Sunday, September 27, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 12

Galatians 4:12 I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong.

So far, Paul has spent the bulk of his energy in this letter in criticism. Its aimed either at the evils of the Judiazing heresy or at the Galatians themselves for succumbing to it. His focus has been on theology or the personal testimony of events which occurred in his own life, rather than on any shared experience with the Galatians. Even when he briefly appealed to the Galatians’ own experiences (3:1-5), it was to criticize them for believing in the lie of this heresy.

Here Paul shifts to a much more emotional and personal tone. While he is critical, even disappointed in what has happened to the Galatian churches, he doesn’t want to break fellowship with them. He still has a sense of hope. He cares deeply for them. The RELATIONSHIP side of he equation, here, is now played out in Paul’s own personal interactions with the Galatians, and the concept is clear – He truly loves them!

First off, he uses the term “brothers.” This term has been used elsewhere so far in the book (e.g. 1:2, 3:15), and of course indicates that Paul considered the Galatians his fellow believes in the truest sense of the word. But some versions translate this word as “friends.” The implication of this concept is important. In ancient Greek culture, a “friend” was a social equal. Of course, Paul occupied a place of authority in the lives of the Galatians. The Romans had a concept of the “Patron,” a lord over a group of dependents. But a Patron has a relationship with his charges – a true friendship. Paul is not speaking to the Galatians merely as their teacher or master, but as a peer.

“I plead with you.” A passionate, heartfelt plea for a change of heart. In his plea, we see Paul’s heart, and his notion of friendship.

“become like me, for I became like you.” When Paul says “become like me” he is speaking of himself as a Jew who has been set free by Christ from the bondage of Jewish ritualism and tradition. He is speaking as a living example of what the Galatians are trying to be. They were trying to embrace ethnic Judaism – Paul’s been there, done that, and knows from personal experience that it doesn’t work. Not that being Jewish or ethnically Jewish is a bad thing, no -- but dependence on or identification with Judaism, or any culture for that matter, cannot bring us any closer to God. When he says “I became like you,” Paul is speaking of becoming like a Gentile. Because of his freedom in Christ, Paul lives his life separated from the world of law. His day to day practice, therefore, is just like the Galatians lived, at least as far as their Christianity was concerned. They had been delivered from the bondage of pagan idolatry. There might be some ethnic differences (language, music style, dress etc.), but the basic concepts were the same. Paul had really changed more than they had.

In addition, though, the underlying implication here is EQUALITY. The Jews are not better then the Greeks, in faith, in culture, in anything. Greek culture is not better either (through this was apparently not the issue in Galatia, but it is implied as an issue in the early verses of Chapter 4, and the Greeks themselves also traditionally had an air of superiority about them, regarding the Jews, and especially regarding the Romans). The pagan culture (here, Gallic) is not better. Paul himself as a spiritual authority is not “better” than they are. When Paul says, “I became like you,” he means he relates to the Galatians as equals , and not only as their spiritual father, as indicated in 4:19.

“You have done me no wrong.” Paul is not offended by what has happened. Indeed, he is about to emphasize the tender relationship he has shared with them; the closeness of that relationship. As we have seen, over and over, the Kingdom of God is all about RELATIONSHIP.

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