I – Text: Galatians 4:12-20

II – Theme: The “love imperative” Paul teaches here begs the question, “What does it mean to be the Church?” According to Paul, “being the Church” means that: Biblical love engages people where they are; not where we hope them to be. Loving people biblically starts with loving God biblically; either of which is only possible when we trust Christ

  • (Schreiner): “Love is anchored in the real world, tackling the problems people face, and it does not give up on others when they are not where we expect or hope them to be. At the same time, love longs for the perfecting of the one [being] loved. [Paul shows us in these verses that,] when we love others, we call them to love Christ with all their hearts and souls. We accept them where they are, while also calling them to scale new heights. Therefore, love cannot be confused with sentimentality, for there is also a stringency in it, summoning [those we love] to continued growth in Christ.”

III – A Short Outline of Paul’s Case to the Galatian Church

  • From this point in the letter, until nearly the end (4:12 through 6:10), Paul will argue his case for the Gospel vs Legalism as a calling; for those who trust Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation. That calling is: Freedom from the Law of God, in order to have freedom in the Spirit of God

  • The theme of “freedom,” though already prevalent in this letter, will become even more pronounced from this point on

  • In today’s text (4:12-20), Paul presents his case and concern for the Church from the perspective of Christian brotherhood, friendship, and family, as those traits that signify what the Church really is

  • That is, Paul is addressing them as his beloved, eternal family

  • Important to note here, is that, next week we’ll see Paul present his argument—his case—for the Gospel in an allegorical fashion from the OT. In other words, Paul is using every tool he knows to use—from Scripture, and from the personal experience that lines up with Scripture—to keep his beloved family from falling away from Christ.

  • So, one of our first questions we have to ask ourselves, is: Do we have the kind of passion for our beloved, that Paul is living out for his beloved? There’s no question, that each of us knows someone or several someones, who are in the midst of a “crisis of faith.” These are loved ones who have professed Jesus as Lord, and today find themselves wondering if what they originally believed is worth anything. For a few of us, that “someone” in crisis….is ourself.

IV – Unpacking 4:12-20: Paul Shows Us What “Loving God & Loving People” Through Trust In Christ Alone Looks Like From the Perspective of Church Life

  • (4:12) Brethren (brothers/sisters), I urge you to become like me, for I became like you…”

  • We get our whole title for today’s teaching pretty much from this statement of Paul’s:

  • First, we say Paul is issuing an “imperative;” that is, he’s now speaking to them in a much more urgent tone—”I urge/beseech you..”

  • Whether in the original Greek or any subsequent translation, nearly every scholar in history agrees, that Paul definitely uses the literary tool of imperative language here.

  • In other words, what he’s saying is not a suggestion; it either gets followed, or they will perish eternally. Period.

  • Second, we say that the imperative deals with love. The “love” aspect of this imperative is two-fold: Paul, in one sentence, puts flesh on the bones of the modern expression we all know as “Love God, love people.”

  • I urge you to become like me, for I became like you.”

  • We could spend days on this sentence…but we won’t, don’t worry!

  • What Paul means here, is: I’m a Jew, who, by all rights, should be bound to the Law of God because of my heritage; but I have been set free from that, by the trust I have in Jesus Christ, that He has already fulfilled that Law for me….I want you to become exactly that—free from the Law of God, just like me!

  • In fact, just like you, when you were Gentiles (non-Jews), and not under the Law of God by virtue of your very birth, so now, I’ve become just like you, in that, the Law no longer has any power over me. Why then would you want to begin following a Law that was never intended for you in the first place? And even more so now, knowing that, even if it was for you, Jesus has already fulfilled it for you.

  • So the first part of Paul putting flesh on the bones of “Love God, love people,” is him showing his people that loving God means trust in Jesus, alone.

  • Therefore, the imperative we find throughout Scripture, which tells us to “love God,” does not mean that our love for Him is ultimately expressed merely in our activities performed for Him.

  • Instead, like the criminal on the cross, we find that the core essence of “loving God” is first professing that we actually don’t know how to do that very well, if at all; then, absolutely proclaiming our trust in Jesus Christ to do it perfectly for us.

  • So: “Loving God” = “Trusting Christ, who has fulfilled the Mandates of God that were once against us” (Colossians 2:14)

  • Oh yes…the second part of the two-fold love Paul shows here — “Love People” — is in the way he is loving enough to bring their unbelief to their attention in a bold and compassionate way!

  • Many of us are too afraid of severing relationships or the pains of confrontation, to speak up, in love, to our friends and family about their lacking journeys with Christ.

  • Many of us even wonder what room we have to talk, since it’s not as though our journey with Christ is perfect. Well, neither was Paul’s; but he confessed that to God, and to his friends and family in the Church—then he got down to the business of steering them back on course!

  • Yeah, Paul does all that in that sentence.

  • This sort of breakdown of the text is extremely important, because, any religion who claims a god of any kind, could say the same thing: “Love (G)god; love people.” If that love is for any god other than Jesus Christ Himself, it is an eternally damning love (cf. Galatians 1:8-9; John 14:6, 8-9). That is the urgency with which Paul is speaking here.

  • Also, Paul’s use of the word “Brethren (brothers/sisters)” immediately indicates his love for people..his readers..his church.

  • As part of his display of love for them, he goes on to remind them of how good they were to him when he first came to them, preaching the Gospel; a message completely foreign to them: “You have not injured me at all/wronged me in any way..”

  • As we’ll see in the next few verses, Paul is not speaking merely about the Galatians’ initial kindness or warmth of friendship in the way they greeted him and received him and his message.

  • Since he came to them as an apostle of God—-an extremely rare and dangerous office for one to hold (remember what had already begun to happen to Christ’s other apostles in Jerusalem)—he came as someone who literally took his life in his own hands, when presenting the Gospel to a hostile, pagan culture; which is exactly what the Galatians were before Paul came to them!

  • So, when they “believed in Jesus,” and thus did Paul “no harm,” Paul absolutely understood that this was Jesus Christ Himself, at work in them, to bring all of this about. Now, he reminds them of that again, so that they’re encouraged. (Remember Paul’s life theme: If God begins a work, He will absolutely finish it)

  • (4:13) You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first”

  • This verse sets up the significance of v. 14:“And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.”

  • These two verses put together, definitely prove that Paul was having some sort of health issue when he first came to the Galatians

  • This is huge! Some of our translations say, “Neither did you spit upon me because of my illness…” (it’s the literal Greek term used)

  • Have you seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding?

  • What do they do, in Greek culture, to ward-off evil spirits, i.e., sickness, etc.? They spit on the afflicted person in order to protect themselves from the same malady!

  • So here’s Paul saying, “Remember how you guys could’ve easily thought that my sickness was a sign from your “gods” that I really wasn’t a messenger from God? But instead, you were granted the necessary Spiritual perception of me, by God Himself? And you trusted what I preached to you! You could’ve just as easily thrown me out or killed me, like many of your cultural contemporaries have tried to do to me already! But instead, because God gave you eyes to see and ears and hearts to believe and hear, you believed in Jesus. Please remember that.”

  • (4:15) What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.”

  • This is a continuation of Paul’s encouragement to the church:

  • You received me as if you were receiving Jesus Himself…

  • You could have spat upon me, thrown me out or killed me, but didn’t

  • You therefore had the “blessing” (v. 15) of joy and contentment in knowing that, by trusting in Christ you’re accepted by God eternally…

  • And you displayed the sacrificial love of Christ—the very proof that you really are His—by offering to suffer with me, as if you would’ve gladly taken my pains upon yourselves!

  • (4:16) Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”

  • This is not an accusation from Paul. It’s a rhetorical question.

  • It’s the same as asking a friend who’s in the throes of a faith crisis, “Has the situation reached the point where you view me as an enemy or are we still friends?”

  • Beyond the rhetorical aspect of this, however, is the very real prospect that Paul raises in asking this question. Again, in doing so, he shows his deep love for them in his anguish and urgency: You know that my teaching is from Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore, if you turn from me, in following legalism, you turn from the Gospel—you turn from Christ, Himself. Please don’t do this.

  • Paul, as he so often does, no doubt hopes that his strong words will perhaps jolt his readers back to their senses

  • (4:17) “They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them.”

  • Romans 10:2-4 says (Paul himself speaking), “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

  • So we see what Paul thinks of “zeal”; he’s alright with certain kinds of zeal, but if it’s from the wrong motives and with the wrong goal, nothing doing.

  • So, as we bridge into verse 18, we’re going to see that Paul would have been just fine with the Judaizers’ zeal, if it had been for Christ alone. As well, the language translated “not only when I am present with you” suggests that he is thinking as a loving shepherd—not as a man who just wants to protect his reputation from others who want to tarnish it (as the Judaizers had done). So, he implies that he would’ve gladly rejoiced if they had come along with a message to strengthen his; but as it was, they had only come to destroy the Gospel with legalism.

  • (v. 19) “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you..”

  • So…wow! Paul gets pretty crazy here. What sounds a bit crazy to you in this verse?

  • Yeah, he’s a guy. A guy talking about being in labor pains! This is incredible, and highly rare language from Paul, which means that he’s now gone to the strongest cultural symbol he can use to illustrate his love for his people: motherhood-in-waiting.

  • But then, as if that wasn’t crazy enough, Paul shifts to explaining that, what’s being formed in the “womb” of his shepherding, teaching, and praying over them, is not them, but Christ in them!

  • (Schreiner) “The mixing of metaphors [here] is almost certainly intentional and is designed to shake the Galatians out of their spiritual lethargy.”

  • The term, “labor pains” could be Paul saying, very emphatically, if you’re not careful to live in the freedom of the Gospel, you’re going to eventually prove yourselves to be lost, and thus in need of rebirth—actual conversion to Christ. And of course, this is a constant warning from Paul in all of his letters: don’t be mistaken about whether you’re a believer…I give you Godly checkpoints to consider if you find yourself wondering whether you are. And, as one of those checkpoints, the last thing you want to do is add anything to the full sufficiency of Christ for your salvation. Strip all the stuff away, and simply trust Christ, alone.

  • Finally, we must hear this today, and know that Paul’s urgency and love is not just for individuals in the church; it’s for the corporate church, as well.

  • With Paul, individuals mean corporate and corporate means individuals, when it comes to Church (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:28-29)

  • (v. 20) “I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.”

  • Paul is saying, that a letter simply cannot replace a face-to-face conversation, where he can implement the dynamics of everyday life in his pleading with them…but right now, this is all he has to work with.

  • For us, we should certainly take away from this, that some effort for the sake of a loved one in a faith crisis is better than no effort.

  • Finally, he sets the stage here, for a sudden change in his tone, which will come, starting in verse 21, when he switches to the literary tool of allegory, in order to present his case for the “calling” of Gospel vs Law. We’ll get into that next week.

  • To sum all of this up, and to take something from this for ourselves as we engage our loved ones in their faith crises, Schreiner says, “In any case [here], Paul was deeply puzzled over the Galatians’ attraction to Judiasm and the OT Law. He was not completely sure [of all the perfect things] to say, and yet his feelings of [being perplexed] did not paralyze him [from acting on his great love for God, and thus, his great love for God’s people].”

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