DIG: What does Paul want the Galatians to do? Why was he so disappointed? What justification did Paul give that he became like them – a Gentile? What was his purpose in doing so? What was Paul’s physical ailment? What did Paul discover on his second visit to Galatia? How did he react? But what happened to the Galatians?
REFLECT: Paul said, “To the Jewish people I identified as a Jew, so that I might win over the Jewish people.” Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the Good News, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who trusts – to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” What are you doing to win Jews to Messiah? How is the Messiah being formed in you? What difference has knowing ADONAI made in your life? Is your life with Messiah moving forward into liberty or backward into bondage?
Paul appeals in a touching way to the Galatians to maintain their freedom from the influence of the Judaizers. He reminds them of their enthusiastic reception of him and the gospel which he first preached, and tells them of his longing to be with them now in order that he might speak to them personally.
Paul was a wonderful spiritual father; he knew just how to balance rebuke with love. Now he turns from “spanking” to “embracing” as he reminds the believers in Galatia of their love for him and his love for them. At one point they were willing to sacrifice anything for Paul, so great was their love, but now he had become their enemy. The Judaizers (to see link click Ag – Who Were the Judaizers?) had come in and stolen their affection.110
I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you (4:12a). Paul spoke of how he identified with the Galatians as non-Jewish believers, being equal brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is something the Judaizers, who demanded ritual circumcision and proselytization of them did not do (see the commentary on Acts Bb – An Ethiopian Asks about Isaiah 53: The third level were Proselytes of the Covenant). It’s as if he was saying, “Become as I am, free from the bondage of trying to keep the 613 commandments of Moshe for salvation. I became as you are, Gentile.” He appealed to them to do this because he, who had possessed all the advantages of being Torah observant, had foregone those advantages and had placed himself on the same level in relation to the Torah as the Gentiles. He tells them that he gave up all those time-honored Jewish customs and those dear associations to become like them. He has lived like a Gentile so that he might preach to the Gentiles. He pleads with them not to abandon him, when he had abandoned all for them.
The Galatians could not fail to remember the occasion when at the close of Paul’s address at Pisidian Antioch, the Jews departed from the synagogue, but the Gentiles besought him to repeat to them the words of life on the next Shabbat. They could not fail to remember how the Jews had expelled Paul from the city (see the commentary on Acts Bo – Paul’s Message in Pisidian Antioch). They, the Galatians, had pursued Paul to maintain the freedom of the gospel. Now, he, in turn, was appealing to them to maintain the freedom of that same gospel.111
Although Paul was primarily an apostle to the Gentiles (2:8), he never lost his passion for the salvation of his own people (Romans 9:3). To the Jewish people I identified as a Jew. Within scriptural limits Paul would be as Jewish as necessary when ministering to Jews. In Messiah, he was no longer bound to the ceremonies, rituals, eating kosher, observing special days, or traditions of Judaism. Following or not following any of those things had no effect on his spiritual life. But if following them would open a door for his witnessing to Jews, he would gladly do so that he might win over the Jewish people. To those under Torah I became like one under Torah (though not myself being under Torah), so that I might win over those under Torah (First Corinthians 9:20). But Paul was willing to live like a Gentile when he was ministering to Gentiles.112
To those outside Torah, like one outside Torah (though not being outside God’s Torah, but within the framework of Messiah’s Torah as upheld by Messiah), so that I might win over those outside Torah (First Corinthians 9:21). Paul was still under authority, but not still under the Torah. He was responsible to God (First Corinthians 3:9) and Messiah (First Corinthians 4:1), and was enabled by the Ruach ha-Kodesh to love (see Bu – Brothers and Sisters, You were Called to Freedom).113
To the weak I became weak, so that I might win over the weak. Paul was willing to identify with those, whether Jew or Gentile, who did not have the power of the Ruach ha-Kodesh in them to understand the gospel. When among those who were spiritually weak, he put the cookies on the bottom shelf. In other words, those who needed simple or repeated teaching, that is what he gave them. His purpose was to become all things to all men, so that by all means possible I might save some (First Corinthians 9:22). He did not compromise the gospel. He would not change the truth in any way in order to satisfy anyone. But he would condescend in any way for anyone if that would in any way help bring them to Messiah.114
You have done me no wrong. The Galatians might have easily spurned Paul and refused his fellowship. You know it was because of a physical ailment that I proclaimed the Good News to you the first time (4:12b-13). Apparently, Paul had not intended to evangelize that territory, but to go on to another place, but going through the lowlands of Pamphylia, a region through which he had just passed on his way to Pisidian Antioch, where an oriental eye disease called ophthalmia was prevalent. So, the inference should be clear that he needed a new pair of eyes. Paul mentions that if possible, they would have torn out their eyes and given them to him (4:15). His words in 6:11, “Notice the large letters – I am writing to you with my own hand,” confirm this, the large Greek letters being necessary because of his impaired vision. However, it must have made him somewhat repulsive in appearance, because he commended the Galatians for the way they received him in spite of the way he looked. And though my physical condition was a trial to you, you did not hate or reject me. No, you welcomed me as a messenger of God (see the commentary on Acts Bq – Paul’s Message in Lystra) – or even as Messiah Yeshua (4:14).
So, have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? He refers to the fact that he had told them the truth, while the Judaizers had told them lies. It was probably on the occasion of his second visit to Galatia (Acts 18:23) that some church members had already come under the influence of the Judaizers and had begun to doubt the truth of salvation by faith alone, which they had learned and accepted from him. The doctrine of legalism had become more attractive to them than the gospel of grace, and the man who had been their friend had become like an enemy. Faithful are the words of a friend, but excessive the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6). Paul had proved his love to the Galatians by telling them the truth, but they had been deceived. They were enjoying the kisses of the Judaizers, not realizing that those kisses were leading them into bondage and sorrow. Messiah made them His children and His heirs. They had not lost their salvation (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Ms – The Eternal Security of the Believer), but they were rapidly becoming spiritual slaves and beggars.115 They had lost their joy in the Lord; they had left [their] first love (Revelation 2:4); they had lost the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Paul told them bluntly: Others [the Judaizers] zealously court you – not in a good way. In contrast to his own frank truthfulness in which he risked incurring the displeasure of the Galatians, the apostle told them of the Judaizers’ dishonorable attempt to mislead them (see Bf – O Foolish Galatians, Who has Cast a Spell on You). Most cults show keen interest and even affection towards prospective members, promising them great personal fulfillment and happiness. But like the legalism of the Judaizers, the true nature of their spiritual enslavement is hidden. The Judaizers had no personal interest in the Galatian believers beyond entrapping them in legalism. They were like the scribes and Pharisees to whom Yeshua said: Woe to you, Torah-teachers and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel over land and sea to make one convert. And when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as yourself (Matthew 23:15). Paul spoke directly of his conflict with the Judaizers, his opponents in the theological battle for the allegiance of the God-fearing Gentiles in Galatia, saying: They wish to shut you out from God’s grace so that you will court them, and have nowhere else to turn (4:16-17).116
It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good. Paul went on to explain. He himself had been zealous for them when he first preached the gospel in Galatia. But his purpose was good, out of a love for Messiah and a deep desire to see them saved. And such enthusiastic concern was appropriate, and not just when Paul was there with them (4:18 NIV). He was not jealous of the Judaizers. He did not oppose them in order to preserve his own popularity but to protect the Galatians spiritual well-being. They were opposed to the glorious, saving gospel of Yeshua Messiah.117
Speaking like a mother, Paul addressed the Galatian believers: My dear children (Greek: from teknion, literally referring to a small child)! They were acting like infants who refused to be born. Again, I suffer labor pains. It’s like he was saying, “You have already experienced a new birth, but now you are acting as if you need to be spiritually born all over again. You make me feel like a mother who has to deliver the same baby twice. But however abnormal or tragic their spiritual condition, Paul would not abandon them until Messiah was formed in them (4:19). Being sanctified, being molded into the image of Messiah is the goal of every believer. As you received Messiah Yeshua as Lord, so continue to walk in Him (Colossians 2:6). ADONAI has predestined believers to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29a). We all, with unveiled faces beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory – just as from the Lord, who is the Spirit (Second Corinthians 3:18). The Father sent the Son to earth not only to die that we might be saved but also to live as the Divine example for those who are saved.
Paul’s wish was that he could deal more directly with these issues that would require him to be with the Galatians in person and be able to change his tone with them. He evidently regretted the severity of his language on the occasion of his second visit to the Galatian churches (Acts 18:23) at which time he had warned them personally in order that he might talk to them in a more tender and affectionate manner, however, still telling them the truth. For I don’t know what to make of you (4:20). He was literally at his wits’ end. He could not understand how they could have been taught the gospel so well, believed it so genuinely, and then appeared to abandon it so quickly (see Aj – No Other Gospel).118
Every believer experiences times when we come to an impasse and find our own resources are completely exhausted. After saying and doing everything under the sun to those we are trying to help – sometimes believers . . . sometimes unbelievers – they remain completely out of reach and sometimes even turn against us. In such times, we need to move over and let the Holy Spirit take the wheel of the situation, with a clear conscience, and knowing that we have done everything in our power. God is God and we are not.
Paul trusted the Holy Spirit to work in all things-in his health and in the hearts of the Galatians. He did not complain when he had a physical ailment, but he sought God’s help and looked at the situation from His eyes. I pleaded with the Lord three times about this, that it might leave me. But He said to me,” My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weakness, so that the power of Messiah may dwell in me. For Messiah’s sake, then, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (Second Corinthians 12:8-10).
Paul knew that his life was not in the hands of anyone, whether a boss, person, spouse or friend, nor in the hands of a disease or even of a doctor; but his life was in the hands of the Almighty, Sovereign God, Ruler of the Universe, Controller of the Future – who cares passionately for each detail in His child’s life.
Dear Father God, I praise You when problems come and I look up, I see Your loving face and feel Your arms of love tight around me. Though the trials/ problems still hurt, I am comforted by knowing that You are working in my life to refine me and bring greater glory to Yourself, just as You have always done in the lives of each of Your children. You are the best daddy! You delight in guiding circumstances into Your child’s life that will polish them to shine great for You (First Peter 1:7) and bring them great joy for all eternity.
Praise You that just as a potter takes a lump of clay and fashions it into a beautiful vessel, so You, Father God, take us as Your jars of clay (Second Corinthians 4:7) who came from dust (Genesis 2:7 and 3:19) and mold us to be more like You. We can move from frustration because of trials – to peace and contentment in problems, for now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, (Romans 8:28 a-b). And we also boast in our suffering – knowing that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3b-4).
Dear Daddy, the best gift that You could give us in any trial is Yourself, and how wonderful that You what You have given us – Your abiding presence Always with us for God himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Hebrews 13:5). There will never come a trial that we will have to go thru alone- for You are right there with us (Hebrews 13:5).
And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Ruach ha-Kodesh who was given to us (Romans 5:5). That is such a wonderful comfort – You always with us, polishing us for your glory! Praise You! Thank You! Love You! In Your Holy Son’s name and power of resurrection. Amen