Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Galatians 4:12-20

V12-20 – 12I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. 13As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus Himself. 15What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. 19My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

In v12, Paul wants his audience to see that he was freed from the legalism of being a Pharisee; he was freed from the weight of the law so that he could evangelize Gentiles. Now he wants them to be free from legalism as well. He has reminded them of their personal relationship with God, and now he reminds them of their good relationship with one another; Paul wants that to continue (v13-16). It is proper for a minister to appeal to his audience’s loyalty to himself as a secondary argument for faithfulness (the primary argument being loyalty to God, whom they know and by whom they are known). He is angry and upset, as seen in the previous passage, but it’s only because he loves them so much, as seen from this passage.

His reference in v13 to illness and then in v15 to eyes may help us understand his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Scholars suggest that Paul struggled – as noted also from his mention at the end of Galatians of writing with large letters – with his eyesight, with recurring bouts of malaria, or with epilepsy. Regardless, his malady allowed him to stay with the Galatians and minister to them for a longer period of time. They could have made Paul’s malady a stumbling block for coming to faith in Christ, but they helped Paul through it, as if he “were an angel of God” (Malachi 2:7), even “Christ Jesus Himself” (Luke 10:16), and revealed their genuineness. Thus Paul appeals to their loyalty to him, wondering how they could abandon him, even declare him their enemy, by rejecting his gospel in favor of the Judaizers’ false-gospel.

Paul refers in v17 to “those people,” speaking of the Judaizers and notes their zeal (Romans 10:2). The motive for their zeal, which was “for no good,” may have been to gain reputation among non-Christian Jews or to avoid the persecution coming at them from non-Christian Jews (Galatians 6:12), who saw Christian inclusiveness as a threat to their cause. They were zealous to win the Galatians in order that the Galatians would be zealous for them, and their method began by trying to turn the Galatians from a love and respect for their primary pastor (Paul). Calvin says, “This stratagem is frequently resorted to by all the ministers of Satan. By producing in the people a dislike of their pastor, they hope afterwards to draw them to themselves; and, having disposed of the rival, to obtain quiet possession. A careful and judicious examination of their conduct will discover that in this way they always begin.” But Paul’s zeal for the Galatians was to win them for God, such that they would be zealous for God and the freedom in Christ that Paul preached and that they had experienced (2 Corinthians 11:2-3).

In v19, Paul speaks to his “dear children,” the same audience he previously called “foolish Galatians.” His emotions of harsh anger and deep love reveal the seriousness of the matter the Galatians faced. Regarding Paul’s birth pains, Calvin notes John 16:21 and says, “The Galatians had already been conceived and brought forth; but, after their revolt, they must now be begotten a second time.” One commentator says, “
Paul experiences ‘over gain’ the pangs of labor – the sharp pains including those of perplexity (v20b), apprehension (v11), indignation (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:29), and all the painful efforts required to reclaim the Galatians for the truth… The verb used (morphousthai) refers to the process whereby the fetus develops into an infant; Paul’s desire is to see Christ thus ‘formed’ in his converts.”

Vincent Cheung concludes his comments on this passage, “Therefore, his personal appeal to them is, ‘I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.’ Paul lived like a Gentile when he was among them (Galatians 2:14). Consistent with his message, he did not insist on following Jewish customs and regulations for himself, nor did he impose these upon the converts. Now he pleads with the Galatians, ‘become like me,’ as one who affirms and practices a gospel of justification by faith in Christ apart from circumcision, the works of the law, or Jewish customs and regulations.”

Finally, Calvin comments, “This is a remarkable passage for illustrating the efficacy of the Christian ministry. True, we are ‘born of God’ (1 John 3:9); but, because He employs a minister and preaching as His instruments for that purpose, He is pleased to ascribe to them that work which Himself performs, through the power of His Spirit, in co-operation with the labors of man. Let us always attend to this distinction, that, when a minister is contrasted with God, he is nothing, and can do nothing, and is utterly useless; but, because the Holy Spirit works efficaciously by means of him, he comes to be regarded and praised as an agent. Still, it is not what he can do in himself, or apart from God, but what God does by him, that is there described. If ministers wish to do anything, let them labor to form Christ, not to form themselves, in their hearers. The writer is now so oppressed with grief, that he almost faints from exhaustion without completing his sentence.”

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