here are some passages in God’s Word that lends themselves to preaching. John 3:16, Psalm 23 or Matthew 5-7. The way we, that is westerners think, it has clear limits, can be set into bite-size pieces. Then, there are passages like this one.
These verses are pushing a doctrine of justification or sanctification. Paul’s not teaching us about the role of spiritual gifts or plant a church. Instead, this is one of those passages in which we see the heart of Paul toward those with whom he worked and besides whom he labored for Jesus. This is why I paired this passage with Acts 20. There you see Paul speaking with the leaders of Ephesus, the church with whom he had the longest pastorate.
It is a change of tone for Paul. He doesn’t lower his standard for Christ, but he now addresses these brothers and sisters as one who loves them and aches to see them restored. It has been described as a “tender, urgent and intensely personal appeal” (Hendriksen), “a fatherly, apostolic spirit” (George), “He turns from ‘spanking’ to ‘embracing’ (Wiersbe), for he remembers their willingness to sacrifice for him and the way in which they accepted him at his lowest.
You can’t share what you don’t have
Verse 12 starts, “Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” The problem is only the first verb actually appears in the text so a ‘literal translation’ becomes, “Becomes as I, for I as you”. Strange to us but perfectly normal grammar and construction for its day.
Paul urges the Galatians to become like he is. He wants them to be free from keeping Jewish traditions, being enslaved by the Law, and to be free in Christ. He wants them to embrace and be embraced by God’s grace and to remain true to Jesus’ call.
The second part of this verse, “for I as you” reminds them that he didn’t pretend to be a super Jew, full of condemnation for Gentiles. He wasn’t aloof and distant as some had been, including Peter. No Paul had come there at his weakest when he was sick.
There are many guesses as to what sort of illnesses Paul suffered and include epilepsy, malaria, eye problems, to migraines. Whatever it was, it was, “chronic, very painful, repulsive, and humiliating (Dunnam and Ogilvie).” We may draw from these verses that this first visit to wasn’t so much a theological mandate as it was to allow healing. In the grip of an unsightly and revolting illness, Paul’s may well expect rejection by the Galatians. The verbs in verse 14 ‘score and despise” carry a sense of contempt and revulsion. The second verb is ‘to spit out’ as in disdain is a ‘defense against sickness or demonic threats (Dunn).
Instead of rejection Paul and treating him as if he’s possessed or contagious. He is accepted, he and the gospel. The people understand he is a messenger of God—an angel. At Ephesus, you can see Paul’s heart poured out for these leaders, even as he tells them they will be betrayed by some of their own people. Can you imagine anything more horrible than having been shown that would happen?
God’s Word is personal
One of the points of this section is to show us that God’s grace is a personal work, not a private one. The bible tells us of families that are baptized but, at the core, God’s gospel is one that touches individuals after individual. It doesn’t pass from parent to child or grand-parent to grand-child. Each new generation, each person needs to confront and be confronted by God’s claim on their lives for themselves.
Personal does not mean private. Private faith says, ‘everyone has their own belief that is true for them.’ Personal faith declares, ‘let me tell about a person who has changed my life’. Private faith doesn’t interpose itself into the everyday world. Personal faith cannot help but become the center of one’s live. Private faith plays nice with everyone. Personal faith is often lashed out at and scorned.
Private faith is, at its heart, self-indulgent, introspective, and centered on one’s needs and desires. Christian faith, personal faith brings peace like Christ had in the garden—not my will but yours be done. Personal faith brings strength, but it is the strength to bear pain, persecution and hatred of others. Knowing Christ gives meaning but it is meaning that comes as we care for widows and orphans, give a cup of water, visit those in prison, build wells, treat those with Ebola and sacrifice our lives for Jesus.
God’s word destroys human limitations
Paul was limited by his health but as we read he visited people, planted churches, wrote letters and served Christ.
I want to share a story of Lizzie Johnson who, although limited, found her faith limitless. This woman died in 1909 and for most of her adult life, 26 years, she was bedridden, unable to even lift her head. In May of 1890, she accepted her situation as she said yes to Jesus and was told to make a quilt, sell it and give the money to missions. It should be noted that a lot of effort was going into putting young girls in Africa into Christian missions.
She made her ‘crazy quilt’ but it didn’t sell. For fourteen years, it was folded in a corner of the room until Bishop Warne, who was placed over Illinois in 1900 visited this woman. Hearing her story, he asked if he could borrow the quilt.
“Over the next twenty years, it circled the world three times, and the story of Lizzie Johnson was told on every continent of the globe. Bishop Warne estimated that $100,000 was raised during that time through the quilt for the cause of missions” (Newsome).
At the suggestion of her brother, she made bookmarks and the donation toward mission was near $25,000. This was when the New York Times sold for a penny. In addition she answered, or dictated to her sister answers to some 100 plus letters each month” (Newsome).
Now let’s jump ahead to after WW2 when a Japanese Christian, Takuo Matsumoto, where he was the President of the Methodist mission school in Nagasaki where, when it was attacked with the second atomic weapon. He survived but over 250 of the girls in the mission school were killed. Coming to Champaign to speak he discovered Lizzie’s sister Alice was there. He told her “All that I am I owe to Lizzie Johnson. (Dunnam and Ogilvie)”
This is because “Alice Johnson remembered that her sister had given money to support the education of a young boy in Japan named Takao Matsumoto” (Dunnam and Ogilvie).
Takuo did not forget the woman who brought him to a life of blessings. The Galatians were in the process of forgetting Paul and all the blessings that God’s grace had given to them. They were about to sell out and turn away from the news that had set them free. Takuo didn’t, in spite of what he suffered, in spite of those he saw killed. He remained true to the Christ who loved him, called him and with reverence the one who made a difference simply because she sewed bookmarks.
Remember, what you plan to do may not work out. Where you want to be may not happen. But, when you’re willing to be where God sends you and do what God commands you, blessings are all yours. Let us pray.
Dunn, James D. G. The Epistle to the Galatians. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993. Print.
Dunnam, Maxie D, and Lloyd John Ogilvie. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
George, Timothy. Galatians. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H, 1994. Print.
Hendriksen, William. Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002. Print.
Newsome, Jack. 'Lizzie, the Missionary Worker'. Archives.gcah.org. n.p., 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1989. Print.
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