“Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father” (Galatians 4:1-2).
Galatians 4:1-2 was written to a group of Christians who were being pressed to observe a set of spiritual rules and regulations. Unfortunately, rules and regulations often do little to establish relationships, and Paul the Apostle will illustrate that point with a look at the family dynamics that exist between a parent and young child.
While the small child of a well-to-do family might be heir to a large inheritance, a financial planner will generally serve as the steward of his or her assets until the child reaches a predetermined age. Until that time, the child is subject to the financial decisions of others even though he or she will eventually come into possession of a large estate.
In a similar manner, the Jewish and Gentile Christians of Galatia were each under different types of subjection before they came to Christ. For instance, the Gentile believers were subjects in a world that is described for us in the New Testament epistle of 1 John…
“Everything that is in the world—the craving for whatever the body feels, the craving for whatever the eyes see and the arrogant pride in one’s possessions—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world and its cravings are passing away, but the person who does the will of God remains forever” (1 John 2:16-17 CEV).
On the other hand, the Jewish Christians of Galatia were subject to the bondage of the Mosaic Law before they accepted Christ. This reality prompted one commentator to ask the following questions and offer a subsequent answer…
“Since God intended all along to put men right with himself through faith in Christ, two questions arise: (1) Why didn’t Christ come immediately when our first parents sinned? (2) Why did God leave mankind for so many ages under the control of the law of nature and the Law of Moses…? Paul answers these questions with the example of a ‘young son.'” (1)
If Israel’s long history under the Mosaic Law teaches anything, it teaches that humanity is incapable of meeting God’s standards. So just as a young man or woman carries the experience gained as a child into adulthood, the experience gained under the Law in this regard would serve to prepare the Jewish people for the appearance of the Messiah.
(1) Ice, Rhoderick D. “Commentary on Galatians 4:4”. “The Bible Study New Testament”. [verse 1] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/galatians-4.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.