After making reference to the familiar process of acquiring a slave (“to redeem those who were under the law” 4:5a), Paul continues with the language of slavery as he draws upon the custom of the adoption of slaves as sons, which would serve to demonstrate the great magnanimity of the master that performs such an adoption. To do this he adds “so that we may be adopted as son sons with full rights… So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God” (Galatians 4:5b,7).
To this Paul appends “Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods at all” (4:8). Now to be sure, there may be some in this congregation that are not going to like what they are hearing, as it is heavily disruptive of the social order and certainly takes no heed to the all-important sense of honor before the community that is diligently pursued and jealously guarded. Paul would naturally understand this, but like Jesus, it is simply not a cause for concern on his part, as it has no place in the pursuit of the establishment and expansion of the kingdom of the covenant God.
Paul has discarded all honorific attachments, considering it unimportant in relation to what is necessary to embody the kingdom. He’s more than content to take the lowest place, as He understands His Lord to have done and also directed His followers to do. So even though Paul understands what makes for true honor, he’s not deluded about the way that this line of thinking is going to be received. However, he understands it to be vital and necessary if the followers of Jesus are going to model out the kingdom of their God through their meal table, in the way that it was demonstrated by the one they call Lord. Reinforcing the possibility that Paul is making waves and quite possibly creating animosity through what he insists that believers do, he writes “So then, have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (4:16)
Considering the language of slavery, and if one wants to hear Paul correctly from within the world in which he lived and the congregation to which he spoke, it must be understood that when Paul goes into his later analogy, comparing Sinai and the law with Hagar (and Ishmael) and slavery, whereas belief in Christ is set forth as the means for the expression of inclusion under the covenant in comparison to Isaac (and Sarah), one does not have to hear this as condemnation or an assertion of superiority.
Clearly, Paul does not want those who he insists do not need to adhere to the outward marks of the covenant that are associated with the law to somehow feel superior to those that bear and uphold those covenant markers, while also confessing their belief in Jesus as Lord. This would be antithetical to his purposes. Rather, one is probably better served by holding on to the social dynamic that is at work, seeing Paul’s continual leveling out of the community, with all (be they the wealthy master of a slave), whether Jewish by birth and therefore a part of the Creator God’s originally elected people, or a Judaizing Gentile that has come to believe that they must uphold the covenant markers that were then in place, being slaves at one level or another. For that reason, they should then be quite incapable of vaunting themselves over those that were actually slaves.