Commentary on Galatians, 4:9-19

Galatians 4:9-19

“9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless basic principles to which you desire to be in bondage all over again?
10 You observe days and months and seasons and years.”

“you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God”

We come to know God through faith in Christ. There is no knowing God apart from that. However, as Paul points out, it’s more accurate to say that we have come to be known by God. We know God because God knows us. It’s God who seeks us first, and we merely respond to His drawing. God knew us before we knew Him. God, who is all-knowing, has always known His own. However, that does not mean that God chose us apart of the free will that He has given us. God seeks and draws us within the framework of the free will. More precisely, God frees our will so that we’re able to believe and receive His Son. God gives us a choice. He does not force us to give our heart and life to His Son.

“how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless basic principles?”

The Galatian Christians had a wonderful beginning. They responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ through faith, and not according to the “weak and worthless basic principles of this world.” I believe Paul is referring back to what he said in verse 3. Even though the law is good and perfect, it has no power to save. Any system other than faith, is a way of the world that is outside of God’s plan of salvation. Therefore, the attempt to receive salvation through the keeping of the law, is no different than trying to reach God through any other religion or way of personal merit. 

After beginning in faith, the Galatians were now turning back to a system of personal merit or effort by keeping the law, in response to the teaching and influence of the Judaizers. Paul is wanting to know why they would want to return to the type of bondage that the law places people under. Those who try to merit favor with God through works of the law are still in bondage, because the law cannot save. It keeps one in bondage to sin. There is no means of forgiveness of sins through works of the law, but only through faith in Christ.

“You observe days and months and seasons and years”

Paul is referring to some of the things that the Galatians were doing. They were practicing the Jewish observances of festivals, feasts, and fasts.

“11 I am afraid for you, that perhaps I have labored for you in vain.”

What is Paul afraid of? If the Galatian Christians had returned to slavery, placing themselves under the bondage of the law that cannot save, depending upon self-merit, then I think it’s obvious that he was concerned for their salvation. His concern that his labor of teaching had been in vain, can only mean that he was concerned that they were falling, or had fallen from the grace that saves.

Whatever got us saved must keep us saved. We cannot turn away from the true means of salvation in favor of something that has no power to redeem. Our faith in Christ must be an enduring faith. If we at some point turn away from that which got us saved, in favor of something else, then we are no longer believing as we once did. That was the situation in the churches of Galatia.

“12 I implore you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong,
13 but you know that because of a physical ailment I preached the gospel to you the first time;
14 and  that which was a trial to you in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
15 Where then is that sense of blessing and happiness you had? For I bear you witness, that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.”

“become as I am, for I also have become as you are”

As a Jewish Christian, Paul was exhorting them to be as he is, for he abandoned the keeping of the law out of response to God’s way of grace and faith, who was now living according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He became as they are, as Gentiles, who are without the law.

“you did me no wrong”

This ties in with the next three verses where he talks about his time with them. While he was with them, he was suffering some sort of “physical ailment.” Based on what he says in verse 15, he may have been suffering some sort of problem with his eyes. Whatever his affliction was, the Galatians didn’t let it bother them. They weren’t repelled by it. Instead, they focused on the man that he was, a servant of Christ. They received him “as angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.” In other words, they received him as a messenger sent from God, as though it was Jesus Himself who was in their midst. They recognized and accepted that he was representing the Lord. Therefore, they never did anything to offend him.

“Where then is that sense of blessing and happiness you had?”

When someone responds to the gospel of Christ, and are wonderfully saved, they experience peace with God. It’s the peace and joy that we have in Christ that Paul is referring to. They believed, and they had experienced the inner results of that belief. Things were well with them back then. They had completely received Paul and the message he proclaimed. They loved Paul and what he stood for. So much so, that they were, in a manner of speaking, willing to pluck their own eyes out for Paul’s benefit. Now Paul wants to know what happened to it. Not that he didn’t know. It was more of a rhetorical question. When a Christian loses their joy, it’s because something is wrong with their relationship with God.

“16 So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?”

Paul had told the Galatians the truth before, but apparently the Judaizers had turned them against him. They needed to reflect on their beginning with Paul, and most importantly, their beginning with Christ. They needed to ask: Does what we believe now really make sense? Is it really consistent with the truth that we were taught? Is Paul really our enemy, who brought us this wonderful message that changed our lives? They were clearly at a major crossroads. 

“17 They zealously seek you, but not honorably. They desire to shut you out, that you may seek them.”

The Judaizers were seeking to win them over, but not with honorable motives. They were self-seeking, trying to “shut them out” from Paul and his message. The Judaizers wanted to be followed. What Paul says about them here indicates that they were not sincere in what they believed and what they taught, but were in reality, at their core, glory-seekers….much like the hypocritical Pharisees.

“18 Now it is always good to be zealously sought in a good cause, and not only when I am present with you.”

I believe Paul is saying that it’s always good to zealously seek the spiritual welfare of others, not only when he is doing the seeking, but also when others are doing it for the same honorable reasons. However, the Judaizers didn’t have the same honorable intentions.

Our motives for serving Christ must always be honorable. We must always serve the Lord in true humility, with a sincere concern for the spiritual welfare of others, whether it be for one’s salvation, or for a fellow-believer’s walk with God. We must always guard against self-glory. Many people love the spotlight, but we must be careful to direct all the attention to Jesus.

“19 My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you.”

“travail”

As a woman in the pains of childbirth.

Paul was again in anguish over their spiritual condition of the Galatians. I think the use of the word “again,” and the picture he gives of childbirth is significant. Just as before when he first preached the gospel message to them, he was again in “travail” as a woman about to give birth. The analogy of childbirth is significant, in that, it indicates a new life, a brand new beginning. I believe this shows that Paul was looking at them as he did before, as those in need of salvation (new life). Paul has shown great concern for them throughout this whole discussion. I think the idea that Paul was merely concerned that they get their theology straight, is a very limited view; it undercuts the force and weight of his pleas to them.

“until Christ be formed in you”

Based on his reference to the pains of childbirth, and in light of Paul’s detailed discussion throughout this book about the true gospel message, I believe he’s referring not simply to their spiritual growth as Christians, but to the complete sanctifying work of Christ that begins with true salvation, and continues on to spiritual maturity. The Galatians started well with a firm foundation, but they didn’t build on it. They were not established in the faith, and so they were very susceptible to false teaching. Paul desired to see them firmly planted in Christ, according to the true gospel of salvation that they first received, and then to grow in Christ to the point to where they would no longer be led astray by false teachers.
That’s where all of us as Christians need to be. There are so many false teachers, and so much false teaching that goes on in the church, that we need to ground ourselves in the Word of God. We need to become serious students of God’s Word so that we’ll have the discernment needed to detect even the slightest deviation from the truth. Otherwise, we’re easy prey for the enemy.