“However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things (Jewish rituals), to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain. I beg of you, brethren, become as I am (a former legalistic Jew now free to serve Christ in the Spirit), for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong; but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; 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. 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. So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Paul had to confront their return to ritualistic Judaism.) They (the Judaizers) eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you. My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you—but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” (Gal. 4:8-20)
Once again Paul is telling the Galatians that trusting in the law after their salvation in Christ is no different from pagans worshiping false gods (e.g., Zeus and Hermes – Acts 14:11-15). Anything that leads us away from complete reliance on Christ for salvation and God’s grace for our needs is idolatry, even religiosity (Judaism). An idol is something or some person we put energy and effort into to get what we want and need – physical, relational and spiritual needs, anything from food and shelter to love, self-acceptance, meaning, purpose, hope, etc.
As Christians we are “known by God” (v.9) for who we are in Christ – not the old self. The reason we stay under the law is that we learn at an early age to try to win approval from others (esp. parents and peers) by performing – – keeping the law. Scripture says we are sinners and unacceptable to God (we are born in sin and choose to sin). (Romans 1:18-21; 2:14-16; 3:9-18) What we need to know from the gospel is how perfectly and unconditionally loved we are by God because of the work of Christ. That is why Paul says to put off the old self (flesh – trying to earn God’s love and the love of others). (Rom. 7:14-25; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:5-10) Even after salvation we can continue to present a false, work-righteousness self to God and others and live in denial rather than honestly admitting our sins to God (not just behaviors but the attitudes behind the behaviors) and experience His love and forgiveness just as we are. His forgiving love changes our hearts and then our behaviors change.
Vv. 9-10 – The “principles” of the law (religious rules) are “weak” (have no power for righteousness) and “miserable” or poor (have no spiritual value and eternal inheritance) and simply enslave people by trying to earn God’s acceptance and meet our idolatrous needs/wants. Our drivenness, fears and worries (bondages) are a sign we are trusting in our idols rather than God to meet our needs, as we know deep down they (idols) are not trustworthy. We know they will ultimately always let us down.
Paul says “become like me” in that Paul was formerly a legalistic Pharisee and now is one who experiences freedom and joy in His relationship with God through Jesus. He wants them to return to their first love and the joy in Christ they once had. (v.15)
Paul is appealing to them as a pastor who cares for their soul as he speaks the truth in love as a mother or father would to their beloved children, warning them of the lies and sinful motives of the Judaizers and reminding them of his suffering labor of love to bring them the gospel, and groans in prayer for their growth in Christlikeness.
What can we learn and imitate in Paul as we desire to influence and disciple others?
1) Paul’s goal was their Christlikeness, not for them to be “zealous” for him. Yet this is what the Judaizers wanted. Our life and words should motivate others to be zealous for God as our Lord Jesus was (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17), not zealous for us.
2) Personally living out what we are teaching or calling others to do is what empowers what we say. Paul was filled with the joy of salvation by grace through faith (Phil. 3:1-8) and wanted his Galatian friends to experience it again. This was not some academic doctrine, but personal and experiential knowledge. This is what the Hebrew word “yada” means, i.e., not just head knowledge but personal, relational and experiential knowledge of the truth. It is always helpful to learn from a person who has “been there” (trials, suffering, sin/repentance) and learned God’s way and then models it through the way they live – not just with words.
3) Paul’s intense love for his disciples (like Christ’s love) is our model. Even as a mother labors in pain for the child to be birthed, we are to labor in loving and often difficult service and intercessory prayer for others to become more and more like Jesus. The mother wants the child to come out of the womb and be its own person, not attached to or dependent on her (needing to be needed). Likewise we want those we influence for Christ to discover their own gifts and unique ministries and not be dependent on us but to reach out to the sphere of influence God has for them. (Psalm 127:4) But as Paul modeled here, people need both nurturing love and God’s truth (sometimes painful truth) or they will not grow up in Christlikeness but remain spiritual infants.
Questions for reflection and application:
Idols of the heart can usually be discovered by examining our true motives, strong desires, and negative emotions. Of course this requires gut-level honesty with the Lord and yourself, not what you “ought” to want. What do you feel you need to really make you happy? Why? What makes you feel the most self-worth? Why? What unanswered prayer might turn you away from the Lord? Why? What do you rely on to comfort yourself when you feel upset or stressed? Why? What do you worry about the most? Why?
Examine the chart below to help you discover your potential idol.
|What we seek/want||Price we will pay||Greatest nightmare||Others often feel||Problem emotion|
|COMFORT Privacy, lack of stress, freedom||Reduced productivity Reduced intimacy||Stress, demands||Hurt||Boredom Emptiness|
|APPROVAL Affirmation, love, relationships||Less independence||Rejection||SmotheredIntruded upon||Relational Cowardice|
|CONTROL Self-discipline, certainty, standards||Loneliness; lack of spontaneity||Uncertainty||Condemned||Worry|
|POWER Success, winning, influence||Burdened, responsibility||Humiliation||Used||Anger|
Living in line with the truth of the gospel – Galatians 2:14 Tim Keller | Redeemer Presbyterian Church – 2003
Until He comes,
Len and Kristen
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