False zeal and true concern. 4:12-20


Paul has concluded his doctrinal argument and so he now sets about encouraging his readers. This, his first exhortation, serves as a personal appeal to the Galatians. Paul asks the Galatian believers to reestablish the personal respect and trust that once existed between them and their founding apostle.

The passage

v12. Paul assures the Galatian believers that he holds no grudge against them; he is not personally offended by their behavior ("you have done me no wrong"). Yet, there has been a parting of the ways and so he pleads with them to accept his apostolic authority, to trust and respect him, to stand in fellowship with him ("become like me"), in just the same way as he has continued with them. "Make common cause with me, I beg you, as I have made common cause with you", Heinz Cassirer.

v13-14. Paul reminds the Galatians of the trust and respect that existed between them and their apostle when he first visited them due to an illness that he was suffering. He was obviously heading elsewhere (possibly Ephesus), but needed to take a break to recuperate. During this visit Paul preached the gospel to them. Even though his illness (unknown - possibly eye trouble, cf. v15) was a trial to them, they welcomed him. They welcomed Paul as if he were divine, ie. they highly esteemed him.

v15. The Galatians' esteem for Paul knew no bounds. They rejoiced at his presence and would have done anything for him. Yet, what has happened to this esteem now?

v16. "Since you, then, regarded me with such affection and now count me as your enemy, this can only have come about through my telling you the truth", cf. Ernest Burton. Having happily received the "truth" of the gospel, the Galatians are now suspicious of Paul's teachings, thanks to the activities of the law-boiund members of the circumcision party.

v17. The intention of the circumcision party is to alienate the Galatians from Paul and his associates, and win them over to their particular understanding of the gospel. Of course, the consequence of their zeal is anything but positive.

v18. "It is a beautiful thing to be the object of such zeal. I once experienced that. But then it must be expressed in the right way, and must not cease when the person is no longer present", Herman Ridderbos.

v19. Paul expresses his deep concern for his children in the faith as he sees them moved from the gospel. His desire is that "Christ is formed in" them, or as Grundmann puts it, that "Christ should fashion them according to His own image." By returning to the law to progress their Christian lives they undermine the renewing work of the Spirit which is of grace through faith. Paul has every reason to be concerned.



v20. "Ah, if I could only talk to you face to face and adjust my tones to suit your situation", A.M. Hunter. Paul wishes he could be present with the Galatians because he feels that in a face-to-face situation he would be able to regain their trust and would then not need to resort to the harshness so evident in this letter.

Saying good-by

In this passage the apostle is affirming a simple personal truth, that he cares and has cared for his Galatian converts, just as they once cared for him. It is a great sadness for Paul that the Galatian believers should move from this close bond, and in so moving, undermine the truth of the gospel of God's grace. By no longer trusting Paul, they no longer trust his gospel.

Relationships are very tenuous things. At times we develop very strong and intimate friendships which seem constant, as well as permanent. We then face a change in our circumstances. This may involve moving to another suburb, taking on a different job. The friendship then grows cold and may, or may not, be reignited when we meet again. The change we face can be quite substantial and result in a definite growing apart. We are constantly changing the way we think and the way we feel. Both external circumstances and maturation serve to change us, hopefully for the better. This type of change often serves to move us to realign our friendships.

The realigning of relationships can produce both positive and negative results. In Paul's case, he was quite offended by the way the Galatians had so easily moved from him toward his opponents. Yet, this hurt was nothing to compare with the danger now facing the Galatians themselves. Their very understanding of the grace of God was under threat. Shifts in relationships are extremely hurtful and the collateral damage sometimes quite extensive.

If we initiate a change to a long-standing relationship, we do need to apply the old adage, "we must be careful how we say good-by." This is particularly so within the fellowship of believers. The ties that bind brothers and sisters together are eternal. We may not now feel the same toward a once dear friend, but the "leaving" must be done within the framework of eternal verities. The ties we share are eternal and we must not undermine eternal truth just for the sake of a momentary feeling. So, when we say "good-by", let us always protect the substance of eternity.


1. In what way does this passage demonstrate Paul's care for his young converts?

2. Paul desires that Christ be formed in the Galatians, v19. In what way does the law/grace debate either advance or hinder this process?

3. Discuss, "we must be careful how we say good-by."

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