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 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.

About drbob76

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