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GALATIANS 4:17-20

Continuing on in the theme of grace versus the law in the life of a believer, Derek Wilder and his team at Lives Transforming once again take a look at Galatians 4. In these verses we study Paul’s words to the Galatians in response to the manipulative influence of the Judaizers, attempting to bring the Gentile Galatians back under the restraints of the Jewish laws, instead of under grace.

To set the stage, it is important to note that the Judaizers were a group of Jewish Christians who asserted that Gentle believers should obey the Jewish laws, including circumcision, observation of festivals, and diet restrictions. They were seeking to influence the Galatians into being like them, and turning against Paul and his teaching. According to Paul’s letter, they had seen some success.

The insights of the Dallas Theological Seminary’s as well as John Calvin’s commentary seem to coincide in the first few verses.

The Judaizers were using flattery to ‘cut off’ the Galatians from Paul. They were seeking the Galatians out for their own purposes – so that the Galatians would follow them instead of Paul. In other words, they were ingratiating themselves to the Galatians so they would ‘win them away’ from Paul, and back into the cycle of legalism. Under legalism, there is a need to find fulfillment and self-worth through external things, such as what you do (works of the law), and what people think about you.

John Calvin’s commentary agrees with this; he believed the Judaizers were out to get a good reputation, to be popular, to feel good about themselves through following the law (legalism). He also points out that the Church of his time showed signs of this ‘splitting off’ due to difference in opinion ruled by selfish motives, a characteristic that is true even of the modern Church.

After explaining to the Galatians that the Judaizers were seeking them out for self-gratifying reasons, Paul clarifies to the Galatians that it was not wrong to be sought after, if it was for purposes of service. He also made it clear that he was not jealous of the Galatians being taught or ministered to by other people than himself, or to seek out others for the same reasons.

Martin Luther’s commentary on these verses suggests that it is not wrong for Christians to have differences of opinion; it is natural and healthy. However, the motive for sharing them must be pure; the Judaizers’ motives were obviously not pure, since they wanted to separate the Galatians from Paul’s influence. Exclusionism is seldom for pure motives.

Derek Wilder sums up this section with a question we need to ask ourselves. When we seek someone out, why are we doing it? If we are honest we will find that our motives are often more selfish than they should be.

Verse 19 brings some discord between the Dallas Theological Seminary/Luther and John Calvin commentaries (and theology in general).

The phrase “until Christ is formed in you,” is interpreted by Calvin as a joint statement with the previous metaphor Paul makes of himself as a mother, giving ‘birth’ to the Galatians. Thus Calvin sees this as a rebuke from Paul, who considers the Galatians in need of something more, to be born more completely. The focus, as in much of Calvin’s teaching, is on our responsibility to ‘work out’ our sanctification.

On the other hand, the DTS and Luther commentaries see the statements as separate metaphors. “Until Christ is formed in you” is a direct reference to the renewing of the mind, of being dead to the old self and alive to the new self, which is from God, given at justification. Therefore the focus is on Christ changing us and living out of us, not us trying to achieve our self-worth by doing things in our own power.

Finally, Wilder gives us a practical application out of the final verse in this section. Like Paul’s expressed desire, we should try to interact face-to-face with people as much as possible, especially when discussing difficult topics, so that we can best choose our words based the others’ response.