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Galatians 4:12-17: Paul Gets Personal

Paul was the spiritual father to the believers in Galatia. He brought them the message of the gospel, introducing them to Christ, and now he feels a responsibility for them. He has watched them turn away from the true gospel and he has attempted to correct them. He reminded them of their former idolatry. So far, Paul has written as an apostle, and has been very theological, rebuking them for following a false gospel. Now he gets personal! He speaks from the heart. He appeals to them as a parent and friend, showing his deep affection and his concern for them to take his words seriously and return to the true gospel.

Paul was very serious abut the Judaizer’s, but the Galatians took the apostolic correction personally. It is apparent that many had come to believe Paul’s critics. So their relationship to Paul changed from Christian love to suspicion about his motives, causing a rift. They can’t argue with him scripturally, so they denounce him, questioning his authority. In verse 16 Paul writes, “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”

Swindoll mentions three false perceptions in the Galatian church that are also found in the contemporary church. “1. He is not what he appears to be in his letters. This is the criticism of hypocrisy. Paul mentions it in 2 Corinthians 10:9-11 and flatly contradicts it. 2. He is not an apostle though he claims to be. This challenged Paul’s authority…3. He is not a tender pastor but a cold intimidating bully. Paul confronts this attack against his personality with words that convey a pastor’s heart. (1 Thessalonians 2:5-8).

“Denunciation is the last resort of a defeated opponent. That has been the case with these false teachers. They cannot compete with Paul scripturally, so they have attacked Paul personally and made him out to be a liar and less than an apostle, and the Galatians have fallen headlong into the trap.”–A.W. Pink

Paul is asking them to remember the special relationship they had when he first came to Galatia. It was like a father and his children.

“Don’t you remember when you were birthed into the kingdom? Don’t you remember what the situation was? You saw me. I lived among you. I preached the gospel to you. You were set free by that very message. Why are you turning away from it now? You’re not only rejecting me, you’re rejecting Christ. You’re rejecting the message. There’s such a bond between a person when they are suffering and people that are sensitive to them and particularly when the gospel is in the mix. There’s a special bond. So Paul reminds them.” –Dr. Wayne Barber

Verse 12a: “Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you.”

My older brother, Lyle was a high school all-state football player and just an all-around good student, loved and admired by everyone. I was not so blessed, which prompted one of my teacher’s to ask, “why can’t you be more like your brother.” My dad told me often as I was growing up, “You’ll never amount to anything you’re just like you brother’s (my older brothers were in and out of reform school and prison when I was a child). How would you react to comments like these?

What was Paul like? He was a tireless traveler, hard worker, church founder, missionary, writer, preacher, faithful friend and dedicated leader who loved Christ.

So Paul says, “become like me.”

What does he mean? “It is an appeal. Paul is free. He says to the Galatians, ‘Be as I am, enjoy this liberty just as I do.’ There is a difference, though. Paul once had been under the law as an observant Jew, but now he was free from it, and they were once in bondage to paganism and had been set free, but they wanted to go back to bondage, to legalism. Paul said, No, ‘be as I am,’ but then he continued, ‘for I also am as ye’ (namely, set free through Christ).” –

Verse 12b: “…You have not injured me at all.” “You were very sensitive and kind then. You did not come down on me personally” (The Message).

Had someone in the Galatian church said that Paul was offended? Had he caused some personal resentment for someone that caused them to spread discontent about him? Once a family left our church, when I contacted them, the father said, “I was sick and you didn’t call me.” I apologized and told him I didn’t know. Not only did we lose his family but some fiends of his also. This is not a personal issue with Paul. He has no personal quarrel with them.

Paul shows for us that godly people are not easily offended. “ Great peace have they which love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).

“Ye have not injured me at all; what injury they had done was to God, whose will it was that these things should be abolished; and to Christ, who had broken down the middle wall of partition; and to the Gospel, which proclaimed liberty to the captives; and to their own souls, by entangling themselves with the yoke of bondage; but no personal private injury was done to the apostle by their compliance with the law. This he says, lest they should think that he spoke out of anger and resentment, and on account of any personal affront offered to him; which leads him to take notice of their former kindness and respect to him, and which he designs as a reason why they should pay the same deference to him now as then.” –John Gill

Verse 13: “You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first.”

Paul reminds them of their first meeting with him, when he had been seriously ill with an unspecified “physical infirmity” manifesting unsightly symptoms. Even with these issues they received him warmly and without hesitation. As far as can be ascertained, Paul was not particularly handsome man.

One historian who with not so flattering terms describes the apostle as: “Baldheaded, bowlegged, strongly built, a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, with a rather large nose, full of grace, for at times he looked like a man and at times he had the face of an angel.” And Ramsay (Church in the Roman Empire, 32) adds: “This plain and unflattering account of the apostle's personal appearance seems to embody a very early tradition…and in chapter xvi he argues that this story goes back to a document of the 1st century. In some respects it harmonizes with what we gather from Paul's Epistles. Findlay (HDB) notes that this description is confirmed by “the lifelike and unconventional figure of the Roman ivory diptych, supposed to date not later than the 4th century.” (Lewin's Life and Epistles of Paul, Frontispiece, and II, 211). At Lystra the natives took Barnabas for Jupiter and Paul for Hermes, “because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:12), showing that Barnabas had the more impressive appearance, while Paul was his spokesman. –

“Some think the illness Paul refers to was malaria, possibly contracted in the coastal lowlands of Pamphylia. That could explain why Paul and Barnabas apparently did not preach at Perga, a city in Pamphylia (Acts 13:13-14). ‘Through infirmity of the flesh’ means because of bodily illness. Evidently physical sickness led to Paul’s earlier ministry among the Galatians. Perhaps he had not planned to evangelize Galatia, but illness altered his itinerary, thus leading him there.” –

Other’s believe his infirmity was his, “thorn in the flesh” which he refers to in 2 Corinthians 12:7, And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. He calls it “a messenger of Satan” that had been given to torment him.

“Paul speaks of a ‘thorn in the flesh’ in 2 Corinthians 12:7. He calls it ‘a messenger of Satan’ that had a purpose of ‘torment.’ Many explanations have been put forward, but whether Paul is referring to a physical, spiritual, or emotional affliction—or something else entirely—has never been answered with satisfaction. Since he was not talking of a literal thorn, he must have been speaking metaphorically. Some of the more popular theories of the thorn’s interpretation include temptation, a chronic eye problem, malaria, migraines, epilepsy, and a speech disability. Some even say that the thorn refers to a person, such as Alexander the coppersmith, who did Paul ‘a great deal of harm’ (2 Timothy 4:14). No one can say for sure what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, but it was a source of real pain in the apostle’s life.” –

I agree with John MacArthur who says: “It is best to understand Paul’s thorn as a demonic messenger of Satan sent to torment him by using the deceivers to seduce the Corinthians into a rebellion against him. At least four lines of evidence support that interpretation. First, in the overwhelming majority of its uses in the New Testament (including every other occurrence in Paul’s writings), angelos (messenger) refers to angels. An angel sent from Satan would, of course, be a demon. Second, the verb translated torment always refers to harsh treatment from someone (Matt. 26:67; Mark 14:65; 1 Cor. 4:11; 1 Peter 2:20). Third, the Old Testament sometimes refers metaphorically to opponents as thorns (e.g., Num. 33:55; Josh. 23:13; Judg. 2:3; Ezek. 28:24). Finally, the verb translated leave in verse 8 is always used in the New Testament to speak of someone departing. Likely, then, the demonic messenger was tormenting Paul by being the indwelling spirit in the leading false apostle (cf. 2 Cor. 11:13–15; 1 Tim. 4:1). Again, this is consistent with Paul’s testimony that his severest suffering came from his concern for the church (11:28–29).

“Well, whatever his illness was, it must have been repulsive…To be around somebody who had some of these detestable sicknesses in those times—in most of their religious beliefs if you add this, and factor this into it and Judaism particularly, they thought that these horrific conditions was because of sin in somebody’s life and, buddy, they would turn away from them in a minute. ‘Don’t get near that guy. There is sin in his life. Look how sick he is. Look how repulsive he is.’” –Dr. Wayne Barber

Verse 14: “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.”

Whatever illness he had, or how repulsive his appearance, they did not reject him. He says, “You received me as an angel of God (listen, this is incredible), as Christ Jesus.” The word “received” is dechomai, it means to receive something with eagerness.

How should you receive your pastor? Since your pastor is chosen by God to serve your church they are to be listened to, taken care of physically and financially, “Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). “Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well,[a] especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). “Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit” (Hebrews 13:17). “Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NLT).

Verse 15a: “What then was the blessing you enjoyed?” “Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt then?” (NLT)

The Greek word for “blessing” is the word makarismos, meaning total inward spiritual satisfaction. This word comes from, makarios, real joy, inward bliss, and happiness. It is a deep, abiding peace, a sense of contentment and strength that is due to something internal. This joy cannot be produced by circumstances.

Now Paul is asking, “Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt then?” Where did it go? “You were once so happy in my presence and responded to my preaching, now you are so alienated from me, what happened? You Galatians counted yourselves blessed when you first heard the gospel of grace. What happened?

Take a long look at your Christian life! Do you still have the spiritual satisfaction that you once had? There was a time when you prayed, tears would fill your eyes when you sensed that you were walking into the presence of God. There was a time when you couldn’t get enough of God’s Word. There was a time when you just couldn’t wait for Sunday so you could go to church. You wanted to throw your watch away and just listen to it and listen to it and listen to it and listen to it and listen to it. There was a time when you shared the gospel with everyone you met. But now something has happened. Where did it go?

How much happier you were then. How you were filled with satisfaction in serving Christ. Where did it go?

What has become of the humble servant of Christ you once were? Can you remember when it was a blessing just to talk about Jesus? Where did it go?

Verse 15b: “For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.”

What an incredible statement, “…you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.” The words “plucked out” literally mean “dug out.” The eyes are the most sensitive part of the human body, they are the most valued part of our anatomy; and they are irreplaceable. To say, “We would have dug out our eyes for you," is saying, “I would give you the thing which is most precious and irreplaceable to me, that costs me the most, if you need it, I will give it to you.”

Paul speaks of their initial willingness to make whatever sacrifices were necessary for his well-being, including the plucking out of "your eye.” This was a probably a common saying or a current proverb referring to a significant personal sacrifice, most likely, expressive of unbridled love and concern. What greater proof of their love and respect for Paul, that they would have given anything, no matter how dear, to contribute to his welfare?

This passage is where some teachers come up with the idea that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” as his eyesight. As has already been stated I believe Paul’s thorn was a person who was allowed to torment him. Barclay writes, “It has been suggested that Paul's eyes always troubled him because he had been dazzled so much on the Damascus Road that ever afterwards he could see only dimly and painfully.”

“They didn't have glasses in those days, obviously, and there was probably a high incidence of eye disease. With eye disease prevalent, and no glasses, and in Paul's case, he spent his whole life pouring over Hebrew manuscripts, he could very well have had real eye problems. That's speculation, but it could have some basis…Galatians 6:11, "You see how large a letter I have written to you in my own hand." That may indicate the possibility of his having to write very large in order to perceive what he was writing. He had the custom of dictating everything. He would dictate to an amanuensis or secretary, then would write the closing words himself, and sign his name for himself. The rest was usually dictated. But here, apparently he was writing, if this is the truth, largely because he was unable to see. So there is that possibility.” –MacArthur

Verse 16: “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”

Someone has said, “Untruth is carried on willing wings, but he who speaks the truth needs a bodyguard.”

The apostle Paul had a wonderful, loving relationship with God’s people in Galatia. He had an affection for them that can only be experienced in a pastor/parishioner relationship. He loved them and they returned that affection. So much so that they would have given anything to care for Paul, even to their most precious possession. Yet, even in light of this wonderful relationship, and Paul’s enlightened teaching, they began to drift from the truth. “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6,7). Then in chapter 4, he again rebukes them, “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain’ (Galatians 4:9-11).

The apostle pulled no punches in his presentation of truth! As some might say today, “He was telling it like it is!” Even though Paul was God’s chosen messenger to them and he was speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit, they did not accept Paul’s rebuke and exhortation? “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” As a pastor for many years, I have had my share of people who did not accept the teaching of the word of God. Some has protested audibly, disrupting the service, others have simply walked out in protest and anger. Dr. Combs, the pastor who led me to Christ, told me of incidents in his church where people became so disruptive that they would lean back and put their feet up on the pew in front of them and read the Sunday comics as he was preaching.

Seemingly as long as they agreed with Paul’s teaching, they had no problem with him, but when he began to rebuke the Judaizer’s they forgot their loving relationship and turned on him angrily, calling him their enemy.

Warren Weirsbe writes? “Paul told them the truth, but the Judaizer’s told them lies. Paul sought to glorify Christ, but the Judaizer’s glorified themselves and their converts. “They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them” (verse 17). 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.”

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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