A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 4:17-20. 3). Paul’s attitude to the Galatians.
Paul now draws a contrast between the attitude of the false teachers to the Galatians and his own attitude to them.
Take the false teachers attitude first. Verse 17: *They make much of you*. It is not quite certain what Paul means, because this verb is variously translated in the different versions. But he seems to be accusing the false teachers of flattering the Galatians insincerely. In order to win them to their perverted gospel, the false teachers fawned on them and fussed over them. So Paul adds (verse 18): *For a good purpose it is always good to be made much of*. But the false teachers were not sincere in their devotion to the Galatians. Their real motive was that *they want to shut you out* (verse 17), that is, to exclude you from Christ and from the freedom that is in Christ; and they want to do it, in order *that you may make much of them*. When Christianity is seen as freedom in Christ (which it is), Christians are not in subservience to their human teachers, because their ambition is to become mature in Christ. But when Christianity is turned into a bondage to rules and regulations, its victims are inevitably in subjection, tied to the apron-stings of their teachers, as in the Middle Ages.
Paul’s attitude to the Galatians was quite different from that of the false teachers. In verse 19 he call them ‘my little children’ and likens himself to their mother. But is not this to tie them to his apron-strings? No. The point of the mother-metaphor is not to illustrate their dependence on him, but his travail for them. Verse 19: *My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!* He is not satisfied that Christ *dwells* in them; he longs to see Christ *formed* in them, to see them transformed into the image of Christ, ‘until you take the shape of Christ’ (NEB), Indeed, in ardent desire and prayer he agonizes over them to this end. He likens his pain to the pangs of childbirth. He had been in labour over then previously at the time of their conversion, when they were brought to birth; now their backsliding has caused him another confinement. He is in labour again. The first time there had been a miscarriage; this time he longs that Christ will be truly formed in them. The Arndt-Gingrich *Lexicon* quotes examples of the medical use of this verb for ‘the formation of an embryo.’ The picture is a bit confused, but, as Dr. Alan Cole rightly says, Paul ‘is not giving us a lecture on embryology’. Rather he is expressing his deep and sacrificial love for the Galatians, his longing to see them conformed to the image of Christ. He is ‘perplexed’ about them (verse 20), at his wit’s end (see NEB). He wishes he could visit them now and change his tone, ‘from severity to gentleness’.
The difference between Paul and the false teachers should now be clear. The false teachers were seeking *themselves* to dominate the Galatians; Paul longed that *Christ* be formed in them. They had a selfish eye to their own prestige and position; Paul was prepared to sacrifice himself for them, to be in travail until Christ was formed in them.
Tomorrow: Galatians 4. Conclusion.