Bible Passage: Galatians 4:12-20
Throughout this letter, Paul has been contending with the Galatian believers to stay true to the Gospel. There have been false teachers coming in telling them that believing in Jesus is not enough and they need to also submit themselves to the Jewish law. In Paul’s mind this completely undermines the gospel of free grace, but it appears that many in Galatia are embracing this teaching. In trying to turn them back to the Gospel, Paul deploys different types of argument. Some parts of the letter are deeply theological and making the case in principle. Other parts are testimonial and narrate Paul’s own story. This passage is more personal in nature and he reflects on his own time in Galatia and his relationship with his recipients.
Faithful Friendship (12-14): Though Paul has been arguing with intensity, here he depersonalises things and shares his heart. He calls the Galatians his friends, and acknowledges that they have not wronged him. In verse 13 he reminisces about his time in Galatia. It isn’t clear what the physical infirmity that he refers to is (although verse 15 suggests it may be something to do with his eyes), but it sounds like his initial visit to Galatia was unplanned, and that he was forced to stop there because of ill-health. Despite this, the Galatians were kind to him and received him well.
Faltering Friendship (15-16): Despite the initial positive response that Paul had received in Galatia, things had changed now and they no longer considered him as they used to. So much so that Paul can ask them what had become of their goodwill. The only thing that has changed in their relationship is that Paul has had to tell them some hard truths, but it seems that this has completely soured the relationship, and they now treat him as an enemy rather than as the one who they were willing to sacrifice anything for.
Flattering Friendship (17-18): In contrast to Paul’s own relationship with the Galatian believers is that of the false teachers. These people had come into Galatia and had been making a big deal of the Christians there. Of course, this can be a good thing, and everybody likes to be made much of, but the crucial question is why it has happening. It is very different to make much of somebody out of genuine gospel affection than it is to do so for selfish gain. In this case, there was an ulterior motive and the false teachers were only showing such affection for the Galatians to win them to the false teaching that would draw them away from the gospel and to boost their own power, position and influence.
Fervent Friendship (19-20): Paul finishes with a heart-felt appeal based on his current feelings for the Galatian believers. He calls them his little children and clearly views them with parental affection. The struggle that he is having in seeing them grasp and live by the gospel is one that he compares to the pain of childbirth – life will come as a result of it, but the actual process is agony! He wishes he could be present with them (always best for the difficult conversations) so he could speak to them in a different tone about things. He started off this passage in verse 12 by begging them to change their ways.
It is interesting to see how personal this issue is for Paul. It would be a mistake to view church ministry and theology as something that happens in a theoretical way. It is all worked out in the context of friendships in the gospel. Relationships of love form the foundation of sharing the gospel with others and helping others grow in the gospel. As believers we should place a high premium on friendships within the church, and should be on guard against those who would try to manipulate friendships for the sake of their own gain.
- Invite people to think about their own relationships in the church. Who are they close to? If the answer is nobody, make some practical suggestions how people can reach out and change this.
- How do we respond when our friends need to tell us hard truths? Are we able to hear them or do we respond like the Galatians did?
- Manipulation of relationships is not something confined to the first century. It still happens. Warn people to be on their guard against those today who are quick to flatter, but do not have godly intentions at heart.