COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS
LESSON NUMBER 38
Gal 4:12 “Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. 13Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. 14 And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.”. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Gal 4:12-14)
BE AS I AM – REMEMBER HOW YOU FIRST TREATED ME
The spiritual expertise with which Paul is addressing the Galatians is a source of edification, and is simply good tutelage. He first precisely diagnosed their case. 1 – They had “removed” themselves from Him who called them into the grace of Christ unto “another gospel” (1:6). 2 – They had been troubled by those who perverted the Gospel (1:7). 3 – Acting foolishly, they had been “bewitched” (3:1). 4 – They had run well, yet had been hindering so they “should not obey the truth” (5:7). 5 – Paul was afraid of them, lest he had bestowed labor on them in vain (4:11). He confirmed the validity of the Gospel he had preached. 1 – He received it from Christ (1:12). 2 – It was acknowledged to be true by the apostles and leaders at Jerusalem (1:18; 2:1-10). He reasoned with them about the superiority of faith. 1 – The Law was not of faith (3:12). 2 – We are justified by faith (3:21-29). 3 – It makes no sense to return to the weak and beggarly elements of the world after we have believed and known God (4:6-10). There is a candidness in Paul’s words that confirm the confidence with which he spoke. Admittedly, those who are enamored of Law view such confidence as pride and arrogance – but it still must be voiced. It glorifies God when the truth is actually comprehended and confidently spoken. This pertains to the assessment of people in a backward stance, as well as to the delivering of the Gospel of Christ itself. Unvarnished truth is the context within which the Lord works. Truth is what sanctifies (John 17:17), and what liberates as well (John 8:32). Truth is what is to be obeyed ( Rom 2:8), and love rejoices in it (1 Cor 13:6). Truth is what is to be manifested, or made known (2 Cor 4:2), and all of the fruit of the Spirit is “in truth” (Eph 5:9). Thus, Paul has written to the Galatians the truth about them, the truth about himself, and the truth of the Gospel. Now he will testify to the truth of their original response to the truth as he preached it to them. Everything he says is within the context of the truth – discerned or comprehended truth.
I HAVE NOT BEEN CHANGED BY YOUR MANNERS
Gal 4:12 “Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.”
Behind what Paul now writes is the truth that the Gospel he has preached has made him what he is. He owes his salvation and constancy to the truth of the Gospel. He is, like all other believers, “the epistle of Christ,” written “with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor 3:3). As confirmed by both the tone and content of his words, this is precisely why he can plead with the Galatians to be as He is. He is a legitimate product of the very same Gospel he preached to them.
BRETHREN. Other versions read “brothers,” NIV “friends,” NRSV “brothers and sisters,” GWN “my brethren,” MRD “my friends,” CEV/GNB and “my dear friends.” MESSAGE
The word from which “brethren” is translated is avdelfoi,, and speaks of a paternal relationship: “from the same womb – a brother (whether born of the same two parents, or only of the same father or the same mother).” THAYER In Christ Jesus, it reflects the commonness of being “born of God” (1 John 5:1), and being sanctified and made acceptable in Christ Jesus (Heb 2:11). The fact that Jesus is “not ashamed to call them brethren” confirms that their primary relationship is to Jesus, and secondarily to one another. God in heaven is their “Father” (1 Pet 1:17), and “Jerusalem which is above” is “the mother of us all” (Gal 4:26). Thus Paul now addresses them in strict accordance with who and what they are in Christ Jesus. While they may be viewed as “friends” from a lower vantage point, that is not the view of this text. He is not even addressing them as those who have embraced the same cause as himself. He speaks to them in strict accord with what they became in Christ Jesus. Because they are themselves in such a miserable state, he will present himself as a notable example of what they ought to be.
I BESEECH YOU. Other versions read, “I urge you,” NKJV “I beg of you,” NASB “I plead with you,” NIV “I entreat you,” ESV and “I implore you.” NAB
Paul pleads with the Galatians, doing so without shame. He is calling upon them to think upon their condition, and take some decisive action. Rather than his labors on them being wasted, he extends his appeal to them, confirming his profound care and concern for them.
BE AS I AM. Other versions read, “become like me,” NKJV “become as I am,” NASB “put yourselves in my place,” CJB “live as I do in freedom from these things,” NLT “feel as I do about these things,” LIVING “take my point of view,” WILLIAMS “become as I am [free from the bondage of Jewish ritualism and ordinances].” AMPLIFIED and “I would really like you to do is try to put yourselves in my shoes.” MESSAGE
A similar expression is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). He again writes, “be ye followers of me” ( 1 Cor 4:16). To the Philippians he wrote, “be followers together of me” (Phil 3:17). He testified to the Thessalonians, “ye became followers of us” (1 Thess 1:6). Paul lived to make himself an ”example . . . to follow” (2 Thess 3:9). We care admonished to be “followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb 6:12). Spiritual leaders are those whose “faith” can be followed (Heb 13:7). This text is speaking more than a mere “point of view.”
All of this confirms that a God-honoring life is infinitely more than holding to a correct theological position – although that is essential. Faith that is not being lived out is not faith, and a life that cannot be safely followed is not true life.
I AM AS YE ARE. Other versions read, “I became like you.” NKJV This has to do with living after the manner of Gentile believers, with no allegiance to Jewish customs or traditions. His sole purpose was to bring spiritual advantage to the Galatians, and not to exploit them in any way. He was motivated by love and concern for them. However, in removing from God, the Galatians had sought to conciliate the Jewish teachers who had penetrated their churches. Those false teachers were seeking their own advantage, not that of the Galatians. Having bought into that way of thinking, the Galatians had ceased to think of being an advantage to Paul, and had thus come to despise the Gospel that he preached, and through which they were converted. Now he calls upon them to esteem others better than themselves, and to follow the manner of himself.
YOU HAVE NOT INJURED ME. Other versions read, “You have done me no wrong,” NASB “It isn’t that you have done me any
wrong,” CJB “You have not hurt me at all,” GENEVA “You did not mistreat me when I first preached to you,” NLT and “You did me no wrong [in the days when I first came to you; do not do it now.” AMPLIFIED
Two things are seen here. First, as he will now develop, the Galatians did no wrong to Paul at the first, but received him without hesitation. Second, Paul is not writing as one who has been wronged, and now seeks revenge upon the Galatians. He is still seeking their welfare, and taking extensive measures to ensure that his labors were not wasted among them. Even as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Eph 5:25), so Paul now loves the Galatian churches and gives himself for them. Their wayward conduct has not eroded his faith. He is not writing as one that has been humiliated by their defection, but as one whose concern for them has been heightened.
YOU KNOW THE CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH I FIRST CAME TO YOU
4:13 “Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.”
Paul will now take them back to their spiritual beginnings. He has dealt with where they were at that time, and the assessment was not good. In order to find some legitimate good in them, he must go back to their beginnings in Christ Jesus. He does this because a person cannot fall from grace without first forgetting it. A person cannot abandon the faith without first ceasing to give thanks for it. It is not possible to be removed from Him who called us without first forgetting that He did, in fact, call us. It was not a state of immorality that brought the Galatians to this condition. Rather, it was the adoption of “another Gospel.”
YE KNOW. Other versions read, “you have knowledge that,” BBE “surely you remember,” NLT “yet you know,” WILLIAMS “on the contrary, you know,” MONTGOMERY and “you were well aware.” MESSAGE
This was not an active knowledge, but one that had to be stirred up, or brought to the surface of thought and consideration. When one removes from the Lord, all of the precious memories that can assist in recovery, are thrust into the background. Even when writing to those with pure minds, Peter said, “I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance” (2 Pet 3:1). Now Paul will state the morsel of knowledge they had forgotten, which was lying in a state of neglect in the part of their mind they were not presently using.
THROUGH INFIRMITY OF THE FLESH. Other versions read, “because of physical infirmity,” NKJV “a bodily illness,” NASB “because of an illness,” NIV “because of a physical infirmity,” NRSV “a bodily ailment,” RSV “with a feeble body,” BBE “because I was ill,” CJB “weakness of the flesh,” DARBY “I was sick,” NLT “bodily ailment,” AMPLIFIED and “I was physically broken.” MESSAGE
Here “flesh” has to do with the outer man, and not the sinful nature. Elsewhere, this word is also used in this manner (Gal 4:14; Eph 5:29; Col 1:24). This is no doubt related to the “thorn” Paul had in his flesh (2 Cor 12:7). This does not pertain to sin or sinful proclivities, but to bodily infirmities in which one can glory (1 Cor 11:20; 12:5,9) – something that cannot be done in “the flesh,” as pertaining to a corrupt nature (Rom 8:1,4-5,8,13; 2 Cor 7:1).
Paul was apparently unaware of the doctrine that says if we confess that we are sick, we actually bring sickness on ourselves. Some tell us that we should confess that we are not sick, even though we really are. Then the words of our mouth will bring life to us. Such nonsense did not have its origin with God – unless it be that He has sent “strong delusion” to those who did not receive the love of the truth (2 Thess 2:10-12).
Those who teach that Paul’s “thorn” in the flesh was an immoral tendency, like “lust” (which some fools allege was the “thorn”), fail to make the above distinction. No person can properly glory in weights and sin that so easily beset us (Heb 12:1). Some teachers in this very city teach that Paul had a secret sin that kept surfacing, and that this is what he was writing about in Romans 7:15-25. Such teachers are a distracting blotch on the canvas of life.
I PREACHED THE GOSPEL TO YOU AT THE FIRST. When Paul was sick, and while he was forced to remain in the province of Galatia, he preached the Gospel to them. And what stirred Paul to so preach when he was infirm in body? The love of Christ constrained him (2 Cor 5:14). The fact that he was living unto the One who died for Him and rose again was used by the Spirit to compel him (2 Cor 5:15). His love for the church moved him to be concerned when it was in any way deficient. His commitment to the preaching of the Gospel, and his love for it, caused him to be aroused when erroneous gospel’s were preached.
All of this, and more, moved him to preach the Gospel to the Galatians when he was sick – when his outward man was in a state of deterioration and lacking strength. When his body was failing he was able to get under it and bring it into subjection (1 Cor 9:27). He was not only able to preach and teach, but to do so effectively, so that the Galatians got a good start, and even ran well until their race was hindered by the presence of cunning false teachers.
It is always good to remember “at the first” – when we “first trusted in Christ” (Eph 1:12). That is when we obtained “the beginning of our confidence,” which is to be steadfastly maintained “unto the end” (Heb 3:14). Every legitimate beginning in Christ Jesus was a good one, resulting from hearing, believing, and obeying the Gospel. No one who was really “born again“ started out bad! Everyone started out believing, obeying, rejoicing, and desiring to please the Lord in all things. It is always refreshing for the faithful to recall such noble beginnings.
However, the text before us addresses a different kind of problem. The Galatians had renounced their beginning by removing from the One who had called them through the Gospel Paul preached to them. They had forgotten those noble beginnings in preference for an erroneous approach to gaining Divine approbation. Nevertheless, they were in a sound state of mind at the time of their beginning, and Paul now reaches into their spirits to awaken those blessed recollections. He knows that if they can recall what they did and had at the beginning, it will shed light on their present condition. Their departure from God will be seen as precisely that – a departure!
MY TEMPTATION WHICH WAS IN MY FLESH
4:14 "And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.”
It is especially noteworthy to observe how Paul speaks of the infirmity, or illness, to which he refers. It is obvious that it was something that could be seen, and that it was not of a pleasant nature. As regarding symptoms and appearance, we know of no more of the matter than that.
MY TEMPTATION. Other versions read, “my trial,” NKJV “my illness,” NIV “my condition,” NRSV “the trouble in my flesh,” BBE “my physical condition,” CJB “the trial of me,” GENEVA “my condition was a trial to you,” ESV “my illness was difficult for you,” GWN “my condition tempted you to reject me,” NLT and “my physical condition was [such] a trial to you.” AMPLIFIED
In this case, the trial was not to Paul, but to the Galatians. Paul’s physical condition appeared to contradict the blessing of the Gospel that he preached. We know that he personally viewed his difficulties as more than trials. They were also a cause for rejoicing: “I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities” (2 Cor 11:30). “I will not glory, but in mine infirmities” (2 Cor 12:5). “And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9).
When Paul said the thorn was given to him in order that he not “be exalted above measure” (2 Cor 12:7), he was not referring to a tendency to be personally proud or haughty because he had received so much revelation. Remember, Jesus considered him “faithful,” and therefore put him into ”the ministry” (1 Tim 1:12). Pride is not a characteristic of faithful men.
The exaltation to which he referred was that of other men, and of their tendency to unduly exalt those who minister to them. Our text is a classic example of this very thing. Paul’s appearance was such as would, for the fleshly minded, detract from what he said. He did not look like a person who had received an abundance from the Lord. In measure, it could be said of him as it was said of the Lord Jesus: “For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isa 53:2). This was true of Jesus when He was growing up, and especially when He was crucified. It was also true of Paul when he was “crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20).
YE DESPISED NOT, NOR REJECTED. Even though his appearance was, in a sense, “contemptible” (2 Cor 10:10_), yet the Galatians did not despise or reject him. The message he proclaimed outweighed any potentially distracting appearance. Early in this epistle he spoke of the true gospel which the Galatians had “received” (1:9). He declared they had “received” the Spirit (3:2). In receiving what Paul preached to them, they did not exalt Him, but the Lord who delivered that Gospel to him. Thus, the purpose of the “thorn” was fulfilled by them.
RECEIVED AS AN ANGEL OF GOD. When visited by a commissioned man who was clothed in a frail and distracting vessel, because of his words, they received him “as an angel of God.” To them, Paul was like “the angel which appeared” to Moses “in the bush” (Acts 7:35). He was like the angel who appeared to Cornelius, instructing him what to do (Acts 10:3-6). Or, like the angel Gabriel who appeared to and instructed Daniel (Dan 8:16; 9:21). In all of those cases, the word of the angel was not questioned, but believed and obeyed. In this text, Paul is saying that if Gabriel the angel had appeared to them and delivered the Gospel, they would have had no more energetic response than they did when they heard Paul.
A proclaimer that is received “as an angel of God” is perceived as bringing a message men dare not ignore. It is a message that demands their attention, and concerning which the hearer has no lingering doubts. It is an arresting message delivered by a dominating messenger.
EVEN AS CHRIST JESUS. Jesus declared that those who received the ones He sent had, in fact, received Him. “He that receiveth you receiveth Me, and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me” (Mat 10:40). Paul does not suggest that he is equal to Christ, but that his word is one that came from Christ. In their beginning, the Galatians did not receive the Gospel because of Paul himself, but because of the Christ whom he declared.
Those who emphasize scholarship, credentials, and the institution, deprive people of receiving the Gospel “even as Christ Jesus.” One of the traits of a false gospel is that it exalts something other than Christ Himself. It may be the speaker, or a cherished tradition, or a religious organization – but it is not Jesus Christ. Some accept a proclamation that appears to address a thorny problem that they are facing. Others receive it because it appears to guarantee deliverance from a certain situation. But when the real Gospel is preached, it is received as a message from Christ Jesus Himself, and the obedience of faith is rendered to Him.
It is apparent that this is not how the misleading teachers who were influencing the Galatians had been received. Somehow, their message did not carry the weight of the truth. It did not reach deep into the heart, distinguishing between soul and spirit, and making known the counsels of the heart. It could not induce change like the Gospel of Christ does.