Free to Trust
by Jack Wald | June 23rd, 2002

Galatians 4:12-31

Just this week we sent out a newsletter for the Village of Hope at Ain Leuh. We have struggled lately to have enough funds to keep up our building program and part of the problem is that we have not been good at getting out information about our needs. So we are trusting that there will be a generous response to this newsletter. Getting this out made me think about fund raising techniques.

Raising funds for charitable organizations is a science. Studies have shown that some ways of raising funds are more effective than others. The best, by far, is to take the person to where the need is. When someone sees the need with his or her own eyes, that is the most effective way to raise funds. Second best is a face-to-face conversation when you can show pictures and talk about your personal experience with the need. Third best is a phone call. A letter received in the mail is less effective, but even with a letter, there are ways to make the appeal more effective. A special commemorative stamp is more effective than a generic stamp. If the stamp is placed on the letter so it looks like it has been placed there by hand (and they have machines that put stamps on a letter slightly tilted), it is more effective than if the stamp is placed there exactly square with the corner of the envelope.

These studies are interesting, but should not come as a surprise to us. We like personal contact and the more personal contact we have, the more effectively we communicate with someone else. One reason for this is that when we talk with someone, face-to-face, we can see how they react to what we say and talk more about what interests them and switch to another topic when we find them falling asleep on us.

Things were no different for Paul. When he started churches, he did so by being with the people of a community. But after he left, he had to rely on letters to communicate with these new churches. So he sent letters that could not see the body language of those listening to the letter. He couldn’t tell if his argument was convincing to them or not. In his mind he presented an air tight argument, but did the churches follow him? He knew the character of the churches. He knew the people in the churches. But each church was different and he had to send one letter to them all.

For these reasons, Paul has, in his letter to the churches in Galatia, many variations of his argument. If one argument does not convince, perhaps a variation of that argument might be convincing. Many of the arguments center around the life and faith of Abraham, but arguments from the head are intermingled with emotional appeals. He uses Rabbinic arguments he learned when he was studying to be a Pharisee – with a twist at the end to bend the argument to his new Christian perspective. He uses manipulative pleas followed by powerful reasoning and logic.

And in the process he wrote down the theology that has guided the church for the past two thousand years. I was talking with someone this week who mentioned that if it were not for the troubles in the churches, we would not have Galatians and I & II Corinthians. God works in strange and mysterious ways.

In today’s verses from Galatians we see two tactics of Paul. Paul speaks from his heart and his head and we will pull out lessons from each of these arguments for ourselves this morning.

Paul has just finished arguing in 4:11 that we are children of God by faith in Christ. We are no longer slaves but children of God. In verse 21 he picks up this argument with an illustration from Scripture, from the children of Hagar and Sarah. But in between in verses 12-20, he interjects with a very emotional plea to the Galatians to remember his stay with them and how he was with them. He urges them to trust him because of their past experience.

12 I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.

Paul urges them to share with him the Gospel of Christ, faith in Christ alone, to become like him, and reminds them about how he lived among them as a Gentile, sharing with them their lives, how he became like them.

You have done me no wrong.  13 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you.

In fact, writes Paul, he did not come to them with strength and power but in weakness and depending on them as does a baby when it is born.

There is much speculation about what Paul’s illness was. Some say he contracted malaria and went up into the higher elevation to seek recovery. Others say he had an eye ailment, basing this on a literal interpretation of verse 15 I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Some say he suffered from epileptic fits and some say he suffered from the beatings his head received when he was stoned and left for dead in Lystra. Whatever his illness, he was dependent on them for his care and recovery.

14 Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.

His illness required a lot of care and attention and he reminds them that he was well cared for and loved by them.

This was a powerful shared experience, one that drew them together and made me think of an experience of my own.

My mother’s mother and I did not always get along with each other. Because of experiences she had growing up as a young girl in Hamburg, Germany, she tended to have a negative view of men. I had five sisters and when I fought with them, my grandmother always took their side.

Then when I was 16, I had a back operation. They fused four vertebrae in my lower spine. Nine months later, they operated a second time and I was confined to bed for half a year. My grandmother lived in an apartment attached to our house and they put my hospital bed in her living room and she cared for me during those months. She bathed me and brought me my meals. We played Pinochle, a card game she liked that I learned how to play. I was dependent on her. And during those months we became great friends. She disliked being called Grannie but I began calling her “Grannie” and she liked it. I disliked being called by my real name, “John” and she began calling me “John” and I loved it.

After I was out of my body cast and in college, I bought her a grannie-gown, a type of nightgown, for Christmas. Throughout the fall I sent her hints about the gift in letters I wrote home from college and when she finally opened it on Christmas Eve, she went right into her room and tried it on and came out to model it for us. We became very close and remained close until her death five years later.

I think this is part of what Paul is referring to when he talks about his illness and how they cared for him. It became a bonding experience in which they grew to love each other in a way they could not have been able to do otherwise. They developed a deep affection for each other.

15 What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.  16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

They had such a rich experience with each other. They received the Gospel with great joy. Their affection for Paul was so rich. So why do they now move away from him?

You can see the frustration Paul is feeling as he wrote these words. I think that as he wrote this letter, his mind went back to his time with them and he could not contain himself and had to insert this emotional plea.

He wants to be back with them, sharing the same joy together – not being in an adversarial position having to argue with them about deviating from that gospel.

17 Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them.  18 It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you.  19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,  20 how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!

Now I know men don’t know about the pain of childbirth, but we have seen what it is like and Paul had a great imagination, so he uses this image to talk about the agony he is in being apart from them and longing to see them continue to grow in Christ.

In these verses we see the nurturing side of Paul, the emotional side that cared deeply for the churches he had started. Paul calls the Galatians his “dear children”, the only place he uses this phrase in his letters. The use of this phrase indicates the depth of Paul’s emotion as he wrote.

As he shared his heart, were the Galatians moved to hear his arguments? Were they able to remember the relationship they had with him and the joy they received when he brought them the news of Jesus having been raised from the dead? Were they able to see the deviation the Judiazers were bringing with their insistence on observing the law? I don’t know. And as Paul wrote this letter, I don’t think he knew how convinced they would be. But I find it reveals a side of Paul that we would miss if he had not allowed his emotions to spill out in the midst of his argument.

If his letter to the Galatians was simply a powerful, well-reasoned argument for faith in Christ Jesus alone, we would still benefit but I like it that Paul was flesh and blood and not just intellect. I like it that Paul cared for the churches, that he was in agony because their freedom to live in Christ was being threatened.

I think we can learn from this. Some of us are more naturally emotional than others. When we make an appeal, we make it from the heart. Others of us are more naturally analytic and make an appeal from the head. We can learn here from Paul to use both our heart and head when we are trying to convince someone of an important truth in our lives.

Saying to someone, “If you could only experience what I have experiences and know the peace of God,” is an honest emotion but will be strengthened if you can articulate why it is you believe what you believe. Sharing with someone how your relationship with Christ has affected you on an emotional level will strengthen any discussion about the basis for belief in God.

God gave us hearts and heads and does not want either of them to atrophy, wither away from lack of use. In all areas of life, we are to use our hearts and heads.

This is a struggle for me because I work so much more easily with my head than with my heart. This is not so true in my relationships with people as it is in my relationship with God. My relationship with God is based far too much on what I know than on what I experience and as I grow in my relationship with God, it is in the area of intimacy with God that I need to grow.

For others, your relationship with God is based far too much on how you feel and Christian life becomes a search for experience. If this is you, then growth in your relationship with God needs to come in the area of perseverance despite the emotional state of the moment. Truth and faith in the one who is truth exist apart from emotions and how we feel.

I had a professor in seminary named Gordon Fee. He is a member of the Assembly of God denomination in the US and told us once that Pentacostals need the head of the Evangelicals and Evangelicals need the heart of the Pentacostals. This is profound truth for me and appropriate for us in this church with a blend of denominations.

I am convinced that we are a stronger fellowship because of our diversity than we would be if we were all of one denomination.

I hear from time to time that people wish we had more time to worship and that there was more of a Pentecostal style in our worship. From others I hear that when people speak in tongues during our service, it distracts them. Others say we have too much worship and need more teaching in our services. Those from a high church background wish we could have more liturgy in our services, a confession of sin and reciting the creeds from time to time.

I plan to talk about this in more detail when I return in August. But let me give you a preview. Here is my summary conclusion in advance. We are fortunate to be in a church where we have this diversity and we have the opportunity to take from each other’s backgrounds the strengths that will feed us and help us to grow in our relationship with Christ. There are strains and times when we are uncomfortable but these are positive strains and part of God molding us and shaping us and helping us to grow in ways we never would grow if we had stayed in a church like the one we have been used to.

RPF is not a dead church and this means we are not today what we will be tomorrow. We will grow. If we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, if we fix our eyes on Jesus, we will grow and we can learn from each other as we do so. Those who are different than you are not a liability but an asset as we grow.

RPF has changed me and is changing me. I am excited about what we are becoming and pray that you will encourage me in my quest for greater intimacy with God as I encourage you in the ways I can do that.

And now we move from Paul’s heart to Paul’s head. After Paul inserts his emotional pleas to the Galatians, he returns to his argument for not adding the law to the grace of Christ that saves us by faith in Christ alone. And he does so by focusing on a detail of the story of Abraham.

As you remember, God appeared to Abraham several times, each time promising him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky or as numerous as the sand on a beach. God made this promise to Abraham when he was 75 years old and childless. This is generally not the age when someone begins to have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or sand on the beach, but Abraham believed. He kept on believing for eleven years, even though he had not a single heir. So at the age of 86, he conceived a child with the maid of his wife and Ishmael was born.

Finally, Abraham had an heir. He could still count his heirs on one hand, even one finger, but he had an heir and he doted on his son, Ishmael.

Thirteen years later, at the age of 99, Abraham received another message from God telling him that Ishmael was not the fulfillment of the promise God had made to him and that his wife, Sarah would bear him a child.

It is on this history that Paul continues his argument. It seems that the Judiazers had used this story from the life of Abraham when they talked the Galatians, trying to convince them that they needed to become children of the covenant that was made with Abraham.

If Paul had been given this text in rabbinical school, the conclusion would have been obvious.

Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. Isaac was the ancestor of the chosen people, the Ishmaelites are Gentiles. The Jews are the children of the free woman, the Gentiles are children of the slave woman. The Jews have received the liberating knowledge of the law, the Gentiles are in bondage to ignorance. The Jews are the people of the covenant.

Gentiles cannot be children of Abraham by natural birth, but they can be adopted into the family by following the law given to the Jews, be circumcised, eat kosher, and so on.

This would have been the expected argument and Paul picks up this argument and gives it a twist. It is people of the law who are children of the slave woman. The children of the free woman are those who embrace the gospel of justification by faith alone – a minority of Jews and an ever increasing number of Gentiles.

I think I would have avoided debating with Paul.

It is hard to blame Abraham for following local custom and having a child with his wife’s maid when his wife could not bear him a child. God made a promise to him and eleven years later without seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise, he took maters into his own hands.

We pass over those years very quickly when we read those verses in Genesis, but you can be sure that there were many discussions between Abraham and Sarah, between Abraham and anyone else with whom he had shared his experiences with God. As they sat under a tree in the heat of the day, they discussed what this promise meant that was not being fulfilled. “Abraham, are you sure you heard right?”

Every night as Abraham sat out looking up at the stars was another reminder of the promise God had made to him and a reminder that the promise had not been fulfilled.

I don’t know who first suggested it, but Abraham’s decision to have a child with Hagar did not come without a lot of discussion and a lot of thought. It was not a passionate decision, not a spontaneous decision. It was a well thought out course of action.

How was God’s promise to Abraham going to be fulfilled if he had no heir? Maybe God intended him to follow local custom and expected him to have a child with Hagar?

So Abraham took maters into his own hands and produced an heir. I’m not going to speculate how the world might be different if Abraham had not done this, but Israel did suffer at the hands of the descendants of Ishmael and perhaps the world still suffers today because of Abraham’s decision.

Paul says we, like Isaac are children of promise. Isn’t it clear, friends, that you, like Isaac, are children of promise? As children of promise who have received God’s free gift of salvation, we need to trust that God will fulfill his promises to us and not take matters into our own hands.

Like most truths in the Christian life, this is a fine line we tread. We are expected to work and stategize to make progress in our life. But we need to be careful we do not step over the line and grab at a promise prematurely.

Let me give you an example. I continue to be frustrated at the attempts by some in our congregation to cross over into Spain illegally. I avoid talking about this most Sundays even though this is a major part of my life here in Rabat. I have become close to a number of those who are moving illegally to Europe and have had great respect for them and their walk with God. But it seems to me that this is a huge blind spot in their spiritual lives. Even though we discussed the issue together and they understood what I was saying, as soon as the opportunity for them to cross over came, they left. This is a great sadness and a great frustration for me.

God has promised to provide for us, but when laws have to be disregarded and bribes paid and an industry of smugglers supported, it is so clear to me that this illegal migration to Europe is wrong. If it is God’s will for you to go to Europe, he will provide a way for you to do that legally.

Another example. God has promised to provide for you but you are single and lonely. It is easy to begin to take matters into your own hands and begin to look at every person you meet as a potential partner. This can become a preoccupation and perhaps an obsession. The danger is that this pursuit of what you think you need to be fulfilled pushes your focus away from God and onto your pursuit. Instead of trusting that God will take care of you and provide you with what you need, you go out and try to grab at what is available. You may end up in a marriage with a person God never intended you to marry that will cause heartaches in the future.

To get a promotion, people are willing to use and abuse others to get the position they want. To live a more prosperous life, people are willing to step out into disobedience to get what they want. To get a million US dollars people are willing to humiliate and degrade themselves. And when people take matters into their own hands rather than trust in God and wait for his promises to be fulfilled, disaster results.

We are children of promise. We are heirs with a future to inherit. Trust in the Lord. Wait on him to fulfill his promises to you.

In His time, he makes all things beautiful in his time.