows God except He know him first. We love Him, because He first loved us. This also gives the sense of having God’s “approval.”
Paul expresses incredulity and utter amazement that they would turn back to weak and beggarly elements. These are fleshly elements, elements of the world — vs. 3. They are sensual elements; not necessarily lustful, but fleshly. They are things we can see, feel, and do. They are outward things. True Christianity is spiritual, not sensual. He tells them this indicates a desire to start from the beginning to please God through the bondage of these “elements.”
Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.
Paul gives examples of their return to bondage. Earlier he spoke of circumcision. Now he refers to them observing Jewish days, festivals, etc. He expresses great concern for them. He has a very strong fear that displays the love of the apostle. Stern warnings normally come from those that love you. He is not afraid that he had wasted his time, but that they had turned their backs on the gospel. This is not a selfish statement, rather it shows the seriousness of the situation.
Christ is the fulfillment of all the law. He is the end of the law. All that the law demanded He supplied. When we seek to please God through keeping the (or any) law, we make the work of Christ of none effect. We act as if Christ has not done His work. We assume that the law must still be met.
In Galatians, there is the continual contrast of process — before salvation we work to please some god; after salvation we are pleasing to God because we live by faith. If you’re working to please God after salvation, you’re not living according to the gospel — you’ve returned to the same methods that you lived in before you were saved.
We live in a rule-governed society. But we are not happy if we only live by the rules. We don’t please God (or anyone else) if we only live by the rules. We must live by faith and submit to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Living this way takes the worry out of life! Don’t go back to rule living for happiness.