Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #315a

Paul Gets Personal

Galatians 4:12-20

Delivered 03/20/2005

What makes a great leader? Is it dedication? How about genius? Maybe it is the ability to consistently rise to the occasion and not melt under pressure? Is it the ability to understand the situation, harness all available resources, and inspire the masses to move in the same direction in order to accomplish a common goal? What makes a great leader?

You can take a stroll through the pages of history and identify great leaders who have left their mark on their profession, community, or nation. No coach in the history of the National Football League stands taller than the late Vince Lombardi. Lombardi was a leader. America has had its share of great presidents, but no president has ever overcome more adversity and left a greater mark on the nation than Abraham Lincoln. No military leader in the history of the world has ever accomplished so much at such an early point in his life than Alexander the Great who conquered the known world before he was thirty. No civil rights leader before or since has been able to stir people's hearts and cast before them such a clear vision of hope than the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the world of business, no single individual in our nation's history has had such an impact on such a wide audience of consumers and business leaders as the software giant, Bill Gates. 94% of the computers in the world have Bill Gates "Windows" software running them.

In every arena of life, from athletics to business to medicine to government to education, there have been, and are, tremendous leaders who possess vision, dedication, determination, and the charisma necessary to sell their ideas and draw people together to accomplish a common goal. Leadership is a God given gift, but how one uses the gift of leadership is another question.

In our Scripture for today, the Apostle Paul takes a break from his deliberations, instruction, and correction of the Galatian Christians so that he might speak from the heart. Paul steps away from the chalkboard, he turns off the overhead projector, and he walks up to the crowd to pour out his heart. As Paul shares his heart, we hear the voice of a truly great leader. But not just a great leader, a godly leader.

There are many commonalities between great leaders and godly leaders, but there is a foundation that a godly leader works from that cannot be compromised, regardless of the cost. In our study for today we are going to take a look at the heart of a truly godly leader.

Galatians 4:12 (NASB) I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong;

Paul is pleading with the folks in Galatia. The Greek word for "beg" is deomai, which means: "To make request," or "to ask with urgency."

The exact same word is used in Luke 9 when Jesus comes down from the mountain, and a man is waiting on Him. The man's son was possessed by a demon that was torturing the boy, and his father was at his wits end. When Jesus comes down from the mountain, the father rushes towards Jesus:

Luke 9:38 (NASB) And behold, a man from the multitude shouted out, saying, "Teacher, I beg You to look at my son, for he is my only boy,

Can you hear the intensity and urgency in the father's voice? The same word is used in other places in the New Testament, and each time there is an urgency that emanates from each situation. Paul is not commanding them, he is begging them like a hurting father.

What is he begging them to do? "Become as I am." This is the first imperative in Galatians. Paul is saying, "Become like me." He is not saying this in some egotistical way. Paul has no desire to start his own "personality cult."

1 Corinthians 1:11-13 (NASB) For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." 13 Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Paul had no desire to form a following around his name. He had no desire to stroll down the streets of Corinth and see the "First Church of St. Paul the Apostle." His highest aim was to share the message of the cross with those who came across his path.

When Paul tells the Galatians, "Become as I am," he is referring to being free from the law. Remember who Paul was writing to in his letter. Paul was writing to Galatian Gentiles who were being enticed to walk into the prison of the law of Moses. Paul was urging them to remember that he was a Jew who adhered to every "jot" and every "tittle" of the law before he came to Christ. Once he came to Christ, he was set free from the law - "I also have become as you are" - I became like a Gentile - free from the law. Paul was set free from the law by the freedom that only Jesus brings. In the next chapter Paul will tell the Galatians:

Galatians 5:1 (NASB) It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

So, verse 12 seems to focus on one specific area in which the Galatians should be like him. They are to imitate Paul in that he was free from the Law like the Gentiles. But

Paul often told believers to follow his example in every area of life:

Philippians 4:9 (NASB) The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you.

To us it may seem presumptuous and risky for Paul to challenge people to imitate him in every area of life. Most of us would rather say, "Don't follow me, follow Christ!" But we all should be able to say with Paul:

1 Corinthians 11:1 (NASB) Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

Paul was well aware that the imitation of Christ needs to be illustrated in the experience of our peers. Without mentors who show us what it means to follow Christ in the rough-and-tumble of our contemporary world, imitation of Christ often seems an otherworldly, unattainable ideal. But when someone like ourselves gives us a living model to follow, we have a tangible, realizable pattern to guide us. We are all examples. The question is what kind of an example are we? A godly leader models Christ in his life.

Then Paul says, "You have done me no wrong" - Paul has used pretty strong words with the Galatians. It would be easy for them to think he spoke just out of a sense of personal hurt. Paul assures them that this wasn't the case at all. Paul clearly admits that he fears his labor has been in vain (v. 11); but he does not take the failure of others as a personal offense. This is the mark of a spiritual leader who can get past the hurts and think clearly as the Spirit gives him wisdom and knowledge.

Paul does not consider them as enemies who have injured him - "you have done me no wrong." Thus, for them to "become as I am" may also mean that he wants them to adopt this same mentality he has: "We are brethren, not enemies."

Galatians 4:13 (NASB) but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time;

Apparently, Paul was compelled to travel into the region of Galatia because of some type of physical infirmity he suffered while on his first missionary journey. During his stay with the Galatians, he preached the gospel to them.

Think about this: How is it that the apostle to the Gentiles, who was most certainly a man after God's own heart, a man who was doing the work of the Lord, and a man who certainly had many of the gifts of the Spirit, together with a strong faith, find himself sick?

If we believe those who teach the "health/wealth" gospel, no Christian should be getting sick, unless, of course, they have fallen into some sort of sin or they have a lack of faith that God can heal them. And yet, here is Paul, with a physical infirmity of some sort, which, according to verse 14, was a trial to these Galatians.

In other words, this was no mere head cold. Whatever this illness was, it was debilitating for Paul to some degree. The question has to be raised then: How is it possible for Paul to be sick like this if he is God's man?

The answer is that even godly people get sick. We know that Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus were all godly men. They are all held up as godly examples, yet they all experienced sickness. Epaphroditus wasn't sick because of sin. Paul specifically tells us that he was sick because of the work of Christ:

Philippians 2:30 (NASB) because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.

We know that, as an apostle, the Lord worked miracles and wonders through Paul, and so we can assume to some degree that He continued to do this among the Gentiles. In fact, we know this to be the case as both Paul and Barnabas were used by God in this region of Galatia. On one occasion as they were passing through Iconium, which is in the region of Southern Galatia, we have this recorded for us:

Acts 14:1-3 (NASB) And it came about that in Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a great multitude believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. 2 But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren. 3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.

So Paul was being used by God, and yet Paul was sick. The only conclusion that we can come to is that godly people get sick. God uses sickness like everything else, for His glory. Apparently, Paul's sickness was used of God to bring the gospel to the Galatians.

Galatians 4:14 (NASB) and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.

Now, we're told that this particular illness was a trial in the lives of these Galatians. The Greek word for trial in our text is peirasmos, which means: "trial or test, or prove." The word itself is neutral, and its meaning must be determined from its context.

What exactly was Paul's physical infirmity? Some believe his problem was depression, or epilepsy, or that his illness was connected with the thorn in the flesh mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12. None of these can be established with certainty.

According to Acts 13, Paul came to the region of Galatia; specifically, the city of Pisidian Antioch from the city of Perga in the region of Pamphylia. We know a few things about Perga: first, it was the place where John Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:13), and the trials related to the physical infirmity may have had something to do with it. Second, Perga was in a lowland, marshy area. The Galatian city of Pisidian Antioch was some 3,600 feet higher than Perga. It has been suggested that Paul's physical infirmity was a type of malaria common to the lowlands of Perga. William Barclay describes this malaria as producing a terrible pain that was like "a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead."

Although there is a great deal of speculation concerning the nature of Paul's "bodily condition," there is no one ailment which can claim clear title to the truth. Indeed, it really does not matter, for Paul's stress is not on the type of illness but on its repulsive nature. His initial visit to the Galatians was a "trial" to them (v. 14) as it was a temptation for them to shun him in his condition. They could have "despised" or "loathed" him, but they did not.

The utter repulsiveness of Paul's condition is conveyed by the strong expressions "despise" and "loathe." "Despise" could mean: "to regard with utter contempt or at least to disregard." "Loathe" is the rendering of a graphic term which literally means: "to spit out." If you have ever swallowed a bug, you have had a "taste" of the nuance of this word. In the ancient Near East, people would spit after coming in contact with a disease or illness which was repulsive, apparently thinking that there was some therapeutic value in this act. The act of spitting was often associated with that which was repulsive. Paul's point can hardly be missed: he was a mess, a sickening sight. There was no human attractiveness in his appearance.

Yet in spite of Paul's pathetic physical appearance, the reception of the Galatians was exceedingly warm. Far from merely tolerating him, they received him warmly, as an angel - better still, as Christ Himself. There is only one explanation for such a response. Their reception of Paul was not conditioned by his human appeal, but was dependent upon the message which he brought, the truth of the gospel by which the Galatians were saved. So, again we see that God uses sickness for His Glory. Despite Paul's sickness, they warmly accepted him as they would have Christ.

Galatians 4:15 (NASB) Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness, that if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.

Their relationship with Paul was so good and their reception of the gospel was so enthusiastic that they spoke of that time as a period of blessedness, a period of great joy. They were obviously grateful to Paul for having shown them the way to salvation.

Paul points out the irony of this situation. When Paul had been plagued with his physical infirmity, the Galatians had ignored his repulsive appearance and taken him in warmly. When Paul wrote the epistle, the relationship had cooled. Paul probes the reason for the faltering friendship in verse 15. They had once felt blessed by Paul's presence, but no longer. They had once been willing to pluck out their very eyes, but sacrifice had turned to rejection. What could have brought about this dramatic change?

The answer is found in verse 16. Paul had become the Galatians' enemy by telling them the truth. I assume this meant that Paul had spoken or written to the Galatian Christians after he had heard of the deception and disruption caused by the Judaizers. He informed them of the error of their ways when he learned of their allurement to the works-righteousness of the Judaizers. Here is true irony. Paul had been warmly received because of the truth; now he is given the cold shoulder because of the truth.

Paul tells them, "You would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me" - Noted Greek scholars such as Wuest, Rendall, and Robertson believe that the nuances of the Greek text indicate that Paul's physical infirmity was an eye problem. Many have seen in this expression a proof that Paul's sickness was an eye problem, but that is not necessarily the case. This expression in those days is not unlike the expression we use today when we might say, "I'd give my right arm for you." Since the eyes were considered the most precious parts of the body, this is a graphic, idiomatic description of the Galatians' devotion to Paul at the beginning of their relationship.

Galatians 4:16 (NASB) Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth?

The language Paul uses here is quite strong. The word "enemy" in the Greek is echthros, which comes from the primary word echtho meaning: "to hate or to be actively hostile against."

Paul has become an enemy of the people. Why? Because he has taken advantage of them? Because he has scammed them? Was it because he somehow deceived and manipulated them? Not at all! Paul is public enemy number 1 among the Galatians because he told them the truth.

Put yourself in the Galatians' shoes. Here you are, practicing your religion diligently; giving entire submission to those who have set themselves over you as teachers of God's law; and going gung ho into the system of religion which God's own Word had laid down in the writings of Moses. Then, out of the blue, comes a letter from a man who had been among you only a short while, accusing you of basic apostasy from the God you think yourself to be so diligently serving. What is your reaction?

If you are anything like the rest of us, your reaction is one of hurt and indignation. Then, from that there arises suspicion regarding the man who would write such a thing to you. You ask yourself, "What has gotten into this guy? Why is he so apparently out to hurt me with such accusations?"

What can we learn from this? This: That those who tell us a truth that really cuts us deeply are not automatically our enemies. They may be the best friends we have.

The very fact that Paul even asked such a thing indicates a very serious problem with the make-up of man. An enemy, by definition, is one who seeks to bring harm or injury to you. Thus, he can never use the truth - for the truth only brings benefit and blessing.

Therefore, the question Paul asked has some serious implications for men. How do we react when someone says things that we do not want to hear? Do we write him off as an enemy and never consider what he has said? Or, do we seriously consider the charge to see if it really has merit in it?

Long before Paul ever experienced the intolerance of the people for the truths of God, the prophet Isaiah offered a very similar assessment of the people of his own day:

Isaiah 30:9-11 (NASB) For this is a rebellious people, false sons, Sons who refuse to listen To the instruction of the LORD; 10 Who say to the seers, "You must not see visions"; And to the prophets, "You must not prophesy to us what is right, Speak to us pleasant words, Prophesy illusions. 11 "Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel."

A contemporary of Isaiah, the prophet Jeremiah, also experienced the same intolerance in his day. Jeremiah also asks a pertinent question that all of us who are unwilling to submit to the Word of God still have to answer in our own day:

Jeremiah 5:30-31 (NASB) "An appalling and horrible thing Has happened in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?

It is a part of man's nature to take criticism or correction personally, especially when we are at fault. You will recall that Adam and Eve communed with God every evening until they sinned by eating of the forbidden fruit. When they heard the sound of the Lord's coming, they immediately sought to hide themselves from Him. God had done nothing wrong; the wrong was done by Adam and Eve. Their sin had resulted in a separation.

Whenever men depart from the truth, there is division.

Galatians 4:17 (NASB) They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out, in order that you may seek them.

With his statement, "They eagerly seek you," Paul acknowledges the fact that the legalists have demonstrated an intense interest in the Galatians. By "they" here, Paul is referring to the false prophets that have infiltrated into the Galatian churches.

The words "eagerly seek" are from the Greek word zeloo, which is translated: "earnestly desire" in 1 Corinthians 12:31 and "envious" in James 4:2. Applying those translations helps us better understand this verse.

So, Paul is telling the Galatians, in effect, "They earnestly desire you; they want you on their side. They demonstrate a great commitment to you, but not for a good reason; rather, their reason is to get you to commit yourselves to them. They want to shut you out from me so that you would desire to have fellowship only with them."
Paul tells us that the false teachers of Galatia were teaching in such a way as to create a dependency on themselves in the lives of the believers:

Galatians 4:18 (NASB) But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you.

Paul admits here that it is not wrong to eagerly seek to win the affection of others as long as it is for their welfare. But by the very way Paul states this general principle, he calls us to be careful that we are not seeking the affections of others for our own selfish advantage. Paul's focus was upon the disciples' benefit; the false teachers' focus was upon the disciples' contribution to the teacher's benefit.

Galatians 4:19 (NASB) My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you­

Unlike other passages which Paul has written in this epistle, this section is not a tightly woven argument which is drawn to a precise conclusion. The mood is not argumentative, but rather is an appeal to the Galatians on the basis of a broken heart. His authority as an apostle does not underly this appeal, but rather the agony of a mother for her wayward child.

Paul refers to his readers using the term "my children," an expression common with the Apostle John, but used only here by Paul. This is probably the warmest and tenderest passage Paul has written in this Galatian epistle.

Paul tells them that he is suffering for them the kind of acute pain that a woman experiences when she gives birth to a child.

"I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you"- what does Paul mean by this? Most commentators see this as Paul talking about the Galatians' growth in practical Christianity, practical sanctification. But I'm not sure that is his intent. The Greek word that Paul uses for "formed" is very important. It is from the Greek verb morphoo, which carries the idea of "essence or nature" rather than outward shape, and therefore does not refer to acting like Christ but to being like Christ.

This verb morphoo comes from morphe, which is used in:

Philippians 2:6 (NASB) who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

The word "form" is morphe, which means: "essential nature." Here we see that Christ was in the "form of God" - which refers to the possession of the essential nature of God.

So Paul is laboring until Christ is morphoo in them, until the Galatian believers take on the nature of Christ. In order to understand this, we must understand the transition period. I believe that Paul is referring here to the change that would take place in them at the consummation of the New Covenant, which would take place at the parousia; they would have the very nature of Christ - they would have His righteousness.

Let's look at a passage that shows us this transition from the Old to the New Covenant:

2 Corinthians 3:1-3 (NASB) Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? 2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts.

Do you see the contrast that Paul is making here? He is comparing the Old Covenant (tablets of stone) to the New Covenant (tablets of flesh). Giving his people a heart of flesh, the New Covenant, was prophesied in Ezekiel 36:26-27.

So, Paul is clearly making a comparison in this chapter between the Old and New Covenants:

2 Corinthians 3:6-9 (NASB) who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 8 how shall the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.

Again, we see the contrast in the covenants, the Old Covenant "kills," it was a "ministry of death," but the New Covenant "gives life." The Old Covenant was a "ministry of condemnation," but the New Covenant is a "ministry of righteousness."

2 Corinthians 3:11 (NASB) For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.

If you are using the KJV, verse 11 is an incorrect translation. It is not past tense, but present tense, "is passing away."

2 Corinthians 3:11 (KJV) For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

The Old Covenant , which was inferior in glory, was in the process of passing away in Paul's day. The writer of Hebrews says this same thing:

Hebrews 8:13 (NASB) When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

During the transition period, the Old Covenant was passing away, it was "becoming obsolete," it was ready to "vanish away."

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NASB) But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

"But we all" is referring to believers in contrast to unbelievers. Believers during the transition period were "being transformed" into the image of God. Again the KJV gives the wrong tense:

2 Corinthians 3:18 (KJV) But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

The transformation was a process that was going on during the transition period. The saints of the transition period were being changed into the image of God. To be in God's image is to have His righteousness.

"From glory to glory" is, in this context, referring to the Old Covenant glory and the New Covenant glory. They were moving from the Old Covenant glory to the far superior New Covenant glory. They were moving from the "ministration of condemnation" to the "ministration of righteousness."

"Till Christ is formed in you" was used of the development of the fetus in the womb of the mother. Just as the child in the womb develops into what his particular endowment at conception determined him to be, so the Christian during the transition period grew to become what Christ has saved and destined him to be - righteous.

Galatians 4:20 (NASB) but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

I don't know if we get the full flavor of Paul's frustration here in the English. When he says he is perplexed about them the Greek word for perplexed is a bit more instructive. It is aporeo, and it means: "to be without resources, to be in doubt, not to know which way to turn."

These words are the words of a shepherd who cares and who loves these people too much to simply let falsehood slide. Yes, his words are a rebuke, and, yes, it is really the Spirit of God who is grieved because of their behavior.

I think if we can take one applicable principle from this text, it is this: The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. It is not about you, or your delivery. What is your excuse for not sharing your faith? Are you, like Moses, excusing yourself because you do not speak powerfully and persuasively? The power is in the message, not the messenger. It is the truth that saves men. If Paul's gospel could save men, even when Paul's personal appearance was offensive and repulsive, will the gospel not save men today, in spite of the weaknesses of the messenger? This passage strips away all of our feeble excuses for not sharing our faith, for the power of God is inseparably intertwined with the truth. All we need to do is share it!

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