MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 24, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 4:12-20

 

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"A Perplexed Pastors's Plea"

MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 24, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 4:12-20

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This morning we continue to work our way through the book of Galatians.  In our text this morning, we see Paul’s message become increasingly personal in nature.  In this section Paul’s vulnerable humanity is on display because here we see him--not as theologian/scholar, not as missionary and church planter, not as apostle or man of God.  We see Paul the pastor.  That is a huge piece of who this man was.  Although there are some precious theological truths in this section, mainly Paul is issuing personal pleas to people he clearly loved very much.  He speaks very much as a real person with real feelings that can and have been bruised like any other man.  As you read this intensely personal part of the letter, you very much feel like you are eavesdropping on a grieving and perplexed parent in the midst of an intimate discussion with his errant, adolescent children.         

Paul says beginning with verse 12, “Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong.  13You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first,  14and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.  15What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.  16Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?  17They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.  18It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you,  19my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!  20I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.”

          Because Paul is not so much teaching here, but is instead confronting these Galatians on a deeply personal level, it’s a challenge to draw purely theological application from it.  We can however mine rich truths from this text about a very important set of relationships.  There are profound implications here about the relationship between the message of the gospel, its messengers and the people who receive that message.  That is at the heart of what Paul is communicating here.  Perhaps the main implication from this text is:  There is a strong relationship between the message of the gospel, its messengers and the recipients of that message.  In this section of the letter, I see Paul exposing three aspects of these deeply inter-connected relationships.  The first aspect he communicates in verse 12.  Brothers, I entreat (or “plead” with) you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.”  The command (and it is the first command in the letter) is “become as I am, for I also have become as you are.”  Paul has filled these last almost two chapters with doctrine.  In his battle against the false teaching of the Judaizers, Paul has laid out the glorious doctrines of the gospel of grace through faith alone.

          Here, as he starts this section of the letter where he begins to apply all this doctrine, it’s fascinating that his first imperative is a command for the Galatians to “become as I am.”  That is so telling.  In this new section of the letter that begins here, Paul is saying, “In light of all that I have just shared about the gospel of grace by faith alone, live out your faith and freedom in Christ the way I do. Use me as your template, as your example of how to live in Christ as a son of God.  Look at me—watch me—do as I do—live as I live.”  The first aspect of this relationship between the message, the messenger and the recipients of the message is: There must be a strong correlation between the messenger and his/her message. 

          We need to clarify that these truths are not just pertinent for pastors and teachers in the church.  They hold for anyone who is speaking the Biblical truth to someone else.  If you are trying to win a friend or acquaintance to Christ, your greatest potential argument or your greatest potential impediment is the quality of your life in Christ.  If someone respects and admires your character, you will have a much easier time persuading that person that what you are saying is true.  Your life will scream to them, “there is spiritual power—there is reality here” because I see that power in his/her life.  This message has produced someone whose life is transformed—who I would like to be like.  This isn’t just some appeal to believe a set of dogmas like the other religious messages I hear that don’t work for people.  There is authenticity here because I see the truth of this written all over that man—that woman’s life.  In a very real way, your life is your argument.

          On the other hand, if your life looks approximately like everyone else in this world—you’re an angry person or you are inattentive or even harsh with your kids, you’re unethical in your business, or you don’t bother to keep your grass cut--then in many cases, it won’t matter how compelling a case you make for the truth of the gospel.  People who know you personally won’t believe it because--what has it done for you?  Where’s your joy?  Why would they want to be like you?  In Paul’s case, as we saw in chapters one and two, the Galatians knew the impact the gospel had made on Saul of Tarsus.  They knew that this Christ-hating, Christian-tormenting, self-righteous Pharisee was never the same after he met Jesus on the Damascus road.  There was a strong correlation between the transforming message he taught and the transformed life he lived. 

          This is also true for parents—especially as your kids get old enough to assess your life.  As a mom or dad to an adolescent, if your child is wandering from grace, would it be a powerful argument to them for you to say, “Son/daughter, if you want to see what the gospel looks like lived out—just look at me.  I’m not perfect, but by the grace of God you can see what Jesus looks like in me.”  There are days when I could say that to my kids, but there are many days when I would be forced to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  There must be a strong correlation between the messenger and the message.  This is obviously true for leaders in the church—vocational and otherwise—especially preachers.  The great Puritan John Owen was speaking about preachers when he rightly said, “If the word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.” [1] Church history has proven that the higher degree of correlation between the life and the message, the more impact a messenger has for the kingdom of God.

          It was said of another Puritan, William Ames,” His sermon was like thunder, because his life was like lightning.”[2]  In other words, his life was so dazzlingly white-hot for Jesus Christ, that when the words from his boiling spirit were exposed to the chill of this dark world, they exploded in an awesome reverberation that could be heard echoing for generations.  That same dynamic holds for preachers today and for all of us.  Show me the life of someone who is stunningly Christ-like and I will show you someone whose spoken message can bring tremendous fruit for evangelism or parenting or teaching Sunday school or discipling believers.  On the other hand, show me someone whose life exhibits only the faint flicker of artificial light produced by being Minnesota nice and I will show you someone whose words will bring a spiritual impact more closely resembling a kid’s pop gun, than a crash of thunder.    

          The thunder clap of Paul’s grace-filled life is still being heard across the globe.  He tells these Galatians, “become as I am, for I also have become as you are.”  I think what Paul is saying is, “I entered into your world—I became as you were.”  He followed the same mission strategy in Galatia that he states in First Corinthians chapter nine, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  22To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”   Paul never compromised the truth of the gospel, but he did enter the culture of those he was trying to win because as he lived within that culture, he could show them Jesus through his life in the midst of their culture.  Jesus was alive and well and living in Galatia through Paul.  There must be a strong correlation between the messenger and his/her message.

          A second aspect of this relationship between the message, the messenger and the recipients of the message is in verses 13-16.  The implication could be stated this way; Our attitude toward the message will influence our attitude toward the messenger.  This is the flip side of the first point.  Just as our attitude toward the messenger influences our attitude toward the message, so also is our attitude toward the messenger affected by our understanding of the message.  We see this in verse 13 as Paul writes, “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first,  14and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.  15What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.  16Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?”  Here we get a fascinating nugget of truth about Paul’s church planting ministry among the Galatians that is not mentioned in the book of Acts.  Evidently, Paul’s ministry to the Galatians was one of those “accidents” of divine Providence.  It seems Galatia was not on Paul’s preaching itinerary.  He was probably on his way to somewhere else, but somehow he ended up stopping in this region due to an illness.

          We don’t know what the illness was.  Paul never says.  The Galatians knew.  It could have been something related to his eyes because of his comment in verse 15, but that is not a very strong piece of evidence.  What we do know from his comment is that his condition provided a temptation for the Galatians to heap scorn or in some way despise Paul.  It was a trial to his caregivers.  That may mean that his condition was in some way disfiguring or repulsive.  The Galatians by God’s grace overcame that temptation to withdraw from Paul and ministered with a tremendous outpouring of sacrificial love to him.  They treated him like an angel and even as Christ Jesus.  Enormous compassion overflowed to Paul from these Galatians and they developed such a love for him that he says they would have “gouged out your eyes and given them to me.”  As one of the commentators says, that goes way beyond “giving you the shirt off your back,” but it was probably a rough equivalent of that.

          The point is—Paul was there in Galatia convalescing, but he was obviously redeeming the time, preaching the gospel to these Gentiles who drank it in as they were giving sacrificial care to Paul in his weakness.  At that point, a sweet and precious fellowship existed between Paul and these Gentiles in Galatia.  Two quick points here just to mention. First, this is testimony that there are no accidents with God.  Though the apostle didn’t know God wanted him to plant churches there, God knew.  And he used this illness—an outwardly bad thing—to make it happen.  Think about how God used this one illness of Paul.  From a human perspective, no illness, no church plant in Galatia, no Judaizing influence, no letter to the Galatians, no inspired treatment on how recovering Pharisees like you and me and millions of others are supposed to live by faith as a child of God.  Second, we get a picture of the pain involved in gospel ministry here.  Paul loved these people and these people loved him very much...at one point. 

          But then, the Judaizers came into Galatia and attacked Paul on two fronts, personally and doctrinally. First, as we saw in chapter one, they attacked Paul’s credentials.  He was an apostolic wannabe whose resume was severely lacking according to the teachers.  Because the Galatians were foolish enough to swallow a bad report about this man they had loved, that left them vulnerable for the Judaizers to attack something far more important than Paul’s resume, they attacked his gospel.  Because the Galatians allowed their opinion of the messenger to be shaken by unsubstantiated lies, their hearts were conditioned to doubt Paul’s message of salvation by grace through faith alone.  This text helps us to see that this attack not only wounded Paul because they rejected his message, but because they rejected him.  Paul asks two questions that bear repeating and need to be seen back to back.  First in verse 15, “What then has become of the blessing you felt?”  Verse 16, “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?”   When the Galatians began to believe the lies of the Judaizers, Paul became their de-facto enemy.   You can almost hear the Galatians talking, “Can you believe the way that grace-crazy teaching of Paul’s would have thrown us off the track?  We might have gone off the deep end if it weren’t for these teachers from Jerusalem who came and rescued us from this nonsense of salvation by faith alone.  And to think he led us astray after all that we had did for him when he was sick?”  Do you hear how easily things get twisted when you start believing unsubstantiated lies without checking with the source? 

          Paul is left at this point to be in the humanly pitiful position of asking, “How did we get here? I thought we were brothers and sisters in the faith.” You hear his heartbreak here on a personal level.  He asks, “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?”  Because the Galatians no longer believed Paul’s message, they had managed to forget all that they had shared together.  They had even forgotten the bond that was formed as they ministered to him in his great weakness.  Their opinion of him had radically shifted in part because their opinion of the message had changed.  They had foolishly believed the Galatians’ false teaching.  It’s an age-old dynamic.  If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger.  Our attitude about the message will contribute toward our attitude about the messenger.

          In verses 17-20, we see the third aspect of this relationship between the message, its messenger and those who receive it.  Paul writes of the Judaizers, “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.  18It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you,  19my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!  20I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.”    The truth here is: The difference between the true and false messenger is manifest in their ultimate objective.  The Judaizers were obviously very clever people.  They had doubtless read the first century equivalent of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  They came into Galatia and “made much” of these Gentiles.  They were warm and positive and really built these people up—much encouragement.  They made them feel very special and important.  They aggressively courted them so as to get a hearing for their message.  The Judaizers knew the axiom, “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  They made much of the Galatians.

          Paul says in verse 18 that this courting in and of itself is not bad. “It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you.” I think Paul wants to clarify that his heartburn over the Galatians was not because someone else other than himself was courting them with a message.  Paul had no sense of exclusive ownership over any of the people to whom he ministered. When Apollos came in after him and ministered to the Corinthians, Paul rejoiced.  His problem was that the Corinthians were dividing over personalities.  In Philippians, Paul acknowledges that there were some evangelists who preached “Christ from envy and rivalry…to afflict me in my imprisonment.”

Even though they preached Christ to discourage Paul when he was in prison and unable to preach, Paul rejoiced because they were preaching Christ.  Paul’s point here seems to be, “I don’t mind if someone comes in and encourages you when I’m not around, as long as it’s redemptive and helps you in your walk with Christ—I have no envy toward other teachers. 

          Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he reveals the motives of these false teachers in verse 17. “They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.”  He accuses the Judaizers of wanting to isolate the Galatians from every other influence, especially Paul so that they could keep them enslaved to their lies.  Their motive is the same as anyone preaching a false gospel or a false religion.  That is—they wanted their audience to make much of them.  Now, everyone who ministers publicly struggles with this temptation.  Everyone wants encouragement and positive feedback, but that was the highest goal for the Judaizers and the reason for that is simple.  You may recall that last week we said that only the gospel of grace alone by faith alone is what David Wells calls a “religion from above.”  That is—it is God-centered.  Only the gospel provides a way of salvation that is dependent on God.  All other religions present a message that is man-centered.  That is—salvation is ultimately dependent upon man and in that sense it is “religion from below.”

          We see an outworking of that truth in the motives of those who preach a man-centered message.  The man-centered preacher—because he preaches about man and his capacity to please God, will unavoidably be ultimately concerned about what people think about him.  It’s MAN-centered.  If the message is man-centered, then the motive will be man-centered, or if you prefer, self-centered.  Later on in chapter six, Paul says of these man-centered teachers, [v.12] “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ… [13b] they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.” [12a, 13b]  Paul here makes a direct connection between their man-centered message and their self-centered motives.  If you preached Christ plus nothing, you could end up like Stephen in Acts seven.  You could end up being tortured like Paul.  The Judaizers had no taste for that.  What they wanted was acclaim and acclaim came in their Jewish circles by how many foreskins you can collect from Gentile converts.  They were in the circumcision business.  Do you hear how that is all about them?  A man-centered gospel not only spares persecution, but it brings them personal acclaim among their pharisaic peers?  A man-centered message is always rooted in a man-centered motive.

On the other hand, the gospel is inherently God-centered.  It’s about God’s glory and his saving activity that is from start to finish about Jesus Christ and what he has done for us—not about what we can contribute.  That God-centered message makes a way for a God-centered motive.  What was Paul’s ultimate concern in his ministry?  Again, we see the contrast between him and the Judaizers in chapter six.  He writes, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.”  Christ-centered, cross centered message, Christ-centered, cross-centered motives.  That doesn’t mean that everyone who preaches Christ has the right motives.  What it means is that the only way to have the right motives is to you have the right message.  If you want a God-centered motive, preach a God-centered message and prepare to get beat up.  Again, this is not only true for preachers in churches—it’s true for anyone who bears the gospel to others.  If you are sharing your faith with others and you struggle with your motives, the very first question to ask is—“Do I have a God-centered message, or do I end up in some way offering man-centered elements—perhaps slipping flattering references to me in the midst of my presentation?”  Paul puts his heart and his motives on display in verses 19-20.  my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!  20I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.”

          Paul genuinely loves these Galatians, not for what they can do for him (unlike the Judaizers).  He loves them with the love of Jesus that holds the condition of their souls to be far more important than their personal regard (or lack thereof) for himself. In verse 12 he calls them his “brothers.” Here in verse 19 he calls them his “little children.”  Paul viewed all the converts that came to Jesus under his ministry as his children.  First Corinthians 4:15, “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers." For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”  Here in Galatians, he pictures himself as a mother in the pangs of childbirth.  It’s a curious picture.  It’s as if he has given birth to these Galatians once, but as it turns out, they aren’t yet fully developed.  It’s as if the obstetrician has taken the baby and told the mother, “It’s not done yet—I’m putting it back in so you can carry it a bit longer.”  That would be a popular suggestion, wouldn’t it moms?  Paul says--that’s what it feels like I am doing with you Galatians—giving birth to you a second time until “Christ is formed in you.”  He’s in labor with Christ in them.  He is in agony over their possible abandonment of the gospel of grace through faith alone.

          His affections for them are so strong he longs to be there with them.  There’s only so much you can communicate in a letter.  He badly wants to be there and be able to “change his tone.”  He’s perplexed about them.  Again, he echoes what we saw last week.  Paul has serious questions and doubts about the salvation of these people who so readily accepted a false gospel but have so quickly thrown off the true gospel and as a consequence, thrown him “under the bus.” 

          These verses give us some good insight into the relationship between the messenger, the message and the recipients.  As you think about yourself as the messenger, does your life strengthen your gospel witness or undermine it?  How does your life compel your friends and co-workers to come to believe what you say about Jesus?  Second, when you are worshipping in another church, do you go home and have roast preacher on Sunday?  (I know that never happens here.)  Do you have a problem with the messenger because you don’t like his message?  Finally, what are your motives, not only for giving out the gospel, but for all your ministry to other people?  Do you do what you do so that people will make much of you, or so that people will make much of Christ?  Listen to the heart of the Psalmist in 45:17.  He says, “I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.”  That’s our motive—Oh that God would use me in a way so that HIS name would be remembered long after mine is a faded etching on a tomb stone!  One of the best possible measures of your ministry’s success is not the number of people you reach or how well you are known.  It is this—do the people who receive your message make much of Jesus Christ?  That was Paul’s standard.  That’s why he suffered as he did and that’s a big part of what set him apart from the false teachers. May God give all of us the grace to have a passion to minister the gospel so that others may make much of Christ for his glory and for our eternal joy.

[1] (as quoted in “Reforming Pastoral Ministry,” R Kent Hughes, “Restoring Biblical Exposition to Its Rightful Place,” p.87)

[2] (Hughes, p. 88).

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