Paul’s Personal Appeal (Galatians 4:12-20)
Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Sunday, March 17, 2019
I like to hear stories of how God’s Word works in someone’s life. Recently, that hit home for me as I read this story from Chuck Swindoll.
When I served overseas in the Marines many years ago, I had a bunkmate named Eddie. When he found out I was a Christian, he told me in no uncertain terms:
“Hey, I want to tell you something, Swindle. I didn’t come over here to Okinawa to be evangelized. So just back off, okay?”
“Sure, that’s no problem,” I answered. So, I’d lie up on my top bunk and I’d try to figure out how I could get Eddie interested in the Lord Jesus. One day I said, “Hey Eddie, can you help me with some of these words?” I dropped down about forty of my verse cards, and I said, “Let’s see if I can do these.” They were verses like John 3:16 and other verses on salvation. So I began: “For God, uh . . .”
“SO,” Eddie added impatiently.
“Oh, okay,” I’d reply, “For God so . . . uh . . .”
“Yes, yes, that’s it. For God so loved the world.” We went through dozens of verses just like that.
Fast-forward thirty years . . . and the phone rings one day in my study.
I said, “This can only be a guy named Eddie.”
“Yeah,” Eddie answered, “Hey, you know that trick you played on me in Okinawa? Well, it worked! I’m loving Jesus now.”
Isn’t God good? The power of the Word of God never fails to amaze me. It’s just as the prophet Isaiah recorded:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.(Isaiah 55:10–11)
God’s Word will never return empty. It will always serve a purpose—primarily in the lives of those of us who digest it, who apply it, who memorize it, who meditate on it, who ponder it, who declare it, and by God’s grace, who live it out.
That’s our calling. God’s Word will never return void.
We are about to open up the Bible. The Bible is an inspired book. That means it is “God breathed.” We must not read this like we read the TV Guide or the Newspaper. We are going to continue our trek through Galatians. Today, we are going to look at a personal appeal from Paul to the people of Galatia. Let’s jump into it.
My theme today:
Paul makes a personal appeal to the Galatians based on their past relationship.
Let’s read Galatians 4:12-20:
I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong; 13 but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; 14 and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. 15 Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. 16 So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. 18 But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you. 19 My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you— 20 but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
- This is a different type of writing
- Do you notice how different this is than what we have been talking about?
- One writes: This section of Galatians forms a personal parenthesis in Paul’s overall argument for justification by faith, which he resumed and concluded in vv. 21–31 with one additional proof from Scripture. Chrysostom observed that whereas Paul in the preceding verses had stretched out a hand to his tempest-tossed disciples, he now brought himself into the very midst of the storm.208In his 1519 Galatians commentary, Luther observed, “These words breathe Paul’s own tears.”209When he revisited this text in his 1535 Galatians commentary, Luther sought to penetrate further into Paul’s mind: Now that he has completed the more forceful part of his epistle, he begins to feel that he has handled the Galatians too severely. Being concerned that by his harshness he may have done more harm than good, he tells them that his severe rebuke proceeded from a fatherly and truly apostolic spirit. He becomes amazingly rhetorical and overflows with sweet and gentle words, so that if he had offended anyone with his sharp denunciation, as he had undoubtedly offended many, the gentleness of his language would set things right again. He also teaches by his example that pastors and bishops should take a fatherly and motherly attitude, not toward the ravenous wolves (Matt 7:15) but toward the miserable, misled, and erring sheep, patiently bearing their weakness and fall and handling them with the utmost gentleness.210
- I like that. I don’t know if you notice, as I notice, the tender words of Paul. Paul is pleading with them in this section.
- Look at verse 12: I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have becomeas you are. You have done me no wrong…
- Paul became a gentile to minister to them. not literally, but he did sacrifice the Jewish law to minister to them. Now, he is asking them to recognize they are saved by grace through faith.
- Now, let’s talk about how Paul met them (verses 13-14).
- Paul says that it was a bodily illness which made him meet them. It was a bodily illness that led to him preaching the Gospel to them.
- Think about that.
- Paul is on a missionary journey and then he gets sick. While being sick he preaches the Gospel to them.
- I don’t know how this happened, but that is a Divine appointment if I ever saw one.
- If Paul did not get sick would we have the letter of Galatians?
- Who would not be saved if Paul did not get sick?
- We must never miss what God is doing, even in our sickness.
- People speculate about his sickness.
- Three major theories have emerged about what the nature of this illness may have been (the following comes from the New American Commentary):
- Malaria is one. Paul may have contracted malaria when he first came into the swampy region of Pamphylia in southern Asia Minor. This was the occasion when John Mark became disillusioned with missionary life and returned home to Paul’s great consternation (Acts 13:13). It may have been that Paul’s original plan was to travel westward toward Ephesus and Greece but that he was redirected because of his illness toward the higher terrain around Pisidian Antioch. There, high above sea level, he found a more congenial place to recuperate. On this theory Paul may still have been in the grips of a terrible fever when he first began his preaching mission in Galatia.
- Epilepsy: The verb in v. 14 translated “you did not … scorn” literally means, “you did not spit out” (ekptuō). A common belief was that the evil demon that caused epilepsy could be exorcised or at least contained by spitting at the one thus possessed.218On this reading, Paul was commending the Galatians for receiving him with courtesy and favor even though they may have witnessed the unpleasant sight of his epileptic seizures.
- Ophthalmia [inflammation of the eyes, conjunctivitis]: In v. 15 Paul praised the Galatians for their willingness to tear out their own eyes and give them to him. This, together with Paul’s reference in 6:11 concerning writing such “large letters” in his own hand, have led many scholars to believe that Paul’s illness was some kind of serious eye disorder. But as F. F. Bruce has noted, “there can be no certain diagnosis” of Paul’s ailment here, nor of his “thorn in the flesh,” assuming the two are not to be identified.219
- Regarding the illness being something to do with the eyes, that may be unlikely. One commentary shares: Sacrificing one’s eye for someone else was a figure of speech for a great sacrifice (Petronius attributes it to some rhetoricians). Thus Paul’s statement that the Galatians “would have dug out your own eyes to give them to me” need not mean that his infirmity (4:13–14) was an oozing eye sore, as some commentators have suggested. In Greek culture, friendship was especially demonstrated by sacrifice; Paul here reaffirms the bond that exists between himself and the Galatians.
- We cannot know for sure what Paul is dealing with, we do know that God used it for the good. We also know from 2 Cor. 12 that Paul wrote about a “thorn in the side” which could be this illness.
- Paul met them through this illness, and they were willing to sacrifice for his needs. They helped him out. His bodily condition was not good, yet they still helped him.
- Notice Paul’s concern for them (verses 15-20)
- Look at the next five verses.
- Paul asks them what happened to their blessing, or their joy. This could have to do with the joyful spirit they had, or the blessing they offered to Paul.
- Either way, let’s talk about joy for a moment.
- Could it be that they had great joy in the Lord and that was taken from them? Maybe they had joy recognizing their salvation in Jesus and now they have lost the joy because they are discouraged trying to live by the Law.
- I like what the Life Application Study Bible shares:
- Have you lost your joy? Paul sensed that the Galatians had lost the joy of their salvation because of legalism. Legalism can take away joy because (1) it makes people feel guilty rather than loved; (2) it produces self-hatred rather than humility; (3) it stresses performance over relationship; (4) it points out how far short we fall rather than how far we’ve come because of what Christ did for us. If you feel guilty and inadequate, check your focus. Are you living by faith in Christ or by trying to live up to the demands and expectations of others?
- In verse 16 Paul questions if he has become their enemy for telling them the truth. Think about it. They had these super-apostles come in and change the message of the Gospel. These Judaizers who thought they had to keep the whole law came in and changed the message. However, Paul tells them the Truth and so he becomes their enemy.
- Have you ever faced that? Have you ever lost a relationship for pointing out the truth? If so remember that happened to Paul as well. You are in good company. But also remember Paul fought for the relationship and so should we. In this short New Testament letter he is pleading with them for them to recognize proper doctrine. We must be careful about trying to win an argument but losing a person, but we still must point out the truth.
- This is especially true if you are a parent, or grandparent, or mentor, or spiritual parent over someone. Paul planted this church in Galatia and so he had a spiritual obligation to correct them when they went wayward.
- This is true of you too.
- I understand that my children are young, so I have not faced this yet, but the Truth is the Truth. Parents are called to be spiritual leaders to their children and that does not change when they get older. I see too many parents neglecting this high calling or quitting when their children get older.
- Sometimes you quit and you do not even realize it. How important is it to pass on a high calling of worship to your children? Some of you will say, “Oh yea, that is very important.” To which I will say, then why do you skip for silly reasons. Here are some of the reasons:
- family coming into town,
- to which I say, invite them to church.
- Luke 14:26: If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
- Jesus does not mean literally hate family. He just means that Jesus must be Lord.
- You neglect worshipping Your Lord and Savior for things like this, I dare say it could be likened to denying Your Savior and you just wait until your children do too.
- Other reasons for skipping church: family were in town yesterday so I am tired,
- my children are in town so we are going to spend time together;
- again, bring them to church.
- You talk about the Gospel with them and you want them to be in church, but you don’t model it.
- Other reasons for skipping church: scouts;
- Sleeping in;
- Don’t have anything to wear;
- And you know the rest.
- We could go deeper with this. How do you value worship when you are in church? Do you model a value of worship? Do you show up late and leave early?
- How are you being a spiritual parent to your children or those you disciple? Do you model daily devotions? Do you model prayer? Do you repent? That is big one. We think, “I am not going to repent to those who are “below” me. Listen, no one is below you. Do you model humility? Are you approachable? Do you get angry at people for correcting you or trying to correct you?
- Are you telling the Truth? Are you modeling the Truth? This whole letter is about Paul doing that.
- Verse 17 is simply saying that these Judaizers, these Jewish Christians who want them to follow the whole law, they are trying to get them to seek them instead of Jesus. The New Living Translation says: Those false teachers are so eager to win your favor, but their intentions are not good. They are trying to shut you off from me so that you will pay attention only to them.
- Verse 18: is clear: these people of Galatia were zealous when Paul was with them but not anymore.
- Verses 19-20 are Paul’s heart. He calls them children and then later he gives a maternal illustration. Thus, in one verse he uses a paternal and a maternal illustration to talk about his concern for them.
- I like what one source shares: The anguish of his labor over them had to continue, he said, “until Christ is formed in you.” The Galatians who a moment ago were described as being formed in the womb were now spoken of as expectant mothers who themselves must wait for an embryonic Christ to be fully developed (morphoō, a medical term for the growth of the fetus into an infant) within them.
- That is how much he cares for them.
- Notice, just as Paul really rebuked them, he did this out of love. Sometimes we are hurt by a rebuke but we are not realizing the reason for the rebuke. Paul was quite clear in rebuking them but that is because he was concerned for their salvation.
- Paul preached the Gospel to them, we must also preach the Gospel (verse 13).
- Paul preached the Gospel to them because he ended up with them as a result of illness. We must also watch for Divine appointments to share the Gospel (verse 13).
- They cared for him, we must care for others (verse 14).
- They cared for him and did not despise or loathe him, we must do the same.
- They were willing to give up for Paul, we must be willing to give up as well (verse 15).
- We must not lose our sense of blessing and joy (verse 15).
- We must speak the truth to people even when it hurts (verse 16).
- We must also be willing to accept the truth even when it is unpopular or hurts (verse 16).
- We must labor for people as Paul did for them (verses 19-20).
I did not write the following but I thought it was good:
I was at the grocery store this morning and heard a loud crash and something shattering. Being nosy, I walked towards the sound and saw some people whispering and looking back to the end of the next aisle. When I walked down that aisle, I saw an older lady had hit a shelf and many things had fallen to the ground and broke. She was kneeling on the floor embarrassed, frantically trying to clean up.
I felt so bad for her, and everyone was just standing there staring at her. So I went and knelt beside her and told her not to worry and started helping her pick up the broken pieces. After about a minute, the store manager came and knelt beside us and said, “Leave it, we will clean this up.”
The lady, totally embarrassed said, “I need to pay for all this first.” The manager smiled, helped her to her feet and said, “No ma’am, we have insurance for this, you do not have to pay anything!”
Close your eyes, and imagine God doing the same for you!
Collecting the pieces of your broken heart from all the blows life has thrown at you. God will heal all your wounds. He wants to heal you! He wants to take care of your soul!
We can have that same insurance and it’s called Grace.
I would only add, God is not healing common blows, but He is healing sins.
218See H. Schlier, “ὲκπτυω” TDNT2.448–49. While the act of spitting had demonological associations in the Hellenistic era, by the time of Paul it was more commonly viewed merely as a gesture of disrespect, hence the derived meaning “despise.” Galatians 4:13–14 is frequently cited as evidence by those who identified Paul’s physical ailment with epilepsy (C. J. Klausner’s, From Jesus to Paul[London: SCM, 1944], 325–30).
219Bruce, Galatians, 209.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Ga 4:15.
Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation(Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), Ga 4:17.