From the very logical argumentations of Galatians 3:6-29 until Galatians 4:1-11, Paul will now appeal to the Galatian believers’ emotions in Galatians 4:12-20. The tone of this section according to Douglas Moo is “characteristic of the ancient rhetorical device called “pathos,” by which a speaker seeks to move the audience by appealing to the emotions and to shared personal experience.” This is a legitimate way of convincing your audience.
Now there’s a common mindset today amongst Christians who were just weaned from the milk of emotionalism, and it is the idea that appealing to emotions is manipulative, dangerous and therefore must be avoided. But for Paul, appealing to emotion is just as important as appealing to the mind. We know that this is not a manipulation, because after all, he already gave a pretty lengthy exegetical, theological, and systematic exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works of the law. He already did the theological ground work where right affections will be cultivated. This is logic on fire as how Martin Lloyd Jones would put it. Paul doesn’t want his readers to be puffed up only with informations in their heads. He wanted these truths to not only illumine our minds but also to give warmth in our hearts. This is Paul’s aim, and mine too. My goal is to drive the truth of the gospel of grace home into our hearts.
The main point of this section is in verse 12. Become as I am, because I also have become as you are, brothers, I beseech you(Γίνεσθε ὡς ἐγώ, ὅτι κἀγὼ ὡς ὑμεῖς, ἀδελφοί, δέομαι ὑμῶν). Notice that the translation I’m using here is quite awkward, because typically, in English style of writing, we expect the direct address “Brothers, I beseech you” to occur first in the sentence. But in the original language, the imperative “become as I am” is thrust at the beginning for emphasis. This is the first imperative in the letter, calling the Galatians into action after Paul provided an in depth explanation of why the Galatians must not let themselves be enslaved again under the law.
So what does becoming like Paul means?
There are two levels as to what Paul meant by becoming like him. The surface level in verse 12, and the deeper level, which is in verse 19.
First, the clue as to what he meant by the imperative is in the reason that he gave us in the second clause; “because I also have become as you are.” That is, Paul have become like those who were not under the law, a Gentile(1 Corinthians 9:21). So basically, he’s just saying that they’re already in a good position of not being under the law, why choose to be under the law then? Therefore be like Paul as someone, who being a Jew, no longer lives under the Mosaic law. For him, it makes no sense for them as Gentiles to live like Jews. At the surface level, that’s what he meant by becoming like him. We’ll look at the deeper level in verses 19-20 later on.
Now Paul’s love for his readers manifested itself by his entreaty to them. With the very emphatic command of the first half of verse 12, he immediately followed it with a plea; “Brothers, I beseech you” or “I entreat you.” This shows how close Paul was with the Galatians. He’s not lording it over the church. Yes he’s emphatic with the command, but it is flowing from deep brotherly love towards them.
Now the last part of verse 12 until verses 13-20 brings even more to the forefront Paul’s relationship with them by appealing to their mutual experience. This section serves as the ground of the main point of verse 12. The logical connection may not be as apparent as we would want it to be, because of the lack of conjunctions, but it’s a support nonetheless.
So Paul reminded them that they did him no harm in verse 12, and he explained it positively in verses 13-14. He conceded that when he first preached to them the gospel, he’s experiencing bodily ailments and that became a trial for them. What the ailment was, we are not told. One thing is clear though, Paul’s entrance into their lives was not a pretty sight. According to Thomas Schreiner; “Such weakness was a temptation to the Galatians, for it seemed to be a sign that Paul’s message was not from God, for surely a divine message would be accompanied by the strength rather than the weakness of the messenger.” Nevertheless they did not despise or loathe Paul, but instead received him as an angel of God(a messenger from God) , as Christ Jesus. The word for loathe in greek means to spit upon. In ancient cultures, to spit upon someone is like warding off the illness and demonic influence from that person. As though the person was cursed by God. But the irony is they saw Paul’s weakness as God’s instrument for salvation the way Christ death was God’s power unto salvation. Rather being a hindrance, it becomes the very means of God in bringing salvation to Galatia. So Paul was well received.
Now inspite of that, Paul’s conclusion in verse 15 is quite surprising. He concluded with a rhetorical question asking them; “Therefore, where is your blessing?(ποῦ οὖν ὁ μακαρισμὸς ὑμῶν)” The blessing in question here is provided to us in the ground proposition; “For I testify to you that you would have given me your eyes by plucking them out if it were possible (μαρτυρῶ γὰρ ὑμῖν ὅτι εἰ δυνατὸν τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς ὑμῶν ἐξορύξαντες ἐδώκατέ μοι). ” The blessing here is their warm welcome of Paul, and their willingness to help him. But the demanded answer by the rhetorical question is in the negative. It’s gone. They seem to have lost their confidence and goodwill toward Paul, and so he concludes in verse 16 with another rhetorical question; “Have I now become your enemy for telling you the truth?”
Many today will readily accept you as long as you tell them only what they wanted to hear. But the moment you start telling them the truth which they don’t want to hear, they’ll treat you as their enemy. They don’t want to be rebuked, and to be told what’s right from wrong, and what they needed to do. They want to live only by themselves and for themselves. Some within the church were like that, and you don’t have to look far outside our local churches to see one. They would listen to a sermon that only focuses on their favourite topics that has nothing to do with their own sins, but on the sins of other people. This will turn every Sunday’s sermon into an amen fest. In their hearts they say, “Amen! I agree, and thank God I’m not that person.” But the moment the pastor preached from the hard sayings of Scriptures, passages that were never given attention to before, and the focus is no longer outside but inside the local body, and what’s under the spotlight is their own sinfulness, and what they need to do in order to forsake and kill it, they will treat the pastor as their enemy. That’s seems to be what the Galatians were doing then, and that’s what they’re doing now! So instead of a friend, in their eyes, Paul seems to have become their enemy.
So what is that truth that they don’t want to hear from Paul? The truth that made Paul look like an enemy to them? The answer is in verse 17. Paul uncovered before their eyes the motive of their “respected” teachers, and how they were deceieved into thinking that they were being made much of. He said; “They are not zealous for you in a good way, but they wish to shut you out, in order that you might be zealous for them.” Remember what Paul said in Galatians 1:10? He said; “Am I now seeking the approval of man or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” Verse 17 is the opposite of Paul’s motivation. This people only want to please men because they want others to be indebted to them. The Galatian believers thought that by adhering to the standards set forth by these charlatans they’re being made much of and joined in God’s community, but in reality they’re being shut out. Paul immediately qualifies though in verse 18 that to be sought for, or to be made much of is a good thing as long as it is for good reasons. So by implication, the false teachers may say good things about you, but that doesn’t mean they’re seeking the best for you. Now with Paul, yes you will hear things that for a season might give you some heart aches, but he will always tell you the truth. You can count on him that it is for your best interest. He will tell you that if you continue with your self reliance, with your sin and insubordination to our only Lord Jesus Christ, you’re heading for destruction.
Now as I mentioned earlier, this passage is quite hard to squeeze within a rigid logical structure, because Paul was bursting with emotions. But we may perhaps look at verses 19-20 as the conclusion of verses 12c-18. Because of his utter astonishment and confusion, Paul can only exclaim in verse 19 that he’s in labor pains again for their sake. He’s willing to undergo this much anguish in childbirth just to make sure Christ is formed in them. Remember that Paul already said in verse 11 that he feared he might have labored over them in vain. He’s worried that they still don’t have a right understanding of the gospel. Understanding not only on how we get into God’s family, but also how we live within the confines of His household. But what does having Christ formed in us means? The answer I believe is in Galatians 2:19-20, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In other words, we need to die by virtue of our union with Christ through faith, but also live a life of faith in the Son of God. That is what it means for Christ to live in us or having Christ formed in us. So in verse 20 Paul could only wish he was there to demonstrate to them in person what that life looks like. He doesn’t want to be harsh for harshness sake. He wanted to change his tone, but due to being perplexed by the Galatians’ predicament, he cannot. Paul wanted to wake them up and remove whatever bewilderment the Judaizers cast upon them. Paul was like a mother to them and they were his,so to speak, prematurely born children. All he wanted for them is for Christ to be formed in them. That is what it means to be like Paul at a deeper level.
Therefore let’s ask ourselves; How do we respond to our leaders’ labor just to form Christ in us? Do we hate them for it like the Galatians seems to have done? And for the leaders, are we motivated only by the approval of men that we seek the interest of others? Do we labor enough to make sure that Christ is formed in the hearts of our people? The remedy for self reliance, self righteousness, self-centeredness and pride is by dying to ourselves. A life of faith in Christ is a life of dying to one’s self. This is how we become like Paul. Lastly, we need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily, because that is God’s primary way of forming Christ in us.