“Until Christ Be Formed in You”
“Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.” Galatians 4:12-20
God’s saints in this world are often compared to sheep. Pastors are called “shepherds” because it is their responsibility to tend the sheep. God’s people are sheep. Like sheep they must be guided, protected, and cared for. They frequently leave the prescribed path. They are easily led astray. They are in danger because of deceptive wolves. It is the duty of God’s appointed shepherds to feed his lambs, to protect them from the dangers they face, instruct them in the way of righteousness, and to faithfully restore them when they fall, when they turn aside, or when they are taken in a snare.
The Galatian saints were foolishly turning aside to Judaism, the works of the law, being taken in the snare of Satan’s messengers of self-righteousness. They had been flattered into thinking that their good works could supplement the free-grace of God in Jesus Christ. And they had foolishly accepted this doctrine of will-worship to the great dishonor of Christ and the gospel, and to the grief and anguish of the man who first brought the gospel to them. Paul had been the instrument of their conversion and he loved their souls. He was a faithful shepherd to their souls. Therefore, he sharply rebuked them for their sin. Rather than loving Paul for his faithfulness to God and to their souls, the Galatians were treating him as though he were their enemy.
Paul would not allow their abuse of him to hinder his love and faithfulness to them. In verses 8-11 he had sharply reproved them. Here, he makes an urgent, intensely personal plea, appealing to them as one who loved them and as one they had once received “as an angel of God” to their souls. He writes as one who is in agony because he cannot endure the thought that a people, who at one time had treated him with so much sympathetic consideration and received the gospel preached by him with such enthusiasm, were continuing to wander farther and farther away from the truth. Therefore, he lovingly pleads with them as a parent to his children.
“As I Am”
Verse 12 “Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.” ― Paul addresses the Galatians as his “brethren” in Christ, taking them at their word. They professed to be his brethren. They professed faith in Christ. And, though they had gone so far backward and appeared to have departed from the faith, yet hopes the best concerning them. His hopes are truly born of God. Because he tenderly loved them and cared for them, he wanted them to be as he was, completely free from the tyranny and bondage of the law. He wanted them to reckon themselves dead indeed to the law (Gal. ). He wanted them to forever relinquish the observance of sabbath days, all Mosaic ceremonies, and all personal righteousness according to the law, counting all but dung for Christ and his righteousness Col. 2:16-23; Phil. 3:7-14).
“For I am as ye are” ― Anxious lest he should do more harm than good, Paul carefully shows the Galatians that his heart is with them, that he loves them as himself, as one with him. He wants them to know that his sharp rebukes have come, not from a man who despises them but from one who loves them. Commenting on this phrase, Martin Luther wrote…
“Like Paul, all pastors and ministers ought to have much sympathy for their poor straying sheep, and instruct them in the spirit of meekness. They cannot be straightened out in any other way. Over sharp criticism provokes anger and despair, but no repentance. And here let us note, by the way, that true doctrine always produces concord. When men embrace errors, the tie of Christian love is broken.
beginning of the Reformation we were honored as the true ministers of Christ.
Suddenly certain false brethren began to hate us. We had given them no offense,
no occasion to hate us. They knew then as they know now that ours is the
singular desire to publish the Gospel of Christ everywhere. What changed their
attitude toward us? False doctrine. Seduced into error
by the false apostles, the Galatians refused to acknowledge
Paul knew that the false apostles would misconstrue his censure of the Galatians to their own advantage and say: ‘So this is your Paul whom you praise so much. What sweet names he is calling you in his letter. When he was with you he acted like a father, but now he acts like a dictator.’ Paul knew what to expect of the false apostles and therefore he is worried. He does not know what to say. It is hard for a man to defend his cause at a distance, especially when he has reason to think that he personally has fallen into disfavor.”
Paul is saying, “I am as you are, and you are as I am with respect to things spiritual.” We are alike in Christ, chosen in him, and redeemed by him. We are equally regenerated by his Spirit. We are all the children of God by faith in Christ. We are no more servants, but sons. We are all equally his free men. Therefore, be as I am, free in Christ.
“Ye have not injured me at all.” ― Paul has shown them how that their doctrine injures the character of God, the work of Christ who fulfilled the law, the gospel of God’s grace, and their own souls; but he wanted them to know that they had not injured him. Their rejection of Paul was not injury to him. It was rather a rejection of Jesus Christ, whose servant Paul was (1 Sam. 8:6-7; Ex. 16:8). They must not imagine that the things he wrote in this epistle were written out of resentment. Paul desired that the Galatians be bound to him as their faithful and loving pastor. He acted toward them as though he and they were one. Above that, Paul wanted these Galatians once again to be bound to Jesus Christ (Gal. ; ; Phil. 3:7-10).
“An Angel of God”
Verses 13-16 - “Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? For I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?”
When he first came among them, the Galatians had received Paul “as an angel of God, even as Jesus Christ.” They received him as God’s messenger to their souls, as though Christ himself spoke to them by him. Indeed, that is exactly what God’s servants are to his people. Faithful pastors are described as God’s angels to his churches (Rev. 1-3), through whom God speaks to chosen sinners by the gospel (2 Cor. ). But things had changed. The Galatians now treated Paul as an enemy.
When he first preached the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ to them, he did so in much weakness, humility, persecution and bodily afflictions. They were to be commended for receiving the gospel and God’s messenger to them. Wherever he preached the gospel both Jews and Gentiles were enraged against him. All the influential and religious people of his day denounced him. But the Galatians were different. That was greatly to their honor. And Paul does not neglect to praise them for it. This praise Paul bestows on none of the other churches.
When he speaks of the infirmity of his flesh he does not mean some physical defect or carnal lust, but the sufferings and afflictions he endured in his body. Paul tells us what these infirmities were in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. ― “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
He speaks in a similar manner in 2 Corinthians 11:23-25. ― “Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep.”
These are the afflictions he is talking about when he speaks of his “infirmity of the flesh.” He reminds the Galatians how he was always in peril at the hands of the Jews, Gentiles, and false brethren, and how he suffered hunger and want.
Now, the afflictions of the believers always offend people. Paul knew it and, therefore, has high praise for the Galatians, because they over looked his afflictions and received him like an angel. Our Savior said, “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matt. 11:6). It is no easy thing to confess him as Lord and Savior who was a reproach of men and despised of the people and the laughing stock of the world (Ps. 22:7). To prize Christ, so spitefully scorned, spit upon, scourged, and crucified, more than the riches of the richest, the strength of the strongest, the wisdom of the wisest, he calls “blessed.”
Paul had those outward afflictions and inward, spiritual afflictions as well. He speaks of them in 2 Corinthians 7:6. ― “Without were fightings, within were fears.” In his letter to the Philippians he speaks of the restoration of Epaphroditus as a special act of mercy from God, “lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” He commends the Galatians for not being offended at him in the past, for receiving him as “an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.” They received him with all that reverence, respect, and high esteem, veneration, and affection, that might have been given to an angel sent down from heaven to bring them the gospel, as one that had his mission and commission from God.
They had received Paul “even as Christ Jesus,” as his ambassador, as representing him, as speaking to them in his stead, as if Christ himself had been personally present as man among them. They could not have shown greater respect to him. The Galatians did not look upon Paul and his infirmities as offensive things. Far from it. They were so glad to hear the gospel of Christ from his lips that had it been possible they would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him. By reminding them how much they had loved him and how highly they had honored him before the invasion of the legalists, he tenderly urges them to so receive him now.
They were so happy in Christ and so thankful to have heard the gospel of God’s free grace to sinners in him that they counted the man who preached the gospel to them as their dearest friend. Now that the law-preachers had influenced them, they had not only turned form the gospel of Christ alone, but had become Paul’s enemies. A more passionate appeal is not to be found in all of Paul’s writings than this ― “Am I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” They treated him as an enemy because he preached that believers are complete in Christ and have no need to be circumcised, to keep sabbath days, and to live under the yoke of bondage.
Verse 17 - “They zealously
affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect
them.” ― Here Paul speaks of the false teachers at
These false preachers were courting the saints of God, pretending great love and concern for them, but it was all beguiling flattery. Satan’s messengers soft soap people “with good words and fair speeches,” to deceive the simple (Rom. ). They pretend great love for others, but are motivated by nothing but love for themselves. By promoting law righteousness, they speak flatteringly to men of their righteousness, giving them an excuse to be proud of their superiority over others in the matter of righteousness, while pretending meekness before God.
Their “god is their belly.” They are enemies of the cross, enemies of God, and enemies to the souls of men (Phil. -19). They seek to use the souls of men for themselves. The Judaizers at Galatia were trying to exclude and isolate the saints from Paul and the other true apostles, so that they might follow them and make them appear successful (2 Pet. 2:1-3). Their zeal and enthusiasm was not to turn the Galatians to Christ, but to win popular applause unto themselves. To that end they were willing to make merchandise of men’s souls.
Verse 18 – “But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.” Paul is saying, “When I was present with you, you loved me and received me as an angel of God to your souls. The fact that I am now absent from you should not cause your attitude toward me to change. Though I am absent in the flesh, I am with you in spirit. You ought not reject me or my doctrine by which you received the grace of Christ and his Holy Spirit because of the evil influence of those wicked men.”
Verse 19 - “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” ― It appears that when Paul was present with them, they were devoted to him and to the gospel, but when he left, their affection to him and to the gospel he preached cooled. They turned to other teachers who convinced them that Paul had abandoned them. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
“My little children” ― Paul speaks in the tender, affectionate language of a father to his sons. They were, he hoped, sons of God and were still babes in Christ. Therefore, the term “little children” was appropriate. But they were also Paul’s children. He was the instrument God used to bring them to faith in Christ.
“Of whom I travail in birth again” ― Here Paul compares himself to a woman giving birth. All his pains, sufferings, and labors in preaching the gospel he compares to the sorrows of a woman in labor. At such a time, a woman is concerned about just one thing. She considers her pain and suffering worthwhile if she can give birth to a living, healthy child. Paul’s concern was not for himself, but for them. All he was concerned about and dedicated to in prayer, preaching, and suffering was that Christ might be formed in them.
“Until Christ be formed in you.” ― To have Christ formed in you is to be saved, to be a new creature in Christ Jesus. In the new birth we are made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). “Christ in you” is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). A form of religion, with its laws, ordinances, and ceremonies, is not eternal life. A form of morality, with its laws and commandments, is not eternal life. A form of religious profession, with its decisions, baptisms and creeds, is not eternal life. Eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ, whom he has sent (John 17:3). Eternal life is, as Henry Mahan put it, having, “the life of Christ, the presence of Christ, the Spirit and mind of Christ and the very glory of Christ begotten, created and formed in us (Gal. 2:20). Until this is done and unless this miracle of grace is accomplished, our religion is vain. It is no more than that of the Pharisees of old, of whom Christ said, “They neither know me nor my Father.” Salvation is Christ in you; the hope of glory is Christ in you; the life of God is Christ in you (1John 5:11-12).”
Verse 20 - “I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.” ― Paul wanted to be present with them. He wanted to speak to them face to face, and be assured that his concerns were ill-founded. But their concern about law obedience, circumcision, sabbath days, and ceremonies made him fearful that they did not know Christ at all. Therefore, he writes, “I stand in doubt of you.”
It is significant to note that Paul never expressed such doubt regarding any other congregation. Nothing, not even the immorality and divisions in the Corinthian church, caused the apostle to express doubt concerning the genuineness of their professed faith in Christ. But when men and women embrace self-righteous works religion, when they turn again to the weak and beggarly elements of the law, it becomes obvious that they never knew the grace of God and do not trust Christ (Gal. 5:1-4). When professed believers appear to be turning away from Christ and the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in him, there is grave reason to stand in doubt of their professed faith in Christ.