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Galatians 4:12-20

12. Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.

12. Estote ut ego; quia ego quoque sum ut vos. Fratres, rogo vos; nihil mihi fecistis injuriae.

13. Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.

13. Novistis antem, quod per infirmitatem carnis evangelizaverim vobis prius;

14. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

14. Et experimenturn mei, quod fuit in carne mea, non contempsistis, neque respuistis; sed tanquam angelum Dei suscepistis me, tanquam Christum Iesum.

15. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.

15. Ubi igitur beatitude vestra? testimonium enim reddo vobis, quod, si possibile fuisset, etiam oculos vestros effossos dedissetis mihi.

16. Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?

16. Ergdne vera loquendo inimicus sum vobis factus?

17. They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.

17. AEmulantur vos, non bene; imo excludere vos volunt, ut ipsos aemulemini.

18. But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.

18. Bonum autem est aemulari in bono semper, et non tanturn quum praesens sum apud vos.

19. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,

19. Filioli mei, quos iterum parturio, donec formetur in vobis Christus.

20. I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.

20. Vellem autem nunc coram esse vobiscum, et routare vocem meam; quia anxius sum in vobis.


12. Be as I am. Having till now spoken roughly, he begins to adopt a milder strain. The former harshness had been more than justified by the heinousness of the offense; but as he wished to do good, he resolves to adopt a style of conciliation. It is the part of a wise pastor to consider, not what those who have wandered may justly deserve, but what may be the likeliest method of bringing them back to the right path. He must “be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and doctrine.” (2 Timothy 4:2.) Following the method which he had recommended to Timothy, he leaves off chiding, and begins to use entreaties. I beseech you, he says, and calls them brethren, to assure them that no bitterness had mingled with his reproofs.

The words, be as I am, refer to the affection of the mind. As he endeavors to accommodate himself to them, so he wishes that they would do the like by him in return. For I am as ye are. “As I have no other object in view than to promote your benefit, so it is proper that you should be prevailed on to adopt moderate views, and to lend a willing, obedient ear to my instructions.” And here again pastors are reminded of their duty to come down, as far as they can, to the people, and to study the various dispositions of those with whom they have to deal, if they wish to obtain compliance with their message. The proverb still holds: “to be loved, you must be lovely.”

Ye have not injured me at all. This is intended to remove the suspicion which might have rendered his former reproofs more disagreeable. If we think that a person is speaking under a sense of injury, or revenging a private quarrel, we turn away our minds from him entirely, and are sure to torture whatever he says into an unfavourable interpretation. Paul therefore meets the rising prejudice by saying, “So far as respects myself, I have no cause to complain of you. It is not on my own account, nor from any hostility to you, that I feel warmly; and therefore, if I use strong language, it must arise from some other cause than hatred or anger.”

13. Ye know that, through infirmity of the flesh. He recalls to their recollection the friendly and respectful manner in which they had received him, and he does so for two reasons. First, to let them know that he loved them, and thus to gain a ready ear to all that he says; and secondly, to encourage them, that, as they had begun well, they would go on in the same course. This mention of past occurrences, then, while it is an expression of his kind regards, is intended likewise as an exhortation to act in the same manner as they had done at an earlier period.

By infirmity of the flesh he means here, as in other places, what had a tendency to make him appear mean and despised. Flesh denotes his outward appearance, which the word infirmity describes to have been contemptible. Such was Paul when he came among them, without show, without pretense, without worldly honors or rank, without everything that could gain him respect or estimation in the eyes of men. Yet all this did not prevent the Galatians from giving him the most honorable reception. The narrative contributes powerfully to his argument, for what was there in Paul to awaken their esteem or veneration, but the power of the Holy Spirit alone? Under what pretext, then, will they now begin to despise that power? Next, they are charged with inconsistency, since no subsequent occurrence in the life of Paul could entitle them to esteem him less than before. But this he leaves to be considered by the Galatians, contenting himself with indirectly suggesting it as a subject of consideration.

14. My temptation. That is, “Though ye perceived me to be, in a worldly point of view, a contemptible person, yet ye did not reject me.” He calls it a temptation or trial, because it was a thing not unknown or hidden, and he did not himself attempt to conceal it, as is usually done by ambitious men, who are ashamed of anything about them that may lower them in public estimation. It frequently happens that unworthy persons receive applause, before their true character has been discovered, and shortly afterwards are dismissed with shame and disgrace. But widely different was the case of Paul, who had used no disguise to impose on the Galatians, but had frankly told them what he was.

As an angel of God. In this light every true minister of Christ ought to be regarded. As God employs the services of angels for communicating to us his favors, so godly teachers are divinely raised up to administer to us the most excellent of all blessings, the doctrine of eternal salvation. Not without good reason are they, by whose hands God dispenses to us such a treasure, compared to angels: for they too are the messengers of God, by whose mouth God speaks to us. And this argument is used by Malachi.

“The priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 2:7.)

But the apostle rises still higher, and adds, even as Christ Jesus; for the Lord himself commands that his ministers shall be viewed in the same light as himself.

“He that heareth you heareth me,
and he that despiseth you despiseth me.” (Luke 10:16.)

Nor is this wonderful; for it is in his name that they discharge their embassy, and thus they hold the rank of him in whose room they act. Such is the highly commendatory language which reveals to us at once the majesty of the gospel, and the honorable character of its ministry. If it be the command of Christ that his ministers shall be thus honored, it is certain that contempt of them proceeds from the instigation of the devil; and indeed they never can be despised so long as the word of God is esteemed. In vain do the Papists attempt to hold out this pretext for their own arrogant pretensions. As they are plainly the enemies of Christ, how absurd is it that they should assume the garb, and take to themselves the character, of Christ’s servants! If they wish to obtain the honors of angels, let them perform the duty of angels: if they wish that we should listen to them as to Christ, let them convey to us faithfully his pure word.

15. Where is there your blessedness? Paul had made them happy, and he intimates that the pious affection with which they formerly regarded him was an expression of their happiness. But now, by allowing themselves to be deprived of the services of him to whom they ought to have attributed whatever knowledge they possessed of Christ, they gave evidence that they were unhappy. This hint was intended to produce keen reflection. “What? Shall all this be lost? Will you forfeit all the advantage of having once heard Christ speaking by my lips? Shall the foundation in the faith which you received from me be to no purpose? Shall your falling away now destroy the glory of your obedience in the presence of God?” In short, by despising the pure doctrine which they had embraced, they throw away, of their own accord, the blessedness which they had obtained, and draw down upon themselves the destruction in which their unhappy career must terminate.

For I bear you record. It is not enough that pastors be respected, if they are not also loved; for both are necessary to make the doctrine they preach be fully relished; and both, the apostle declares, had existed among the Galatians. He had already spoken of their respect for him, and he now speaks of their love. To be willing to pluck out their own eyes, if it had been necessary, was an evidence of very extraordinary love, stronger than the willingness to part with life.

16. Am I therefore become your enemy? He now returns to speak about himself. It was entirely their own fault, he says, that they had changed their minds. Though it is a common remark, that truth begets hatred, yet, except through the malice and wickedness of those who cannot endure to hear it, truth is never hateful. While he vindicates himself from any blame in the unhappy difference between them, he indirectly censures their ingratitude. Yet still his advice is friendly, not to reject, on rash or light grounds, the apostleship of one whom they had formerly considered to be worthy of their warmest love. What can be more unbecoming than that the hatred of truth should change enemies into friends? His aim then is, not so much to upbraid, as to move them to repentance.

17. They are jealous of you. He comes at length to the false apostles, and does more by silence to make them odious, than if he had given their names; for we usually abstain from naming those whose very names produce in us dislike and aversion. He mentions the immoderate ambition of those men, and warns the Galatians not to be led astray by their appearance of zeal. The comparison is borrowed from honorable love, as contrasted with those professions of regard which arise from unhallowed desires. Jealousy, on the part of the false apostles, ought not to impose upon them; for it proceeded not from right zeal, but from an improper desire of obtaining reputation, — a desire most unlike that holy jealousy of which Paul speaks to the Corinthians.

“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy; for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 11:2, 3.)

To expose still more fully their base arts, he corrects his language. Yea, they would exclude you 6969     ́̓Εστι γὰρ καὶ ζὢλος ἀγαθὸς ὅταν τις οὕτω ζηλοῖ ὥστε μιμήσασθαι τὴν ἀρετήν· ἔστι καὶ ζὢλος προνηρὸς ὤστε ἐκβάλλειν τὢς ἀρετὢς τὸν κατορθοῦντα· ὅ δὴ καὶ αὐτοὶ νῦν ἐπιχειροῦσι, τὢς μὲν τελείας γνώσεως ἐκβάλλειν θέλοντες, εἰς δὲ τὴν ἠκρωτηριασμένην ὑμᾶς δὲ τοὺς νῦν ὑψηλοτέρους αὐτῶν ὄντας, ἐν τάξει καταστήσωσι μαθητῶν· τοῦτο γὰρ ἐδήλωσεν εἰτὼν ἵνα αὐτοὺς ζηλοῦτε
   “There is a good zeal, when one emulates in such a manner as to imitate virtue; and there is a bad zeal, which ‘drives away’ from virtue one who is acting right. And this is what they are now attempting to do, when they wish to ‘drive away’ from perfect knowledge, and to lead them to that which is mutilated and spurious, for no other reason than that they may occupy the ranks of teachers, and that you, who are higher than themselves, may be placed by them in the rank of scholars; for this is what he meant by saying, ‘that ye may emulate them.’” — Chrysostom.
They not only endeavor to gain your affections, but, as they cannot obtain possession of you by any other means, they endeavor to kindle strife between us. When you have been thrown as it were destitute, they expect that you will yield yourselves up to them; for they perceive that, so long as there shall be maintained between us a religious harmony, they can have no influence. This stratagem is frequently resorted to by all the ministers of Satan. By producing in the people a dislike of their pastor, they hope afterwards to draw them to themselves; and, having disposed of the rival, to obtain quiet possession. A careful and judicious examination of their conduct will discover that in this way they always begin.

18. But it is good to be the object of jealousy. It is hard to say whether this refers to himself or to the Galatians. Good ministers are exhorted to cherish holy jealousy in watching over the churches,

“that they may present them as a chaste virgin to Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 11:2.)

If it refers to Paul, the meaning will be: “I confess that I also am jealous of you, but with a totally different design: and I do so as much when I am absent as when I am present, because I do not seek my own advantage.” But I am rather inclined to view it as referring to the Galatians, though in this case it will admit of more than one interpretation. It may mean: “They indeed attempt to withdraw your affections from me, that, when you are thrown destitute, you may go over to them; but do you, who loved me while I was present, continue to cherish the same regard for me when I am absent.” But a more correct explanation is suggested by the opposite senses which the word ζηλοῦσθαι bears. As, in the former verse, he had used the word jealous in a bad sense, denoting an improper way of accomplishing an object, so here he uses it in a good sense, denoting a zealous imitation of the good qualities of another. By condemning improper jealousy, he now exhorts the Galatians to engage in a different sort of competition, and that, too, while he was absent.

19. My little children. The word children is still softer and more affectionate than brethren; and the diminutive, little children, is an expression, not of contempt, but of endearment, though, at the same time, it suggests the tender years of those who ought now to have arrived at full age. (Hebrews 5:12.) The style is abrupt, which is usually the case with highly pathetic passages. Strong feeling, from the difficulty of finding adequate expression, breaks off our words when half uttered, while the powerful emotion chokes the utterance.

Of whom I travail in birth again. This phrase is added, to convey still more fully his vehement affection, which endured, on their account, the throes and pangs of a mother. It denotes likewise his anxiety; for

“a woman, when she is in travail, hath sorrow, because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” (John 16:21.)

The Galatians had already been conceived and brought forth; but, after their revolt, they must now be begotten a second time.

Until Christ be formed in you. By these words he soothes their anger; for he does not set aside the former birth, but says that they must be again nourished in the womb, as if they had not yet been fully formed. That Christ should be formed in us is the same thing with our being formed in Christ; for we are born so as to become new creatures in him; and he, on the other hand, is born in us, so that we live his life. Since the true image of Christ, through the superstitions introduced by the false apostles, had been defaced, Paul labors to restore that image in all its perfection and brightness. This is done by the ministers of the gospel, when they give

“milk to babes, and strong meat to them that are of full age,” (Hebrews 5:13, 14,)

and, in short, ought to be their employment during the whole course of their preaching. But Paul here compares himself to a woman in labor, because the Galatians were not yet completely born.

This is a remarkable passage for illustrating the efficacy of the Christian ministry. True, we are “born of God,” (1 John 3:9;) but, because he employs a minister and preaching as his instruments for that purpose, he is pleased to ascribe to them that work which Himself performs, through the power of his Spirit, in co-operation with the labors of man. Let us always attend to this distinction, that, when a minister is contrasted with God, he is nothing, and can do nothing, and is utterly useless; but, because the Holy Spirit works efficaciously by means of him, he comes to be regarded and praised as an agent. Still, it is not what he can do in himself, or apart from God, but what God does by him, that is there described. If ministers wish to do anything, let them labor to form Christ, not to form themselves, in their hearers. The writer is now so oppressed with grief, that he almost faints from exhaustion without completing his sentence.

20. I would wish to be present with you now. This is a most serious expostulation, the complaint of a father so perplexed by the misconduct of his sons, that he looks around him for advice, and knows not to what hand to turn. 7070     ἀποροῦμαι ἐν ὑμῖν. “By these words the apostle undoubtedly expresses more than that he was ‘in doubt about’ the Galatians, and was at a loss what he should say about them; for in the preceding verse he had given utterance to the vehement emotion of his mind. With very nearly the same kind of emphasis does this word occur in the Septuagint, at Genesis 32:7, where it is said, ‘And Jacob was greatly afraid, and was in deep anxiety.’ The concluding words are translated καὶ ἠπορεῖτο ” — Keuchenius. He wishes to have an opportunity of personally addressing them, because we thus obtain a better idea of what is adapted to present circumstances; because, according as the hearer is affected, according as he is submissive or obstinate, we are enabled to regulate our discourse. But something more than this was meant by the desire to change the voice 7171     “To speak sometimes gently, and sometimes harshly, as the case might demand.” — Luther. Φωνή signifies not only a voice, but the thing that is spoken, (AElian, V. H., p. 347,) whether it be by word of mouth, or by letter. And therefore, when the apostle says that he ‘desired to change his voice,’ he means, that he should be glad to be present and converse with them personally, instead of writing to them at a distance; because then he could be more fully informed of their true state, and better able to know how to order his discourse to them.” — Chandler. He was prepared most cheerfully to assume a variety of forms, and even, if the case required it, to frame a new language. This is a course which pastors ought most carefully to follow. They must not be entirely guided by their own inclinations, or by the bent of their own genius, but must accommodate themselves, as far as the case will allow, to the capacity of the people, — with this reservation, however, that they are to proceed no farther than conscience shall dictate, 7272     “Seulement qu’ils regardent de ne faire chose contre l’honneur de Dieu et leur conscience.” “Only let them beware of doing anything against the honour of God and their own conscience.” and that no departure from integrity shall be made, in order to gain the favor of the people.

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