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In Galatians 4:12-20 Paul pauses in his discussion to appeal to them on a more personal level, begging them not to abandon him and the gospel that he had preached to them earlier.
12 I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong; 13 but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; 14 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. 15 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.
In Paul's second missionary journey (Acts 15:36), he and Silas had been forced to stop in Galatia to deal with some bodily illness. Verse 15 suggests some kind of eye infection, many say. Whatever the case, Paul's illness was God's way of reaching these believers in Galatia with the Gospel. The Galatian believers had received him “as an angel of God,” for they were hungry for the Word and rejoiced in the Truth.
It is argued that Paul may have been left largely blind by this malady. It would explain Gal. 6:11, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” It would also help to explain Paul's failure to recognize the high priest a few years later in Jerusalem (Acts 23:2-5). It has also been suggested that he may have received a permanent eye weakness from being blinded on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:8, 9), even as Jacob was made lame in Gen. 32:32. If so, it was part of the divine plan which would work out for good according to Rom. 8:28.
On that same missionary journey, Paul had also preached in Corinth, where apparently he was still recovering from the same bodily illness. Paul reminded them of this later when he wrote to them in 1 Cor. 2:3, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.”
His statement in Gal. 4:12, “you have done me no wrong,” may indicate that their departure from his gospel was not being taken as a personal offense; or it may be that his strong language earlier in the letter was not written out of any personal vendetta or anger. There is not enough information to establish Paul's reason for mentioning this.
Paul then suddenly returns to his dispute with those advocating the “distorted” gospel.
16 Have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They [the Judaizers] eagerly seek [court] you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out, in order that you may seek [court] them.
Paul questions the motives of the Judaizers here. Having been a zealous advocate of Judaism in his earlier life, he knew that mindset well. He says that they were courting the favor of the Galatians, not with honorable motives, but because they wished to “shut you out” (from Paul's gospel) in order that the Galatians would have to court the Judaizers and pay homage to the temple in Jerusalem.
In other words, the Judaizers were trying to enslave the Galatians by inducing them to come into submission to Judaism, even as they themselves were doing in Jerusalem. The Judaizers themselves were afraid of offending the Jews, and for this reason they continued in all of the old ways, including sacrifices and circumcision. Paul alludes to this again later in Gal. 6:12,
12 Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.
Paul was not so willing to compromise the gospel just to avoid persecution at the hands of his countrymen. But, of course, this meant that it would be very dangerous for him to return to Judea. And we must remember that the Jerusalem Church was located in the heart of Judaism. James himself remained in good standing among the people there until the day of his martyrdom. (See chapter 25 of my book, Lessons from Church History, Volume 1.)
Paul continues in Gal. 4:18,
18 But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you.
If people look up to certain leaders, such as Paul, “it is good” as long as it is done “in a commendable manner” with the proper motive and attitude. Leadership is a good thing, and not only in Paul's case, but with any good leader. By emphasizing good leadership, Paul questions the leadership of the Judaizers and their attempt to bring the Galatians into bondage to their distorted gospel and to Judaism itself.
19 My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.
Paul speaks more clearly of this great hope of the gospel in Col. 1:27, saying, “this mystery [secret, hidden truth] among the nations, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
This is a statement of Sonship, which is the primary result of the true Gospel of Christ. The promised Holy Spirit has come upon us to beget Christ in our hearts, in the same prophetic manner as Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Even as Jesus Christ was the Son of God, having a heavenly Father, so also are we pregnant with an anointed seed within our hearts. That anointed “Christ” seed has a heavenly father as well, though we, as Marys, are its mother. We are giving birth to the Sons of God, even as Mary gave birth to the Son of God.
But that holy seed within us must be given time to grow and mature so it can be manifested (revealed) when birthed in the visible realm for all to see. That holy seed in us is what we are becoming, for it is your second identity, your second “you.” The first “you” is your Adamic man, that which you received from your fleshly genealogy. It is the “old man” (Rom. 6:6), which must be crucified with Christ. The second “you” is your identity as a child of the Last Adam. Out of the death of the first comes the resurrection of the second.
But in the Age of Pentecost, there is a time of spiritual growth. No embryo is immediately ready for the outside world. It must be nourished until, as Paul says, it is fully formed in you. As in the natural, a spiritual embryo can be miscarried or aborted. The Galatians were in danger of miscarriage, due to the spiritual “junk food” fed to them by the Judaizers.
This Sonship statement sets the stage for Paul's next major discussion about Hagar and Sarah. There he shows that Sonship is only attainable through Sarah, not through Hagar. It can come only through the New Jerusalem, not the Old Jerusalem. Sonship is the product of a “free-woman” relationship with God, and cannot be produced by a relationship with Hagar, the bondwoman represented by the old (fleshly) Jerusalem.
Paul finds it necessary to write these things, because he was absent from Galatia, writing in verse 20,
20 but I wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
Like Mary, who went to the house of Zacharias to be with her cousin Elizabeth during the final time of her pregnancy (Luke 1:39-44), Paul too wishes to be with the Galatians to assist with their spiritual pregnancy. Yet the occasion of Paul's absence has served the divine plan well, for had he been present with them, later generations would have been deprived of this epistle.