Summary: Sometimes it isn't easy to explain the Christmas story, or the reason why Jesus was born into this world. For a good number of people in Galatia, they didn't understand so Paul was led to explain it to them.
Introduction: many of us are familiar with the stories of Jesus’ birth, as recorded in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels. Paul seemed to know the story, too, but he never seemed to say much about it in his messages or his letters. He did explain the story to the Galatian believers, though, and this passage gives us a glimpse into what he thought about the Christmas story.
Text, Galatians 4:1-5, KJV: 1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; 2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: 4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
1 The fullness of time
For the bulk of this message, I am indebted to several Bible teachers and preachers, and a set of notes prepared years ago by my now-deceased father. The Galatians may not have known exactly what Paul meant when he mentioned “the fullness of time” but we can look back and see. For one thing, the Roman rule of most of the Near- and Middle East meant peace—an enforced peace, perhaps, but still there was peace. The New Testament does not mention any wars during these early days of the Church Age and it is very possible that God used the Romans to prepare and maintain peace. Travel was not without risk but we do not read that Paul was ever robbed, held up, or anything like that.
Besides the peace, the Romans had built many miles of “Roman roads” that were no doubt the marvel of many engineers. How many of these roads Paul and his friends used, even at this relatively early stage of the Church’s history, is not known but he had the opportunity. Why risk going off on your own, when reliable roads were in place already?
And even better, the Romans had built a well-planned infrastructure. They had built not only the roads, but other buildings, even aqueducts, carrying water from one location to another. The theaters, forums, and other things—some of these last to this day.
Besides this, the Greeks had contributed to the “fullness of time” by providing the world a common language. Even a few Romans could speak Greek (example, Claudius Lysias when Paul spoke to him in Acts 21:37) and the New Testament writers produced their works in Greek too. Without going into too much detail, Greek is a descriptive, but difficult, language to master; even so, there is a vividness in the construction of Greek sentences lost in most translations.
But that wasn’t all the Greeks had contributed. They had a number of philosophies, ranging from pleasure is everything (Epicureans) to life is to be free of pleasure (Stoics); Paul would dialogue with both groups in Athens and try to share the Gospel (Acts 17). How many, if any, of these men believed the Gospel and followed Jesus is not known but Paul did all he could while he was staying in Athens.
The Greeks and Romans had control of most of the known world, politically and culturally, but there was still another group of people who had the most to contribute.
These were the Jews.
They had a unique position, keeping their identity basically intact for over 1000 years—ever since the days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the entry into Canaan. Numbers of Jews had settled, voluntarily or otherwise, in various parts of the known world. The list of places where they Jews lived, when they were in Jerusalem in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, are arrayed like almost every point of the compass: Elam (Persia), for example, far to the northeast and Rome, about as far west as anyone had ever gone in those days. But no matter where they lived, they kept their identity intact so that everybody knew they were Jews.
The Jews also had a very significant contribution, namely, the worship of only One God. This “monotheism”, as it’s called, stood in a real contrast to the worship of multiple “deities” as practiced by, at least, the Greeks and Romans. The Sabbath worship in dedicated synagogues, as opposed to pagan temples, is yet another contrast between the Jews’ religious beliefs and those of the pagans around them.
And one of the greatest things the Jews were able to contribute was the belief in a coming Messiah, Who would establish God’s Kingdom on this earth. Besides Daniel 2 and 7, and numerous prophecies in Isaiah alone (9:6, chapter 11, and more), the Jews knew that one day the Kingdom would come and the prophecies left unfulfilled would be fulfilled completely.