12 I beg you, brethren, become as I am, for I have also become as you are. You have done me no wrong;
13 but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time;
14 and that which was a trail 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.
15 Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.
16 So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?
17 They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them.
18 But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you.
19 My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you –
20 but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
In verse 12, we see Paul saying that he became like the Galatians. This is similar to the passage in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more [souls to Christ]. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the Law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” Does this mean that Paul adopted an air of legalism in order to convince the Jews to believe in Christ, or that he abandoned his morals in order to convince the Gentiles to believe in Christ? Absolutely not, or as Paul often said, may it never be! Sinning in order to convince others that Christians can be cool is not a moral way to bring others to Christ! Rather, here Paul is temporarily partaking of their culture in order to present Christ in His honest, positive light. For example, if I were going to share the Gospel with a Muslim woman who covered herself from head to toe, I would not wear shorts and a tank top to do so; even though I have the freedom in Christ to not dress legalistically, I also must realize that dressing in such a manner would cause this Muslim woman to view Christianity as an unprincipled and immoral belief system. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if I were to meet with some non-Christian classmates, I would not show up in a Sunday church dress and use Christianese words like “propitiation” and “indwelling;” rather, I would want to dress and speak normally. Our lives are a very powerful witnessing tool, and we should be careful not only to portray Him correctly by avoiding both legalism and societally-accepted sinful lifestyles, but also to portray Him correctly by living out the principle that He is truly King of all people.
Next, in verses 13-14, Paul states that He had the opportunity to preach the Gospel to the Galatians because of some kind of illness, and that they were very hospitable to Him. Sometimes we question why God lets certain things happen to us, be it illnesses, running late, getting assigned a certain undesirable partner for a school or work project, or something else. But in some of these instances, as is certainly the case here, God presents us with the situation in order to put us into contact with a person who we can share God’s love with. Another Biblical example of this is in Acts 16, when Paul and Silas’s imprisonment led to the jailor and his family getting saved.
Finally, this passage ends with Paul being perplexed at the Galatians’ change of attitude. Originally, they loved him deeply, caring for him in his illness, but now, it seems, they regard him as an enemy solely because he is trying to help them live more richly in relationship with Christ! I’d like to share the NIV’s rendering of verses 17-18, because it phrases it a little more clearly: “Those people [the legalists] are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.” This passage provides a good way to test if a religious teacher or doctrine is actually destructive: Is it filling you with anger, malice, and hatred rather than passion? Is it causing division in your relationship with other solid believers who don’t share your new doctrine? We must always be on guard for wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Today’s discussion starters:
1- How can we better become “all things to all men” in today’s world – specifically? How can we strike the balance between doing this, but not going so far as to sin (whether through legalism or laxity)?
2- What other Biblical examples can you think of where God used something bad (illness, etc.) to show His love to people? What examples can you think of in your own life?
Next post, we’ll finish up chapter four.