Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Notes on Galatians 4:12-20

More notes prepared for the Cornerstone sermon-prep study group:

In Galatians 4:12-20, Paul draws on a common Graeco-Roman discussion topic of true versus false friendship, showing that he and the Galatians had had a true friendship – he is the Galatians’ true friend (and, even greater, true family), whereas Paul’s opponents are false friends.  He appeals to them on the basis of that true and intimate relationship to be transformed into the true family of God they were meant to be, with no divisions or exclusions between Jew and Gentile. 

In verse 12, Paul echoes the common Greek idea that true friendship involved, in some sense, equality, unanimity, and likeness – becoming or being like the friend, sharing in their (mis)fortune.  As in I Corinthians 9, Paul became like a Christian Gentile in order to minister to them so they as Gentiles could also become Christians.  Hence they too should be free in Christ to be Gentiles as followers of Christ.  Paul shows that there are no hard feelings and that they have had a true friendship – true friends do no true harm to one another.  Instead, they did the opposite – despite all the reasons not to, they accepted him.  In verses 13 and 14, Paul notes that they passed the test of true friendship at the very beginning of their relationship, where it would have been a temptation to disregard Paul as cursed or wicked because of his illness.  Instead, Paul, as a representative of Jesus Christ, as an apostle proclaiming Jesus’ message, was received as a messenger of God and like Jesus Christ himself. 

While the relationship they had had involved blessing, in verse 15 we have Paul questioning the continued presence of such blessing.  Has so much changed?  Formerly they would have done anything for him – true friendship involves a willingness to undergo extreme sacrifice.  In verse 16, he wonders if the change is because he is speaking the truth to them, yet that should show that he is a true friend rather than a flatterer (a common Graeco-Roman contrast is between the true friend who is frank and truthful and the flatterer who is not).  Rather than an enemy, as the opponents may have made him out to be (since he would be seen as keeping them from becoming “real” Christians by becoming Jews), his truth-speaking marks him out as the complete opposite.

Verses 17 and 18 draw somewhat on the Jewish notion of zeal, which was often applied towards the Law and the covenant between God and Israel.  Unfortunately, in Paul’s time this often ended up being twisted into a hatred of Gentiles and could be turned into violence (the Zealots).  The opponents’ misguided zeal drove them to use the Law to force the Gentiles to become Jews lest they be excluded, and thus the opponents miss the true zeal which is for the God who welcomes the Gentiles into his family on an equal footing with the Jews.  By threatening exclusion, the Gentiles are forced to depend on the opponents for their spiritual status, following their guidance and what they say in order to be proper Jews, putting the opponents on a pedestal for revealing to them the things of the Law that Paul had supposedly left out or kept from them.  True friends, true family, however, do not maintain their relationships based on personal gain.  They have zeal, but it is for good things, not bad.  True friendship is reliable – in this case, it involves a zeal which always seeks good.  And this is precisely the zeal with which Paul meets the Galatians, a zeal which involves bringing the Galatians to meet the God who would have them as a part of his one family.

In verse 19, Paul shows how deep their relationship really goes – Paul is family, he is like their mother still laboring painfully to give birth to them.  He cares for them, wanting Christ to be formed in/among them.  The community is to be Christ-shaped, with Christ as true head, they as his true body, combined together as one family in him.  Yet the opponents are trying to prevent this formation by introducing divisions and exclusions within the community in the form of the works of the Law.  In verse 20, Paul thus reiterates his true friendship, his true parenthood of them, when he expresses his care for them, wishing to be present with them physically and not merely through the letter – they have seemingly cast aside their good relationship with Paul which involved truth and belonging and accepted instead accepted a bad relationship with the opponents which involved falsity and exclusion.  Paul is bewildered that they would opt for the latter over the former.

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