Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA
Having begun his letter to the Galatians with an extended rebuke, Paul now changes tack. Verse 12 opens with a personal appeal:
Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.
In the Greek, the words are poignant and not a little sharp:
Brethren, I beseech you, Be as I am; for I am as you.
The words speak of relationship. From its beginning, it was two sided. The terseness of the words speaks to me of close Paul is to the Galatians. He does not mince any words.
Focusing on the last part of the verse first, Paul says “I am as you.” As I thought on those four little words this week, I realized they spoke volumes. Paul came to the Galatians and became one of them. He didn’t keep his distance but got involved in their lives. He didn’t stand on his dignity but instead, he became one of them. Born a Jew, he became like the Gentiles to reach them.
1 Corinthians 9:20-22
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. To 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. To 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.
It is difficult for us to perceive how contrary this would have been to Paul’s nature. He described himself in the book of Philippians (3:4-6)
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.
In order to become like the Gentiles, Paul tore away every last shred of legalism in his life. I am certain in the knowledge that this change did not come easily. Paul literally had to become someone different than he was. He who was a high and mighty Pharisee came to see himself in another light.
1 Timothy 1:13-15
…formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
It was from this place of brokenness that God began to use Paul.
1 Timothy 1:16
But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
As he describes the change to Timothy, his heart can’t contain his praises:
1 Timothy 1:17
To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul knew he was saved as an example. He explained it to Timothy and he lived it in front of the Galatians. It’s why he could say: “Brethren, become as I am.”
The believers in Galatia knew that Paul had abandoned his former devotion to the rabbinic traditions and Jewish ceremonial law. They knew the price he had paid a dear price in turning from Judaism to Christ. He was, at the very least, ostracized and was most likely considered dead by his family.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…
Its so easy to read over those words lightly; without seeing or understanding the cost Paul paid for following Christ – “For His sake I suffered the loss of all things”. But when Paul compares who he was to what he was in Christ he said “I count it as rubbish”.
He looks at the Galatians and beseeches them from a wizened heart: “Become as I am!” He didn’t come to them as an all powerful Pharisee, deigning to stoop to their level, he instead came as one of them. As a matter of fact, in God’s providence, he came to them not as their superior, not even as their equal but as someone to be looked down on.
You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and 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.
The first thing that strikes me here is that God uses our problems to achieve his purposes. Paul’s sickness was God’s hand of blessing on the Galatians. Interesting how it was a trial to both Paul and the Galatians.
We have no way of knowing what the particular circumstance was that forced Paul to Galatia. We do know that Paul on numerous occasions cried out to the Lord to heal him. How humiliating for a healer to be unable to heal himself!
2 Corinthians 12:7-9
…a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
This illness also tested the Galatians. Paul says my condition “was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me”. “You did me no wrong.” From this we can draw the conclusion that Paul’s condition was unsightly or perhaps was repulsive and that the Galatians might have been turned off or away by his appearance. We know for certain that people of that time considered diseases and disabilities to be signs of divine displeasure or judgment or even demon possession.
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Paul commends the Galatians and says that contrary to normal expectations they did not reject him but received him as they would have an angel of light or Christ Jesus himself. Those were heady times, when the men of Galatia heard the gospel that first time. They rejoiced in the God of their salvation! Paul harkens back to that time and then fast forwards to now.
What 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. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?
How did you get from those days of blessing to considering me an enemy?
They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.
You are listening to those who would flatter you with words but their motives are impure. They want to put you back in your place. They want you to come under the law as second class citizens in order to come to Christ. They want to remind you that you are only lowly gentiles after all and must become Jews if you would find God’s forgiveness.
Paul’s motives on the other hand were pure:
my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
There is a saying about children “When they’re little they’re a handful but when they are grown they’re a heartful.” We parents never seem to outgrow our children. We always love them, always want the best for them, always go above and beyond for them. This is Paul’s motive. He leaves the “Brothers” address and addresses the Galatians as “My little children.”
The argument the Judaizers are using to turn the hearts of the Galatians can be discerned from what follows. They were using the example of Abraham’s decedents to re-enslave the Galatians.
And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”
Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.
If the Galatians refused to be circumcised, then they would stand outside of the covenant. I can hear the irony in Paul’s voice.
I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.
Both of Abraham’s sons were circumcised but only one is heir. It is not circumcision that makes the difference but God’s promise!
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.
Hagar was never a free woman, and Sarah was never a slave. So beloved, the covenant of works was never free, and none of her children ever were. All those who trust in works are never free and never can be.
A slave who obeys his master perfectly has not done anything other than his duty. His master owes him nothing.
Sarah was a free woman and her offspring was always free. He did nothing to earn it nor did he have to anything to keep his status. The covenant of Moses says “Thou shalt”. The covenant of Abraham says “I will.”
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA