8 October 2012

Galatians 4:12-20

"Friends, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong." (v. 12)


To understand why Paul is so "perplexed" (v. 20) we need to remind ourselves why Paul was writing to the Galatian churches. For Paul, the core of his 'gospel' (the good news about Jesus) was that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus had shown beyond all doubt that he was the Jewish messiah ('Christ'), and that by raising him from the dead God had declared him to be 'Lord' as well - the ultimate authority, above even the Roman emperor. Even more than that, in Jesus, God had begun a new act of creation which was revealed in the transformed lives of his followers, the new people of God. And, crucially, this embraced Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) on equal terms. Jewishness (especially diet and male circumcision) was no longer the identifying mark of God's people. For Paul, this meant that faith in Christ was all that mattered. So, although still a faithful Jew in many respects, amongst Gentiles he laid his Jewishness aside, to remove any barriers to friendship and fellowship.

This was the message Paul had brought to the Galatians, in circumstances related, it seems, to his ill-health - possibly his recurring eyesight problems (verses 13-15 and also 6:11). But, since his first visit, Paul's enemies, Jewish Christians from the church in Jerusalem, had been there too, trying to turn the Galatian gentile Christians against Paul by telling them that he was wrong, and that if they wanted to follow Christ they should adopt Jewish dietary rules and, for the men, circumcision. Faith in Christ was not enough. No wonder Paul was furious, for this undermined the very heart of his gospel and drove a wedge between Jewish and gentile Christ-followers, and between him and the Galatian church. So he urged them to "become as I am", and to reject this other, 'Jewish' gospel and to see it as a travesty of the truth.

Paul was driven, not just by his passion for the gospel, but by compassion for the Galatian gentile Christ-followers, his "little children" (v. 19) in Christ of whom he was clearly very fond. But, like many parents, he was confused and annoyed by the way that they seemed so easily impressed by those who, in fact, wanted to exclude them from fellowship.

To Ponder

  • While 'Jewish Christianity' faded from view by the end of the first century, the tendency to insist that 'faith in Christ' is not enough is still with us in many churches. What kind of things get added to the list of membership requirements? Why?
  • Paul urged the Galatian Christ-followers to "become as I am". Who are your Christian role models?
  • In the context of Christian faith and the church, what makes you angry? Why? If you were Paul, what kind of response might you expect today?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.