“You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain” (Galatians 4:10-11).
Many cultures and societies hold ceremonial observances that are marked by days, months, seasons, and years. For instance, some traditional observances commemorate the changing seasons while others honor an individual or event from the past. Most societies differentiate between weekdays (when we customarily work for an employer) and weekends (when we are typically off from such work). And of course, January 1st is widely celebrated to mark the beginning of each new year.
Many traditional observances provide a sense of structure in an ever-changing world. They establish cherished memories, honor the sacrifices of those who preceded us, and provide a respite from the daily challenges of life. The problem was that the false teachers of Galatia were pressing the Galatian Christians to engage in certain observances as a way to find favor with God. Unfortunately, the Galatians didn’t understand that such observances do not make us right with God nor do they add anything to Christ’s finished work on the cross.
A look at the Jewish religious calendar provides some insight into the “days and months and seasons and years” that Paul the Apostle referenced in this passage. For example, the Law mandated a weekly day of rest known as the Sabbath. Months were marked by the appearance of the new moon. The changing seasons brought several periods of special observance including Passover, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Trumpets (also known as Rosh Hashanah or the Jewish New Year) and The Day Of Atonement. Later additions to this calendar included Purim and Chanukah.
Each seven year period also brought a year of rest for the farmlands of Israel. This seven-year cycle prohibited a landowner from plowing or planting a field for twelve months and then allowed agricultural activity to resume. Finally, the year of Jubilee took place every fiftieth year and marked an occasion where Hebrew slaves were freed and ancestral lands were returned to their original owners.
While Paul occasionally took part in some of these observances following his conversion to Christianity, he voluntarily did so for an important reason: it enabled him to establish a common ground with others for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). But unlike those who were leading the Galatians into such observances, Paul did not do so to gain favor or acceptance with God. That could only be secured through Christ.