November 2, 2019
Paul’s Concern for the Galatians
8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
12 I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. 13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, 14 and even 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. 15 Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
Takeaway # 1: As I read this section of Galatians 4, I see Paul’s love and concern for these believers expressed in the most strenuous of terms. His words are heartfelt and honest, unaffected by a fear of giving offense. There is no word-smithing going on here, no desire to be politically correct. How is he able to express himself without fear of blowback or a critical pushback on the part of his readers? I believe it’s because Paul is so confident and unyielding in his commitment to the truth of the Gospel, that he puts telling the truth of the Gospel ahead of how others feel about him. In the first chapter of Galatians, Paul hinted a bit at what he was about to deliver to these Galatian Christians when he said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)
Takeaway # 2: Like in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul exhorts the Corinthians to imitate me as I imitate Christ, he writes here to the Galatians, “Become like me.” But he adds something to that: as I became like you. What is he saying? When did he become like them? In 1 Corinthians 9:22, Paul says, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. It’s impossible for me to expect someone to become like me if I’m not also willing to become like them. Sometimes we need to let go of some of our preconceived ideas of how people are to behave or dress or talk if we want to engage in discipling them. By no means is this implying that we lower the bar of what it means to live a God-pleasing life in our speech and conduct. But maybe it’s more like, if I wait for someone to improve morally enough before I’ll reach out to them…when will that ever happen? Never. So in becoming like them, I embark outside the safety of my own little world and am willing to be the listening ear, the helpful voice, the non-judgmental friend who cares when someone is caught up in the ugliness of this culture.
Takeaway # 3: What we’re reading here is an impassioned appeal from a father to his children, children who have made foolish choices, who are not guarding the precious treasure that has been entrusted to them, a treasure he described to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:4. The result is a turning away from the truth of the Gospel which Paul had previously delivered to them, which they embraced with love. It seems from Paul’s words that he came to them with some sort of physical ailment, and his staying in their midst may even have been an inconvenience to them. Yet, he writes, they treated him as if he were an angel sent by God, as if here were Jesus Christ himself. Where, Paul asks, are those sentiments now? Where is that zeal for the Word of truth?
Takeaway # 4: The verse that sticks out to me in this section is v. 19: “ My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” It seems odd that such words about the pains of childbirth would come from a man. But Tim Keller’s commentary on this particular verse was extremely helpful to me. He talks about how (and this is very true) when you have your own children, you essentially lose autonomy of your heart. Your happiness is forever tied to their happiness. When they’re happy, you’re happy. When they’re hurting, you hurt. You’re never fully at rest when you know that all is not well in their lives. I know for certain that this is true in my life.
And in many ways, it is also true in my role as a worker in the church. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 3: “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” If that’s true, is not the opposite also true? In my years at Trinity, it goes without saying that the work of ministry is so enjoyable (almost euphoric!) when the Word of God is being responded to with zeal, with excitement, and with evidence of a changed life. When I see former students of mine who occupied seats at desks in classrooms of years past, and they are active in worship, communing at the Table of the Lord, participating in a small group or committing time and effort in servant events or missional activities, it brings true joy to my heart. Many now have kids of their own who are now students at Trinity. As Paul says, “I live if you are standing fast in the Lord.”
If you’ve been a part of bringing someone into a closer relationship with God, then you know how exhilarating it can be. There’s true joy there. Conversely, when someone you’ve invested time in eventually responds to the Word of Christ with indifference, rejection, or a backsliding of faith, ministry isn’t all that fun, is it? For me, there’s real heartbreak in seeing the names of former students (and adults) whose names populate a list of those “removed” or ‘self-excluded” from church membership. Sometimes it’s guys who used to attend my Bible study, serve on a board, or go with me on a mission trip. Like Paul, I’m perplexed. What happened to them? Who bewitched them? Why are they returning to a slavery from which they were rescued by Jesus?
Takeaway # 5: Here’s the bottom line. C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you don’t want your heart broken, don’t give it.” This is such an important truth in ministry, whether it’s a public full time ministry to a congregation of 1000 people, or a day-to-day, person-to-person investment of time you are putting into someone. If you don’t want to risk the disappointment of seeing someone reject the truth of Jesus Christ, don’t share it. And of course, we know that’s not an option. Like Paul, let’s risk it. Let’s give our hearts to those who need the truth of Jesus in a world of lies.
What are your takeaways?
- How freely are you able to express the truth of Jesus to others without fear of pushback or criticism? When is it justified (if ever) to hold back?
- How do you see yourself becoming like those you are discipling as you encourage them to become like you?
- Can you relate to the whole “pains of childbirth” metaphor Paul uses here? To what degree do you agree that when you have your own kids, your heart loses its autonomy?
- Have you had joys in discipling?
COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!
May God bless your time in God’s Word this week.
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