Teaching series from Galatians

Maturing in God's Family

Galatians 4:12-20

Teaching t12627


Brief review of setting (MAP). In most of Galatians, Paul argues for God’s grace and against legalism. But in 4:12-20, he suddenly shifts from theological argument to an extremely personal appeal (read).

This passage provides 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 (chronic eye infection) 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 the Galatians could have been repelled, or even could have concluded 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 now the Judaizers, motivated by a selfish desire to gain a following, have 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 – for their spiritual welfare.

This passage also provides insight (through Paul’s example) 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 previous passages we studied the last two weeks.

Read 4:5,6. God sent Jesus to die for our sins so that He could adopt us as His sons/children. When you get adopted into God’s family, He gives you His Spirit who enables you to relate to Him in a personal way, like a child relating to his father who deeply loves him. But unlike child adoption in our culture, which relies almost entirely on the adopting parents’ decision, we can and must choose to respond to God’s adoptive initiative by personally receiving Christ (read Jn.1:12). Have you made this decision?

This adoption also makes us members of God’s new family (read 3:26,28). God’s Spirit, who forges this bond with God when we become His children, also forges a bond with other Christians so that we become brothers and sisters. Now what? Now we are to mature in God’s family – to help one another to develop into spiritual adults – people who are increasingly Christ-like in character and values.

Paul felt this responsibility toward the Galatians as his brethren and spiritual children, and toward all of the Christians to whom he related (read 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.4:14a,15,16). Just as every member in a physical body must participate for that body to grow and mature, so each of us must participate in the family of God if we are to grow and mature. If you have received Christ, the question is not: “Do you belong to God’s family?” (You do, forever), but rather: Will you be vitally involved in God’s family, or will you be an isolated spiritual consumer? It is difficult to exaggerate how important this decision is. It will have a huge impact on you, on your marriage and children, on other Christian brothers and sisters, and on people who don’t yet know Christ.

This church is committed to help you mature in God’s family. This is why we are not a large-meeting church that has home groups, but that we are a home group-based church that also has large meetings. Why? Because the family of God can become a personal reality only in such communities. 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 to help one another mature? (EXPLAIN HOW TO GET IN A HOME GROUP)

Let’s say that you have decided to become a responsible family member and have joined a home group. How can we help one another mature spiritually in this context? Paul models two key ways to do this...

Personal investment & vulnerability

This paragraph demonstrates Paul’s personal investment and vulnerability with the Galatian Christians. You can see this most clearly in 4:19 (read), where Paul calls them “my children” and refers to his past and present motherly concern for their spiritual well-being. This is probably what he referring to in 4:12a (read). Literally, Paul says: “I beg of you, brethren, be like me, as I (have become) like you.” He seems to be appealing to the Galatians to reciprocate the warmth and affection he has always had toward them. He expressed a similar request to the Corinthians when they were estranged from him (2Cor.6:11,13). Paul’s involvement with converts was not only biblical instruction; he got involved with them enough that he was affected emotionally by their spiritual welfare. He rejoiced when they flourished spiritually, and he became agonized when they were in peril.

Paul describes his relationship with the Thessalonian Christians along these same lines (read 1 Thess.2:7,8). Like a mother, he expressed his affection for them and gave himself to them. (When I read these passages the first time, I was embarrassed for Paul. Now I am embarrassed for me!)

I don’t think that this came naturally to Paul – he was by nature a highly functional and self-sufficient person, not empathetic and affectionate and emotionally vulnerable. He had to decide to let God teach him to relate to people in this way, because he knew it was essential to helping others mature in Christ. And he let others relate to him in this way for the same reason.

And what Paul learned, we can learn. That’s why he prescribes Rom.12:10,15 (read NLT). As members of God’s family, we don’t have to wait until we feel affection to invest; we can choose to invest until we feel real affection. We don’t have to wait until we feel emotionally affected by their good or ill condition to express empathy; we can choose to express empathy, and we will eventually come to feel it more. We don’t have to wait until we feel comfortable being vulnerable to Christian friends (weaknesses, fears, dreams, disappointments, doubts, etc.); we can choose to do this until it feels helpful.

I hear three common objections to this mandate, and they are formidable – but God can help us to overcome each one of them.

“I don’t have enough in common with these people.” “In common” means natural affinity (i.e., age, background, marital status, hobby interest, etc.). This is a bonus, not a requirement. We have the most important thing in common (Jesus), so we should invest in the brothers and sisters God has put into our lives. When we do this, we find that although we would not naturally know (or have wanted to know) one another apart from Christ, we have built a deeper unity with them that demonstrates the reality of Jesus in our midst (OUR HOME CHURCH).

“I don’t have time for this.” It definitely takes time to do this – time to meet together in various contexts (CT; home group; cell group; one-on-one). Some things will definitely have to be reduced or sacrificed (TV series/movies; shopping; hobbies). But God will give us the time for this of we ask Him. And there is a richness in this way of life that far surpasses a life of entertainment or “playing church.” And this kind of investment is what enables us to be effective at home and at work.

“I don’t want to get hurt again.” Many of us have been hurt in dysfunctional families, and vowed to ourselves to never let anyone get close enough to hurt us again. Some of us have been hurt by Christian friends (disappointed, unfairly criticized, even betrayed). I’ve been hurt by doing this before. But we have God’s sufficient and reliable love available to us now. And when we decide to open our hearts to others, somehow this opens our hearts to experience more of God’s love – which gradually heals our hurts. Besides, self-protectiveness exacts a terrible price.

So if we are willing to trust God’s wisdom and provision, we can overcome these objections and embrace this kind of personal investment as a way of life. If you do this, you will eventually need to learn the second key Paul models in this passage...

Engagement in constructive conflict

Read 4:16,17. Paul is willing to engage in constructive conflict with the Galatians. This whole letter is Paul doing this – correcting them and warning them to turn away from the Judaizers’ teaching back to God’s truth. Here, 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 faithfully served the Galatians – yet they were criticizing him and accusing him of being an unprincipled man-pleaser. He could have gone ballistic. 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 have conflict with 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. Paul did this when needed in all of his Christian relationships (see Acts 20:20a,31b).

But it isn’t just leaders’ job to do this – we all need to engage in constructive conflict with one another when necessary. Jesus commands us to reprove one another when we’re in sin (Matt.18:15,16). Paul tells us to admonish (warn; correct) one another with God’s Word (Col.3:16). We all go astray at times, we all get blind and stubborn, so we all need brothers and sisters who will fight for us by fighting with us in this way.

I owe so much to the brothers and sisters who have loved me enough to do this! I hate to think where I would be today if they hadn’t done this. 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.

Unwillingness to engage in constructive conflict is all it takes to kill a home group. A silent “Don’t ask; don’t tell” conspiracy develops. Healthy closeness becomes impossible. Instead of maturing, people get stuck in their sins and drown because no one cared enough to try to rescue them.

We need more home group members who are willing to do this. What holds you back from this key aspect of Christian family life?

“I’m not involved enough with others to see when this is needed.” Then focus on the first key for now.

“I feel incompetent to do this.” Learn the biblical principles involved (Loving God’s Way: “Admonish One Another”). Ask for advice. If you are willing to wade in there, God will show you the step you need to take. Better to make a mistake trying and apologize than not to try.

“I fear losing the relationship over this.” God will never reject you, and He will uphold you as you do this. And although some of your relationships may end over this, many of them will get better and deeper because of this.

“I don’t want the discomfort that this will cause me.” The loneliness of isolation brings its own debilitating discomfort. God will empower and bless you as you repent from this, which is far better than no discomfort!


Don’t settle for perpetual immaturity through spiritual consumerism! Take the step God is showing you to mature in His family. He will enrich your life in ways you never thought were possible!

SUMMARIZE: Let’s discuss further how we can help one another mature in God’s family.

“He may simply mean, ‘Be... as loving with me as I have always been with you.’ Either way, it is clearly a personal appeal to the Galatians to resume their old friendly relations with Paul which have apparently been ruptured by the work of the Judaizers.” Cole, R. A. (1989). Galatians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 9, p. 167). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. “I beg of you, brethren...” likewise expresses affectionate pleading.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it careful round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from the dangers of love . . . is Hell.” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.