It is possible to go through life without a single disappointment! Do you want to know how that can be accomplished? Simple – go through life without a single expectation! However, understand that this is not a real recommendation. Life would be entirely too miserable to bear without some expectations and the joy of seeing them fulfilled. Paul had expectations for his Christian friends in the regions of Galatia, but they failed to live up to their potential as believers. Today's focus passage documents his disappointment and the steps that would have to be taken to see their potential fulfilled.
First, notice the depth of his disappointment. “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.” (Galatians 4.19-20). So severe were the pains of his disappointment that he likened his discomfort to that of a woman during childbirth. This was no minor matter for him; it struck a real nerve with Paul and caused him genuine and prolonged sorrow.
Some background is in order. Paul had personally declared the gospel to the folks in the region of Galatia, but that in and of itself was not adequate to prevent their apostasy. In the first chapter of his epistle, he wrote, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1.6-7). It was this fact, the fact that their belief had been made possible by his preaching that caused him to talk about laboring in birth again. The first time had been the time of their conversion under Paul's hand. Now, a second time of hardship had come, and one which was entirely unnecessary.
Had he been able see the Galatian believers face to face, Paul stated that his demeanor would be different than it had been previously. Specifically, he wrote, “I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone.” However he had spoken before, he wished that he could see them and speak in a different manner now. The reason he gave was straightforward: “I have doubts about you.” Literally, Paul was saying, “I don't know which way to turn regarding your situation.” He was perplexed beyond explanation or understanding. He could not fathom their failure in the matter. They had the ability and the opportunity, but had failed to capitalize on it. Such was the cause of Paul's great disappointment.
Paul clearly set forth the remedy for the Galatians' plight and the remedy for his own disappointment. He would remain in such straits until such time as “Christ is formed in you [the Galatians].” The goal of every believer should be to become more and more Christlike with each passing day. It should be the common hope of the believer that others can see Christ living within. This goal is in keeping with Paul's previous affirmation: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2.20). Paul knew that such a transition would not be immediate, but he also knew that it was essential. Gradual growth could always be anticipated, but the Galatians had failed even that expectation.
Now to an application of the principles of the focus text. As believers, others have a legitimate right to expect us to grow. In fact, we are commanded to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3.18). When we fail to grow, we disappoint others and become a point of discouragement rather than encouragement. God expects it of us; can we do or expect any less?
1. What figure did Paul use to describe the bitterness of his disappointment in the Galatians?
2. What remedy did he offer for them to be recovered from their present spiritual condition?
3. How is Christ formed in us (see Romans 12.1-2)?
4. What effect do we have on others when we fail to grow as we have been commanded?
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