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Galatians 4:17-20: Birth Pangs

Paul’s motives were right, the Judaizer’s motives were wrong. His motive was to win people, and direct them in the right way. Listen to him:

“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 MSG).

Verses 17,18: “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.”

“Those heretical teachers go to great lengths to flatter you, but their motives are rotten. They want to shut you out of the free world of God’s grace so that you will always depend on them for approval and direction, making them feel important” (Verses 17,18 MSG).

Here Paul uncovers the real motivation of the false teachers. The Judaizer’s motives were selfish. Their motives were evil.

“They want to exclude the Galatians–that is, make the Galatian believers feel inferior and needy and dependent upon them–so that they will zealously desire these false teachers. This is always the trick of false teachers and leaders of cults. Their real enemies were the Judaizers who were distorting the message of grace. Their enemy was not Paul. But yet, they had bought what the enemy had said. How many times during the week when somebody comes to you perhaps with a rumor or something like that, do you buy that rather than even go back to the fact that it may not even have any credibility to start with?” –

The word “zealous” is a very strong word, it means eagerness, zeal, or enthusiasm. They will stop at nothing to gain converts. They were “courting” the Galatian believers. To “court” is to pursue with zeal, to run after, chase, romance, to try to please someone because you want them to join you. The false teachers would do anything to gain followers. But they were not romancing them for a good reason, they wanted them “to be zealous for them.” Isn’t it true that false teachers bait their traps with pleasant things? A young man always puts his best foot forward when he wants to gain the attention of a girl he wants to meet.

There are cults knocking on our doors frequently trying eagerly to seek us to be part of their false religion. They prey on people who have no real Bible background. If you are learning from God privately or through your Bible teachers at church you can “test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” (1 John 4:1-3).

If you’re not well-versed in God’s word; if you are not “walking in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) you are susceptible to anyone trying to get you to believe their deceitful teachings.

Paul’s teaching always led people to seek Christ, not men “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

Paul has said to them, “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? Their enemy was not Paul. Their real enemies were the Judaizer’s, trying to entice them to believe “another gospel” (Galatians 1:8).

Verse 19: “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you.”

“My little children.” The language of tender affection, such as a parent would use towards his own children. Paul felt that he related to them as a father, and he had for them the deep and loving feelings of a parent.

“My little children.”

“The word children is still softer and more affectionate than brethren; and the diminutive, little children, is an expression, not of contempt, but of endearment, though, at the same time, it suggests the tender years of those who ought now to have arrived at full age. (Hebrews 5:12.) The style is abrupt, which is usually the case with highly pathetic passages. Strong feeling, from the difficulty of finding adequate expression, breaks off our words when half uttered, while the powerful emotion chokes the utterance.”–Calvin

By calling them “little children,” he is saying that he is their spiritual father. As he said to the Corinthians, “For even if you had ten thousand others to teach you about Christ, you have only one spiritual father. For I became your father in Christ Jesus when I preached the Good News to you” (1 Corinthians 4:15). Also, “little children may refer immature believers, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). Because they were weak in faith, not fully grown adults in Christ, Paul says, “I fed you with milk and not with solid food…” (1 Corinthians 3:2).

“…for whom I travail in birth…” Paul compares the labor pains that a mother must go through in giving birth. When our children were born fathers were not allowed in the delivery room, in fact I’m not sure they even wanted us in the hospital, we were an unnecessary and unwanted appendage until the child was home.

When Paul first came to Galatia he travailed to see them come to a saving knowledge of Christ. And, as Weirsbe writes, “after all, the Lord Jesus had travailed on the cross to make possible their salvation (Isaiah 53:11), and Paul’s travail was nothing by comparison.” Now the Galatian believers were going through their second childhood, so he is having labor pains again to see them grow up spiritually and mature in Christ.

The Lord wants every believer to mature into an adult Christian, so He gives certain gifted men to the church, like the apostle Paul for the purpose of “equipping the saints” (Ephesians 4:11,12). So God desires that Christ would be formed in every believer. “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect (mature) in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28).

The goal of every single Christian's life should be to have Christ totally formed in his life. How do we do that? MacArthur says it means, “To be Christ-like…Romans 8:28-29, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose.’ It goes on to say that, ‘He desires to conform us to the image of his son.’ You see? To be conformed to Christ, that is the purpose, to be more like Jesus, more like Christ. That's the objective…In Romans 13:14, there's a great statement. ‘Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Isn't that simple? What is the goal of the Christian, then? To be like Jesus, to be like Christ. Colossians 2:6. ‘As you have therefore received Jesus Christ the Lord, so walk in him.’ Christ-likeness. Beloved, that's the goal. That's the goal, to be like Jesus. That's all he's saying. He's saying, ‘I just want you to be like Christ, to grow up.’”

That’s the goal of every ministry and church, for Christ to be formed in people. The goal of every believer, our ministry, our birth pains is to help people grow into mature believers.

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

“So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding” (Hebrews 6:1 NLT).

Evangelism is more than obstetrics, it is also pediatrics! So our ministry as believers in one of:

Affection, as Paul addresses his converts as “My little children.” Paul cares for them as a parent cares for his child.

Agony, as a mother with labor pains, and a parent agonizes over his children to bring them to maturity, so must each believer agonize over those whom God has given to us to grow into mature believers, in whom Christ is formed. It is actually like becoming someone’s pastor. Once you experience becoming someone’s personal pastor you will understand the pain, agony and the joy.

Adaptability, the believer as a minister must learn to adapt to all levels of spirituality, from babes in Christ to mature believers.

Acceptability, and the believer as a minister must be acceptable to all people. Paul writes, “I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life” (1 Corinthians 9:22 MSG).

Why do God’s people resist becoming ministers? (Remember, every believer is a minister)

God may ask us to do something we don’t want to do? And I can assure you, He will!

•Moses did not want to go before Pharaoh, but he did!

(Exodus 7).

•Gideon did not want to face the Midianites, but he did! (Judges 6).

•Job did not want to lose everything, children, property and wealth, good name and even his health, but he did! (Job 1).

•Jesus did not want to go to the cross, but thank God He did! (Luke 22:42)

•Stephen did not want to be martyred, but he was!

(Acts 7:54-60).

•Joseph did not want to go to prison, but he went! (Genesis 39:20).

Hebrews 11 lists for us the Bible’s hall of fame, Here is just the conclusion, listing those who did not relish the fact that the had to suffer for God, but they did.

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:32-38).

It costs to be a follower of Christ! It cost even more when we are “conformed to the image of Christ.” Since that is true, it is also a fact that Satan does not want people to be like Christ, so he will throw every roadblock in our path to prevent us from becoming someone’s personal minister (discipler). It is warfare to be like Christ. It is warfare to try to help others to be like Christ. But the rewards are great. John says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4).

No one wants to die, but we must if we are to be “conformed to the image of Christ.” Paul said, “we have a funeral at my house every day.” “I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31).

No one wants to leave his family and friends to be Christ’s disciple, but he must. (Luke 14:26).

No one wants to deny himself, but if he is to be “conformed to Christ’s image” he must. (Matthew 16:24).

No one wants to “forsake all that he has,” but he must to be a true disciple. (Luke 14:33).

There is no other purpose for believers than maturing people into the image of Christ. God gave certain gifted leaders to the church for the purpose of training Christians to minister. “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).

Become someone’s pastor today, and begin your ministry to others, by pouring your life into one other individual. But you say, “I’m not familiar enough with the Bible to minister to others.” Then get yourself ready. Find someone whom you trust and respect and ask them to begin to disciple you. For me it was my first pastor, James Combs. He taught me how to pray, how to study and how to speak to others. Because of his personal ministry to me, I was able to begin to teach a Bible class of about 15 young married couples, after I had been a Christian for only 6 months. Think about it, I was an atheist 6 months before I began my first ministry to others! Did I know much? Not much! But it kept me in the Bible, and allowing pastor to continue his personal training of me.

“This is what the heart of every teacher should be, and by teacher I don’t mean ecclesiastically, from the pulpit, necessarily. The word ‘teach’ in scripture simply means to communicate what God has taught you of His grace to somebody else. That’s all it is. It’s a communication. It’s a sharing. Witnessing in that definition could fit there.” –Dr. Wayne Barber

Verse 20: “I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.”

It is so much easier to communicate face to face than by letter. In my experience, I like to joke, but have found that if people can’t see my face, sometimes they can take it seriously. I’ve been in trouble several times in my life for this very reason.

Paul has been very stern with the Galatians, reprimanding them for doctrinal error, which they had espoused while he was away from them. They had become somewhat alienated from him. Paul wants to speak to them as family members instead of using such a confrontational tone. He hoped that they could see through his words his heart of love and yearning for them as a parent longing and yearning for the well-being of their child. He wants them to know he loves them and he longs to see Christ formed in them.

Paul is saying, “I am perplexed about you.” “I am at a loss and don’t know what to do.” “I really don’t know how to deal with you.” “I don’t know what words to use, gentle or severe, to bring you back to right thinking.”

As a pastor for over 50 years, I have been exasperated and perplexed with my congregation. One little girl said to her mommy as they left church, “Why is pastor so angry, mommy?” When we do not see Christ being formed in our people it is frustrating, because that’s our one goal as pastors. We want our people to know that we love them, but we will not allow them to fall into doctrinal error.

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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