Study in Galatians. Presentation 09. A Pastoral Concern Chap 4v8-20. Presentation 09. Introduction.
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Its possible to be so caught up with Christian truth and the need to defend it that we become detached from the business of caring for people. It is possible to become academically aloof and dispassionate towards the needs of others. This was not a pitfall into which Paul fell. We see here his deep feeling and immense tenderness towards the Galatians. He did not simply wish to win a theological argument but to help others enjoy to the fullest extent, the blessing that was available in the gospel. Note v19 “My dear children... In opening up his pastor’s heart Paul appeals to them on a number of different levels.
First, in v8-11 Paul pleads with his readers not to return to the slavery they had formerly experienced. You will remember that thus far in the epistle Paul has shown that among other things the gospel of the Lord Jesus brought to men a new status which in turn produced a new liberty. Hitherto, they had been in bondage to powers of evil which had blinded their eyes to the wonder of communion with God. Many of these Galatians would have been idolaters, seeking by their various efforts to appease the gods. They had lived their lives in craven fear and bondage.
From that miserable existence they had been delivered by the power of the gospel. They had begun to enjoy the reality of forgiveness and the wonder of God’s acceptance. They could have sung with meaning Wesley’s hymn ,
“My chains fell off my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed thee… No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in him is mine! Alive in him my living head, And clothed in righteousness divine. Bold I approach the eternal throne, And claim the crown through Christ my own”.
How so? Because in Christ they had a new status and had become God’s adopted children enjoying all the privileges and freedoms which that involved.
But the picture had changed: false teachers had come along and said that faith in Jesus wasn’t enough. They needed more, they needed to keep the law in order to earn God’s approval. They needed to adhere to the Jewish ceremonial law and be circumcised and keep various feast days. They were told to keep the law in order to earn God’s approval. Paul asks, do you not see what is happening? The powers of evil, which once held you in bondage through idol worship, are now poised to bring you back into bondage through an abuse of God’s good law.
Paul is saying that by believing that it is your law keeping that will secure your salvation, you have forsaken the wonderful freedom and status of sonship which God’s grace and Christ’s death secured for you!
You have exchanged the glorious status of sonship for the role of a slave whereby the law will begin to do something it was never intended to do- it will drive you to despair by telling you that acceptance with God can only come through your ability to keep its commandments.
Paul’s impassioned plea that they do not return to slavery is one preachers of the gospel continue to make when Christians have been persuaded to transform their faith into a set of rules and regulations; the slavish observance of which they believe can alone secure God’s approval. Their loss of Christian joy can be traced to the fact that they have turned their backs on their freedom in Christ allowing themselves to be brought back into bondage. Look at Paul’s words in v.11 “I fear that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you”. Surely that would have shaken his readers?
Secondly, Paul makes a personal appeal, “become
like me”v12. He wants them to follow his example in
life and faith. Prior to conversion Paul had been in bondage to the law. The gospel delivered him from
that and he wants them to share the same freedom. Paul goes on to say, “I became like you”. What
does he mean? cf. 1 Cor. 9v19-23. Embedded
here is a principle of immense importance for Christians. Namely, that in seeking to win others to Christ, our end is to make them like us, while the
means to that end is to make ourselves like them. If they are to become one with us in Christian
conviction and experience, we must first become
one with them in Christian compassion.
Paul then contrasts the Galatians’ attitude to him in the past with their attitude to him in the present. He reminds them that when he first came to them he had a bodily ailment. There has been much speculation
about this illness, or chronic disability. It may have
had a disturbing effect on his hearers.
Verse 15 refers to their willingness to pluck out
their own eyes for him suggesting he may have
had an eye disease. We don’t know what the
illness was but his appearance could have
caused some of his hearers to despise him.
e.g. suppose a man were to stand up to preach
but constantly stammered and stuttered might
not some of his hearers despise him?
Or, suppose someone had a nervous twitch in his eye which caused him constantly to blink- some of his hearers might poke fun at him. Paul says, you were able to see past my physical disfigurement to the substance of what I was saying. You recognised that I was speaking from God and that I was a messenger of God.
How fortunate people are who, when a preacher is preaching
in the power of God’s Spirit, are able to see past the
external appearance of the man and hear God
speaking to them. Scripture has a high view of
preaching. That’s why preaching is so
important and why preachers are constantly
coveting the prayers of others for their
preparation and delivery of God’s word.
Paul asks, what happened to the warmth you once had for me the same, warmth that Jesus himself would have been shown were he to stand in your midst? Where is all the blessing and joy you knew then? You have
lost it because you have questioned the gospel I preached
to you. And I, who was once so warmly received, am
now considered your enemy. Why? Was it because he
had been telling them some home truths?
Some people can’t bear the truth. Some people
who if dealt with fairly and squarely will never
again appear in church, they cannot bear
unpalatable truth from any quarter.
Others may find God’s word painful and embarrassing. They may fume but then come back later and say, “Although I was absolutely furious with you at the time, I’ve thought about what you said and its what I needed to hear, thank you!”
Others make an enemy of the preacher because he has been courageous enough to tell them the truth. We should pray that God will keep our hearts open to the truth however sore and humiliating it might be for us. None of us like to admit we have been in the wrong that is part of fallen human nature. We need to see that it is God’s truth that enables us to enjoy the fullness of liberty which is ours as the children of God.
In v17ffPaul’s attention turns to the false teachers, the translation is awkward and could read either, “those who made much of you,” or, “those who paid court to you”. Paul is accusing the false teachers of flattering the
Galatians insincerely in order to win them over to their
perverted gospel. They may have fawned and fussed over
them but their real motive was to shut the Galatians out
from Christ and from the freedom Christ brings.
When Christianity is seen as freedom in Christ [which it is]
Christians are not in subservience to their human
teachers, because their ambition is to become
mature in Christ.
But when Christianity is turned into a form of bondage to rules and regulations, its victims are inevitably in subjection, which manifests itself in their being tied to the apron strings of their teachers.
This was true in the middle ages. It is true of some church fellowships today where a bondage to one form of legalism or another is often experienced. And where those in charge demand a personal loyalty which supersedes loyalty to Christ. And indeed, in such situations the Christian often feels torn between two loyalties.
Paul does not want to win the Galatians allegiance to himself but to Christ. He does not want to tie these Christians to his apron strings. He will not be satisfied until Christ is formed
in them. He likens himself to a mother in labour and the
pain and birth-pangs which she endures to bring a child
into the world.
That he says is how I travail for you, says Paul, such is my ardent desire and agonising in prayer to see evidence of the life of Jesus formed in you. More so for Paul had already been in labour for them at the time of their conversion but now their backsliding has caused him another confinement. He is in labour again such is the measure of his love and faithfulness for this people close to his heart.
John Calvin wrote: “If ministers wish to do any good, let them labour to form Christ, not to form themselves in their hearers.”
The Christian minister, office bearer or Christian worker should endeavour to follow Paul’s example and be preoccupied with people’s spiritual progress and care nothing for their own prestige. He should not exploit young converts to his own advantage but seek to serve them for their good. He should not use them for his own pleasure, but be willing on their behalf to endure pain. He should long to see Christ formed in them and to that end be ready to agonise for them in prayer.
Do we know anything of this agonising for others? It is comparatively easy to criticise those who have lost their way spiritually but it is immensely costly to be prepared to agonise for them in prayer. The labour ward in the church of Christ is the one we least want to visit and yet it is there that new life begins.
The Psalmists writes,
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy carrying his sheaves with him”. Ps.126v5
The difference between Paul’s genuine pastoral concern and the concerns of the false teachers is now made abundantly clear. They sought to dominate the Galatians in order to cultivate their own prestige and position.
In contrast, Paul longed that Christ would be formed in them and to that end he was prepared to sacrifice himself including his prestige and reputation for them. God grant all who are engaged in Christian ministry and service a Paul-like concern! For it echoes the concern of Jesus for his church cf. Jn. 17