Galatians 4: 8 – 20 Paul’s concern for the Galatians
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and 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. Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
These people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
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This passage seems a bit muddled. The people who are zealous to win over the Galatians are those who are trying to impose circumcision on them – but what’s this sentence about? “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces?” This seems to refer to pagan worship, rather than Judaism. Perhaps, indeed, it does. There were many converts from paganism to Judaism within the church in Galatea. Possibly they were relapsing into pagan practices.
There is a great deal about the people and the situation that Paul knew, and the recipients of the letter knew, and that we don’t know. If even Paul writes “I am perplexed about you!”, I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that I don’t understand this passage.
Still, its main thrust comes across clearly. Paul fears for the Galatians, that the work he has done with them has been wasted. He feels as though he needs to start again from the beginning, saying: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,” He wants to encourage them to persist in faith in Christ Jesus, and to believe in the gospel even when he is not with them. “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.”
This is good advice to the Galatians – and it’s good advice for us as well. It’s all too easy to fall back into lazy habits of thought, and belief, and action, and prayer. We need always to be listening to the Holy Spirit; who knows what surprises he will have in story for us!
Thank you for Jesus. Please help me to let him be at the very centre of my life.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.