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Aug 09, 2015

Paul's Plea

Paul's Plea

Passage: Galatians 4:8-20

Preacher: Raphael Forrer

Series: Freedom

Category: Discipleship, Law and Gospel, Life Together, Encouragement

Keywords: gospel, hospitality, law, mentor


Dear Mosaic, the Galatians faced a difficult challenge. What would the outcome be of law vs. grace? Maybe today you and I don’t face the exact same question. Maybe our doctrine is more correct than theirs. But what about our hospitality, our service? But what Paul saw as the solution to this problem is the same solution we have for our situations. To imitate Christ, which means to imitate people.


I studied in Israel with 12 other people and how we got really close. It must have been about 9months into our one year of studies in Israel that tensions arose in our class. People who were older and more mature than I, started to treat each other in a way that was hurtful. In the beginning I did not really get involved in the situation because it was messy, but eventually I decided that I had to do something even though I was not directly involved. So I ended up talking to the people individually and I found out that there was a lot of miscommunication happening. I even called and gathered all of the people in the class in one room and decided that if I just get them to talk, it would solve the problem. I was a little naïve. People were not being considerate of other people’s feelings, etc. I felt really disappointed about some individuals in the group, because I expected them to know better. I felt sad that we had reached that point in our class. And it took us quite a while to deal with the situation.


However, we all have been in similar situations where we just feel really disappointed at other people. This can be as simple as “Mum, I told you that I don’t like asparagus. You should know this after 15 years!” I am sure Pastor John or those of you who have been in leadership in a Church or in a Business can relate to this well. You invest a lot of time and energy into somebody else and then after a long time you just end up being really disappointed. Those of you who are parents, have been there many times. You tell your child what he or she should do, and then you tell it again, and again, and again. Eventually, you become upset. Maybe when your children are older you have been at the place where you are just sad that your Child doesn’t know better after years and years of investment. My parents would always tell me: “Raphi, whatever it is. If you got a girl pregnant, if you are drunk, if you totaled the car, whatever it is… just come and talk to us” I never was in such a situation but I knew that they would be really sad, if I were in such a situation and did not come to them. And for those of you who are younger, you might have a friend who just disappointed you. He acted as if he was your friend but then when the other cool kids were around, he did not want to have anything to do with you.


Paul, is in the same situation. He is just deeply sad about something that happened in the Churches in Galatia. The passage we will read today is probably one of the most emotional passages ever written by the apostle Paul.

We have been in the book of Galatians for quite a while but since it has been such a long time it is easy for us to miss the big picture. Paul is writing to this Church in the first Century and essentially telling them not to go back to the Law. There were people in this Church who tried to persuade them to go back to the law. Paul uses every possible way to convince and argue with them. He directly confronts them addressing their own experience, he looks into crucial OT passages, he uses images of slavery and sonship, just about anything he can think of to explain to them that they are not under the law and under grace. 


Let us wrestle for a second with the situation in Galatians. It is important for us to understand that the relationship between law and grace was something new that people had to wrestle with. The Christian faith was merely 20 years old, the apostles were working hard to explain the identity of the Church. Everybody tried to figure out question: How does the law relate to us today? Do we need to get circumcised? What about the feasts? Now we don’t ask these questions today anymore. But the situation can be compared to the Republican debate we had last Tuesday. Idk. Whether you followed the debate but if you did you are probably eager to find out who will make it as the candidate. There is some sort of uncertainty there as to what the outcome will be. The Galatians were in the same boat, they did not know what the outcome would be. Everything was still fairly new. It might also be compared to the killing of Cecil the lion, he was tracked and killed by an US hunter about one month ago, and now international media calls for justice and a stop of such trophy hunts worldwide. What is going to happen? We don’t know yet. Neither did the Galatians.


Now, I could stop my sermon here… because if there is one thing that we as believers today have understood then it is the fact that salvation is by grace alone and we don’t need the law. We are not in the same situation as they were. Yet, that very topic is Paul’s main concern. So I could shorten the service today and stop here, but we would miss out on a lot. There are two reasons why I think we should read this text today. For one, I think we are still prone to let a little bit law here and there come into our grace-theology. For two, we would miss out on the underlying principles that Paul teaches here in these verses. 


Let’s turn to Galatians 4:8. We will deal with verses 8-20 today. What did the Galatians do that Paul was so upset & sad about? Paul had just talked to the Jews and told them that they shouldn’t turn back to the law, now he turns his attention to the Gentile audience.


Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.

Paul explains to them how everyone is a slave. Either you are a slave of God or of those other gods. He makes that connection even clearer in Romans 6, where he explains that either you are a slave of sin, or of righteousness. If you do not know God today, you might think that you are your own self, that your life is yours and you can do what you will. Paul would gently point out that this is wrong. You either serve righteousness or you serve sin. There is no in-between, and if you serve righteousness, you become a son of God.


Transition: But something happened in the experience of the Galatians that caused Paul to be disappointed with them. We find out what that is in the following verse.


But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?


The Galatians came to know God. The word “to know” does not merely mean cognitive knowledge of God, rather, it is an experiential knowledge of who he is. They have tasted the goodness of being sons and daughters of God. Note how Paul slips in a detail here to point out that salvation comes from God first by saying “or rather to be known by God.” Paul does not understand how they can then turn back to the “weak and elementary principles of the world”. Why would they want to take a step back? Paul had used the exact same phrase six verses before pointing out that everything outside of being in Jesus is the same thing. It does not matter whether it is a return to the Law or a return to the pagan practices of the Gentiles. Do you see Paul’s concern? How he cannot comprehend that the Galatians would want to go back? It’s almost as if Paul is like “Hey, let’s sit down have a cup of coffee and talk about this for a while? Why did you think that was a good idea?”


But what exactly does Paul mean with “the elementary principles of the world”? Well, he points it out in the next verse, explaining: “You observe days and months and seasons and years”  The Gentile believers were going back to the roots of the Jewish faith, thinking that this would bring their faith to perfection. That following these customs is part of the walk with Christ. Now, please note that Paul is not against celebrating Sabbath (Sunday) or other feasts in honor of what God did, but what he is saying is that none of these feasts are going to add anything for the sake of being in Christ.


None of our Christian practices are going to add anything to our salvation. No amount of Bible reading, no length of time when we feel sinless.


Paul concludes this section with “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain” Do you feel the agony that Paul must feel over them?


I would like you to think of the one person in your life that you look up to. The one person that has modelled the life of a Christian man or woman. Maybe it is somebody that has passed away already, or maybe it is somebody that you see every day. But we all have people that we look up to. It might be John Piper, or maybe it is Pastor John here at Mosaic, maybe your mum, or somebody else.


Interaction: Turn to your neighbor and talk about somebody that you look up to. Who he is and why you look up to him.


Ill.: I look up to many people, there is the friend whom I find every morning at the same time humbly reading his Bible, there is the Professor who makes the best use of his time, there is the other friend who is just the epitemy of selflessness, who just loves on people. There is one person in the last few years that I have grown to look up to a lot. His name is Craig, I look up to him because he deeply cares and loves people and because he is down to earth. Something that I do not see in the same extent in myself. If Craig ever came up to me and said “Raphi, you should really understood that by now, I am afraid all my work that I put in you was for nothing” How would that make you feel, if your person would say the same thing to you? You’d probably be sad, but because you know the person you know that they want the best for you. You’d be eager to please him, to do better.

At Moody I have written many, many papers over the last few years. It is interesting to me that there are some professors who I don’t put as much effort into my papers where for other papers I put a lot of effort into it. If I know the professor and not just the TA is going to read it, I will put in extra effort. Not just because I want to look good, but because I want to impress the professor. I want him to think well of me. I want to do well for him. I think Paul’s relationship with the Galatians is similar.


If you did not know the person, you’d probably be offended. The difference is whether you respect and love that person or not. Paul, now, is going to establish and show how much he loves the Galatians. He does it by doing something that he hasn’t done for the whole first part of the letter. He gives a commandment.


Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are”


Ill: I first read this when I was maybe about 12 years old sitting at my desk in Austria. The window was right beside me where I could see the mountains and the whole ‘the hills are alive’ action was happening there. I read this passage and I thought to myself: “What an arrogant idiot” has he never read “Humble yourself under God… that he might exalt you? Pride goes before destruction… do not esteem yourself higher than you should…” I think I stopped reading any book of Paul for a while, and I started to dislike him.


It took me a while to understand what mistake I had made. I thought that Paul was claiming to be sinless, saying: “Look at me, how good I am… you should all try to be like me” This does not work because Paul calls himself a sinner in many places (1. Tim 1:15, Rom 6). Look at all those other passages where Paul says something similar (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:7,9). But that’s not what he is saying. Paul is talking about something very specific I think.  

The next phrase makes it a little bit more clear… “for I have become like you are” seems to refer back to what he said earlier, when he claimed that he “died to the law” (2:19), so he is not “under the law” (3:23-25), he left “his way of life in Judaism” (1:13). Paul is telling the Galatians in the whole law issue… to act as he did. He is not making an universal claim that he is so good and therefore they should be like him. Paul knew that to “Imitating Christ often means to imitate People” I put so much emphasis on this appeal of Paul, because it serves as the key for the rest of the section.


Paul, then goes on to talk about the past, saying “you did me no wrong” back then, so also now act in the same way and be like me. “You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me”. Paul reminds them, hey, remember back in the day when I visited you, how you cared for me? It seems that Paul was not the most attractive person. Girls, if Paul were to be here at the service today, you would probably not be interested. He suffered from a condition, and that apparently could have given reason for the Galatians to reject him…they could have treated him as somebody who is demon possessed. But they didn’t. Rather, they received him as “an angel of God, as Christ Jesus” They treated him hospitable. Paul views himself as identified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) an imitator of Christ (1 Cor 11:1) and a representative of Christ (2 Cor 2:14-17) and he therefore acknowledges what the Galtians did.


What then has become of your blessedness. For I testify that if possible you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.” Some believe that this means that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was an eye problem. Paul reminds the Galatians of how they acted towards him. Remember, who is talking here… it’s not just anybody it’s Paul who is close to them. But now: “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?”


Now, he turns his attention to those people who seemed to have gone against Paul and the gospel of Christ: “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose and not only when I am present with you” Paul here tries to inform the Galatians that the intention of those people who try to tell them that they need to follow the law if they really love God is wicked. Those Judaizers, as they are called, in reality desired to cut off the relationship between the Galatians and Paul. They were only interested in their own gain, that they looked good. Paul ends this section with one last emotional appeal:

my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth, until Christ is formed in you!” Paul is making it clear that he really cares about them, as opposed to those other people. Parents know that sometimes you would like to have your child know how much you desire the best for him/her, but you can’t force the child to love you. You can just demonstrate your love, which is what Paul is doing, “until Christ is formed in you” The idea is the same as in other passages that Christ is daily renewed in our inner man (2 Cor 4:16). Paul decided not to stop working and laboring for them until they understood.


Finally, he closes this very emotional section with one last appeal. “I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone for I am perplexed about you” Remember, this is not just anybody talking, this is Paul, this is Craig, this is the person you know and look up to. It is not his intention to guilt-trip the Galatians, rather, from this section it becomes evident that he deeply cares about them. He wants them to turn from those Judaizers, and to imitate Christ, to imitate him, knowing that “Imitating Christ often means to imitate people” Why? Because Christ lives in people, it is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20).


Dear Mosaic, the Galatians faced a difficult challenge. What would the outcome be of law vs. grace? Maybe today you and I don’t face the exact same question. Maybe our doctrine is more correct than theirs. But what about our hospitality, our service? But what Paul saw as the solution to this problem is the same solution we have for our situations. To imitate Christ, which means to imitate people.


Here is my challenge for you. It is actually twofold. If you don’t have somebody whom you can imitate then look for somebody and not just think about it. No, talk to that person. Overcome your pride, fear of rejection and see the beauty of the body of Christ. I am deeply convinced that this is what the body of Christ is therefor. The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone, let’s not do it alone. Secondly, I challenge you to find somebody else to whom you can say “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ” You might want to use different words, but don’t miss out on this opportunity. Maybe you are thinking now: “Well I am too young” Let me tell you that this answer in the whole of the Bible has never worked with God. Or maybe you think: “What do I know? I am nobody special” Well, you don’t need to be, if you have Christ in you that’s all you need. Remember, it’s not about being perfect, Paul was far from being perfect. It’s about realizing that Christ is working in your life.


Imaging how this would change Mosaic if we were to ask others to imitate us. All of us would be stretched in our spiritual walk. Maybe because we have never done anything that bold in our lives, or maybe because we would be challenged to give up old patterns that we have grown content with. We are going countercultural by doing so, because our individualism tells us that our relationship with Christ is only between me and God, which is a lie, btw. Imitating Christ often means to imitate people. So Mosaic, let’s be people who can be imitated and let’s be people who imitate others as they imitate Christ. We know that we don’t have to be perfect to be imitated by others.