Summary: In this personal section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul first appeals to them, then he fondly remembers their loving acceptance of him, and finally he reminds them of his attitude towards them.
We are working our way Sunday by Sunday through the apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians. One of the advantages of this approach is that we cover the whole counsel of God—at least as it is revealed in this portion of God’s Word to us. By studying books of the Bible, or large sections of the Bible, in their entirety forces us to examine what God says to us rather than what I want to say to you if I was preaching on my pet topic each week.
Our text for today is probably one that I would not have chosen to preach if I were to preach on my choice of a topic.
In this section of Paul’s letter he talks about his relationship with his congregations. In fact, he talks about a pastor’s perplexity regarding the members of the congregation drifting off into error.
Let’s see how the apostle Paul puts it in Galatians 4:12-20:
"12 I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. 13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14 Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15 What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
"17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. 19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!" (Galatians 4:12-20)
If you have been attending the Tampa Bay Presbyterian Church for just a few Sundays at least, I am sure that you have noticed that the apostle Paul is passionate about truth. He is exceedingly zealous for God’s truth to be understood, believed, and proclaimed.
You may recall that the reason Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians is because he had heard that the Galatians were starting to believe false teaching. The apostle Paul had planted a number of churches in the region of Galatia. As a result of his ministry several churches sprang up into existence. The people were marvelously converted to Christ as they believed the gospel of God’s grace.
However, some time after Paul left the region false teachers arrived in the region. They started teaching that Paul had got the gospel only half right. Paul said that in order for a person to be saved he simply needed to believe the gospel. But the false teachers said that in order for a person to be saved he needed to believe and obey the Law of Moses.
There is a radical difference between these two views. It is vitally important that you understand the difference. The false teachers said that faith and works go together, and the result is salvation. Paul, on the other hand, said that faith and salvation go together, and the result is works. Do you see the difference between the two? It is important to see the difference between the two because the consequence of believing the latter is heaven, while the consequence of believing the former is hell.
For the first three chapters in his letter to the Galatians the apostle Paul has been trying to clarify the difference between his teaching and that of the false teachers. But Paul’s approach changes in Galatians 4:12. Paul’s vehemence against the false teachers subsides, and he now appeals to the Galatians with deep feeling and passionate tenderness. In fact, John MacArthur notes that Paul’s words here in Galatians 4:12-20 are the strongest words of personal affection that Paul uses in any of his letters. Instead of scolding them, he pours out his heart expressing his profound concern for them. He says, in effect, “I care about you very much. I love you deeply just as you have loved me deeply. Please listen to what I have to say because I am perplexed about you!”
Commentator John Stott says, “In Galatians 1-3 we have been listening to Paul the apostle, Paul the theological, Paul the defender of the faith; but now we are hearing Paul the man, Paul the pastor, Paul the passionate lover of souls.”