For the Love of God, Volume 1/September 28
From Gospel Translations
2 Samuel 24; Galatians 4; Ezekiel 31; Psalm 79
GALATIANS 4 INCLUDES a couple of sections that have long prompted Christians to ponder exactly how Paul understands the history of Israel—especially the socalled “allegory” of 4:21-31. They attract a great deal of attention. Tucked into the middle of the chapter, however, are two short paragraphs that disclose a great deal of the apostle’s heart (4:12-20), even though they are easily overlooked.
(1) The first (4:12-16) finds the apostle pleading with the Galatians. He insists that his strong language with them has nothing to do with personal hurt: “You have done me no wrong” (4:12). Indeed, he reminds them, the earliest stage of their relationship established a link Paul could never break. He first went among them, he says, “because of an illness” (4:13). We cannot be sure what it was. Perhaps the best guess (though it is no more than a guess) is that Paul arrived by boat on the southern coast of what is now Turkey, and while ministering there contracted malaria or some other subtropical disease. The best solution in those days was to travel into the highlands—into the regions of the Galatians. There Paul found a people remarkably helpful and welcoming. As he preached the Gospel to them, they treated him as if he were “an angel of God” (4:14). How could Paul possibly resent them or write them off? But tragically, their joy has dissipated. They have become so enamored with the alien outlook of the agitators that they view Paul as an enemy because he tells them the truth (4:16).
Here, then, is an apostle intimately involved in the lives of the people to whom he preaches, ready and eager to engage with them out of the complex history of their relationships, yet unwilling to compromise the truth in order to smooth out those relationships. In Paul, integrity of doctrine must stand with integrity in relationships; they are not to be pitted against each other.
(2) Paul perceives and gently exposes a deep character flaw in the Galatians: they love zealous people, not the least those who are zealously pursuing them, without carefully evaluating the direction of the zeal (4:17-20). Paul warns: “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good” (4:18). Unable to communicate by telephone or e-mail and thus have an instant update, the apostle is uncertain how best to proceed. Should he continue his rebuke? Should he now change his tone and woo them? He feels like a mother who has to go through the agony of labor a second time to bring to birth all over again the child she has already borne.
Should contemporary pastors and leaders care less for those in their charge who stray?