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Paul’s Concern for the Galatians February 24, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 4:8-20.

Summary: Paul begins by reminding the Galatians that when they did not know God’s will, they were enslaved by the imaginations of their hearts – which caused them to practice idolatry. Now although they now know God by the preaching of faith, they have turned to the law; he wonders if they want to be enslaved by the law. In particular, they are observing special occasions (that should be observed by all Jews) including the Sabbath day, the new moons in the first and seventh months, and the Year of Jubilee. He is troubled by the possibility of his preaching the Gospel among them without bearing any fruit.

Paul then gently entreats the Galatians to have the same affection for him as he does for them; indeed, they have not offended him – yet they have offended themselves. He reminds them that the physical suffering and affliction that he endured spurred him to preach the Gospel to them – yet they were not offended by his physical suffering and affliction at that time. Instead, they loved him dearly and treated him as they would have treated Christ Himself. He asks them why they have turned from their lives as believers, where they were highly commended in all things. They had given their lives for him, yet now he must beg them to not regard him as their enemy given his rebukes in this letter.

Now Paul asserts that the false apostles are displaying evil zeal for the Galatians by seducing them; indeed, the false apostles desire that they reject Paul and only love them and accept their doctrine. He reminds them of their affection for him when he preached the Gospel to them in the midst of his physical suffering and affliction; he now exhorts them to display their affection for him even while he is not physically present. He then attempts to move their hearts by reminding them that he begets the form of their minds, since he helps them to speak, think and will as God does. Paul concludes by telling the Galatians that he wishes he could be physically present so that he can properly deal with each of them; he is extremely troubled in his spirit about them.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Paul was welcomed by the Galatians in spite of his external (and internal) sufferings and afflictions. Luther offers some insights on this point in his commentary:

Paul’s illness was not a disease of the body, but the physical suffering and affliction that he endured, which he contrasts with the power of the Spirit…He says in effect, “When I preached the Gospel to you, I was always in danger, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles, and also from false brothers. I suffered hunger and lacked everything. I was the very filth and offscouring of the world.”

Perhaps the modern-day equivalent of Luther’s description of Paul would be that of a homeless person who had been empowered by God to deliver words of rebuke and encouragement to a particular church. I must admit that if this homeless preacher spoke to me, I would probably reject him as a fraud (and possibly speculate on the cause of his homelessness). Thus, it must have been an extraordinary act of God that empowered the Galatians to welcome Paul when they met him; somehow they overcome their natural revulsion for him (based on his appearance) and were willing to hear his message for them. As modern-day Christians, we need to learn patience and be better attuned to God’s voice, as He can speak to us in many ways. Sometimes He will speak to us in an unexpected way to test us and evaluate our response to His voice.

We also see that Paul criticizes the false apostles for their attempts to seduce the Galatians. Luther offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

Satan, through his servants, is very clever at beguiling simple people (Romans 16:18). First of all, they protest that they seek nothing but the advancement of God’s glory and that they are moved by the Spirit to teach the infallible truth…so that the chosen people may be delivered from error and may come to the true light and knowledge of the truth. Moreover, they promise certain salvation to those who accept their teaching.

With the benefit of hindsight and our trust in the infallibility of God’s Word, we know that Paul taught the correct doctrine to the Galatians – while the false apostles taught them an incorrect doctrine. Now if we put ourselves in the shoes of the Galatians, though, we can see that they were caught in a quandary. Both Paul and the false apostles displayed great zeal in advancing their respective doctrines. Both parties spoke forcefully and eloquently; in fact, we can hypothesize, based on 2 Corinthians 11:1-15, that the false apostles in Galatia were superior to Paul in terms of their eloquence. Both parties were utterly convinced of the correctness of their respective doctrines, so how were the Galatians to know which group was teaching the correct doctrine? Of course, Paul would point them to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts; they only received Him when they heard his teaching and accepted it – not when they heard the teaching of the false apostles.

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