Because of their Loss of Joy. Page 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on Galatians)
by John Lowe
14 And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
“And my temptation which was in my flesh” means the trial, which elsewhere he calls his thorn in the flesh.
“As an angel of God” means as a heaven-inspired and sent messenger from God: angel means messenger (Mal. 2.7 ). It is a Hebrew and Oriental phrase for a person to be received with the highest respect (Zech. 12.8 ). An angel is free from the flesh, infirmity, and temptation.
“As Christ” means as Christ’s representative (Matt. 10.40 ). Christ is Lord of angels.
The cordial reception Paul had enjoyed on his first visit to Galatia was made all the more gratifying in view of his physical illness. Since physical illness was regarded as God’s punishment for sins, it would have been natural for the Galatians to conclude that he was an angel, not of God, but of Satan. Paul does not tell us whether his disease was malaria, epilepsy, migraine, eye trouble, or some other malady, and the difficulty of diagnosing the case of a living patient should warn us of the futility of attempting it for one who has been dead almost two thousand years. All the meager data tells us is that Paul’s affliction was chronic, very painful, repulsive, and humiliating; but it did not disable him completely or keep him from leading an intensely active life. It is more to the point to observe what Paul made of his handicap (2 Cor. 1.3-11; 4.16-5.15; 12.1-10; Rom. 8.18-39).
Whether the attacks continued throughout the period of Acts 13-14, we do not know; but they were frequent enough to make a lasting impression on the Galatians. His sickness created an opportunity for them to think lightly of him and reject him. However, they did not reject or despise him, like they would one they suspected of having an evil spirit. Paul’s condition, as taxing and frustrating as it was to himself and his friends, did not prevent the Spirit of God from shining in him and through him, and it allowed Christ’s compassion to flow through the Galatians into his life. They treated him as one would treat an angel, or even as they would treat Christ himself. It is a wonderful thing when people accept God’s servants, not because of their outward appearance, but because they represent the Lord and bring His message.
15 Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.
They had received Paul with joy, congratulating themselves that the apostle had preached in their midst. Their appreciation knew no limits; they would even been willing to sacrifice their own eyes for Paul. Now Paul asks them, “What has happened to that love? What has happened to the blessedness—the happiness—you experienced when you heard the Gospel and trusted Christ?” Of course, Paul knew what happened; the Judaizers had come in and stolen their hearts.
The word “blessedness” has been rendered satisfaction in the RSV and it describes the sense of total well-being which Paul’s presence and preaching brought to the Galatians. In their joyful gratitude they did all they could to alleviate his condition; they would have given him their very eyes, but there was a physical limit to their range of vicarious suffering. As far as possible, he and his Galatian friends were bearing each other’s burdens, but some things each had to bear for himself.
To every saint and sinner who has prayed for the removal of some thorn, let Paul speak his word of wisdom (2 Cor. 12.7 ). He prayed three times, he tells us, for the removal of his thorn, because he thought it hindered his work. It worried him and it humiliated him. It perhaps irritated his faith and disturbed his Christian work. It seems that Christ did not answer to his satisfaction. Why would He not answer the prayer of his faithful servant? The reason may be that there is a health that hardens, and a prosperity that makes people unkind. Defeat, illness, bankruptcy, broken friendships may be the weakness through which God’s strength is made perfect. “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor. 12.9). His grace is divine kindness in action. Grace is the power of God meeting a human soul, and redeeming it, including the handling of its infirmities and thorns.
One of the marks of a false teacher is that he tries to attract other men’s converts to himself, and not simply to the truth of the Word or to the person of Jesus Christ. It was not the Judaizers who originally came to Galatia and led them to Christ; it was Paul. Like the cultists today, these false teachers were not winning lost sinners to Christ, but were stealing converts from those who were truly serving the Lord. Paul had proved to be their loving friend. He had “become as they were” by identifying himself with them (v.12). Now they were turning away from Paul and following false shepherds.
Paul told them the truth, but the Judaizers told them lies. Paul sought to glorify Christ, but the Judaizers glorified themselves and their converts. “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” (Gal. 4.17; NIV).
A true servant of God does not “use people to build himself up or his work; he ministers in love to help people know Christ better and glorify Him. Beware of that religious worker who wants your exclusive allegiance because he is the only one who is right. He will use you as long as he can then drop you for somebody else—and your fall will be a painful one. The task of a spiritual leader is to get people to love and follow Christ, not to promote himself and his ministry.
I’ll go out on a limb here and say that probably Paul’s thorn in the flesh was some sort of eye trouble (Gal. 6.11 ), and it evidentially made him very unattractive. I can’t imagine them wanting to pluck out their eyes if what he really needed was another leg. Apparently Paul had an eye disease which is common in that land and is characterized by excessive pus that runs out of the eyes. You can well understand how unattractive that would be to look at while he was ministering to them. Paul says, “You just ignored it, and received me so wonderfully when I preached the Gospel to you.”
16 Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?
Here is Paul’s answer to the question he asked in the previous verse. Paul exclaims, “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Or better yet, “So, by telling you the truth, I have become your enemy!” He had to tell the truth even at the risk of making enemies, but this very compulsion may lead to religious controversy and threaten Christian harmony.
How fickle were these Galatians! They were turning against the Lord, the Gospel of Grace, and the messenger who brought them the news of justification by faith.
Unless counteracted, the effect of this controversy upon the fellowship would be as shattering as the religious convictions of both sides were sincere and deep-seated. There were perhaps three ways to approach this situation. First, there was the tolerant attitude which might have said, “My religion is the best for me, yours is the best for you; let’s not try to convert each other;” but that would have put the Christian missionary enterprise to sleep. A second approach is intolerance which would say something like this: “Since error is sin against God, religious liberty does not include freedom to err; therefore, we who have the truth have the right and duty to prevent you from believing and propagating anything contrary to my gospel.” Paul’s solution was neither of these; it is found in what he said in 1 Corinthians 3.21-23 ; he would test all things and hold fast to all that harmonized with his principal of salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ. But although the range of things that met this test was wide enough for eternity (Rom 8.32 ), the stress caused by the differences in interpretation of the one Gospel caused Paul to write “Anathema,” and led his spiritual children to sometimes call him their enemy. But the Galatians preserved this letter; and from that fact we may infer that the constructive love of Christ proved stronger than the corrosive effect of religious controversy.