NUGGETS OF WISDOM

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BELIEVING WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE

David recollected that as a young lad, with long unruly hair and a ruddy complexion, sleeping out in an open pasture under a starry sky after watching his father’s sheep all day long; how he would take his little harp and sing to the God above all gods. Looking up, he saw the sky as a huge tent with the sparkling stars as lights that lit up the night. He may have even tried to count them once or twice. But what really impressed him was that each night every star was in exactly the same place, not one of them was missing. He was so overcome with awe that he penned a hymn to the creator of that starry universe.

O my LORD Eternal and heavenly Master, Your awe-inspiring works mark You as a genius, as You display Your grandeur all over the heavens for all the world to see. For through these small and tiny dots of light You communicate as a way of countering those who don’t take You seriously; yes, You do this to silence the doubter and unbeliever. When I look up into the sky and see the galaxies Your hands created, the stars and the moon You put into orbit I ask, “What role do humans play in this vast universe; why do You care and fuss over them?” Then I realized, You created them a little short of being angels; endowing them with attributes of honor and dignity; making them the smartest and most influential creatures on earth; putting them in charge to being stewards of Your handiwork, even taking care of the animals, both domestic and wild, including the birds that fill the sky and the fish that fill the sea. O LORD Eternal and heavenly Master, Your awe-inspiring works mark You as a genius for all the world to see.” Psalm 8:1-9

Reflection: Back in the days of the hippy movement I sat in a coffee house in Stuttgart, Germany talking with a long-haired flower-child about God. The young man was respectful but adamant about his doubts concerning God’s existence because he couldn’t see Him or talk to Him. At that moment the Holy Spirit gave me an inspiration, so I pointed to a picture hanging on the wall beside our table and asked the young man if he believed that picture came into being due to an accidental collision of paint and paper. He laughed and said, “That’s ridiculous; that picture was painted by an artist.” I responded that I wasn’t convinced because I couldn’t see the artist in the picture; how did I know that maybe one day it just appeared on the wall by accident. The young fellow looked at me for a moment and then admitted that even though I couldn’t see the artist in the painting, I had to accept the fact that an artist painted the picture because it just makes sense. I told him that in the same way, one must exercise faith to believe an unseen talented artist created such a beautiful portrait, we can also believe an unseen God created the beauty of the universe. The magnificence of God’s creation shows His responsibility for man’s existence, and man’s responsibility to acknowledge God’s handiwork. The young man smiled somewhat embarrassingly as he bowed his head and said, “Okay, you got me on that one.” I asked him if we could have prayer for him to have faith, but he wasn’t sure. As he went away I asked the Holy Spirit to go with him and open his eyes to the truth.

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXXI)

So, says Paul to the Galatians, when we tell you something, we are only trying to do what God wants us to do, not what others want us to do. He is the One who can see what is in our hearts. You know that we never tried to influence you by saying nice things about you. We were not trying to get your money. There was no reason to hide anything from you. God knows that this is true. We were not seeking applause from anyone – not from you or anyone else. When we were with you as Apostles of the Anointed One, we could have used our authority to force you to help us. But we were very gentle with you. We were like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you very much, so we were happy to share God’s Good News with you. But not only that – you were ready to give your eyes to me if that is what it took.[1] This helps us see the depth of Paul’s love for those God sent him to reach with the Gospel, and that certainly included the Galatians.

So why was such a good friend now being thought of as the enemy? I’m sure Paul did not want what happened to the prophet Zechariah when God gave him a message for the people of Israel. He told them; I’m going to tell you what God told me. He doesn’t understand why you people refuse to obey His commands? It will not work. You left the Lord, now He’s leaving you! But the people responded by asking the king to kill Zechariah, so they threw rocks at him until he fell dead. The people did this in the courtyard of the Lord’s Temple.[2]

Early medieval commentator, Haimo of Auxerre (820-885), gives his explanation of what he feels Paul is saying about Galatians’ willingness to give him their eyes. He says, that if it were possible for Paul to know the glorious things of God with his blurred bodily eyes and to penetrate still further into the secrets of His mysteries by the body’s sense of vision, they vowed to pluck out their eyes and give them to him so he could see even better. That’s because they rejoiced over Paul’s visit, and they were so anxious to know more about God and the Messiah, they were ready to pay any price to help make it happen.[3]

Dutch theologian James Arminius (1560-1609) talks about why such hatred is often exhibited against those who preach the true Gospel who must withstand the strong winds of dissent by those who do not desire fellowshipping with them. He says that such causes of dissension generally divided into those they earned it through some fault of their own and those who earn it through the fault of others. If a person is caught not practicing what they preach; of not telling the whole truth about sin and God’s punishment; or passing on their personal opinion as if it were Scriptural, they deserved to be called out as hypocrites because they did not live up to the principles of the very Scriptures they preach.

On the other hand, being falsely accused by others because, as Arminius puts it, they can’t stand having their sensitive and lustful hearts and their sinful ulcers sprinkled and purified by the sharp salt of truth, and because it forces them to admit that their lifestyle and manners are in bad shape. With Paul knowing this trait of the human heart, he inquires of the Galatians here in verse sixteen, “Am I now, therefore, your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” Furthermore, since the honest truth almost always invites hatred, and since, what some call an “unashamed flatterer,” with unconditional agreeableness wins friends as its reward, no wonder so many decided to avoid conflict by preaching and teaching an “unoffensive Gospel” – heaven without hell; salvation without repentance; unlimited grace for unlimited sinning, etc.[4]

John Bunyan (1628-1688) is writing on the tendency of forgetfulness, and how it makes past victories look like nothing happened, as though they never existed, and takes away from the soul an important source of support and encouragement. Certainly, the fact is that King David never forgot his epic battle with the giant Goliath,[5] and hiding in caves from Saul’s assassins.[6] In Bunyan’s mind, when King David became dejected, by remembering what he wrote about Mount Hermon, it kept him going;[7] when he decided to go out against Goliath, he remembered his battle with the lion and the bear that gave him courage.[8] In the same way, when things try to overpower us, we can think of our victories. And even when they finally leave us alone, just thinking about them will strengthen our soul.

Bunyan continues by saying that when we go out to try and recover a backslider, it usually begins at the remembrance of things that happened in the past. This was the Anointed One’s message to the Church in Ephesus.[9] It is marvelous to see how some people were greatly inspired by not forgetting. Especially those that prayed, cried, groaned, and longed for eternal life – those considered no pain too much, no distance far, no hazards too risky to run through for eternal life; those who were captivated with the Word, and with the comfort and joy it brought. In fact, Bunyan points to what Paul says here in verses fourteen and fifteen about the Galatians vowed to pull out their eyes and give them to the Apostle. That’s how sweet were the good tidings Paul brought to them.

So, says Bunyan, it is devastating to see how many people in his day were so beguiled and taken off course that they forgot such things in their own lives. It’s as though they never experienced such passion of dedication to the Lord; that they don’t remember ever thinking of God in such a way, as if never crossed their minds. In fact, they act as though it’s strange to see anyone who still takes the Bible as the Word of God and is persuaded by its message, and that mighty hand, by which they were sometimes guided in their life.[10] So it’s obvious why Bunyan is puzzled as to why the Galatians were going down this same rocky path of choosing to forget the joys and blessings they received with God’s free gift of salvation by grace.

Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is writing a treatise on the believer’s affections for all things religious. He mentions that we humans cannot achieve the same level of affection that the angels in heaven show for God’s perfection and handiwork. That’s because they see things as they are according to their true reality. And even though believers possess a similar nature and affection for God, the closer they get to the level at which angels praise God with a pure heavenly flame of fire in their love and in the greatness and strength of their joy and gratitude that their praises represent, the more their affection will be of the heavenly kind.

He’s thinking about what Paul asked the Galatians here in verse fifteen concerning how they felt about the blessings they received from his ministry. What happened to them? When he came, he can testify that he heard them say that they would willingly pluck out their eyes and given them to him if it would help. Where did all that affection go? From this, Edwards is persuaded that religious affections are at a higher degree than normal human affections. In fact, he admonishes anyone who might condemn people as overly enthusiastic because their affections are so high. But at the same time, there is no evidence that religious affections are of a spiritual nature just because they are so fervent.

Edwards says that Scripture gives us evidence of such an enthusiastic fondness for all things Godly and holy. But we must determine whether or not they are spiritually oriented and part of God’s saving grace. That’s why what Paul says here to the Galatians indicates that the affections he speaks of are exceedingly elevated beyond what one might expect. And no doubt that’s why he feels so despondent that it all may end up being a failure and actually resulting in nothing to rejoice over. This is certainly applicable to every believer who knows the joy they felt at their conversion and being born again. But when you see them a year later, like Paul, you might be motivated to ask, as Paul did, where did the thrill of being born again go?

This is what frustrated Moses once he led the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage into the wilderness of Sinai. How soon they forgot the blood that saved them from the Death Angel, the Rod that opened a path for them through the Red Sea where they sang God’s praise, the Manna from heaven, and fresh meat from the sky. Yet while Moses was up on Mt. Horeb to receive the commandments that would guide them until the Messiah came, they were worshiping and dancing before the idol of Golden Calf in the camp below.[11] The enthusiastic Hosannas that greeted Jesus when He rode into Jerusalem are like the hallelujahs today once the worship service is over. People can get out to the lake for their Sunday afternoon picnic. But if you think we might be upset at such behavior, how much more upset does the Son of God possess the right to be who paid the consummate price for their salvation?

Adam Clarke (1760-1832) gives this paraphrase of the opening in verse fifteen as follows: “Where then is your blessedness? Having renounced the Gospel, you have lost your happiness. What have your false teachers given you to compensate the loss of communion with God, or the Spirit of adoption, that Spirit of the Anointed One, by which you cried Abba, Father!”[12] But Clarke does go on to say that if we understand these questions about their happiness was another way of asking: When did you lose your first love for me? That is why what Paul says at the conclusion of this verse fits such a premise. Early church writer Victorinus expresses Paul’s words to the Galatians in a very abrupt manner. He hears Paul saying, Hey! You were all excited the first time when you heard the Gospel preached because of your eagerness to hear the truth. But where is your excitement now?[13]

Paul wraps it up by asking a painful question: “Do you hate me now that I’ve told you the truth?”  A friend will go along with you because they fear losing you, but a true friend will tell you the facts because if they do not, they will lose you anyhow. Paul proves himself to be a true friend of the Galatians because he is telling them like it is.  Oft times, a rebuke from a critic and that of a true friend may sound similar, but the difference is that the rebuke from a critic comes from their mind while the rebuke from a true friend comes from their heart. Did not Jesus say you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free? If you hate it when someone tells you a lie, how can you then hate it when they tell you the truth? Solomon said it well, “Don’t bother correcting the arrogant; they will only hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you for it.”[14]

[1] Also see 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

[2] 2 Chronicles 24:20-21

[3] Haimo of Auxerre: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[4] James Arminius: op. cit., Oration 5, p. 146

[5] 1 Samuel 17:1-11

[6] Ibid. 22:1

[7] Psalm 133:3

[8] 1 Samuel 17:34-36

[9] Revelation 2:2-6

[10] John Bunyan Practical Works, Vol. 4: A Holy Life, The Beauty of Christianity, The Author to the Reader, Ch, 3, p. 99

[11] The Works of Jonathan Edwards: Vol. 2,  A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Part 2, pp.765-756

[12] Ibid., loc. cit.

[13] Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 63

[14] Proverbs 9:8

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POINTS TO PONDER

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Often peace is seen in contrast, such as, “Peace is a treaty between two warring parties,” or “Peace is a condition of serenity beyond the reach of discord.” There is also “internal” peace and “external” peace. But what is not often discussed is how to attain peace to the satisfaction of all involved. Psychologists tell us that peace also includes one’s mental strength, especially the confidence in being able to handle whatever life throws against you. The main component is not wasting time and energy wishing things were different or trying to change the mind of the opposition.

Certified Social Worker Amy Morin lists a number of important things that mentally strong people don’t do in order to maintain inner peace. For instance, they do not surround themselves with toxic people that can forcefully affect the way they think, feel, and behave. Engaging with people who lie, gossip, bully, or cheat takes a toll on one’s well-being. Mentally strong people don’t waste their energy trying to change toxic people. They establish healthy emotional and physical boundaries. Once those lines are crossed, they disengage.

Another thing is not to become guilty of excessive self-blame. Thinking everything is 100 percent your fault – whether it’s a failed relationship or an accident – will affect the way you see yourself and the world around you. You can’t always prevent bad things from happening. Mentally strong people take appropriate accountability. They recognize they’re responsible for their choices, but they also acknowledge factors beyond their control – like the state of the economy, the weather, and other people’s choices.

There is also the delusion of constantly chasing happiness. Thinking you need to be happy all the time will backfire. Momentary pleasure is much different than long-term satisfaction. Mentally strong people are willing to put in the hard work it takes to gain contentment. They refuse to give in to instant gratification or temporary indulgences. They look for ways to build a brighter future by creating long-term goals.

Beware always staying in one’s comfort zone. It may seem like staying inside your comfort zone is the key to feeling good in life. But avoiding discomfort always backfires in the end. Mentally strong people face their fears, venture into unknown areas, and test their limits. They know that being uncomfortable is tolerable, and allowing themselves to experience discomfort is the key to living a better life.

Another essential component is to resist developing a victim mentality. Thinking the world and the people in it are out to get you will prevent you from being your best. In fact, if you blame all of your problems on external circumstances, you’ll never take responsibility for your life. Mentally strong people acknowledge their choices, even in the face of tragic circumstances. They focus on the things they can control, and they refuse to waste their time hosting pity parties.

It is also a waste of time to always try to impress people. You could waste a lot of your life trying to make people like you. Depending on admiration from others, however, gives others power over you.

Mentally strong people are comfortable in their own skin. They don’t waste their time worrying about whether other people approve of their choices. Instead, they focus on living according to their values.

The pursuit of perfection is another battle that must be won.  Striving for excellence is healthy. But insisting on perfection is an uphill battle. You’ll never feel good enough if you set the bar impossibly high. Mentally strong people accept that they’re going to fail and make mistakes. They are able to acknowledge their flaws and weaknesses.

Then there is the habit of holding grudges. You may think holding onto a grudge somehow punishes someone else. But, in reality, clinging to anger and hatred only reduces your life. Mentally strong people let go of grudges so they can focus their energy on more worthwhile causes. That doesn’t mean they allow themselves to be abused by people, however. It just means they don’t allow pent-up resentment to overtake their lives.

Not wanting to be left out leads to an endless quest for material things. No matter how much money you make, a bigger house, a nicer car, or more expensive clothing won’t give you peace of mind. Expecting material possessions to satisfy your needs will leave you sorely disappointed. Mentally strong people aren’t necessarily minimalists, however. They can enjoy nice things. But they don’t expect their material possessions to give them joy and contentment.

Also, be careful about complete self-reliance. Thinking you can do everything on your own is about acting tough–not being strong. There will be times when asking for help is important. Mentally strong people aren’t afraid to admit when they need help. Whether they rely on a higher power, ask for professional help, or lean on a friend during a time in need, they gain strength from others. Knowing they don’t have to have all the answers gives them a renewed sense of inner peace.

But the Bible is not silent on this subject. There are too many to list here, but there are two that are important to remember.  The prophet Isaiah said that God will keep in perfect peace all who trust in Him, all whose thoughts are fixed on Him![1] The Apostle Paul wrote: Now that we are right with God by putting our trust in Him, we have peace with Him. It is all because of what our Lord Jesus the Anointed One did for us.[2] And in the courageous lyrics of a grand old hymn of the church, we too can sing: “When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, even so, it is well, with my soul.”[3] So, such peace is not the work of human hands, but a gracious gift from God the Messiah, the Prince of Peace.[4] – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Isaiah 26:3

[2] Romans 5:1

[3] Written by Horatio Spafford (1973) after he lost his son and business in the great Chicago fire (1871), and then his wife and two daughters in a collision and sinking of their ship at sea (1873).

[4] Isaiah 9:6

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SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

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George Washington Prays for Divine Intervention

With President’s Day coming up, I thought I’d write today about George Washington, the first President of the United States of America.  He was a remarkable man.  He was a man of God, which helped him be successful in his endeavors.  Some say that God protected him through a number of miracles.  It’s fitting that we honor him on President’s Day. So I want to share with you an account I recently read.

Young George was taught to believe in God and to rely on Him.  He was often seen praying for help when he needed it, even as a young boy.  When he was General George Washington leading the Continental Army and helping the American colonies to become free of British rule, he prayed often.  He would retreat to his tent to pray for guidance, and sometimes he would go into the woods to pray.

Several miracles show that the Heavenly Father heard his prayers and answered them with help from above.  I want to share a couple of them with you. The first happened when the British had cornered and trapped the army in New York. They were stuck on Long Island, and all ways to retreat were blocked except for the East River. Going that way was risky because they’d be out in the open and easily shot one by one in the boats. The first miracle is that the British didn’t come in and kill them all while they were trapped for 2 days. The British had 32,000 soldiers; Washington had only 8,000.

No one knows why the British delayed. The delay allowed Washington to gather up all of the boats in the area and plan an escape. At 8 pm on August 29, 1776, Washington started sending boats out onto the East river with soldiers aboard.  It was raining heavily, and the winds were strong.  The bad weather kept the British from attacking and rendered all boat travel impossible, except for rowboats. Slowly but surely, boat after boat rowed away into the darkness filled with our soldiers. To speed things up, at 11 pm, the wind died down, and the waters calmed, allowing more boats to fill up and row away. They rowed back and forth all night long, but the evacuation wasn’t finished when the sun began to rise the next morning.  Many soldiers remained. Would they get away? Slowly a fog arose, so thick that one could barely see anything a few feet away. The soldiers kept rowing away until all had been evacuated under cover of darkness, then blinding fog.

A nosy British sympathizer saw the evacuation and wrote a note to the British army.  Miraculously the note was held up by German soldiers fighting for Britain who couldn’t read English.  When the British finally got the message, they checked to see if it was true, they found Long Island empty and the last rowboats in the distance, out of harm’s way.  It was the most amazing retreat in American history!  Eight thousand men slipped past all blockades.

Another miracle was when Washington crossed the Delaware River and conquered the British in a surprise attack on Christmas day 1776.  Washington was again completely outnumbered.  He knew he didn’t have a chance against the Germans fighting for Britain in normal circumstances but thought that a surprise might do it.  After praying for success, the army of 2400 soldiers began crossing the Delaware River.  It was dangerously icy with chunks of ice threatening to break the overloaded boats.

The weather was awful; it was raining, then sleeting. One soldier described it like a hurricane.  The other groups had called it off, but Washington’s army pressed on.  At 4 am, the whole army was ashore, and they had yet to march nine miles to get to the British soldiers.  The storm hadn’t let up, yet Washington’s army nearly ran the distance, racing to their foe.

When they arrived around 8 am, they found the exhausted Germans asleep and easily overwhelmed them.  One thousand British soldiers were captured, 83 wounded, and 22 killed. Of Washington’s army, only 3 deaths and 6 injuries were reported.  “It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever covered so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world,” British historian George Trevelyan wrote. This and another victory at Princeton a few weeks later became the turning points of the Revolutionary war.

At one point over the next winter, his army was hungry.  They had run out of food and were facing starvation.  George prayed for help, and suddenly the nearby Schuylkill river began to seemingly boil.  The soldiers found that large amounts of fish were migrating upstream surprisingly early in the year.  So many fish were in the river that they were clogging it!  Soldiers simply reached in and plucked fish from the water.  The army was saved, starvation averted.

Earlier in his life, George was shot at many times and never wounded.  He wrote to his brother, who had heard incorrectly that George was dead, the following:  “As I have heard since my arrival at this place, a circumstantial account of my death and dying speech, I take this early opportunity of contradicting the first and of assuring you that I have not as yet composed the latter. But by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses were shot out from under me yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!”

This event occurred in 1755, many years prior to Washington’s pivotal involvement in the Revolutionary War.  His Heavenly Father protected him because he had important things to do.  In fact, Washington was never wounded in all of the battles in which he fought. George Washington was successful as a General because he relied on the Heavenly Father for help.

We would be wise to ask for help from our loving Heavenly Father when we are outnumbered and fighting for a good cause. As the Apostle James encourages us if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5). But simply asking may not be enough, so the Lord Jesus told us to keep asking, and it will be given to us; keep seeking, and will find; keep knocking, and it will be opened to us. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened (Matthew 7:7-11). – Dr. Robert R Seyda

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXX)

Evangelist William Edward Shepard (1862-1930) addresses the thorn in the flesh that Paul talks about and what it may involve. He says that according to some statements he makes to the Galatian church, it leaves little room for doubt that his trouble was a mutilated condition of the face, particularly affecting his eyes due to his beatings and other physical abuse by his opponents. This is not meant to infer that he suffered from sore eyes, but a scarred face and weakened eyesight, that made him appear unsightly. In his own words, Paul says here in verse thirteen: “And my temptation, which was in my body, you did not despise nor reject; but received me as an angel of God, even as Messiah, Jesus.” He seemed so thankful to them that they did not reject him on account of his physical condition.

In verse fourteen, Paul feels that they would not hesitate to exchange what was complete in them for what was so incomplete in him. “For I remember that, if it were possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.” It seems quite conclusive that his trouble was mainly with his eyes. As further proof of this, we should note that Paul almost always brought companions with him, probably not only as a stenographer but a helper, because of impaired eyesight. It appears that the only epistle Paul wrote with his own hands was to these Galatians. Evidently, the reason why he did not write more was his physical frailty. He wrote the Galatians because they drifted into a sad spiritual state, and Paul, to prove that it was his own epistle, wrote it with his own hand so it would carry with it as much weight as possible. We see that in the final chapter, eleventh verse, Paul explained: As you can see, this is my own handwriting because of how big the letters are. This shows not only that he wrote the letter with his own hand, but that it was written in large characters. Why large letters? Because of his impaired vision, he could do the work easier and better. Probably the only way he could write at all.[1]

Modern commentator Robert Gundry points out that ancient people often mistreated those who suffered from physical handicaps by making light of their disability and by spitting, which they thought shielded them from catching the disease themselves, especially if the infirmed person looked at them with what they considered “an evil eye.”  We do not know for sure the nature of Paul’s infirmity, nor do we need to know in order to understand this passage, and he doesn’t identify his ailment to the Galatians because they already knew what it was.[2]  But he does say that because of it, “the Galatians were tested because of his incapacity.” They passed the test by welcoming him rather than mistreating him even a little bit. Moreover, they welcomed him as they would welcome an angel, in the same way, they would welcome the Anointed One Jesus Himself as a messenger from God. When we take into consideration their religious status at that time, it’s hard to imagine a better welcome.”[3]

Philip Ryken adds an additional piece of information related to just what physical ill was tormenting Paul when he arrived in Galatia. Some say he contracted malaria on his journey there, and others, of course, point to poor eyesight. Here in verse fourteen, Paul speaks of his condition being an illness that caused him no small amount of irritation and desire for relief. The Greek noun peirasmos that Paul uses here means something that tries one patience. Thayer in his Greek Lexicon says that as used here, it means an affliction that will test one’s endurance and perseverance. We don’t know how many times Paul was told and even considered, turning around and going back to Tarsus to recover.

But when he showed up in Galatia in poor physical condition, no doubt it made him look less than an inviting person to meet. In fact, Paul was so glad that the Galatians did not consider his condition to be something to scorn or despise. Therefore, says Ryken, it may have been so visually repulsive that Paul looks just plain ugly. Ancient Greeks considered disease and disability to be signs of divine displeasure or even demonic influence. The way Paul says this, it appears that he understood that pagans, many of which the Galatians were, showed their displeasure for someone that was disfigured by an evil power by spitting at them. So, says Ryken, that’s precisely what Paul said to them, “I’m glad you didn’t spit at me.”[4]

To get a better idea of what Paul looked like and what he was talking about when saying he was not in good physical shape, look at what he told the Corinthians: “I know I sound like a madman, but I have served Him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.[5]

I’ve been an admirer of Mother Theresa, especially after visiting her hospital in Calcutta, India. Here was an elderly lady with a wrinkled face, bent over slightly as she walked, with no outer beauty to demand attention. Yet everywhere she went, crowds gathered around and admire her as a modern-day saint because of her compassion and dedication to the down and out. Perhaps Paul felt the same way when he arrived in Galatia. No doubt it touched his heart deeply, and now he’s beginning to wonder if it was all real; if it was genuine.

4:15-16 So, what happened to your joy and openness? Back then, I was convinced that if you could, you would have gouged out your own eyes and given them to me. Accordingly, I ask you, do you hate me now just because I’m willing to be open and honest with you?

 Now Paul begins his version of “Breaking up is hard to do.” The Apostle reminds them of how everything was going great when they were together; how they declared themselves so blessed with him being in their midst. And when they saw the infirmity he was dealing with, they pledged to do anything, and they meant “anything” to try and help him cope with it or completely overcome it. Some theologians suggest that by Paul mentioning their willingness to sacrifice their eyes, and his reference to writing in big letters at the end of this epistle, that the infirmity was poor eyesight.  But others make note that already in Paul’s day there were Latin writings such as the one in which one character named Aeschinus said, “May all the Gods detest me, father, if I do not love you better than my very own eyes!”

In this revelation of the Galatian believer’s love and respect for Paul, he raises an important point concerning the relationship between a pastor and the congregation. The great reformist John Calvin once said that it’s not enough that pastors be respected if they are not also loved. Both are necessary; otherwise, their teaching might taste sour.[6] By the same token, the great modern-day reformist John Montgomery Boice stated that the degree to which ministers and teachers teach the Word of God, they should be welcomed at the same level as the Galatians received the Apostle Paul.  Ministers should not be evaluated on the basis of their personal appearance, intellectual attainments, or pleasant manners in order to be accepted, but as to whether or not they are indeed God’s messengers bearing the Word of the Anointed One.[7]

In my over fifty-five years in ministry, I’ve listened to scores and scores of pastors, evangelists, teachers, and ministers.  When it came to looks, dress and delivery style, some of them made little impression, but their knowledge of the Word and their commitment to the truth made me admire them greatly; by the same token, some others who were qualified to appear on the cover of GQ Magazine left me shaking my head in disappointment when it came to their substandard expository preaching of God’s Word.

The Bible does not give us a physical description of Jesus. The prophet Isaiah noted: “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.”[8] The people did not stream after Jesus because He was good looking or resembled a matinee idol, but they were impressed by the way He taught. When the Jewish leaders sent out the temple guards to arrest Jesus, they came back empty-handed. The leaders asked them why, and the guards responded: “We’ve never heard anyone speak like this man!”[9]

After reflecting favorably on the past, Paul now throws out a challenging question: What happened to those people who made me feel so welcome and listened intently to the message of hope I brought them? It’s like there was nothing you wouldn’t do for me, now it looks like you don’t want anything to do with me. Paul expressed a similar frustration when the Jews seemed totally unreceptive to his message of salvation by faith through grace. He once wrote that he felt great sorrow and always feels much sadness for his own people. They were his brothers and sisters, his earthly family. He wanted so badly to help them turn to the Anointed One even if it brought a curse on him and cut him off from the Anointed One.[10] But the Galatians were not the only ones he felt such compassion for and appreciation for their love and respect.

Paul also wrote the Thessalonians and told them how his visit to Thessalonica turned out to be such a success. Before he visited there, the Jews in Philippi abused him and his team with insults and made them suffer. And then, when they came to Thessalonica, many people there also caused trouble for them. But God gave them the courage to tell them His Good News about the Messiah. And when they encourage people to give their hearts to God, it wasn’t done with any ulterior motive. They were not trying to trick or fool anyone. They did it because God was the one who sent them there. But it was only after he tested them and saw that they were trustworthy to do what they were being sent to do.

[1] William Edward Shepard: Wrested Scriptures Made Plain, Ch. 9, pp. 45-46

[2] Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7–10

[3] Robert H. Gundry: Commentary on Galatians, loc cit.

[4] Ryken, Philip Graham. On Galatians, op. cit., (Location 3041-3064) Kindle Edition

[5] 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 – New Living Translation (NLT)

[6] John Calvin: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[7] John Montgomery Boice, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Galatians, loc. cit.

[8] Isaiah 53:2-3

[9] See John 7:46, (cf. Matthew 7:29; Luke 4:22)

[10] Romans 9:2-3

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

9526a07d9f8686ec5667a96cad064ff6

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXIX)

Paul summarized it this way so he wouldn’t think of himself as being better than anyone else. And even though he begged the Lord three times to take this problem away, each time the Lord told him, “My grace is all you need. Only when you are weak can everything be done completely by my power.” So, I will gladly boast about my weaknesses. Then the Anointed One’s power can reside in me. Yes, I am glad for my shortcomings if they are for the Anointed One. I am glad to be insulted and go through hard times. I’m glad when I am persecuted and encounter problems because that’s when my weakness leads to my being made really strong.[1]

Yet Paul kept in mind another encouraging factor that helped him survive whatever physical handicap he may be dealing with. He also told the Corinthians that it’s true that the Anointed One’s weak human body died on a cross. And it is by God’s power that the Anointed One lives today. Sometimes we are weak just like He was. But we are now and will be forever alive with the Anointed One through the power God promised us.[2] Sometimes we forget that just before Jesus calmed the winds and the waves,[3] He was so exhausted that He fell asleep in a boat being rocked by huge waves. Any person must be totally exhausted for that to happen. Sometimes, as we tout His divine power, we forget His human limitations.

In the book of Job, we find out that he certainly learned this lesson the hard way. He told God how he had become a laughingstock to his friends, although he called on God, and He answered him. But Job understood that sometimes those with no handicaps laugh at others who do.[4] Even the intelligent young man who wrote the fabulous Psalm 119 admitted that he was laughed at because the older ones thought he was trying to show off. Even the wise King Solomon stated that he still believes that wisdom is better than strength. Some people pay no attention to a poor person’s suggestions, so they don’t bother to listen to anything they say. But he believes that mental strength is better than physical stamina.[5]

And listen to what the prophet Isaiah says about the coming Messiah: “For before Him [God] He grew up like a young plant, like a root out of the dry ground. He was not well-formed or especially handsome; we saw him, but his appearance did not attract us. People despised and avoided Him, a man of pains, well acquainted with illness. Like someone from whom people turn their faces, He was despised; we did not value him.[6] That convinced Paul that sometimes God chooses what seems weak and foolish to the world, what is hated and not appreciated, to destroy the things the world trusts in.[7] Yes, says Paul, sometimes our faith looks foolish to the world because they think they are so wise and sensible. Because of that, worldly people are thought of as being geniuses while Christians are laughed at.[8] That’s why Paul warned the Thessalonians that anyone who refuses to obey the Gospel is refusing to obey God, and God is the one who gives His Holy Spirit who helps us understand what we hear.[9]

This is why Paul gives credit to the Galatians for accepting him as he is and respects him for what he endeavored to do. Perhaps what the prophet Malachi said about those who are ordained to teach God’s people is important. He advised that a person who represents God should possess a thorough knowledge of God’s Word. People should be able to go to such a person and learn what God says. A minister should be considered and accepted as the Lord’s messenger to the people.[10] This no doubt gave Paul the courage to talk about himself and those who accompanied him as the Anointed One’s missionaries. God is speaking to people through them. In other words, they are speaking on the Anointed One’s behalf and with love are asking sinners to turn from their sins and come to God.[11] That’s why Paul was so happy to tell the Thessalonians that he thanks God that when they heard the Word of God from his fellow missionaries, they believed it. They did not receive it as some new form of philosophy but as the Word of God. That’s why it is still at work in their lives because they believed.[12]

When it comes to the infirmities Paul was dealing with, Reformer Martin Luther says that Jerome and others of the early church writers allege this infirmity of Paul’s involved some physical defect or physical attraction to the opposite sex. Jerome and these other pathologists lived at a time when the Church enjoyed peace and prosperity when the bishops increased in wealth and standing when pastors and bishops no longer sat studying the Word of God. No wonder they failed to understand Paul.

When Paul speaks of the infirmity of his flesh, says Luther, he does not mean some physical defect or sinful tendency, but the sufferings and afflictions he endured in his body as a result of his imprisonment and beatings for his faith. He explains what these infirmities were to the Corinthians.[13] By disability, Paul meant some acute affliction and not some chronic disease. He reminds the Galatians how he was always in peril at the hands of the Jews, Gentiles, and false brethren, how he suffered hunger and want.[14] It may be that while Luther was still a monk, that he read the writings of Ambrosiaster, who also concurred that Paul was talking about the injuries and wounds he suffered while spreading the Gospel.[15]

Jerome (342-420 AD) finds verse thirteen as an unclear passage that demands closer examination. Paul is speaking of when he first came to Galatia, he preached to them as if they were infants while suffering physically. Jerome said that he followed this same rule that Paul speaks of here in his own preaching. That Paul knew, based upon his condition being what it was, that the Galatians were trying to decide if it was worth listening to such a sickly preacher.

But Jerome thinks there is another way to look at it. Paul was really saying that when he came to them, it was as a humble and despised man. When they saw and listen to him, they perceived that his humbleness of spirit and the plainness of dress were meant to test them. Or, we might suppose that the Apostle was sick when he came to the Galatians because he was subject to abuse and persecution and physical beatings from the adversaries of the Gospel in other places.[16] If we take Jerome’s second proposition first and then add on the first one last, they certainly would provide a compelling case.

Reformer John Calvin shares his interpretation that by the infirmity of the flesh, Paul means his tendency to make himself appear mean and contemptible. Such was Paul’s behavior when he came to Galatia without making a big deal out of it, without pretense, without any claim to worldly honors or rank, without everything that might gain him respect or esteem in the eyes of people. Yet, all this did not prevent the Galatians from giving him the most honorable reception. What Paul says here gives his argument to speak for the Anointed One a powerful boost. So, there must be something that awakened their esteem or veneration, and it was the power of the Holy Spirit. Under what pretext, then, will they now begin to show disrespect for that power? Next, it was accepted that Paul really possessed no history of greatness that gave him the right to claim so much at this stage of his life that might make them esteem him any more than before. But Paul plans to leave it up to the Galatians, content with indirectly suggesting it as a subject for consideration.[17]

Adam Clarke notes that the Greek noun peirasmos translated in English as “temptation,” signifies trials of any kind. Thayer in his Greek Lexicon offers two situations in which this testing takes place: It can be used specifically as a trial of a person’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, and consistency, but also an enticement or temptation to sin. However, it is often used universally of being tried and tested in order to prove oneself as real and genuine. Thayer says that the word is used here in its universal meaning.

Therefore, Clarke says this verse may be rendered as follows: “You showed no contempt for the physical trial I was dealing with,” or “You showed no contempt for my physical handicap because of the trial you were going through.” To put this another way, Clarke suggests that it reads that Paul was glad they did not charge him with making things difficult for them because of his handicap, nor were they upset because all that he did for them made his suffering even worse. In Clarke’s mind, Paul is more or less telling the Galatian believers that despite all these things, they did not consider him less of an Apostle of God on account of his being overcome at times by the heavy load of work he carried.

For Clarke, this means that if the Galatians proved to be dismissive of Paul at that time so that they felt no shame in criticizing his apostolic mission, then they might say something like: “What! Do you pretend to be an extraordinary messenger from God, and yet allowed to become sick because of your heavy workload?  If God really sent you, He certainly sustains you?” In Clarke’s mind, this seemed quite natural if the Galatians didn’t receive him affectionately.[18]

Catholic writer George Haydock (1774-1849) gives us the later Roman Catholic point of view of what Paul says here in his day. He agrees with Jerome, who thought that the Apostle suffered because of some infirmity in his body. Chrysostom understood it to be his poverty, and lack of essentials plus persecutions, which caused some to show little respect for him and his preaching on these accounts. Yet others among them did not esteem him less: they received him, respected him as an Angel of God, as for the Anointed One Jesus; they pledged to give him their eyes, as one might say, and all that was dear to them. But in spite of all the accolades he heaps on them, he’s still confused why they changed so much so quickly without asking for his help.[19]

[1] Ibid. 12:7-10

[2] Ibid. 13:4

[3] Mark 4:39

[4] Job 13:4-5

[5] Ecclesiastes 9:16

[6] Isaiah 52:2-3 – Complete Jewish Bible

[7] 1 Corinthians 1:28

[8] Ibid. 4:10

[9] 1 Thessalonians 4:8

[10] Malachi 2:7

[11] 2 Corinthians 5:20

[12] 1 Thessalonians 2:13

[13] 2 Corinthians 11:23-25; 12:9-10

[14] Martin Luther: Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[15] Ambrosiaster, op. cit., p. 23

[16] Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). On Galatians, op. cit., p. 62

[17] John Calvin: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[18] Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[19] George Haydock: Catholic Bible Commentary, Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

9526a07d9f8686ec5667a96cad064ff6

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXVIII)

Dutch scholar Alfred E. Bouter takes note of what Paul meant when he said, “Be as I am.” It is Paul’s attempt to let the Galatians know that they did not slight him by what they are doing. This is proof that Paul was not legalistic in his approach. In the U. S. Army, we had a saying, “Shape up, or ship out!”  It was just a poetic way of telling someone to get with the program and start following the rules or get out, we don’t want or need you. Paul’s motive was to help the believer, but when we consider what these false teachers were doing, it was clear to him that they were really only promoting their own interests.

So, what does “Be as I am” mean, asks Bouter? It is an appeal for them to use their good sense. Paul lives in freedom from the Law in union with the Anointed One. That’s he says to the Galatians, “Be as I am, enjoy this liberty just as I do.” Since Paul, like them, was once bound by the Law, he also was set free from its power. Paul had no interest in going back into slavery under the Law that would result in being told what sin was and then not having the ability to resist. Therefore, Paul is pleading with them: “Be like me! Stay free!” I’m not your enemy, I’m not trying to get revenge on you for thinking this way. The Galatians might be thinking: We did wrong because we said that we wanted to go back to the Law, we wanted to be under the Law. Now Paul was saying it was a terrible thing to do. So, let’s be cautious about attacking Paul, he might become angry. What can we learn from this, asks Bouter? Where there is a doctrinal disagreement, Paul does not take things personally. This is also a lesson for us.[1]

Christian Messianic writer Thomas Lancaster addresses Paul’s statement that he became like one of the Gentile Galatians after he arrived. He mentions that some scholars, even the eminent Rabbi Yechiel Lichtenstein,[2] suggest that this means Paul chose to live like a Gentile, abandoning some matters of the Torah such as the high dietary standards, perhaps in order to live, function, and reach out to the Gentiles more effectively. This may be the case. If so, Paul beseeched the Galatians to join him in his in-between status, neither at the highest Torah standard nor at the lowest level as a pagan participating in idolatry.[3]

 Lancaster goes on to say that while these may only be speculations, it certainly relates to another critical statement Paul made to the believers in Corinth.[4] So, Lancaster concludes that this may imply that Paul adopted hypocritical pretenses in order to win people to the Gospel.  As such, this paints a troubling portrait of Paul as disingenuous, deceitful, and double-minded. Lancaster claims, such methods of evangelism were often attempted in Messianic Jewish circles, Jewish Christians used to pretend to be Torah-observant to hopefully win Jewish people to the Messiah, but in fact, they did not believe in the ongoing authority of the Torah. Their observance was only a pretense to lure Jews closer. But Lancaster does say that He does not believe that this was Paul’s mode of operation, nor does he believe it should be anyone’s.[5]

While on the surface that may seem a logical conclusion, Paul was certainly not conceited. Just from his own writings, we do not see a profile that rivals the ancient Greek mythological Narcissus. What Paul referred to was his new-found freedom in the Anointed One that liberated him from the tedious and worthless adherence to the old religious rituals and regulations that supposedly earn a person their own salvation. Thus, Paul appeals to the Galatians based on their spiritual relationship with God. He pleads with them to live their lives for the Anointed One as he did in freedom from the bondage of Mosaic Law. After all, says Paul, you Gentiles paid no attention to the Jewish ceremonial laws before you got saved, and I, as a Jew, moved over to your side by paying no more attention to these ceremonial laws either. That’s why when I first came to you preaching the Gospel; you took me in like I was one of your own.

I remember the first time I went to Pakistan to visit the churches there; I saw everyone eating with their hands. This is something I didn’t do from the time I was one year old, so I wasn’t surprised it came back to me so easily. When the brethren saw I was willing to become one with them, they embraced me very quickly and listened to me as a friend and brother in the Anointed One, not as a stranger. I also saw that they were not used to seeing a preacher in a western suit, so I went down to the market and bought me an eid salwar kameez, which is a long-sleeved shirt, and took off my coat and tie. I saw the people smile when I walked up on the platform. It was my way of saying, “I’m one of you.” I was not pretending I was something I was not, but rather, that I wanted to be more like something I was not.

Here Paul reminds the Jews that at one time, he acted like a zealot addicted to the religious rituals and regulations of Judaism just like they were, but he gave it all up like they did to embrace the freedom that the Anointed One gives from such bondage. Paul went through the same struggle the Jewish believers went through in trying to give up these things. Paul was not encouraging the Jews to do something he didn’t do himself. So why were they doubting him now and the announcement of freedom that he brought to them?

Paul’s message to the Galatians should serve as an example for all the Christians who go or who are sent to speak to a wayward believer. In some churches, congregations are harder and less compassionate on fellow members who fall or stumble than they are on the most despicable sinner who comes forward for salvation. As Martin Luther found out when he became a born-again believer, the church he once served so faithfully showed little mercy for him. So, he encouraged all pastors and ministers to show more sympathy for their poor straying sheep and instruct them in the spirit of meekness. Luther told them that they will find it hard to get them to straighten out in any other way. Sharp-tongued rebukes provoke anger and antagonism, not remorse and repentance. Paul tells the Galatians that he’s not mad at them because they broke his heart, his concern for them came from the fact that he loved and respected them. That’s why he told them that he was not writing this to put them down, but he wrote this way to lift them up.  So please, says Paul, don’t take this as a harsh rebuke; it’s given to you out of love for your souls.

4:13-14 You remember when I first arrived to bring you the Gospel, I was terribly ill.  Even so, you did not reject me or look down on me because I was suffering so badly.  Not at all, as a matter of fact, you took me in as if I were an angel from God; you treated me as though I were the Messiah Himself.

 To give us an excellent historical perspective, Maria Mavromataki shares that Paul’s third journey began from Antioch in 52 AD and must have been completed in 58 AD. The first provinces in which he taught were those of Galatia and Phrygia. It seems that while in those parts, he fell seriously ill, though the nature of his illness is not known to us, Paul describes it here in verses thirteen and fourteen. When he was out of danger, he continued on to Ephesus, where he was imprisoned. From there, he sent his first letter to the Corinthians and, in all probability, paid a brief visit to their city. On his return to Ephesus, he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians. He then traveled in Macedonia, writing his Second Epistle to the Corinthians from Philippi, a little before visiting their city for the third time. During the course of his three-month stay in Corinth, he wrote the Epistle to the Romans, which was dispatched from the port of Cenchreæ while he himself prepared to leave by sea. However, Jewish plots against his life forced him to return through Macedonia. Thus, he traveled by land to Neapolis, took a ship to the Troas, and then went on to Assos.[6]

Paul continues his heartwarming plea for the Galatians to accept his writing as coming from a friend, a buddy, someone who loved them very much, by reminding them of the circumstances that surrounded his arrival there, and how they graciously put up with his handicap – whatever that was, from malaria to epilepsy to bad eyesight or the result of all his physical punishment by those who opposed him – but they did not hold it against him even though it caused them quite a bit of extra work and worry. As a matter of fact, they treated him like a celebrity.

There is an interesting comment in the Jewish Mishnah that helps set up the confrontation between the message Paul brought to the Galatians and that of the Judaizers. It tells us that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: Every day a Heavenly voice comes forth from Mount Horeb [also called Mount Sinai] and proclaims and says: Woe is to them, to mankind, for their disrespect of the Torah, for whoever does not spend time studying the Torah is referred to as, “Rebuked.” Like King Solomon wrote: “As a ring of gold in the snout of a swine, so is a fair woman without discretion,”[7] The gold ring represents one’s God-given gift of thought, which when utilized for dishonorable thoughts is compared to gold in the snout of the swine.

And it also says: “And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God Harut – engraved on the Tablets.[8] But the Hebrew verb PaTHacH(“engraved”) should be read as PaTHecH – (opened”), says Yehoshua, for there is no one as free as one who occupies themselves with the study of the Torah. And anyone who occupies themselves with the study of the Torah becomes elevated, as it says: “From Mattanah to Nahliel and from Nahliel to Bamot” [Mattanah is understood as a gift, namely, the Torah, and if studied it transforms from a gift to become Nahliel – an inheritance, and from an inheritance, it raises one to Bamot – great heights].[9] [10]

Here Paul recalls the first time he came to Galatia and the physical condition he was in. But instead of bearing a message from Mount Horeb, he brought one from Mount Calvary. It appears the whatever infirmity Paul suffered from like a thorn in the flesh, was chronic. He even reminded the Corinthians that when he arrived there in Corinth, he was weak, nervous, and shaking all over from anxiety.[11] Not only that, but apparently Paul experienced trouble speaking clearly. This is usually the case with someone who stutters.[12] But Luke does not mention this anywhere in his Acts of the Apostles. However, Paul did confess to the Corinthians in his second letter that God allowed him to suffer a painful condition – that he called “a messenger from Satan” – allowed by God to make me suffer.

[1] Alfred E. Bouter: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit., p. 57

[2] Rabbi Yechiel Tzvi Lichenstein was a late 19th-century Jewish believer from a Chasidic background who became a believer in Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah.  He wrote Chizzuk Emunat Emet (“True Faith Strengthened”), which is Lichtenstein’s response to the famous anti-missionary work Chizzuk Emunah (“Faith Strengthened”) by Isaac Troki.

[3] D. Thomas Lancaster: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit., p. 209

[4] 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

[5] D. Thomas Lancaster, op. cit., pp. 209-210

[6] Mavromataki, Maria. Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles – Journeys in Greece (Kindle Locations 1425-1436). Haitalis Editions. Kindle Edition.

[7] Proverbs 11:22

[8] Exodus 32:16

[9] Numbers 21:19

[10] Jewish Mishnah: Nezikin II, Avot, Ch. 6:2

[11] 1 Corinthians 2:3

[12] 2 Corinthians 11:6

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CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

9526a07d9f8686ec5667a96cad064ff6

ltNEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXVII)

4:12 My dear brothers and sisters, try to view things as the Jews see them for my sake because I tried to view things as Gentiles see them for your sake when I first came to you, and you were not biased and turned me away.

 Some psychologists feel that Paul offering himself as a prototype to be imitated is guilty of selfishly asking believers to mimic him.[1] After all, didn’t Paul ask the Thessalonians to become imitators of him;[2] and he urged the Corinthians to imitate him by saying: “I wish you were all just like me;”[3] then asked the Philippians to “watch what I do and then you do the same?”[4] But early medieval scholar Marius Victorinus presents his view. He writes that Paul transferred from presenting the Torah in the First Covenant to preaching the Gospel in the Final Covenant, which made it possible for both Jews and Gentiles to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. That’s why he now lives a totally different life as a believer. He lived what he taught, and as a result, he became the type of person he now wanted them to be. So, the joyful life he now lives is the same joyful life he wants the Galatians to experience.[5]

Paul easily backed this up by telling them that when he visited the Apostles in Jerusalem and met with the church council, he told them all about what God was doing among the Gentiles living in foreign lands. When they heard his testimony, they thanked the Lord. However, they immediately countered Paul’s testimony by saying to him: You see, brother Paul, how many thousands of Christians there are among the Jews. They all live according to the rules in the Torah. And they heard about you. They heard how you teach the Jews who live among the Gentiles. They heard that you teach them to break away from the Law of Moses. They say you are telling them not to do the righteous act of becoming a Jew by circumcision and not to follow the Jewish way of worship.[6] So Paul was not trying to hide anything.

In fact, Paul told the Corinthians that when among his fellow Jews, he conducted himself like a Jew to help save them. He himself is not ruled by the Torah or ceremonial laws, but to those who are ruled by such things, he became like one of them. He did this to help save them by God’s free grace through the Gospel. And to those who lived without the Torah or Jewish ceremonial laws, he became like one of them. He did this to help save them by God’s free grace. However, Paul admits that he does not live entirely without any form of guidance, in fact, he lives by the rules given by the Anointed One. Furthermore, to those who are weak, he became vulnerable to help save them. He became all things to all people. He did this to lead people to salvation in any way possible. I do all this to make the Good News known. He did it to share in the blessings the Gospel promises.[7]

I can understand Paul’s point of view. When I ministered in Eastern Europe, I was told by the brethren that Christian men did not wear ties with their suits, so I removed my tie to conform. In other places, I was informed that visitors should not put their feet up, especially on a coffee table, because to point the sole of a shoe at someone was a sign of disrespect and an insult. Then in Asia, I joined my fellow believers in India and Pakistan by eating with my hands, taking off my shoes in Korea when I went up on the platform to speak. Like Paul, I did this to conform to their customs so as not to show disrespect for the way they conducted themselves as believers.

That’s why Paul told the Philippians that at one time, all these things were important to him for salvation. But because of the Anointed One, he decided that they are worth nothing. Not only these things, but now he thinks that all things are worth nothing compared with the greatness of knowing the Anointed One Jesus as Lord. Because of the Anointed One, he threw away all these things as worthless trash. All he wants now is to know the Anointed One and His resurrecting power.[8] So if a person of Paul’s intelligence, knowledge of God’s Word, and the high standing as an Apostle called by the Anointed One, what excuse can the Galatians offer for throwing away all that he shared with them concerning the freedom that God’s grace supplies. As Paul said, how could they be so stupid?

As Martin Luther rightfully points out, up to this point, Paul was occupied with the doctrinal aspect involved in the Galatians’ backsliding. He did not conceal his disappointment at their lack of stability. He rebuked them more than once. He called them fools, crucifiers of the Anointed One, etc. Now that the more important part of his Epistle is finished, he realizes that he handled the Galatians too roughly. Anxious about not doing more harm than good, he carefully lets them see that his criticism proceeds from sincere affection and a true Apostolic concern for their welfare. He is eager to tone down his sharp words with gentle assurances in order to win them back again.[9] As we’d say today, Paul took off his boxing gloves and put on kid gloves to reach out and embrace those converts to the Anointed One whose ears he pounded so ferociously.

These same psychologists, mentioned before, now suggest that Paul’s presentation of himself as a model seems to proceed from, and reflect, his sense of being a person who achieved great things. It also presupposes that his achievements will, or should, be recognized by others. But the venerable preacher, early church Chrysostom, disagrees. For him, these words are addressed to his Jewish disciples, and he shares his own experience about forsaking the Law as a way of convincing them to abandon their old customs. Since they have no one to serve as a pattern for them, Paul tells them to look at how he changed for the better, so that should give them plenty of courage.

 To back up what he is saying, Paul, adds even more for their consideration. In one of his homilies, Chrysostom feels that Paul is saying to the Galatians, look at me now; I once proclaimed the same views that you do now. Once my zeal for the Law burned in my heart and mind like a fire. Yet when the opportunity was presented to me, I let go of the Law so I might live freely in union with the Anointed One. You also know how I clung so stubbornly to the Jewish way of thinking, but then I received even more power to let it go. Chrysostom feels it proved to be a good thing to place this as his final example.

Too often, people will offer a thousand alibis or excuses to justify staying where they are. It seems that they are more comfortable holding on to what they already know and receive additional encouragement by looking at all those who join in the same way of thinking.[10] So if Paul was, in fact, consciously asking to be emulated, he was only emphasizing the fact that he copied the characteristics of the Anointed One. Thus he is really saying: “Start copying the Lord and me;”[11] and also, “Copy what I’m doing like I’m copying what the Anointed One did.”[12] In other words, since they didn’t know the Anointed One as Paul did, what better way for them to be more Anointed One-like than to duplicate what Paul was doing.

Early church writer Ambrosiaster believes that Paul wanted to lower the tone of his chastening and stave off any severe backlash to his criticism.  So, he begins to highlight their good points in hopes they might be encouraged by hearing of their good deeds and make an effort to reform themselves on this subject of augmenting their salvation with Jewish observances. He goes on to say that Paul did not want them to be angered by being further pressured by stronger rebukes. He says that they did not harm him in any way; it was their own wrongdoing that stood in the way.

The Apostle Paul was merely fulfilling the duty contained in the mission assigned to him, which was to preach to them with all determination, as the Lord said to the prophet Ezekiel: “If you warn them and tell them to change their lives and stop doing evil, but they refuse to listen, they will die because they sinned. But since you warned them, you will have saved your own life.[13][14]  But Ambrosiaster also feels that it was what else God said to the prophet Ezekiel that motivated Paul even more: “If good people stop being good and begin to do evil, and I send something that makes them stumble and sin, they will die because they sinned. But since you did not warn them and remind them of the good things they did, I will make you responsible for their death.”[15]

Medieval scholar Bruno the Carthusian shares his point of view. These Judaizers started rumors that Paul hated the Galatians for jilting him in their favor, but Paul plans to prove that it was all a lie. He now absolves himself of this charge by praising them for the way they received him and treated him with such kindness. In fact, says Bruno, Paul actually flatters them first because, after a few words of greeting, he is then going to assail them bitterly. Bruno paraphrases the text this way: Be more like me. I’m asking you from the bottom of my heart to remain my loyal brothers and sisters with heartfelt affection for me. What you’ve done didn’t lessen my feelings for you in any way. Why would I hate you so much that I’d feel obliged to conceal the truth? You did me no harm.[16]

Bible scholar and historian Philip Schaff (1819-1893) hears Paul saying here in verse twelve, pleading with his Christian brothers and sisters in Galatia, “I became like you, so I beg you to become like me.” So, what does the Apostle mean? As Schaff sees it, he is asking the Galatians to imitate infirmity of the flesh He preached the Gospel mirroring his own example, that is, to throw off their Judaizing tendencies and to become simple, dedicated, and consistent believers as he did himself when he too got rid of his former Judaism so he could place himself on a level with them in their pagan state in order to win them to the Anointed One.

Paul then goes on and claims that he abandoned everything for them, so do the same for him.[17] Others take the words, says Schaff, to be an encouragement for them to love him as he loved them, or to enter as fully into his heart and empathy, as he did in theirs by love to identify himself as one of them.[18] Paul is not saying this out of spite, anger, jealousy, or hurt feelings, but out of genuine love for those he birthed into the Body of Messiah – Jesus. It’s almost like listening to a phone call from a father begging his runaway child to come home.

[1] Wayne G. Rollins; D. Andrew Kille: Psychological Insight into the Bible: Texts and Readings (Kindle Location 1698-1717). Kindle Edition.

[2] 1 Thessalonians 1:6

[3] 1 Corinthians 4:16

[4] Philippians 4:9

[5] Marius Victorinus: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[6] Acts of the Apostles 21:19-21

[7] 1 Corinthians 9:20-23

[8] Philippians 3:7-8

[9] Martin Luther: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[10] Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, loc. cit.

[11] 1 Thessalonians 1:6

[12] 1 Corinthians 2:1

[13] Ezekiel 3:19

[14] Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit., p. 23

[15] Ezekiel 3:20

[16] Bruno the Carthusian: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[17] Cf. Galatians 2:14; 1 Corinthians 9:20-21

[18] Philip Schaff: Popular Bible Commentary, op. cit., On Galatians, p. 329

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