Learning from the Apostle's Heart (Galatians 4:12-20)
Topic: Galatians Passage: Galatians 4:12–4:20
When Jesus Isn’t Enough (Galatians)
Learning from the Apostle’s Heart
(One Body: Love One Another)
September 16th, 2012
I. In Times of Tension
In times of tension, what does your heart look like?
No matter who is involved, every relationship will face these times of tension; situations, maybe seasons when a selfish decision or a misunderstanding or a difficult trial will strain a friendship or a marriage or some other relational connection.
And the church of Jesus, God's people are not immune to these kinds of challenges. A quick review of the letters of the New Testament makes that point abundantly clear. The writers of those letters are routinely calling their readers to love one another, and bear with one another, and forgive one another.
But this morning, as we return to the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians, we need to remember that this letter was written because Paul's relationship with these Christians in the Galatian churches had reached a time of tension. And that tension was a direct result of the Galatians' decision to turn away from the truth Paul had given them, and turn instead to the lies of false teachers.
Our study so far has given us plenty of details in terms of the ideas at stake here. To some it might even seem that Paul's letter has been strangely impersonal. But this morning, I believe God wants us to hear, not only the content of Paul's argument, but also the content of Paul's heart. We want to look at and learn from Paul's heart in the midst of this time of tension in his relationship with the Galatian disciples. So turn over to where we left off last time, Galatians 4:12-20.
II. The Passage: “My Little Children” (4:12-20)
As we work through this passage, I think we can see four aspects or four expressions of Paul's heart in the midst of this strained relationship with the Galatians.
A. Paul’s Heart: Freedom (4:12a)
Look first at the first sentence here in the first part of verse 12:
Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.
Now if we keep the context in mind here, Paul's point is clear. He wants them to walk in freedom, and not in the bondage of trying to keep the Law of Moses.
Paul was a Jew. But from the perspective of other Jews in his day, he had become like a Gentile in the sense that he was no longer trying to keep the Law of Moses. The Galatians believed they had to become like Jews in order to be like Christ. But as a fully realized Jew, Paul wants them to become like him, having a right perspective on the Law.
So what we see here in terms of Paul's heart is that even though the Galatians had rejected the truth he originally brought them, he still earnestly desires that they would know the FREEDOM that Jesus died to make possible. Freedom! As Paul expresses it at the beginning of the next chapter: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (5:1)
In times of tension, it's very easy to be shackled by anger, bitterness, and defenesiveness. And it's very easy to feel this way in response to someone who is shackled by some sinful mindset or sinful behavior. But in spite of his tough tone in several places throughout this letter, Paul is driven by a deep desire for his readers to experience true freedom in Christ.
B. Paul’s Heart: Remembrance (4:12b-15)
But look at where he goes in the second part of verse 12, down through verse 15:
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.  What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.
Right away, Paul wants to show them that he is not on the defenesive because of some personal offense they had committed against him: “you did ME no wrong”. In fact, Paul works hard here to remind them of how graciously they had received him at first, AND how they made it abundantly clear that his initial visit to them was a tremendous blessing. They received him like an angel, like a heavenly messenger from God.
And what we learn here is that they received him IN SPITE of the fact that he was suffering from some kind of physical aiment, some kind of sickness or condition. If Paul's visit took place when he and Barnabas travelled through southern Galatian, as recorded in Acts 13 and 14, then what we don't read in Acts is that Paul had to stay longer in Galatia in order to recuperate from some of kind of illness.
We have no idea what this condition was, but it obviously resulted in Paul's need for hospitality and care; the kind of care that might have easily been perceived as a burden for the Galatians. But as Paul reminds them here, they “did not scorn or despise” him, even though they could have. No, he says at the end of verse 15 that they would have even gouged out his eyes and given them to Paul if they could. This could mean that either Paul was suffering from some kind of eye ailment, some vision loss, or this is just a figure of speech to show how far they would have gone to help him.
And so what we see here in this time of tension is that Paul's heart for them is for them to REMEMBER their heart for him.
More importantly, Paul wants them to remember how they originally received the gospel message. Verse 15: what had become of that sense of blessedness they had? (same word from Beatitudes) When things get strained in a relationship like this, the heart of Christ (as we see demonstrated through Paul here...the heart of Christ) is to remind us of that original love for God's message and love for God's people. He reminds us of what is most important, to give us the perspective we need in order to see how we've veered of course.
C. Paul’s Heart: Warning (4:16, 17)
But Paul doesn't stop there. Look at verse 16 and 17. Paul writes:
Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?  They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them.
Very clearly here, Paul's heart is expressed through a clear WARNING to the Galatians. It's because of his eager desire for their spiritual freedom, it's because he wants them to remember their original blessedness in hearing the gospel, that he now warns them about the methods and motives of these false teachers.
Based on how they first received Paul, what in the world had brought about this drastic change in their attitude toward him. Are they now counting him as an 'enemy' because he shared the truth with them in the love and grace of Christ? No, no, no, Paul wants them to see their attitude toward him has changed because of these teachers and their distortions.
The agenda of these teachers was clear to Paul. The attention they were giving to the Galatians was utlimately serving one purpose: “to shut you out”, that is, to convince you that you are on the outside of God's people because you are not keeping the Law of Moses. But were they doing this because they deeply cared about the Galatians? No, they were doing this in order to be “made much of”; to be revered, to be esteemed as teachers; to be the gatekeepers of God's favor.
When there is true love for one another God's people, there will always be warnings like this, because none of us immune from the effects of sin, of stubborness and selfishness in the face of God's loving commands. Paul warned them, because he cared about them.
D. Paul’s Heart: Fullness (4:18-20)
But look at the final three verses here and consider what they tell us about Paul's heart toward the Galatians. Verse 18:
It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you,  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.
Did you notice all of the expressions of Paul's affection, and concern, and commitment to these young believers?
First of all, He does want to make much of them, he does want to speak highly of them as he travels from town to town, and from church to church. I Thessalonians 1 is a good example of Paul “making much” of a church. But he wants to do this for a “good purpose”, for the right reasons, for the sake of the truth. But how can he do this when they are straying from the truth so severely?
He also states that he wishes he could be right there with them. And he wishes he could change his tone. But as it stands, their behavior is a puzzle. It doesn't make any sense.
But verse 19 is even clearer when it comes to Paul's heart. Paul addresses them as “my little children”. This term is used nine times in the NT, and eight of those instances are in the writings of the Apostle John. This is the only time Paul uses this expression. The Galatians are like Paul's own children. His time with them, His ministry to them, was like a mother giving birth. He labored intensely to see them born again through faith in Christ.
But even though no mother has ever had to give birth twice to the same child, Paul is doing that very thing in this letter. He is trying, once again, to win them from the slavery of lies to the freedom of the truth of the gospel. Just as he expressed in 2:20 that it was “Christ who lives in me”, he also wants the Galatians to know the FULLNESS of Jesus Christ, by God's grace, through faith, and not according to the hopeless path of human effort.
III. Paul’s Heart and Our Hearts
Brothers and sisters, friends, God wants us to learn from the Apostle's heart this morning. Paul was a master debater. He was a brilliant theologian. He was a skillful writer. But in these verses, in 4:12-20, we see very clearly the heart behind the arguments of 1:1 to 4:11. He cared deeply for the Galatians. And the trajectory of his love for them was always the goodness of the gospel.
In this time of tension, as they spurned the gift he had delivered to them, as they readily accepted lies about him and his motives, as they carelessly disregard the joyful past that he and they shared, Paul reaches out to them in the love that only Jesus Christ can make possible.
You see that love doesn't get defensive. That love doesn't assert its rights. That love doesn't say, “Oh yeah?” That love doesn't deliver low blows. That love is not indifferent. That love isn't quick to give up and move on. That love doesn't keep score, or get cynical, or lose sight of what really matters.
The love of Jesus that fills the heart of Paul is a love focused on seeing them restored to the goodness of the gospel. And the goodness of the gospel is all about the freedom and fullness of Christ. Listen, Paul wants them to see that his attitude toward them is filled with the very same grace and love expressed in his arguments toward them. He doesn’t want them to live under the “what I deserve” of the Law. He wants them to walk in the “what I don’t deserve” of God’s grace.
And it’s that same grace that so eagerly desires their freedom, that wants them to remember, that warns them of their error, and that labors for their fullness in Christ.
The simple fact is that each of our hearts is like a glass, and that glass is full of something. When times of tension come, when your relationship with another brother or sister in Christ is strained, that ‘glass’ is going to get bumped. The most important question is not “Will it get bumped?” (because it will) The most important question is “What will spill out when it does?”
What we have seen from Paul in the first four and a half chapters of this letter is that his heart was full of true devotion to and delight in the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And when this issue with the Galatians bumped his glass, that grace spilled out.
But what is filling our hearts at any given moment? The answer to that can so often be seen in the way we respond in times of tension. If frustration about our position in life, if bitterness about the past, if we feel chronically dissatisfied and hopeless about our future, if we are holding on to stubbornness and selfishness, then THAT is what will spill over when our glass gets bumped.
Brothers and sisters, we need to wake up each morning and fill our hearts with the goodness of the gospel. We need to read about, and think carefully about, and pray about, BE about the reality of God’s grace and love in Christ for wayward, broken sinners like us. That should both humble us AND fill our hearts with confident joy.
And when that happens, we need to bless one another as members of the same spiritual family. We need to be, as Paul put in Ephesians 4:15, “speaking the truth in love” to one another. AND we need to do that when the glass is still AND when the glass is bumped.
May God always make the trajectory of our love for one another the goodness of the gospel, and in times of joy AND times of tension, may we give to one another the very same love that Jesus so generously gave to us. [Let’s pray.]