Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Vision (5/30/13): An Affectionate Admonition: "For I stand in doubt of you."

Note:  Here are some notes from last Sunday’s sermon “An Enemy Because of the Truth” (Galatians 4:12-20) expositing the passage’s closing verses:

 “[19] My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, [20] I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you” (Galatians 4:19-20).

Paul concludes in vv. 19-20 with a deeply personal and affectionate admonishment to the Galatians.  Galatians is sometimes called the harshest of Paul’s epistles because of its serious and polemical tone, but these verses make the argument that it is actually among the most affectionate of Paul’s letters.  He begins by calling the Galatians “My little children (techna mou).”  This is without parallel anywhere in the NT.  Paul then draws a vivid analogy.  His relationship to the Galatians is like a mother who is laboring to give birth to a child.  Terry Johnson notes the irony of this image:

He is their mother.  He calls them his ‘children.’ But because of their flirtations with apostasy he finds himself ‘again in labor until Christ is formed in you—‘  They had been through this before.  He had already been in labor with them.  ‘Labor’ indicates a painful process.  They had been converted.  They had died to self and been united to Christ.  But then they had reverted, making new birth necessary (Galatians, p. 118).

Paul is still there with them in the travails of labor “until Christ be formed (morpho-o) in you.”  Usually birth is an image of salvation (as in John 3), but here it is of sanctification.  If you are a Christian, Christ is being formed in you.  The Spirit of Christ indwells you.  You are being shaped into Christ-likeness.  In Ephesians 4:15 Paul can speak of growing up “into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”

The intimate, personal nature of Paul’s ministry continues in v. 20:  “I desire to be present with you, and to change my voice.”  Paul knew there were some things that paper and pen could not communicate.  Today he’d add that email, text messages, Facebook, blogs, and tweets cannot replace face to face, person to person contact.  For one thing he wants them to hear the tone of his voice.  Perhaps he did not want them to hear it as scolding but as broken, hoarse, and tender.

The final word in v. 20 is perhaps Paul’s most solemn and subtle warning:  “for I stand in doubt of you.”  This is like what he said in v. 11 about his labor among them possibly having been in vain.  What did Paul mean by this?  I think, again, he considered the Galatians to be his “brethren” (see v. 12), but he wanted them to know the seriousness of his concern.  How can one abandon the pure gospel and still be considered a Christian?  It is a warning meant to call the Galatians toward serious self-examination, repentance, and restoration.

If one were objectively to examine our Christian lives, would he have reason to pronounce:  “I stand in doubt of you”?

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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