#175 “AN APOSTLE’S PERSONAL PLEA” (GALATIANS 4:8-20)
In Galatians 4:8-20, we see Paul revealing personal aspects of his life like never before. A true picture of a great shepherd who loved and cared for the people he taught.
- An Appeal Not to Return to the Law (4:8-11)
- 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. This is Paul’s third mention of the Galatian’s former life without Christ. Did not know God is a common way to describe Gentiles (see 1 Thess. 4:5; 2 Thess. 1:8). The word know in Greek is ginōskō. It literally means “to know intimately and on a personal level.” By nature are not gods—The Galatians were worshipping false deities before coming to Christ. Paul preached the gospel to the people in Lystra who worshipped Zeus and Hermes (Ac. 14:11-13). In 1 Cor. 10:20, Paul writes, “I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.”
- 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles (stoicheia,elements of the ABC’s in Greco-Roman era) of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? Paul is astonished that the Galatians were turning away from God and returning to bondage. The Galatians would be met with the same oppression in Judaism as they experienced in paganism. It’s possible the Galatians were also turning to signs of the zodiac (astrology) and other paganistic rituals.
- 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! Prior to converting to Christianity, the Galatians worshipped deities and observed certain days in the calendar as lucky or unlucky days. For the Jews, the Law required people to observe special dates and rituals throughout the year. The Bible mentions “New Moons” (Nu. 28:11-15), Passover (Ex. 12:18), the Sabbath year (Lev. 25:4), and Firstfruits (Lev. 23:10). However, Paul insists that observance of religious holy days does not sanctify a person.
- Col. 2:16-19, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”
- 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. Paul felt his efforts in starting churches among the Galatians was pointless if they were going to turn to Judaism.
- A Reminder of Their Relationship (4:12-16)
- 12 Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong (to commit an act of transgression; to injure). Throughout Paul’s missionary journeys, he always sought ways to build rapport with the people he was called to minister to in the Spirit (see 1 Cor. 9:19-23). Become as I am, for I also have become as you are—In the ancient Mediterranean world, it was customary for friends to share everything together. Thus, Paul appeals to the Galatians by speaking to them with love and respect. He pleads with them to follow him and not the Judaizers. You did me no wrong—When Paul arrived in Galatia, the Jews attempted to harm him (Ac. 14:19) but not the Galatians. They were kind to Paul (Ac. 13:42-50).
- 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise (reject) me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. We don’t exactly know Paul’s ailments. Some think Paul contracted malaria while ministering in the lowlands of Pamphylia. Other commentaries have suggested Paul had epilepsy. The term illness means “weakness” and can infer injuries or sicknesses that Paul suffered from during his first missionary journey (Ac. 13:14-14:23). In Lystra, Paul was dragged out of the city and stoned by the crowds (Ac. 14:19). And though my condition was a trial to you—The Galatians would have seen Paul’s bodily ailments as punishment from God. And yet, despite his infirmities—the Galatians accepted Paul and received his message of grace. As an angel of God—A sign of respect and hospitality. Would have gouged out your eyes—Paul reveals he had a vision problem and uses a bit of hyperbolic language to stress the great lengths the Galatians went to in attempt to heal him. Another reference to his poor eyesight is in 6:11, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” NKJV New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, “Because reject (Greek, ekptuo) means “to spit out,” some commentators detect a reference to the custom of spitting in the direction of an epileptic to avert the influence of the evil spirit in control of him. For this reason, they believe that Paul’s ailment was epilepsy. Others believe that Paul suffered from ophthalmia (4:15; 6:11).”
- 16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? Many Galatians turned from Paul once they began embracing the teaching of the Judaizers. Paul calls them out for abandoning not only the gospel but also turning away from him.
- A Heartfelt Plea (4:17-20)
- 17 They (Judaizers) make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. Paul exposes the false motives of the Judaizers. They didn’t really care for the Galatians the way Paul did. The Judaizers were using the Galatians for their own deification. Which explains why the Judaizers attempt to separate the Galatians from Paul so that he wouldn’t have any influence over them.
- 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, Paul acknowledges that his zeal for the Galatians is not misplaced. Unlike the Judaizers, Paul genuinely loved the Galatians and was determined to help them grow in their faith in Christ.
- 19 my little children (teknia, born ones), for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! This is the only time Paul uses the intimate phrase my little children. A sign of Paul’s fatherly affection for the Galatians. I am again in the anguish of childbirth—An expression of inner pain. Paul was extremely disappointed and heartbroken by the pain the Galatians had caused him by turning back to ritualism and legalism. A stark contrast to how the Judaizers felt about the Galatians. Christ is formed in you—Unlike the Judaizers, Paul wanted to help the Galatians become more like Christ.
- 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed (at my wits end) about you. It’s not clear as to why Paul was unable to visit Galatia. Change my tone—Not being physically present with the Galatians was hard for Paul, and therefore, made it more difficult to communicate to them what needed to be said in a letter. I am perplexed—Paul seems to convey he had come to a point in his relationship with the Galatians that he doubted them after their defection from the Christian faith.