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Gal. 4:8-20: Caring for Others in the Church Print E-mail
Galatians
Sunday, 21 May 2006

What would you do if someone you were close to began to stray from the truth?  Let’s say that they professed to be a believer, that they were even a member of our Church, and had seemingly been a faithful follower of Christ.  Yet, for whatever reason, they were now abandoning what they knew to be true and following after lies.  How would you respond to this person?  How would you care for them?

This is the situation that Paul is facing as he is writing the letter to the Galatians.  He had preached the gospel to them and they had professed faith in Christ.  Yet, the Judaizers had come in and convinced them that they needed to follow the Law in order to be justified.  Thus, we could say that the whole letter of Galatians is Paul’s response to those who are walking away from the truth.  We have seen his emphasis on justification by faith alone and his refutation of being justified by keeping the Law.  We have heard his strong arguments and followed his clear teaching of the gospel of faith in Christ up to this point.  Yet, in our passage this morning, Paul gets personal with the Galatians.  Not that the rest of the letter is impersonal, but in the verses we are looking at, Paul really emphasizes his relationship with the Galatians and his overwhelming concern for their souls. 

Thus, we should learn from Paul this morning how to care for those who seem to be wandering from the truth.  Let’s identify how this passage would have us respond.

First, we should remind them of the gospel and steer them away from lies (v. 8-11).

Paul reminds the Galatians that they had come to know God and to be known by Him.  Look with me again at verses 8-11.  Throughout the letter, Paul wants to remind the Galatians of their relationship with God through faith in Christ (see especially 3:1-6).  He wants them to remember the gospel.  He wants them to remember that they have been set free from the curse.  He wants them to remember that they are no longer slaves.  And notice how he speaks of it here.  He writes in verse 9: But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…  The Galatians have come to know God through faith in Christ.  Paul emphasizes the fact that it is God who initiates the relationship.  Yes, as believers we, along with the Galatian believers, know God, but it is not because we sought Him out or earned our way into His presence.  No, we know Him because He first knew us.  Paul is reminding the Galatians that the free grace of God has captured them and set them free.

So, he asks, ‘How can you turn back?’  How can you go back to slavery now that you have been made the sons of God?  Why would you return to the elementary principles of the world?  Paul is linking their state before Christ with that of Jews who were under the Law.  Both of these groups were slaves before Christ, so why would they want to return to such slavery?  It seems that the Galatians were simply trading one master for another.  They had been enslaved to pagan gods, who were no gods at all, and now they were enslaving themselves to the Law.  Paul speaks of days and months and seasons and years, all referring to Jewish religious times that the Galatians were beginning to keep.  He states his fear in verse 11: I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

In the same way, we need to remind people of their sonship through faith in Christ and steer them away from any form of works salvation or false understanding of the gospel.  If people are wandering away from the truth, then we need to remind them of the gospel, remind them of their profession of faith, remind them of their public proclamations of belief through baptism and taking communion.  If coming to Church has become some sort of ritual to them that they do simply to ‘keep God off their back,’ then we need to hold up the glorious good news of the free grace of God and who they are without Him.  Thus, like Paul, we need to remind those straying from the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Second, we should remind them of the value of their ministry in the past (v. 12-15).

Again, Paul gets personal in his comments here.  Look with me at verses 12-15.  Apparently when Paul went and proclaimed the gospel to the Galatians he had some sort of bodily ailment.  We can only speculate as to what exactly this means.  Some have postulated that Paul had caught some sort of disease and went to the regions of Galatia to heal.  Others, based on what is said in verse 15, have concluded that Paul had something wrong with his eyes.  Either way, it seems that Paul’s ailment impacted him physically and was difficult for the Galatians to bear.  Paul calls it a trial for them.

Yet, Paul goes on to comment that in spite of all this, the Galatians received him as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.  He even says that they would have given him their eyes.  Again, whether or not this means that Paul’s struggle was with his eyes is difficult to know, but either way, it is a striking way to speak of their care and concern for him.  The Galatians were passionate in their love and ministry toward Paul.

Thus, Paul wonders, ‘What happened?  What changed?’  When Paul visited them, he was sick and possibly physically disgusting, yet, they took him in and cared for him and believed the message of the gospel.  So, why are they now abandoning him?  Why are they now putting themselves under the Law?  For Paul, this simply does not add up.  His hope is that the Galatians will see this and turn from their ‘new’ ways. 

When people we know turn from following the truth, we need to remind them of their service in the past when we can.  We need to point out to them that at one time they were dedicated to the ministry of the Church.  If it is true of them, then we need to remind them of their passionate service in the past and ask them what has changed.  We need to show them that their current actions and attitudes do not add up.  We hope with Paul that God will grant them grace to see their errors and turn from their ways.

Third, we should remind them of the truth and avoid flattery (v. 16-18).

Our enemies can always tempt us by appealing to our pride.  This is what was happening to the Galatians.  Look at how Paul describes what his enemies were doing in verses 16-18.  Paul’s opponents, the Judaizers, were using flattery and deception to draw in the Galatians.  They were making much of the Galatians.  Of course, we might protest, ‘But wasn’t Paul making much of the Galatians in describing their service to him?  What is the difference then between Paul’s flattery and the Judaizers flattery?’  These are legitimate questions.  Paul accuses the Judaizers of flattery for no good purpose.  He goes on to say: They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them (v. 17).  The purpose for the opponents’ flattery was ultimately draw attention to themselves.  They wanted the Galatians to make much of them, possibly referring to making much of them as Jews, or Judaism in general.  This would shut them out as Gentiles.  Paul identifies this appeal to pride for pride’s sake.  The Judaizers flattered the Galatians to trick them into flattering them back. 

In response to such tactics by his opponents, Paul resolves to simply speak the truth, or to speak truthfully, to the Galatians.  Paul has done nothing but speak truth to them from day one.  He has not changed on the gospel and justification through faith in Christ and he is not about to change now.  His ‘flattery’ simply reminded them of their service to, and belief in, the gospel.  Thus, it is safe to conclude that it was for a good purpose (see v. 18).  Paul wants them to believe the truth.  He wants them to believe it when he is present with them and when he is away from them.  Thus, he writes to them to encourage their belief in the true gospel.

Unfortunately, pride is still a problem today.  Our enemy is well aware of this fact.  Men continue to appeal to people’s pride to lead them away from the truth of the gospel.  A good example of this is the movie that came out on Friday.  In Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code the characters speak of a secret truth that has been kept from people by the Church.  The Church then becomes ‘The Man’ that has been oppressing us with the Bible and its claims to truth.  Instead, we should throw off the oppression of the Church and be free.  This is an appeal to our pride.  Indeed, who is God to tell us what to do?  Who is God to reveal Himself to us through a book that we are supposed to believe and follow?  What gives Him the right to tell us what is right and wrong?  Of course, the Galatian struggle was different, but the appeal to pride was the same.  We need to combat such lies and appeals to pride with the truth, the truth about humanity, the truth about God, the truth about history, the truth about sin, the truth about the gospel.  As Christians, we must ever remain humble and keep a true view of humanity ever before us, so as to avoid giving the Devil a foothold.  Likewise, when others are tempted by such lies, we should be quick to humbly remind them of the truth.

We know that Paul loved the Galatians very much.  We see his concern for them in verses 19-20.  Look at those verses with me.  Of course, the question for us this morning is do we love the Church like that?  Are we fighting for one another by keeping the gospel ever in front of us?  Are we taking every opportunity to encourage one another in ministry and service?  Are we speaking truthfully to one another and avoiding flattery?  In the end, are we willing to do the hard work of fighting for someone’s faith when they are wandering away from the truth?  Paul left us a good example to follow.  Like him, may we love the Church in truth as we wait for the coming Day.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 23 May 2006 )

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