Teaching series from Galatians

Maturing In God's Family

Galatians 4:12-20

Teaching t20283


Galatians is primarily an argument for God’s grace and against legalism.  But in 4:12-20, Paul suddenly shifts from theological argument to an extremely personal appeal (read).  From this passage we gain two important insights:

First, we get insight into Paul’s relationship with the Galatians.  The occasion of Paul’s first visit was an illness—evidently a serious eye condition.  He may have contracted malaria or opthalmia while he was in the coastal lowlands—so he evidently decided to go into the highlands to get relief.  His eye condition was so unsightly that he expected the Galatians to be grossed out, or even conclude that he was under the judgment of the gods.  But instead, Paul’s message of God’s grace struck them so deeply that they honored and cared for him as the messenger of God that he was.  But later the Judaizers turned them against Paul.  While Paul was motivated out of sincere love to speak the truth to them, the Judaizers were motivated by the selfish desire to gain a following—and they evidently slandered Paul’s character to turn the Galatians against him.  Paul thus has to (from long distance) defend not only his message, but also his character and motives toward them.

God’s new family

We also get insight into how Christians should relate to one another.  Notice the terms Paul uses to describe the Galatians—they are his “brothers” (4:12) and “my dear children” (4:19).  These are family terms, and they are connected to the paragraph we studied last week.  In 4:5-7, Paul says that God sent Jesus to die for our sins so that he could adopt us as his sons/children.  When we receive Jesus’ forgiveness, God gives us his Spirit who enables us to relate to him in a personal way, like a child relating to his father who deeply loves him.  But this adoption also makes us brothers and sisters in God’s new family.  God’s Spirit, who forges this personal and spiritual bond with God so that we become his children, also forges a personal and spiritual bond with other Christians so that we become brothers and sisters.  Now what?  Now we are to mature in God’s family, and to help one another to mature into spiritual adults.  That’s what Paul is doing (4:19).  Spiritual maturity is becoming more like Jesus in our mental, emotional and moral lives—for our own good, to honor Jesus, and so that others will see how real and good Jesus is and decide to join God’s new family.

Paul felt this responsibility toward the Galatians, and toward all of the Christians to whom he related (Col.1:28).  But this is not just the responsibility of Christian leaders; it is a responsibility that we all have toward one another (read Eph.4:12-15).  Christian leaders aren’t the only ones responsible to mature other Christians—they are to equip other Christians so that they can help one another mature.

If you have received Christ, the question is not whether or not you belong to God’s family—you are forever.  The question is: Will you let others help you to mature and help others to mature, or will you be an isolated spiritual consumer?  It’s difficult to exaggerate how important this decision is.  It will have a huge impact on you, on your family, and on people who don’t know Christ.  Most American churches fail to expand God’s family because non-Christians don’t see any (healthy) difference between them and the Christians.  This is because the leaders don’t equip and expect their members to become good family members, and because the members remain isolated spiritual consumers instead of responsible family members.

The leadership of this church is committed to equipping you to be a responsible member of God’s family.  Are you committed to become one?  Do you come here once a week to consume spiritual food, and then live the rest of the week isolated from your brothers and sisters?  Or are have you committed yourself to a smaller family of brothers and sisters who are committed to help one another mature?  (EXPLAIN HOW TO GET IN A HOME GROUP)

How can we help one another mature?

Let’s say you decide you want to become a responsible family member.  How can we help one another mature?  Most of us didn’t grow up in healthy families, so we don’t know what this looks like.  This passage (and some other passages) gives us three practical ways to do this.

When Paul speaks of telling them the truth (4:16), he isn’t saying that he was honest rather than a liar (though he was honest).  He means that he told them the truth from God’s Word.  He shared God’s Word with them (both initially and in this letter), because he knew that spiritual maturity requires mental renewal—learning to think the way God thinks about every major area of life (Rom.12:2).  We learn to think the way God thinks by learning God’s Word.

That’s why getting solid, regular Bible teaching is so important.  Of course, most of us are not formal Bible teachers.  But just as important are brothers and sisters informally sharing God’s Word with one another as it pertains to our current situations.  So the first way to be a responsible family member is to share God’s Word with one another.  Col.3:16 says that the word of Christ should dwell richly among us—that is, our interaction with one another should be rich in sharing God’s Word with one another in this informal way.  That’s what he means by “teaching... one anotherwith wisdom”—not formal instruction, but informally helping one another learn and apply God’s Word as it applies to our current situations.

EXAMPLES: spontaneous discussions with my room-mates during college; Fish House; my runs with fellow-workers; meals; meeting weekly to discuss Bible readings with 3 friends; conversations immediately after teachings

You can do this!  You just need to be intentional about it.  Ask someone to get together regularly to do this.  Incorporate it into your regular activities (e.g., running).  Initiate a conversation after a teaching.  This contributes greatly to the “environment of truth” in which we mature spiritually.1  You will be amazed how much more quickly you learn God’s Word and mature—and you will be humbled and gratified to see how much you help others to mature in Christ!

In 4:12, Paul reminds them of the way he related to them when he was with them (read).  He didn’t just hold Bible lectures at the local synagogue and expect these Gentiles to become like him.  He says he became like them, so that they could become like him.  In other words, he got involved in their worlds, he learned about their lives, he put himself in their shoes—not so that he could believe what they believed or live the way they lived, but so that they could see through him that God cares about them and that God’s way of life is something that they want.  He opened his heart to them—he let them get close enough that he was affected emotionally by their spiritual welfare.  He rejoiced when they flourished spiritually, and he became agonized when they went astray (4:19).  Paul describes this more fully in 1 Thess.2:7,8 (read).  Like a mother, he was personally concerned for their spiritual welfare, and he expressed his affection for them.  In a word, he opened his heart to them—and they responded by opening their hearts to him.

My guess is that this did not come naturally to Paul—he was a highly functional, highly intellectual person by nature, not warm and empathetic and affectionate and emotionally vulnerable.  He had to decide to learn to relate to people in this way, because he knew it was an important part of helping people mature in Christ.  And he had to let others relate to him in this way for the same reason. 

And what Paul learned, we can also learn.  If you want to become a responsible family member, you must open your hearts to one another.  That’s why he says Rom.12:10,15 NLT (read).  As members of God’s family, we should decide we’re going to invest in our brothers and sisters until we feel real affection—and express it to them.  We should decide to get close enough to them that we feel delight when they flourish spiritually, and we feel real sadness (for them) when they stumble and fall.  God will help you learn to open your heart in this way—but you have to decide you want to learn it, and you have to practice it even when it doesn’t feel natural.

I think this is the biggest challenge for me in this whole area.  I’d rather just instruct and admonish.  I don’t naturally like opening my heart to others.  It makes me feel vulnerable to get that close to people, and to let them get that close to me.  I’ve been hurt by doing this before.  It takes a deliberate choice to relate in this way.  Yet when I open my heart to others, I find that somehow this opens my heart to experience God’s love—I feel closer to God and I feel more alive.  Conversely, when I keep my heart closed off from my brothers and sisters, my own soul’s experience of God’s love dries up and I feel distant and out of touch with him.  You will find the same thing in your life...

This passage teaches us one more way to help one another to mature.  Paul is admonishing them.  This whole letter is an admonition, correcting them for believing the Judaizers and warning them to turn away from them back to God’s truth.  You can see Paul admonishing them in this passage (read 4:16,17).  He is saying: “Why are you pushing me away because I correct you with God’s Word?  Don’t follow those guys—they don’t really care about you, they just want to use you.”  Paul had done nothing wrong to the Galatians—yet they had criticized him and accused him of being an unprincipled, self-seeking man-pleaser.  He could have simply said: “I don’t need this—I’ve got lots of other people who respect me and want to hear what I say.”  Yet he moved toward them and risked more hurt and rejection because he was more committed to their maturity than he was to his relational comfort.  He was willing to admonish them because they were headed down a path that would hurt them.  He couldn’t stop them from going down that path, but he had to try to warn them for their good.  This is why Paul included challenge and correction in all of his relationships with Christians (read and explain 1Thess.2:11,12).

But it isn’t just the leaders’ job to do this—we need to admonish one another.  Remember Col.3:16?  We are to share God’s truth with one another—which involves both teaching one another and admonishing one another. 

This way of helping one another mature is probably the most foreign to most of us.  Very few of us grew up in families that practiced wise admonition for our good.  Instead, most of us experienced either no correction or angry outbursts that were not calculated to help us.  Plus, we all have a fallen nature that is prideful and self-protective.  Therefore, most of us feel very aversive to being admonished or admonishing others.

But it is so important!  I owe so much to the brothers and sisters who have loved me enough to admonish me!  I hate to think where I would be today without their wise and loving correction.  My character flaws would have ruined my life and dishonored Christ.  I likely would have lost my marriage and alienated all kinds of people because of my arrogance.  I would not have fulfilled even a fraction of my potential for serving Christ.  And I never would have learned the importance of loving others in this way.

If you want to mature into someone who represents Christ effectively, you must be willing to receive admonition from your brothers and sisters, and you have to be willing give it to them when they need it.  And when you do this, you will discover something wonderful.  Our feathers may get ruffled, but most of us learn from admonition and grow.  We may make mistakes and need to apologize, but we learn how to be more effective in this key family skill.  And while some of our relationships will end over this, most of our relationships will get better and deeper because of this.  And most importantly, we will help one another become more like Christ and represent him more accurately—which is the whole point!

I asked Phil Franck and Mike Saiia to come up and talk about Mike’s experience in this ...


SUMMARIZE—do you want to mature and help others mature?

Do you want to become a member of God’s family?  Explain Jn.1:12.

NEXT WEEK: Gal.4:21-5:15 – What Is Christian Freedom?

1 “Those who set (aside) time for enriching discussions on issues, on the things of God, will rediscover the joy of truth.  They will bring new depth of personal fulfillment to their lives.  We need to bring long chats back into our schedules, allowing significant slots of time for truth-related discussions.  Truth is one of the richest aspects of the Christian life and so should be one of the richest aspects of Christian fellowship.”  Ajith Fernando, Reclaining Friendship (Scottsdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1993), p.29.