27 August 2012

Galatians 4:12-20

"What has become of the goodwill you felt?" (v. 15)


After verses and chapters of closely argued theology, the writer Paul changes tack completely. Today's passage is a plea to the heart, not addressed to the finely turned analytical mind.

Paul reminds that first readers of the letter (the Galatians) that he arrived in Galatia unexpectedly (perhaps due to illness or to persecution), but that didn't stop the Galatians from offering a warm welcome (verse 14). And Paul shared the gospel (good news) with them, he received such a warm response to his words that those who heard him treated him as an "angel of God".

But now (in the next verse), everything has changed: "What has become of the goodwill you felt? For I testify that, had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy for telling you the truth?" (vv. 15-16). These aren't coolly thought through phrases. No, Paul is writing with passion, appealing to them from his heart, out of love. Tom Wright (research professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at University of St Andrews and former Bishop of Durham)in his commentary on Galatians writes: "Theological argument is important; but unless it takes place within a context where people are bonded together in mutual trust and shared Christian experience, it will only reach the head, not the heart, and probably not the will."

Paul is almost at his wit's end - not knowing what to do (verses 19-20). He compares his feeling to that of a mother, who finds herself going though labour pains again as her children struggle. Paul's desire for the Galatians is simple "until Christ is formed in you" - ie that the love of Jesus, an inclusive, all-encompassing love - should appear in them and their community.

Again and again throughout these verses, the earnestness and warmth of Paul comes through - a desire to be there in person and support them, rather than at the end of a letter.

To ponder:

  • In terms of your faith and discipleship, are you more a head or a heart person? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both?
  • Paul is at his wit's end with the Christians in Galatia. Given that he cannot be there in person, what might you advise him to do?
  • Paul wants to be there alongside the Galatians. How can you "be there" for others in their time of need?

Bible notes author

Ken Kingston

Ken Kingston preaches in the High Wycombe Circuit. He has worked for the Connexional Team since 1992 in a variety of roles and has been involved in 'Called by Name' and 'Time to Talk of God' amongst others.