An Urgent and Gracious Plea

A Study of Galatians 4:12-20

{Before beginning this study, the reader is encouraged to read 2 Corinthians 10-13 to get a feel of the personal tone of Paul’s defense of his apostleship}

Brethren, I beseech you, be as I [am]; for I [am] as ye [are]: ye have not injured me at all. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, [even] as Christ Jesus. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if [it had been] possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? They zealously affect you, [but] not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them. But [it is] good to be zealously affected always in [a] good [thing], and not only when I am present with you. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. [Gal 4:12-20]

Notice now how Paul makes his appeal personal. Remember the studies in the first chapter how that he made the case for his authority as THE apostle that the Lord Jesus called to preach THE gospel of Christ. He is now making his case based on his former relationship with these believers. He is also taking a moment to reveal his heart toward them. He thought it quite probable that among the effects of his epistle to them there would be these two:

  1. They would be overcome with grief thinking that they had injured their friend and father in the Lord.
  2. They would set themselves up as his enemies going further toward the teachings of the teachers of the law.

The first group is answered with a simple beseeching: “Be as I, for I as ye, ye have not injured me at all”. The apostle given the assignment to steward the grace of God is dealing in grace. He knew it was not about him, and is calling for the return to unity in Christ. What is more, although in reality his “feelings” may have been hurt (a turn of friends against us would hurt even the most spiritual among us) nothing would heal that wound faster and make it as though it was never there than if they were to return to the truth of Christ. Paul does not want them to sorrow over what they have done in this treason toward the gospel, he simply wants them to return to the truth. He is not looking for contrition or restitution. He just wants them back to standing fast in the liberty of the gospel.

To the other group, he has more to say. He reminds them of the struggle that he went through just to preach the gospel to them. This “infirmity in the flesh” is not specifically named, but it need not be.

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. [2Co 12:7-10]

As it has been pointed out, the period of history covered in the book of Acts was transitional. The earlier period is very much characterized by signs and wonders and the powers of the age to come (Heb 6:5). That period is really a continuation of the period of the first coming of Jesus Christ, and a continued offer of the Kingdom to Israel and the return of the Lord Jesus to rule and reign over it (Acts 3:19-21). Though Paul also had the signs of an apostle (2Cor 12:12, see Acts 14:10, 19:6, 19:11-12, 28:6), and was miraculously delivered from prison, though he did not flee (Acts 16:25-29), his ministry was not characterized by such events. The period that began with many signs and wonders wrought among the people (Acts 5:12) ended with Paul in a Roman prison. And according to the text from 2 Corinthians, the Lord added to Paul infirmities to keep him humble. Rather than a witness of great power, he had a witness of afflictions. Does this not characterize our own Christian walk much more than that of the early chapters of Acts? Why then does it seem so strange to so many Christians that there is in Acts a change of dispensation? We are in our age not witnesses to the power as much as we are witnesses to the afflictions. Paul himself was a witness to this very thing:

…I Paul am made a minister; Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the church: Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; [Col 1:23-25]

In several of our previous studies, I have emphasized the point of the Lord sending Paul, and the explicit and implicit authority that the Lord gave to His apostle with the gospel of the grace of God. In this context, it is important to recognize another detail in the new commission:

For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake. [Act 9:16]

And Paul’s recognition of this fact:

Confirming the souls of the disciples, [and] exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. [Act 14:22]

As we go back to the context of our passage, Paul reminds the brethren that would set themselves up as his enemies because he told them the truth, that they first saw his afflictions. They saw how he bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus (Gal 6:17).  When they saw this, they received him as an angel, or messenger, of God. He pointed out that when they received him as such, they received him in the same way as they would received the Lord Jesus Himself. This is the way that the Lord intended for His apostles to be received:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth Me; and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me. [Jhn 13:20]

The former attitude that these Galatians had toward the apostle are indicated in the words “if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.” How could they now be his enemy, except that they are affected by the false apostles? How many now have turned away from Paul, the apostle who delivered the Lord Jesus’ message of grace? Search your favorite online bookstore for books with the subject of Peter and Paul, Paul and Jesus, or Paul and James and look at the subject matter that comes up. The majority will be about a “Paul” who was a perverter and hijacker of the “Christian religion”. (I am speaking of commercial stores and not of Christian bookstores. Christian bookstores usually do not carry such books. These are of the persuasion of liberalism and so-called “higher criticism”. It is interesting though to notice that these bible-unbelievers notice a difference in the message that Paul preached compared with our Lord’s gospel of the kingdom that He proclaimed in His earthly ministry. The majority of Christians attempt to reconcile them to make them say the same thing, though it is clear that they do not.) How sad that the Lord’s sent messenger with the word of reconciliation (2Cor 5:19) has been turned against and relegated to the status of “false prophet”. This began even during his own lifetime:

This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me… [2Ti 1:15]

It is interesting to note that Galatia is a region in what is now Turkey, what used to be known as Asia. Did they ever return to their father in the Lord?

The false apostles had “zealously affected” the Galatian assembly, making them desirous to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. [1Ti 1:7] This was not good. He commended their zeal, but let them know in no uncertain terms that it was wrongly placed. He would have loved to see that same zeal to proclaim the gospel of grace. The Lord would be pleased too.

The false apostles loved to have this following, so that they could credit themselves with many “converts”, or proselytes. They were not concerned for the welfare of their converts, but the sum of them. “They would exclude you that ye might affect them.” How greatly does this contrast with Paul’s affection for them:

My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.

Paul here addresses those who are setting themselves up as his enemies because of the false apostles as his own “little children” (Greek τεκνίον (teknion)). The Lord used this term addressing His disciples (Jhn 13:33), and the apostle John used this term some seven times in his first epistle (1Jhn 2:1,12,28, 3:7,18, 4:4, 5:21). This is a term of endearment. He would love to end this rebuke with words of regard, but stands in doubt of their standing. He wonders if all of his labor was worthless (vs.11). In context of the rest of the book, he is not wondering about their salvation, but rather whether they have “fallen from grace” (back to law-works and a merit system), or are standing fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has set them free. As we study this scripture, as has been a theme for all of the studies in chapter 4, let us heed the apostle’s voice:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. [Gal 5:1]

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