A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 4:12-20. The relation between Paul and the Galatians.
If in our study thus far we have thought of Paul merely as a scholar with massive intellectual powers, all head and no heart, this paragraph will correct our first impression. For here Paul appeals to the Galatians with deep feeling and immense tenderness. First, he calls them his ‘brethren’ in verse 12; then at the end of the paragraph, in verse 19, his ‘little children’ – a designation of which the apostle John was very fond. He even goes on to liken himself to their mother, who is ‘in labour’ over them until Christ is formed in them. In Galatians 1-3 we have been listening to Paul the apostle, Paul the theologian, Paul the defender of the faith; but now we are hearing Paul the man, Paul the pastor, Paul the passionate lover of souls.
1). Paul’s appeal (verse 12).
We begin with the simple monosyllables of verse 12 as they are given us in the Authorized Version: ‘Be as I am; for I am as ye are.’ Three of the four verbs in this sentence are printed in italics in the Authorized Version, because they are not in the original. In the Greek sentence there is only one verb – the first. We could literally translate, ‘Become as I, for I as you.’ Or, ‘Become like me, for I like you.’ What did Paul mean?
a) Become like me.
In the context. following his agonized complaint that the Galatians were turning back to the old bondage from which Christ had redeemed them, this appeal can mean only one thing. Paul longed for them to become like him in his Christian faith and life, to be delivered from the evil influence of the false teachers, and to share his convictions about the truth as it is in Jesus, about the liberty with which Christ has made us free. He wanted them to become like himself in his Christian freedom. He expressed a similar sentiment to King Agrippa when the latter said, ‘In a short time you think to make me a Christian!’ Paul replied, ‘Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all that hear me this day might become such as I am – except for these chains’ (Acts 26:28,29). In other words, Paul said to the king: ‘I do not want you to become a prisoner like me; but I do want you to become a Christian like me.’ All Christians should be able to say something like this, especially to unbelievers, namely that we are so satisfied with Jesus Christ, with His freedom, joy and salvation, that we want other people to become like us.
b). Because I…like you.
In the light of the verses which follow, it seems that the verb to be supplied must be in the past tense, i.e. ‘Become as I am, for I also *have become* as you are.’ The reference is probably to his visits to them. When Paul came to them in Galatia, he did not keep his distance or stand on his dignity, but became like them. He put himself in their place and identified himself with them. Although he was a Jew, he became like the Gentiles they were. This was in accordance with his principle stated in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22: ‘To the Jews I become as a Jew, in order to win Jews…To those outside the law I become as one outside the law…that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.’
Embedded here is a principle of far reaching importance for ministers, missionaries and other Christian workers. It is that, in seeking to win other people for Christ, our end is to make them like us, while the means to that end is to make ourselves like them. If they are to become one with us in Christian conviction and experience, we must first become one with them in Christian compassion. We must be able to say with the apostle Paul: ‘I became like you; now you become like me.
This succinct appeal introduces the rest of the paragraph in which Paul writes both of their attitude to him (verses 13-16) and of his attitude to them (verses 17-20). It is a most enlightening passage, not only because in it we catch a glimpse of Paul the evangelist and pastor, but because we learn the proper relations which should exist today between minister and congregation, between the people and their pastor. In each section Paul draws a contrast. First (verses 13-16), he contrasts their attitude to him in the past, when he visited them, with their attitude to him now, as he is writing to them. Secondly (verses 17-20), he contrasts his attitude to them with the attitude adopted towards them by the false teachers.
Tomorrow: Galatians 12b-16. 2). The Galatians’ attitude to Paul.