Note: Here are some notes from my exposition of Galatians 4:29 in my sermon on Galatians 4:21-31.
And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking (Genesis 21:9).
But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now (Galatians 4:29).
I think Paul adds Galatians 4:29 as an encouragement to those who first received this letter and who were sympathetic to his cause, reminding them that just as Ishmael mocked Isaac, so the spiritual descendants of Isaac can expect to be mocked or persecuted by the spiritual descendants of Ishmael.
It is striking that all through this letter Paul never speaks of the dangers of persecution coming upon the church from the pagan Roman government, but he does describe persecution that comes from those who claim to be brethren.
Terry Johnson, pastor of Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia, in his recent commentary on Galatians (Christian Focus, 2012) notes: “This mocking by Ishmael of Isaac corresponds to the persecution of believers by those ensnared in legalism” (p. 122).
He then adds from his own pastoral observations:
I can only think of one time in twenty years that our congregation has suffered persecution, either fierce or mild, from outside the organized, visible church. But from within? I can hardly think of anything good that hasn’t been resisted, often fiercely. On a personal level, Christian people typically suffer more at the hands of fellow professing Christians than worldlings. Remember Ishmael was a part of the visible church. The longer I am in the ministry, the more I am astonished at how cruel Christian people can be to one another, all under the guise of righteousness as well.
Think of your own wounds and the scars of recent years. Who has inflicted them? Who has criticized your priorities? Who has criticized your choices? Who has discourages and defeated you? Has not most of this come to you from within the visible church?.... Why? Because the besetting sin of zealous Christians is a Pharisaic self-righteousness. We all seem to have our lists of things to which everyone must conform. I don’t mean biblical things like keeping the Ten Commandments, tithing, witnessing, loving one’s neighbor, and so on. Of course we must all do those things. I mean extra-biblical expectations regarding ways of doing things and saying things, and matters of judgment not principle, about taking the left fork and not the right fork. We can become Pharisees about food and drink, about child-rearing and education, about fashion and finances. Take care about what you say, when you say it, and how you say it! Take care lest unwittingly you become a persecutor of the saints (p. 123).
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