4:12-20–Paul Expresses the Strain Between Himself and the Galatian Believers



VERSES 12-15: 

“Brethren, I beseech you, be as {I am} for {I am} as ye {are}:  ye have not injured me at all”

“Brethren, I beseech you, be as {I am}
 Literally:  “Brothers, I beg of you, be as I {am}

After all the hard arguments that he has just been giving them, Paul now shifts to speaking to the Galatians as “brethren.”  This shows his true pastoral heart.  It is interesting that in the Greek text this word stands at the end of the phrase, and would more correctly read, “Be as I, because I also {am of} you, brothers…”

I BESEECH YOU:  “I am begging you; I beg of you.”
This sounds a lot like Paul’s plea to the Roman Christians (Rom. 12:1).

In the original Greek this is present case imperative and literally should read, “Keep on becoming as I am”  Paul is not about to give them over, even though he is as afraid as he is for them.

         This may be understood to mean that Paul is asking them to meet him in mutual love; or he may be saying, “As I have in my life cast off Jewish habits, so ought you also to do.” The sense of the passage cannot be too difficult to understand. The reference is doubtless to the Jewish rites and customs, and to the question whether they were binding on Christians. Paul's object is to persuade them to abandon them. He appeals to them by his own example. He evidently means, “Imitate me in this thing. Follow my example, and offer no conformity to those rites and customs.” The ground on which he asks them to imitate him could possibly be either.
1.      That they may have felt that he had abandoned them, or
2.      That he asks them to yield a point to him.
He had done so in many instances for their welfare, and had made many sacrifices for their salvation; and he now asks them to yield this one point, and to become as he was, and to cease these Jewish observances, as he had done.

“for {I am} as ye {are}
Literally:  “because I {am} as you”

         Barnes N.T. Notes surmises that this may mean that Paul is saying, “For I have conformed to your customs in many things. I have abandoned my own peculiarities; given up my customs as far as possible; conformed to you as Gentiles as far as I could do, in order to benefit and save you. I have laid aside the peculiarity of the Jew on the principle of becoming all things to all men, in order that I might save you. I ask in return only the slight sacrifice that you will now become like me in the matter under consideration.”  Barnes may have a good point, but I do not believe he has seen the full picture.

       What Paul is really saying here is, “I was once myself  an  orthodox Jew, even a Pharisee, and as such I was zealously addicted to the rites and ceremonies of Judaism, just as you are now becoming, but I was saved from such unprofitable dependence.”
        There are those who see a different meaning of what Paul is saying and believe that he is speaking of his love toward these Galatians and is saying to them, “Be as affectionate to me as I am to you; for you were once as loving to me as I am now to you.”
        What Paul is really doing here is begging these Galatians to identify themselves with him, just as he had identified himself with them.  He had stood for uncircumcised Gentile converts both at Jerusalem and at Antioch (2:1, 5, 11; Acts 15).  Now he is begging these Galatian believers to stand up with him and for the gospel.  He had surrendered his own Jewish reputation and identification to become an apostle to the Gentiles.  He had become like them to win them to Christ (I Cor, 9:19-22).  Although the Galatian believers had questioned his apostolic authority and message, Paul had not turned his back on them.  He hurt inside but he still had his arms open toward them (vv. 19-20).

“ye have not injured me at all”
Literally:  “You have wronged me {in} nothing”

To put in our words we might say, “You haven’t wronged me.”  Paul did not want them to think that he did not consider their turning away to be a personal affront against himself.  Is he telling these Galatians that it was not him that they had wronged with their turning away; but rather that it was Christ Himself they had wronged?  He may even be saying that they had even injured themselves by their turning away–“You only injure yourselves; and I entreat you, through the intense love I bear to you, as my once beloved brethren in Christ Jesus, to return to him from whom you have revolted.”

VERSE 13:  He had preached to them while he was weakened by sickness.
“Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.”

         “Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh”
         Literally:  “But you know that because of weakness of the flesh”

          Paul is reminding them of his original ministry among them–“at the first.”  He seems to be implying that some bodily sickness had kept him among these Galatians, which was contrary to his original intentions, and which was the real reason for his preaching the Gospel there to them. It can be interpreted as applying to North Galatia or to South Galatia if he had an attack of malaria on coming up from Perga.
          He was physically weak when he evangelized them–“through infirmity of the flesh.”  He may have contacted this malaria in the lowlands, and therefore was forced to travel into higher elevations.  Regardless, it did cost him physical energy to preach to the Galatians.  He really did put himself out to reach them.  We know that these Galatians knew all about this  for Paul says, “ye know,” or as we might say, “as you well know.”  He is just reminding them here of some simple facts:  Had anyone else done such?  Had these Judaizers shown such concern for them?  No!  They had come on the scene after all the work had been done.

         Paul himself was from Tarsus, a swampy area that as long been known as a malaria infested region.  Malaria may have been Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” with which he was constantly being plagued, and from which the Lord was not willing to deliver him; however, the Lord did give him Luke the Physician to travel with him and who knew to treat malaria with quinine.

“I preached the gospel unto you”
Literally:  “I preached the gospel to you”

This statement alone shows us the true Paul; and his dedication and drive.  Although beaten down with illness, he still went on and did what Christ had called him to do:  PREACH THE GOSPEL–"Be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (II Tim. 4:2).  This was Paul’s first motivation; his prime concern for living; the thing that kept him going in spite of every hardship he had endured, and was to continue to endure.

“at the first.”
Literally:  “before”

There seems to be two main interpretations, or applications, of the Greek word proteron that is here rendered as “at first.”  It can either mean, “formerly” or “the former of two.”  In Paul’s use of the word it seems more reasonable that he is using in reference to his previous visit in comparison with his present dealings with them.

VERSES 14-15:  They had accepted him in spite of his weakness.
VERSE 14: 
“And my temptation which was in my flesh but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.”

         “And my temptations which was in my flesh.”
         Literally:  “and my temptation in my flesh”

My trial; the thing which was to me a trial and calamity. The meaning is, that he was afflicted with various problems and infirmities, but that this did not hinder their receiving him as if he were an angel from heaven. The general sense is, that he had some bodily infirmity; perhaps some periodically returning disease, that was a great trial to him, which they bore with, with great patience and affection. What that was he has not informed us, and any conjecture regarding it is in vain.

         “ye despised not, nor rejected;”
         Literally:  “you did not dispise my temptation, nor distained {it}

How Had the Galatians responded to Paul in his infirmity?
1.      They “dispised not” his physical appearance.
Unfortunately often men will refuse to listen if a speaker is crippled, or ugly, of if his voice is marked by harsh tones, or if he stutters.Leaders are expect to be tall and handsome, but Paul’s critics complained that his bodily appearance was “weak and his speech contemptible” (II Cor. 10:10).
2.      They had not “rejected” his physical problem.
The Greek word rendered as “rejected” literally means, “to spit out, to spurn, or to loathe.”  It was used in describing Christ spitting on the ground to make clay for the anointing of the blind man (John 9:6).  Greek tradition says that people would spit at the sight of an epileptic seizure.
3.      They “received” him as an “angel of God.”  In their pagan superstition they first cried out, “the gods are come down to us in the likeness of men” (Acts 14:11).  Even after their conversion they did not treat the apostle as an ordinary man.  They then saw him as a mess-enger from heaven and as the personal representation of their Savior.
4.      They would have given him their own eyes (v. 15)–“ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and given them to me.”
In those early days of their salvation, these Galatians had an extreme sense of spiritual joy.  They rejoiced in their new-found salvation; in their deliverance from pagan idolatry; and in the spiritual fellowship with Paul and with one another.   

Apparently Paul had poor eye sight; it may have been congenital or it may have been caused by disease or it may have been caused by stoning and his frequent beatings.  He often used an amanuenses to write his books (see Rom. 16:22).  Whenever he did write, he used large letters in his printing (6:11).  These Galatians had such loving gratefulness for him that they would have gladly gone blind if their eyes could have been given to Paul in some sort of transplant operation.  Paul, as an instrument of God, had given to them spiritual sight, and they would have gladly volunteered their eyes to give Paul the benefit of better physical sight.

“Where is then the blessedness ye speak of?  For I bear you record, that, if {it had been} possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.”

         “Where is then the blessedness ye speak of?”
         Literally:  “What then was your blessedness?”

The words “ye spake of” are not in the original Greek text, besides, they obscure the sense of the phrase.  This is not to be regarded as a question, asking what had become of the blessedness, implying that it had departed; but it is rather to be regarded as an exclamation, referring to the happiness of that moment, and their affection and joy when they thus received him. We would have been better rendered to say,  “What blessedness you had then! How happy was that moment! What tenderness of affection! What overflowing joy!”  It was a time full of joy, and love, and affectionate confidence.  Tindal well renders it, “How happy were ye then!”

 “For I bear you record, that,”
  Literally:  “For I testify to you.”

“if possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.”
Literally:  “if you were able,  plucking out your eyes, {you} would have given {them} to   me.”

       You had then the strongest affection for me; you loved God, and you loved me for God's sake, and were ready to give me the most unequivocal proof of your love.   One of the dearest members of the body–so highly did you value me: a proverbial phrase for the greatest self-sacrifice (Matt. 5:29).
       No higher proof of attachment could have been given. They loved him so much that they would have given to him anything, however dear; they would have done anything to contribute to his welfare, would have made any sacrifice to comply with my wishes.  How changed, now that they had abandoned his doctrines, and yielded themselves to the guidance of those who taught a wholly different doctrine!

VERSES 16-18:

“Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?”

         “Am I therefore become your enemy”
         Literally:  “So then did I become hostile of you?”

Now then, have I become your enemy (an enemy at least in your eyes)?  Not that he was an enemy to them, he had the same cordial affection for them as ever; he had their true interest at heart, and was diligently pursuing it; but they, through the insinuations of the false teachers, had entertained an ill opinion of him, and an aversion to him, and treated him as if he had been an enemy to them, and as if they had a real hatred of him: and that for no other reason, as he observes, but what has now altered your mind, or made you have a worse opinion of me? Wherein have I offended you or done you any harm?

         “because I tell you the truth?”
          Literally:  “speaking truth to you.”

         This is a railing argument against a state of alienation “So then,”  here only before a question. Its importance here lies in the essential identification between their former attachment to Paul and their allegiance to the pure gospel. If they forsook the gospel, that meant their heart was gone from him. This was natural as their defection from the truth was accompanied by a jealousy on their part as to how he would regard them, and by a preparedness to listen to those who spoke of him, as Judaizers everywhere did, with disparagement and dislike. No doubt the accounts which had just reached him of the symptoms showing themselves among them of defection from the gospel, and which prompted the immediate dispatch of this Epistle, had informed him also of symptoms of an aversion to himself.
         Do you really believe that my telling you the truth in regard to the tendency of the doctrines which you have embraced, and the character of those who have led you astray, and your own error, a proof that I have ceased to be your friend? 

1.      How apt are we to feel that the man who tells us of our faults is our enemy!
2.      How apt are we to treat the man coldly, and to “cut his acquaintance,” and to regard him with dislike!

         The reason is, he gives us pain; and we cannot have pain given us, even by the stone against which we stumble, or by any of the brute creation, without momentary indignation, or regarding them for a time as our enemies. Besides, we do not like to have another person acquainted with our faults and our follies; and we naturally avoid the society of those who are thus acquainted with us.
         There is nothing more difficult than to regard, with steady and unwavering affection, the man who faithfully tells us the truth at all times, when that truth is painful. Yet he is our best friend. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful,”  (Prov. 27:6). If I am in danger of falling down a precipice, he shows to me the purest friendship who tells me of it; if I am in danger of breathing the air of the pestilence, and it can be avoided, he shows to me pure kindness who tells me of it. So still more, if I am indulging in a course of conduct that may ruin me, or cherishing error that may endanger my salvation, he shows me the purest friendship who is most faithful in warning me, and apprizing me of what must be the termination of my course.

“How is it that you are so much altered towards me, that you now treat me as an enemy, who formerly loved me with the most fervent affection?  Is it because I tell you the truth; that very truth for which you at first so ardently loved me?”–Adam Clarke’s Commentary

VERSES 17-18:  They had been taken in by the Judaizers.
“They zealously affect you, {but} not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.”

The Judaizers had Displayed Great Concern and Interest
in their Spiritual Development

         “They zealously affect you,”
         Literally:  “They are zealous for you”

         “Zealously affect” is a single word in the Greek, and means “to show zeal towards, to court, to curry favor with, to canvass eagerly, so as to win over to their side.” The subject of this verse is the Judaising teachers. The object of Paul probably, is to say that it was not wholly owing to themselves that they had become alienated from the doctrines which he had taught. Great pains had been taken to do it; and there had been a show of zeal which would be likely to endanger any person.

{but} not well;”
Literally:  {but} not well;”

Not with good motives, or with good intentions..  Not in a good way, or for a good end. Neither the cause of their zealous courting of you, nor the manner, is what it ought to be. Not in a morally fair, honorable way, as would have been the case, if it had been done for your real good. Their zeal is not according to knowledge; neither have they a single thought to your spiritual advantage.

“yea, they would exclude you,”
Literally:  “but they desire to shut you out”

         The word “exclude” here probably means, that they tried to exclude the Galatians from the love and affection of Paul. They would shut them out from that, in order that they might secure them for their own purposes. The idea is clear: Paul stood in the way of their designs. The Galatians were truly attached to him; and it was necessary, in order to accomplish their ends, to withdraw their affections from him.
         When false teachers have designs on a people, they begin by alienating their confidence and affections from their pastors and teachers. They can hope for no success until this is done; and hence the efforts of errorists, heretics, apostates, infidels, and scorners, is to undermine the confidence of a people in the ministry; and when this is done, there is little difficulty in drawing them over to their own purposes.

The Judaizers Wanted the Galatians to Court
The Favor of the False Teachers

“that ye might affect them.”
 Literally:  “that you be zealous to them”

         Another way of saying this is: “These false teachers are trying  to puff up your self esteem, but not in honest or true principles; they work themselves into your good graces; but even worse, they wish you to place all your affection upon themselves.”

         The same word for “zealous” as in the former part of the verse–“that ye might zealously affect them” i.e., that ye might show ardent attachment to them. Their first work is to manifest special interest for your welfare; their second, to alienate you from him who had first preached the gospel to you; their object, not your salvation (they know that they cannot take that away from you), or your real good, but to secure your zealous love for themselves.

{it is} good to be zealously affected always in {a good thing}, and not only when I am present with you.”

Religious Zeals within Holiness, Truth and Love
Are Always Good

         “But {it is} good to be zealously affected always in {a} good {thing},”
         Literally:  “But {it is} good to be zealous always in {a} good thing”

         Paul seems to be saying, “Please understand me: I am not speaking against zeal. Zeal, in itself, it is good; and your zeal would be good if it were in a good cause.” Probably, they relied much on their zeal; perhaps they maintained, as heretics and deceivers are very apt to do, that zeal was sufficient evidence of the goodness of their cause, and that persons who are so very zealous could not possibly be bad men. This is often the plea set up by the friends of errorists, false teachers and deceivers!
         As zeal in a good cause, when united with judgment, is excellent and adapted to give a person influence, false teachers often make great professions, and express high regard for the welfare of the people. All should therefore be on their guard against wolves in sheep's  clothing (Acts 20: 29), and take heed not only how but what they hear, prove all things by the word of God, and hold fast that only which is thus found to be good.

         “and not only when I am present with you.”
         Literally:  “and not only in my being present with you.”

         Paul is saying I admire your zealousness, and not just for me, or just when I am with you.  These to whom Paul was writing were truly saved; the Lord Jesus was resident in their hearts. However, there was little of His beauty in their lives.  The reason is in the way that the Judaizers had succeeded in placing them under Law, causing them to substitute self effort in an attempt to obey a newly imposed set of rules.  When Paul was with them, they were vibrantly happy, and loved him; now, they were unhappy, burdened down with the Law and rules of this and that and worst of all, self-righteousness and guilt.
         Another thought: Paul may be referring back to his statement in v. 14–when they received him as an “angel from God.”

VERSES 19-10:  Their Hope for the Future
“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.”

He Prays for Christlikeness in Them

         “My little children,”
         Literally:  “My children”

         The phrase is not found elsewhere in the writings of Paul, though common in the writings of John. It is used to heighten the tenderness of the appeal. Paul regards as his spiritual children all who first received the gospel from him.  The idea here is, that Paul felt towards them the relation of a father; therefore, he speaks as a parent, both with authority, and the most tender sympathy, toward weak and sickly children.  It is interesting that the Greek word that Paul uses here is tekna, which was the word for a young tot or toddler.
         As their conversion to God had been the fruit of his labor, prayers, and tears, so he felt them as his children, and therefore peculiarly dear to him, because he had been the means of bringing them to the knowledge of the truth.  Now he is representing himself as suffering the same anxiety and distress which he endured at first when he preached the Gospel to them, when their conversion to Christianity was a matter of great doubt and uncertainty.

of whom I travail in birth again”
Literally:  {for} whom I again travail”

        I am in birth pangs all over again for you.  Old word for this powerful picture of pain. In NT only here, (v. 27; Rev.  12:2).  I am in vehement pain, sorrow, desire, prayer, that is, like a mother in pain till the birth of her child.  His anxiety for them he compares to the deepest sufferings which human nature endures; and his language here is a striking illustration of what ministers of the gospel should feel, and do sometimes feel, in regard to their people. For whose welfare I am deeply anxious: and for whom I endure deep anguish; compare I Cor. 4:15–“For thoughtt ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ. yet {have ye} not many fathers:  for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.”
        Paul was not having “birth pangs” all over again because of the spiritual condition of his spiritual children.  They had not lost their salvation (which cannot ever take place for they are sealed by the Holy Spirit–Eph. 1:13).  Now he travailed that they would return to the gospel they had earlier received with such fervor and joy.

         “until Christ be formed in you.”
         Literally:  “until Christ should be formed in you”

The idea is that a Christ-like character is formed within them.  He is telling them that if they continue to follow after these Judaizers, and their policies, there is no way that they will ever see Christ develop in them.  Until Christ reigns wholly in your hearts; till you wholly and entirely embrace his doctrines; and till you become wholly imbued with his Spirit.

He Longs for Removal of His Doubts

“I desire to be with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.”

         “I desire to be with you now,”
         Literally:  “Even now I desired to be present with you”

By expressing his desire to be with them (even though he does state it in such a way as to indicate its impartibility) Paul hoped to alleviate some of the antagonism which he fears his previous words had created.  Unfortunately for them, they had lost much during his absence; they had changed their views; they had in some measure even become alienated from him; and he wishes that he might be again with them as he had been before.  He had hoped that his letter would bring a halt to their drift toward legalism and their coldness toward him; but he knew he could accomplish much more by a personal presence than he could by letter.

         “and to change my voice;”
         Literally:  “and to change my voice”

The voice may more easily be varied according to the occasion than a letter can.  He hoped to change from this expression of doubt and concern to one of satisfaction and joy; from complaint and censure, to tones of entire confidence.   Paul knew the power of his voice on their hearts. He had tried it before with much success.  It is quite apparent that Paul prefers the method of personal appeal where it is possible and practical.  If he were present with them he could change his tone of voice, either to suit the needs of the situation or to change from condemnation to praise.

         “or I stand in doubt of you.”
         Literally:  “for I am in doubt {as} to you.”

         I am perplexed regarding you. Paul here implies his fervent desire to be delivered from this perplexity, by seeing them re-established in the faith of Christ, so that he should no longer be obliged to employ the tone of severity towards them.  The sense is clear:  Paul had much reason to doubt the sincerity and the solidity of their Christian principles, and he was deeply concerned on that account.
         This one phrase indicates the distress of mind and perplexity that Paul really has in knowing how to deal with the Galatians:  whether firmly or gently, or how to bring them back to the standards of faith and grace.  The Greek verb rendered as “in doubt” literally means, “to be at a loss” or, “to be at one’s wits’ end.”  This surely reveals the tension in Paul’s mind, and his strong desire to be warm-hearted toward them.  He simply cannot bear the thought of them regarding him as their enemy.  Yet in the present situation he is really perplexed as to how to avoid it.  He could only know by their response to his letter by his next visit.


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