PAUL GETS PERSONAL

GALATIANS 4:12-20

FEBRUARY 22, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

 

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            I remember it as if it were yesterday.  I was in seminary, a recent graduate of UCLA, and the UCLA football team was suffering through a poor season, and the first year head coach Pepper Rodgers came under intense criticism and pressure from alumni and fans. Not me, of course.  I loved Pepper Rodgers, but things got so bad, Rodgers found friends hard to find. Reflecting on the 1971 season, Rodgers said, My dog was my only true friend, Rodgers says of that year. I told my wife that every person needs at least two good friendsand she bought me another dog.

            I hope that doesnt happen to Mike Riley.  I wish him the best as Nebraskas new head football coach, but we have seen what has happened with Nebraskas previous three football coaches.  What started out great, ended in disappointment.

            The verses before us today reveal a serious rift in the relationship between Paul and the saints in Galatia. Their previous warmth and love for Paul had cooled to a chilling aloofness. Listen to how his relationship with them began.  Verse thirteen,

 

            You know that it was because of a physical infirmity that I first announced the gospel to you; though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me, but welcomed me as an angel of God.

 

            Paul was sick when he first arrived in Galatia.  He was suffering from a malady, of which we can only speculate.  Given what he would say in the next verse about the Galatians plucking out their eyes for him, some believe his malady was failing eyesight, or a super serious case of pink eye. Others say it was migraine headaches, some believe he had contacted malaria and some speculate that he suffered from epilepsy.  Whatever it was, it was bad. Since sickness in that day was regarded as Gods punishment for sins, it would have been natural for the Galatians to treat Paul as if he were a devil, not an angel of God. But they received him warmly despite his illness. Their relationship began so positively, and then we read what he says in verse sixteen.

 

            Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

 

            What caused the rift?  We saw it in the first two chapters of this letter.  In all likelihood it was the result of Jewish Christians who had come to Galatia and who undermined his ministry, uttering false charges against Paul and many of the Galatians believed Pauls critics, and the relationship that had begun on such a high note, began to sour.

            And in response to the rift, Paul gets personal. Very personal.  He bears his soul to the Galatians.  He pulls back the curtain and gives us a peek into his heart, and as we reflect on this passage I want us to note three things.  First, note Pauls humility.  Verse twelve,

 

            Friends, I beg of you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.

 

            At first glance this doesnt sound very humble.  It sounds downright arrogant.  It appears as if Paul is setting himself up as a paragon of conduct to be copied by them.  Shouldnt he have encouraged them to become like Christ, not him?  Sounds like Paul is pretty full of himself.  We need, however, to remember the context of this statement.  We need to remember everything that has come before. The point is not that he, Paul, is a model to be followed in all things.  Rather he argues that his acceptance of Gods grace in Christ was in effect like becoming a Gentile.  He no longer stood under the suppression of the law.  He became one of them.  He began to live like a Gentile and not a Jew, and he urges the Gentiles in Galatia to follow him, to leave behind the enticement of circumcision and choose freedom as Gods children.  I beg of you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.

            I beg of you, he said. I looked up the definition of begging.  It means asking someone earnestly and humbly for something.  Often pride gets in the way of our doing such a thing.  When Dr. Howard Lindquist was a young pastor, he visited the home of elderly woman.  At one point during the conversation she took a big sigh and asked, Young man, has anyone ever told you how wonderful you are? 

            Feigning modesty as best as he could, Lindquist smiled and answered, Why, no!

            Whereupon the woman said, Then where did you ever get that idea?

            Ouch.  Paul isnt saying that hes wonderful here.  Hes saying Christ and his grace is wonderful.  Become as Paul is.  A person who wallows in the grace of God and no longer is a slave to the law.  He begs the Galatians, earnestly and humbly asking them, to join him in this venture. 

            Second, note that limitations arent necessarily limiting. 

            As already indicated, we do not know what Pauls affliction happened to be when he came to Galatia, yet that limitation did not limit his impact on the Galatians.  Maybe it had to do with how Paul handled his affliction.  He handled it in such a manner that his limitation somehow became an asset. You received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. (v.14).

            I know most women here find that difficult to believe.  Its a stretch to think of a male who handles illness well.  A woman named Leanne is fascinated by how, at the first sign of a cold, her husband, Ed, a former Marine hardened by four overseas deployments, turns from a warrior to what she calls wimp."  She says, My husband's been to war four times, and a simple head cold takes him down for the count," she said.

            There is a relatively new term for it. Maybe you have heard it man-cold. Its the same cold a woman would get, but for a man its a far more serious ailment. One woman put it this way, It seems when my husband gets sick the world ends and when I get sick its, Whats for dinner?’”

            So, I know its difficult for some here to believe that Paul may have handled his illness in a Christlike, courageous manner, but suppose he did. Suppose he did not allow his limitation to be limiting.  I think of a woman named Lizzie Johnson in this regard. 

            Lizzie Johnson injured her back in an accident, and she spent the rest of her life, twenty-seven more years, flat on her back, but she still wanted to do something with her life, so when she heard that you could free an African slave for $40, she made a quilt and tried to sell it for $40. Nobody would buy it. So she turned to making bookmarks, and she raised $1,000 a year for each of the 27 years remaining in her life. She gave every penny to free African slaves and other missionary causes.

            Back to the quilt. One day a bishop from India was traveling through Illinois and she gave him the quilt. He took that quilt with him on his speaking tour around the country, and he told the story of Lizzie Johnson. Then he asked people if they would place an offering for missions in the quilt. He raised $100,000 for missions.

            Limitations are not necessarily limiting.

            One more thing to note about Paul this morning.  We can be both tough and tender. 

          St Paul reminds me of another saint, St. Vincent.  Well, not totally.  Maybe you saw the movie last year. You wont see it mentioned on the Academy Awards show tonight, even though it was my favorite movie of the past year.  Vincent is played by Bill Murray who is the the quintessential get off my lawn neighbor.  Hes gruff, tough, often crude, so much so that you sort of cringe at the beginning thinking, How could anyone be this awful?  As the movie unfolds, however, you discover his softer side.  You see him visiting his wife, who is in an Alzheimers facility.  He lives in a dump, but he makes sure she has the best care possible.  You see him befriend his ten year old neighbor boy, and become such a good friend to the boy that the boy nominates Vincent as a saint among us, an assignment from his teacher in school.  Its an endearing, touching movie.

            Paul comes off somewhat like St Vincent.  At the beginning of this letter Paul has been tough and the mood has been argumentative, with the apostle using his authority to get the Galatians back on track.  In these verses this morning the mood changes.  Its not an appeal based on theology or authority, it is an appeal from the heart.  Here, in this passage, he is as tender and vulnerable as we will ever see him.  He likens himself to a mother concerned about her children.  He says things like, I beg of you my little children Im perplexed about you.

            Funny, in our family Trudy worries about the kids, I worry about everything else.  Whats happening in our kids lives, especially when things are tough for them, keeps Trudy up at night.  Not me.  I just know they will be OK.  Now, I worry about just everything else, but in our family there is something special about a mothers love and concern for her children, so when Paul likens himself to a mother caring for her children, well thats a lot of love a lot to concern. 

            As I look back on life I have discovered that I have great respect for people who are tough, who stand up for what the believe, who have the courage to speak their mind, but I also realize I love those people who are tender.  Both are important.  Tough and tender, its an important balance to attain in life, and when we say our prayers tonight or tomorrow morning I suggest we ask God a little question.  I suggest we ask God, God, as you look at my life where do I need to grow?  Do I need to get tougher with those around me, or more tender?  Gods answer may surprise us.  Amen.