Scripture Text – Galatians 4:1-18
He Seeks Their Affection
Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all. You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?
They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you. – Galatians 4:12-18.
Paul was a wonderful spiritual father; it is so evident in the body of his writings for he knew just how to balance rebuke with love. Now he turns from “spanking” to “embracing” as he reminds the believers of their love for him and his love for them. At one point they were willing to sacrifice anything for Paul, so great was their love; but now he had become, as it were, their enemy. The Judaizers had come in and stolen their affection.
Many who study closely the Bible wish Paul had been more explicit here, because we are not sure just what events he is talking about when talking about his affliction. When Paul had originally visited them, he was suffering from some physical affliction or ailment. If, as noted in Galatians 1, Paul wrote this letter to the churches of South Galatia, then he is referring to his first missionary journey, recorded in Acts 13–14. Apparently Paul had not intended to visit these cities, but was forced to do so because of some bodily infirmity or injury he may have sustained. We can only speculate as to what this was. Some have suggested malaria; others, an affliction of the eyes (see Galatians 4:15 specifically). Whatever it was, it must have made Paul somewhat repulsive in appearance, because he commends the Galatians for the way they received him in spite of the way he looked. To them, he was an angel of God. It is a wonderful thing when people accept God’s servants, not because of their outward appearance, but because they represent the Lord and bring His message.
Now Paul asks them: “What has happened to that love? What has happened to the blessedness—the happiness—you experienced when you heard the Gospel and trusted Christ?” It was of course rhetorical, Paul was certainly very aware of what had transpired: the Judaizers had come in and stolen their hearts.
I’ve been teaching a lot lately on false teachers and false prophets and one of the marks of a false teacher is that he tries to attract other men’s converts to himself, and not simply to the truth of the Word or to the person of Jesus Christ; they usually have ulterior motives. It was not the Judaizers who originally came to Galatia and led them to Christ; it was Paul. Like the cultists today, these false teachers were not winning lost sinners to Christ, but were stealing converts from those who were truly serving the Lord. Paul had proved to be their loving friend. He reminded them, “I became like you” thus identifying himself with them. Now they were turning away from Paul and following false leaders who were in no way shepherds.
Paul told them the truth, but the Judaizers told them lies. Paul sought to glorify Christ, but the Judaizers glorified themselves and their converts. “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 have zeal for them.” – Galatians 4:17 (NIV).
A true servant of God does not “use people” to build himself up or his work; he ministers in love to help people know Christ better and glorify Him and the Father who sent Him. Beware of that religious worker who wants your exclusive allegiance because he is the only one who is right. He will use you as long as he can and then drop you for somebody else—and your fall will be a painful one. The task of the spiritual leader is to get people to love and follow Christ, to disciple them so that they themselves can carry on the work of Christ and it is not for the leader to promote himself and/or his ministry.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” – Proverbs 27:6. Paul had proved his love to the Galatians by telling them the truth; but they would not accept it. They were enjoying the “kisses” of the Judaizers, not realizing that these kisses were leading them into bondage and sorrow. Christ had made them sons and heirs, but they were rapidly becoming slaves and beggars once again.
Don’t misunderstand, they had not lost the experience of salvation—they were still Christians; but they were losing the enjoyment of their salvation and finding satisfaction in their works instead. Sad to say, they did not even realize their losses. They actually thought they were becoming better Christians by substituting the Law for grace, and the religious deeds of the flesh for the fruit of the Spirit. The sad truth is that today we see very much the same thing happening.
So before closing, I want to pose this question to you, to consider very carefully in your time of prayer and meditation; Is your Christian life moving forward into liberty or backward into bondage? Think very carefully about it; it could be the difference between spiritual poverty and weariness and abundant joy and spiritual prosperity!