“My dear children, to whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
— Galatians 4:19
So far Paul defended the truth of the gospel with sound doctrinal teachings. But today we can rarely find doctrinal truths. Rather Paul made a personal appeal and showed his loving heart to them so that they could come back to their own senses. Paul was a good shepherd for them. He was willing to suffer more until they grew to maturity. So we will see how much he loved them and he wanted to keep them as the children of God. Through today’s passage, let’s pray for the image of Jesus to grow in us like him.
Let’s read v 8 & 9a. “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God – or rather are known by God” Paul reminded them of what kind of slaves they had been, and helped them to see their present status. Generally, people think that if they believe in God they will lose their freedom. But the opposite is true. When the Galatians did not know God before, they were slaves to those who by nature are not gods at all. They worshiped many idols and man made gods. In Acts 14, when they witnessed Paul healing a man, they called him a god. But when the Galatians heard the gospel message, they found Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. Jn 17:3 reads, “Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Through the gospel they came to know God as their Creator, their Father, and their true object of worship. Then in Jesus, they found true freedom and their identity in God.
Therefore Paul said, “rather are known by God”. “Rather” means more importantly. It was God who knew them, took the initiative to come to Galatia, seeking them actively and saving the lost. Now God gave them a glorious identity as His children to have an eternal life and inheritance. So the repeated word “know” is more than casual acquaintance or intellectual knowledge. It is to enter into a personal love relationship with God. Jn 10:14, 15 says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Our assurance is not how much we know God, rather how much He knows us. So it doesn’t make sense to go back to a life of slavery from this glorious relationship. So Paul, in v 9b & 10, expressed his personal agony as a shepherd, “how is it that you are going back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days, months, seasons and years.” Paul warned them not to go back to weak and miserable principles to be enslaved by legalism. But here my question is why then they so easily turned away from the truth of gospel and fall into tricks or useless religion making them work hard on their own? Of course, it’s Satan’s deception! But I want to think about more on a personal level. To live by faith by depending on God’s grace alone, we should die to ourselves through repentance so that only Christ might live in us. But we still have a strong desire to be recognized by others. Living by faith means to increase Christ’s image more and more in us, and to reduce “myself” less and less. But that does not appeal to our sinful natures. We naturally resist it, for we get nothing, no credit to boast about what we are doing.
We Americans want to believe that anything is possible through individual effort. We tend to have faith in our ability to change things for the better. Our faith in ourselves turned out to be greater than our faith in God. So when we succeed, we want to claim all credit for ourselves. So the real god or the ultimate center of our devotion is the individual. We also love to hear praise from others like, “Wow, you are really mature. Teach me how to be a spiritual man like you.” Our love for men’s praise hinders us from trusting Jesus completely. Jesus accomplished redemption for us on the cross without our help. He continues to sanctify us by His Spirit who lives in us, molding us in His image. He himself alone deserves all the glory. So living by faith in Christ sounds easy, for we just have to believe Him. But in reality faith in Him is the hardest thing, for we must die to ourselves. John the Baptist said, “He must become greater; I must become less.” Paul also said: “No one may boast before him.” “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
Look at v 11. “I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.” Paul says, “I fear for you.” Paul is afraid of losing his sheep to Satan. Sometimes we feel the same like him. We work hard to serve God’s flock with the word of God, prayers, mentoring, delicious food, and so on, so that they can die to themselves and grow in Christ’ image. Then, through a false teacher or a bad influence, they suddenly change and become crazy. It is heartbreaking when our loved ones become like these. We feel helpless, powerless, and want to give up. But what did Paul do?
Look at v 12a. “I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you.” Paul did not give up. He did not demand them to obey him. Rather, he pleaded with them on the basis of their personal love relationship. He earnestly and humbly appealed to them to become as himself. He left his own Jewish legalism to serve God in the new and living way. He gave up all his heritage and hard-earned credentials to become like the Gentiles. It was amazing that Paul became like the Gentiles. When he came to know God through meeting the Risen Christ, he realized that knowing Christ and helping others to know Christ was everything. Through self-denial and constant prayer battle, Paul died to himself and found a secret to help others meet Jesus. It was to become just like his sheep. It was indeed God’s wisdom to him. He said, “To those not having the law, I became like one not having the law…so as to win those not having the law. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” This is the maturity in Christ that Paul hoped the Galatians would eventually achieve. Christ left the glorious heavenly kingdom to come into this broken world to become like us. Whoever masters this principle can do great work for God.
Let’s read v 13-15. “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, 14 and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15 Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.” Paul here reminded them of the first time when he came to the Galatians. When they first met, the Galatian believers welcomed him as an angel or even as Jesus Christ. They listened to Paul’s message, even though he was sick. In the old days, if someone was sick you would avoid them for fear of contagious disease, especially if the sick person was a foreigner. We don’t know what sickness he had, but one thing is clear: when they received the gospel, Paul’s illness did not matter to them. When they followed the gospel, they loved Paul and had great joy. But when they lost the gospel, they lost their joy and considered Paul an enemy, for he rebuked them with truth. Verse 16 says, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Paul would rather speak out the gospel than receive their praise or maintain false peace. The gospel set him free from the people’s approval. He confronts them if that is what is best for them. When he speaks out of love, it must have penetrated their hearts again and again!
Often times our attitude toward shepherd or Bible teacher is a barometer of our spiritual condition. When we have the gospel truth in our hearts, we love God’s servants even if they have weaknesses, but if we lose the gospel, our relationship can become burdensome. We’ll become critical and even treat them like enemies. What can a shepherd do in that case? Even when the Galatians attitude changed, Paul did not change his attitude toward them. He kept telling the truth, believing that it is the only way to lead them back to Jesus and to the family of God once again.
Look at v 17. “Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them.” Outwardly, those people looked noble, spoke well and seemed very spiritual, quoting many Bible verses, and they were zealous. So people admired them, but their intention was to destroy the love relationship between Paul and the Galatians. Even worse, the devil was working behind them to lead the Galatians to destruction. The Galatians were still naive, so they accepted them without knowing their evil intention. However Paul did not discourage anyone from being zealous. He says in V18, “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.” We need to be zealous with right purpose to serve both the glory of God and the interest of others. For instance during the crisis in Venezuela, our UBF brothers/sisters were not just down, rather they decided to go out to preach the word of God. When they preached the gospel with great zeal, many young people, protesters, security guards, and even policemen turned to Christ with tears. God also used the economic and political crisis in Venezuela to spread His kingdom by sending missionaries to Argentina, Chile and Ecuador. Praise God! May the Lord help us to have great zeal to do God’s great work like them.
Let’s read v 19. “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” This word clearly reveals Paul’s true motive and love for his sheep. He called them his dear children like a loving mother who is in the pains of childbirth. So far, Paul’s image was that of a defender of the gospel truth and a great teacher. But now he reveals a totally different image. “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” Paul here uses the relationship between a mom and a baby in her womb to express the nature of his relationship with the Galatians. *When I was a residency in a hospital 24 years ago, I called my wife almost every day, and examined my 1st son by ultrasound to make sure if he’s ok. But that’s all I did. But my wife had to go through critical periods for a fetus to grow in her womb. A mother and her baby are basically one body and suffer together and very attached to each other in love. It is the very nature of their relationship. At last she bore the labor pains to give new life to the child. Likewise, Paul bore many pains to preach the gospel to the Galatians when he served them. One day he was stoned and he was almost dead. But he rose and entered the city again. He boldly said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Ac 14:22). Now in Paul’s absence, false teachers infiltrated and deceived the Galatians. When Paul heard that the Galatians had been deceived by them, he felt like a mom who suffered a miscarriage. He might have felt betrayed and could have given up them. But thank God Paul did not. Paul said instead, “I am ‘again’ in the pains of childbirth.” Paul was ready to go through the same pain all over again. He had “never give up” spirit. It was surely the mind of Christ living in him. Yes, it was Jesus’ heart in and through Paul who was crying out to the Galatians, “I am again in the pains of childbirth.” His first pain of childbearing was to bear persecution and misunderstanding and to become like the Gentiles. The second one seems a little different. It was letter writing to maintain a truthful relationship. It was careful sharing the word of God with clarity and repeating his testimony again and again. More than anything it seems like a long struggle of prayer to God for them to truly repent and believe. That was the same mindset of our Lord, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
Now take notice of the words, until Christ is formed in you. Paul recognized the Galatians’ spiritual condition was immature. They were falling into Jewish legalism, because Christ was not formed in them. It might be easy to invite someone to a Bible study or a church meeting. But it is never easy to help each person to take a deep root in Jesus’ words until Christ is formed in them. Col 2:6-7 say, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Also Eph 4:13-15 says,”until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Growing spiritually requires spiritual birth pains until Christ is formed in the believers. It is time consuming. It doesn’t happen overnight. In the real world, someone like God’s servant Paul, should take birth pains until Christ is formed in each person. So we should appreciate for those who has borne these pains for us. Especially we should pray for Pastor John who bore the pains of childbirth among us day and night. We should also be willing to bear the same spiritual birth pains to raise God’s children among our Bible students and children. How long? Of course, “until Christ is formed in them”. Amen.
Lastly before sharing my personal testimony, I have a question for you. Do you happen to know who influenced Donald Trump the most? I’ve learned that the person’s name was “Norman Vincent Peale” who published his 1950s best seller, “the power of positive thinking”. In his book, one word must have impacted on young Trump trying to follow in his father’s footsteps in expanding his family’s real estate empire. It was, “I Don’t Believe in Defeat,” Peale wrote: “If you are thinking of defeat, you tend to get it eventually. So get rid of such thought of defeat” You know what? Trump as a Christian could have been impressed with Jesus’ word and His shepherd life instead. But he must have cherished Mr. Peale’s remark throughout his lifetime until he became a president. Don’t get me wrong. Nothing wrong is to becoming a president. But my point is that I could have been like Trump when I was impressed by someone’s ambitious words to become a politician. But I met my heavenly Father through personal Bible study and shepherding in UBF. So knowing God in person and rather being known by God become my eternal thanks topics because I found my true identity as His child and came to know God’s eternal will.
Through this passage, I also learned that I must grow as a mother like shepherd. I loved the idea to become a shepherd because it looked cool and I wanted other’s recognition by raising up disciples. I visited campus and loved them and did everything I can to help them. But it was quite challenging, for often times I saw them harden their hearts and become proud. So I felt pains in my heart. Over time my prayer for them faded away. I said, “I don’t know what to do.” I gave up on them many times. But through this passage I learned that I should not give up, but to deny myself to endure more, help them like Paul until they know God personally, die to themselves, and Christ lives in them. Who knows? The Holy Spirit still works in them now. From now on my prayer is to become a mother like shepherd who can be patient long enough to overlook offense from them. May the Lord help me to grow in Jesus’ image by overcoming my style and repenting my desire to look for quick result and be recognized by others. I may more engage in prayer battles so that Christ is formed in them and they grow in knowing love relationship in God.
Let’s read key verse. “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” One word: Until Christ is formed in you!