CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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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

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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