World English Bible translation
4:12I beg you, brothers, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong, 4:13 but you know that because of weakness of the flesh I preached the gospel to you the first time. 4:14 That which was a temptation to you in my flesh, you didn't despise nor reject; but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
4:15What was the blessing you enjoyed? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. 4:16 So then, have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? 4:17 They zealously seek you in no good way. No, they desire to alienate you, that you may seek them. 4:18 But it is always good to be zealous in a good cause, and not only when I am present with you.
The Galatians had been placed into the family of God. Their faith had brought them into a new relationship with their creator. So Paul had asked them, why would you want to return again to the things that once enslaved you? If they understood that Christ had set them free from the sin and from the law, why would they listen to the teachings of the Judaizers? Their message was quite different from the gospel that Paul preached. Paul was perplexed at how they could so easily turn away from his message to another one that was so completely foreign.
Paul reminded them of when he had first brought the gospel to their homes. He encouraged them to follow his own example, "become as I am," because he had first made himself like a Gentile. Paul did not live among them as a Jew. He did not hold himself separate from them. He did not refuse them for fellowship and at the sharing of his table as another, more orthodox Jew might do.
Verses 13 and 14 have always been troublesome for interpretation. Quite frankly, we are not given enough information here to completely understand what Paul is writing. It is good that the speculation does not really alter the clear sense of Paul's argumentation.
Paul writes that when he first preached the gospel to them, he came to them "because of weakness of the flesh." We are not told what this weakness may have been and this is the source of the speculation that has been made. Whatever the weakness may have been, Paul writes that the Galatians had every reason to be tempted to despise or reject him, but they did not. In fact, they received him as an angel or even as they would have received Christ Jesus.
It has been speculated that Paul's weakness may have resulted from one of the stonings that are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. There is speculation that Paul might have had some physical disability such as epilepsy or blindness. It is likely that whatever was Paul's weakness of the flesh in this passage is also what he describes in 2 Corinthians 12:7 as his "thorn in the flesh." Whatever Paul's weakness was, the Galatians did not hold it against him.
But that ready acceptance had also been given to the Judaizers. The Judaizers were zealous, even as Paul had been. But, Paul tells them that the zeal of the Judaizers was in order to alienate them from Paul. Paul's zeal was in order to bring the Galatians to God. And that is the difference between them.
Where is your zeal? What "good cause" would you lay down your life for?
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