Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 4, Verse 14

Galatians 4:14 Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.

Paul continues in his more personal, heartfelt testimony regarding his past relations with the Galatians.

"Even though my illness was a trial to you” Obviously, whatever Paul’s infirmity had been, it was serious enough to be a burden, or at least a grave concern. But Paul is impliedly complimentary—even grateful to the Galatians because they did not treat him “with contempt or scorn” because of his illness. It was quite common in the ancient world to view physical illness as a curse or punishment by God (or “the Gods” if one was a pagan). Even Jewish tradition often viewed sickness as divine retribution. But the Galatians obviously received Paul, illness and all, with a welcome heart. He was received as an “angel of God.” The original Greek world for “angel” here was also commonly used to identify human as well as supernatural messengers – “angel” literally means messenger. And in ancient times, a messenger was received as the representative of their sender. For example, a messenger bringing a letter from the King would traditionally be given a "kings welcome."

Here Paul is received as God’s angel – God’s messenger. This is interesting, considering how Paul entered the city of Lystra, one of the chief cities of Galatia, as told in Acts 14: 8-13. After healing a man who could not walk, Paul and Barnabas were hailed as the Greek Gods Zeus and Hermes in the flesh. Indeed, Paul was hailed as Hermes, the messenger of the Gods! Of course, Paul makes it clear that the Galatians, at least once they received Christ, welcomed Paul not as a Greek God, but as if he were a messenger of Jesus.

As an aside, Acts 14 may give us a clue as to the nature of Paul’s illness. In Acts 14:19, amid the tumult of the confusion over this whole “Greek God” episode, some of the Jews in the area “won the crowd over,” and Paul was stoned, dragged outside the city, and left for dead. The healing process from such an ordeal would have taken a long time, and Acts 14:21 (and so on) outlines a journey back through the Galatian cities Paul had just traveled through, building up the churches. This would have necessarily taken a lot of time – perhaps years even – and Paul, in his injured, frail, recovering state, would have had the opportunity to establish deep ties with the Galatians.

But in relating and reminiscing about how Paul and the Galatians established their ministry together, there is a sad undertone. “You welcomed me” – yes, at the time Paul first came to Galatia, the new Christians there did not view his physical problems as God’s judgment, but took care of him joyfully (see the next verse regarding the concept of “joy”) and “welcomed” him as Christ’s true representative. BUT – the implication now is the “welcome” is strongly in the past tense. Something has changed. The influence of the Judiazers has caused a change in attitude. Paul no longer feels “welcomed.” In verse 16, he sees himself as he perceives the Galatians are seeing him, as an enemy. Paul is obviously deeply saddened by all this. The importance of RELATIONSHIP – here, a lateral one, between fellow believers in Christ – is vitally important to the Kingdom concept, and comes shining through.

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