Galatians 4:12-31: Paul Asks The Galatians To Become Like Him

Paul Asks The Galatians To Become Like Him; To Treat Him The Way They Did At First; To Be Loyal To Him, Not To The Judaizers/Legalists; They Must Not Put Themselves Under Sinai Covenant Law-Keeping; They Should Learn From The Torah Using Sarah And Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael As Metaphors

The Holy Spirit had used Paul and members of his team to bring the Good News, the Message about the salvation made possible by the Messiah to Galatia, which would be part of present day Turkey. People responded to the message, and Paul started New Covenant Communities in Galatia.

Some time after he left, others showed up and told God’s people, probably mostly Gentile Christians, and some Messianic Jews, that Paul was wrong and hadn’t been giving them the full message. These The judaizer/legalists told the Galatians that yes, they needed faith in the Three-In-One God, but they also needed more. They had to observe all the laws of the Sinai Covenant. They undermined not only Paul’s message that faith alone in Yeshua was sufficient for salvation and for living; they also undermined Paul. The judaizer/legalists had been saying things like: Paul is no apostle. Even if he is one, he is an inferior apostle, a lesser light, not like the great ones in Jerusalem like Peter and James the Lord’s brother. And Paul certainly is inferior to us!

Paul discovered that this has been going on and wrote this letter to defend himself, his authority and his message. Paul has been defending his message, that it is the right one. Here he defends himself. He appeals to them to remember the great relationship they had with him at the beginning, and because of their relationship, to respect him and his message.

I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel (the Good News about Messiah, the Message of salvation) to you, 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 Messiah Yeshua Himself. 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. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. When he was with them, the Rabbi became like the Galatians. He tried to understand them, and think like them in order to better reach them. He wants them to do the same thing: to make an effort to understand him. Because he passionately wants them to come around to his way of thinking, he lets them know he is pleading with them, begging them to become like him and come into agreement with him.

He calls them brothers and sisters, terms which emphasize love and unity and mutual support. Paul loves them and feels close to them and supports them – and he wants the same from them.

The Galatians have nothing to be ashamed about regarding the way they treated Paul in the past. Their relationship to him had been a good one. He reminds them: You did me no wrong. In fact, not only did the Galatians not harm Paul in any way or do anything to damage their relationship with the Lord’s Representative, they treated him exceedingly well – in spite of an illness Paul was experiencing. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the Good News about Messiah to you, 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 Messiah Yeshua Himself.

Is it God’s will for Christians and Messianic Jews who are full of faith and the Holy Spirit, to enjoy perfect health and never get sick? Obviously not. Paul was one of the greatest men of God who ever lived. He was one of the greatest evangelists and missionaries of all time. He was a miracle-working apostle. He wrote much of the divinely-inspired New Testament. He left a tremendous imprint on Christianity and changed the course of Western civilization – and yet this great man of God became so ill that his condition caused difficulties for those around him.

In spite of the burden to others caused by his illness, the Galatians didn’t dismiss Paul or look down on him. Quite the opposite. They treated him with honor, as if he were an angelic being sent by God, as if he were the glorious Son of God Himself. The Galatians respected him so much that they would have been willing to take out their eyes and give them to Paul if he needed him. That’s quite a sacrifice – indicating the high degree of esteem they had for him.

So why aren’t they feeling the same way about him now? He asks them: Where, then, is your blessing of me now? Why aren’t they treating him with the same kind of respect that they had for him before? And the answer is they were transferring their admiration to the judaizers/legalists who were undermining Paul.

He asks them a followup question designed to shock them so they might reconsider their erroneous thinking: Is the reason their attitude to him has changed and they are treating him badly now because he is telling them the truth? Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? He asserts that he is telling them the truth and accuses them of treating him like an enemy for telling them the truth. Wow. That is a strong, accusatory assertion in the form of a question.

To which they must respond: No, Paul, we are not enemies of the truth or those who teach the truth! We would never turn on you for telling us the truth. We are committed to the truth – which is how Paul wants them to respond. He wants to tell them the truth – and he wants them to be receptive to the truth.

The judaizers/legalists have been attacking Paul and his message. Now Paul goes on the offensive and attacks them. I like this, because at various times, I have gone on the offensive against those who were attacking the truth. 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. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. The Lord’s Representative analyzes the motives of the judaizers/legalists. He is able to discern that they have an agenda. They are trying to transfer the zeal, the enthusiasm the Galatians had for Paul, whom they should remain loyal to, to themselves. They want the Galatians to zealously follow them, not Paul. Paul doesn’t criticize them or the Galatians for their zeal. Zeal is good if it is directed to the right goals. But the judaizers/legalists don’t have the right motivations or goals. Paul criticizes the judaizers/legalists for their evil agenda and the Galatians for their lack of discernment.

The Rabbi had addressed them as brothers and sisters. Now he addresses them as a mother would address children in crisis. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Messiah is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! Paul uses the analogy of a mother who is pregnant and having problems giving birth to healthy children. Paul is like a mother and the Galatians are like children in the womb who are in danger of being malformed.

What’s the problem? Like the heart or lungs or other vital organs need to be fully formed in a baby in the womb so that it will be healthy and live a normal life, Messiah is not fully formed in the Galatians yet. Messiah needs to be fully formed in them so that they will be spiritually healthy and able to live successful and God-pleasing lives.

They need Messiah fully formed in them. They need the Son of God alive in them (by means of His Spirit) and real to them and central to them and their thinking and their motivations – not Sinai Covenant law-keeping. They need to think like Messiah, act like Messiah, live like Messiah. And so do we! We need the Messiah to be fully formed in us, so that we will be like Messiah, share the values, goals and priorities of Messiah, and have the Spirit of Messiah filling us, so that we live successful, blessed lives. Amen?

Paul has written a letter meant to correct the Galatians, a letter with strong statements, shocking statements, statements that should shame the Galatians – but designed to redirect them to himself and the truth. Here he expresses his affection for them, and lets them know he longs to be with them and take a nicer tone with them. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Messiah is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! The Rabbi admits he is perplexed about them. The truth is so clear to him. Why isn’t it clear to them? They had such a good beginning, based on the truth. Why change things now? Why start with a faith-response to the grace of God and the Good News about the Messiah, and the right emphasis on Holy Spirit empowered living, and exchange that for Sinai Covenant Law-keeping? Why ignore him and honor the judaizers/legalists who are false teachers? It’s puzzling.

Maybe because the Galatians liked allegories, Paul gives them an extended metaphor that will contrast the false teachings of the judaizers/legalists with the true teaching he brings. You Galatians really want to come under the Sinai Covenant? Before you make that decision, you should fully understand what you are getting yourselves into. This it what the Torah says about those who approach God in a legalistic way and those who approach God based on a faith-response to Him and His grace. Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

In this allegory, there is one father – Abraham. There are two women: Hagar, a slave; Sarah, a free woman. There are two sons: Ishmael, who was born according to the flesh, by human effort; and there is Isaac, who was born as the result of the fulfillment of divine promise and the Spirit of God at work.

These things are being taken figuratively: I do not like an allegorical approach to interpreting the Word of God – that this means something else, something non-literal. That way of approaching the Word of God is dangerous, because you can make something mean anything. For example, Israel doesn’t mean Israel, it means the new Israel, which means church. The 144,000 don’t refer to Messianic Jews who serve the Lord in the Last Days, but the 144,000 mean this group or that group. I am committed to the Golden Rule of Interpretation: If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense, otherwise you wind up with nonsense. Paul and the other inspired authors of the Word of God approached the Word of God in the very same way. It’s not that they never used non-literal language – they did use things like metaphors and parables and poetry; but it was clear that when they did that, that they were using language in a non-literal way.

Now, Paul is definitely making an allegory here, where something stands for something else. But note very well that he tell us that he is using language non-literally. These things are being taken figuratively. Paul is letting us know that this is not his normal way of interpreting the Word of God. Normally he approaches the Word of God in a non-figurative, literal way – unless there is specific reason for not doing so. So why is he doing this? Maybe its because the Galatians were fond of allegories, he is becoming like them and speaking to them in a way that will appeal to them and help them understand the truth he is trying to convey. Is that legitimate? Absolutely.

OK, now back to this allegory, which Paul explains for us. The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.

First there is the slave woman, Hagar, whose children are like Ishmael. She represents the Sinai Covenant. Her children, all those who put themselves under the Sinai Covenant, are slaves, not sons, not heirs. Slaves do not inherit the wealth of the father, so their outcome is a very bad one.

Who is under the Sinai Covenant? The current, earthly city of Jerusalem, Jerusalem which was dominated by Jewish people who reject Messiah Yeshua and His New Covenant. This Jerusalem has a limited existence. It will be destroyed one day. It is not eternal. If all you have is citizenship in the earthly Jerusalem, you will share its destiny and you will be destroyed one day. You will not live forever.

That means that non-Messianic Jews are enslaved to an inferior system and will not inherit eternal life. So, why would the Galatians want to enslave themselves to the Sinai Covenant?

The second woman is Sarah, and her children are like Isaac. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. Sarah represents Messiah’s New Covenant. She is free, not a slave. She is going to produce free people, sons and daughters who are the true heirs of Abraham. Those sons and daughters will inherit the amazing promises offered to Abraham and his descendants in the Abrahamic and New Covenants.

Sarah, like Hagar, is also connected to Jerusalem, but it is a very different Jerusalem, a free Jerusalem, not an enslaved Jerusalem; a Jerusalem that is above, not on a doomed Earth, a heavenly Jerusalem, an eternal Jerusalem. Those who are citizens in that Jerusalem will share its destiny. They are free, and will live forever in that heavenly city as the true heirs of Abraham. They will receive the promises given to him – which include salvation, eternal life and an amazing inheritance. So, why wouldn’t the Galatians want to be part of that Jerusalem, and be under Messiah’s Covenant – not the Sinai Covenant?

There’s more. Paul, quotes a prophecy given by Isaiah about the restoration of the Jewish nation after future devastating judgments. For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” The Jewish people who reject Yeshua and the judaizers/legalists are like the Jewish people before the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions. They claim to have a husband – God, but in reality are unfaithful to God and are headed for judgment.

Sarah was barren yet gave birth to a nation whose descendants became as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sands of the sea. Hagar is like the majority of the Jewish people in the time of Isaiah who were in rebellion against God and headed to judgment. Sarah is like the purified Jewish nation people after the judgment – close to God and numerous and enriched. The Galatians should want to be connected to Sarah – by remaining under Messiah’s New Covenant. They should not want to be connected to Hagar and those demanding Sinai Covenant law-keeping.

There’s more to the allegory. Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. Isaac was the special son and heir of Abraham, who received the Abrahamic covenant and its glorious promises. His birth was supernatural. Isaac was born, not by mere human effort, but by the supernatural power of God, enabling barren Sarah to conceive and give birth. Isaac was born by the power of the Spirit of God. He was a miracle child, a supernatural son, and the true heir of Abraham.

The Jewish people who reject Jesus and the New Covenant, and the judaizers/legalists who want to bring people under the Sinai Covenant, are like Ishmael. Ishmael was born according to the flesh, by mere human effort, by Abraham and Sarah and Hagar trying on their own to create a son who would be Abraham’s heir. But their human effort and what it resulted in was rejected by God. Ishmael would not be Abraham’s heir. He would not receive the Abrahamic Covenant and its glorious promises.

Christians and Messianic Jews are like Isaac. We are supernaturally made, born again, something impossible by mere human effort. Our new birth is only possible by the activity of the Spirit of God – not mere human effort.

In the Torah, Moses tells us that Ishmael persecuted Isaac. And the same thing was happening in Paul’s day. Non-Messianic Jews, and maybe the judaizers/legalists, were persecuting the true sons of Abraham, the Messianic Jews like Paul. So, why would the Galatians want to ally themselves with the persecutors of the real sons and heirs of God?

Moses in the Torah tells us about the final outcome of this conflict between Ishmael and Isaac. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” And so, since Scripture, the divinely inspired writing, tell us that Hagar the slave woman was banished, and Ishmael the son of the slave women was rejected as the heir the Abrahamic Covenant and its glorious promises, and he was sent away, why would the Galatians want to become like Hagar and Ishmael – spiritual slaves who will be exiled and not receive the promised blessings?

Paul’s conclusion? Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman. So live like children of the free woman! Live like a true son, a true daughter, who knows the father and his principles and internalizes those principles. Amen?

Live with Messiah fully formed in you! Be like Messiah, share the values, goals and priorities of Messiah, and have the Spirit of Messiah filling you, so that you live successful, blessed lives. Amen?

Live under Messiah’s New Covenant – which is sufficient for salvation, and for Holy Spirit-empowered, God-honoring living, followed by eternal life and a great reward! Amen?