Studies in Galatians: 4:12-20

Paul’s ministry was always very personal. He had a deep affection and care for those to whom he ministered. In a day and age when ministry is often pre-packaged and sold as one-size-fits-all approach, Paul understood the importance of personal, vulnerable, and affectionate ministry. While the larger letter focuses on the nature of the gospel itself, this section highlights the nature of true gospel ministry. True gospel ministry is deeply personal.

Paul understand gospel ministry requires vulnerability. When we communicate the gospel we are also communicate something of ourselves, of our own heart, our own experience of this life-changing truth. Paul says that he wishes the Galatians would “become as I am” (v. 12). The Galatians know him. His story parallels their own. Paul was zealous for the law, a devout advocate of Old Covenant and rituals and rules of it. But, he experienced freedom from all of that in Christ. He is changed. His life is a testimony to the power of the gospel. When we communicate the truths of Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection for our justification, we are not merely stating facts. We are pointing to the life-changing power of these facts in ourselves. Christ has changed us and telling that story, living that story out, is part of our gospel ministry. Paul knows the personal and vulnerable aspects of this ministry.

He also notes the contextual aspect of this gospel ministry. He states that “I have become as you are” (v. 12). Paul was willing to become like these Gentile Galatians in order that they might hear the gospel. He sacrificed his rights and cultural practices in order to accommodate their needs. The gospel is always true for every culture, and yet the ways we communicate that universal truth requires cultural and contextual sensitivity. Paul understood this when he told the Corinthians:

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

He was prepared to communicate the gospel in ways that were clear to whomever he was talking. He did this always, of course, without altering the message itself. The gospel itself never changes, but the way we communicate it must always adapt to the context in which we speak. Gospel ministry is flexible and adaptable to all peoples, everywhere, at all times.

Paul also demonstrates the true gospel ministry works through hardships. Paul’s own personal hardships are discussed here. His “bodily ailment (v. 13) was an occasions for gospel proclamation. It actually opened doors of communication and endeared him to the Galatians (v. 14-15). True gospel ministry sees hardships as opportunities, not impediments to the ministry. As Tim Keller says, “Problems become possibilities” (Galatians For You, 110). If the cross itself, the greatest hardship that ever was, is the means of our salvation then our hardships can become means of communicating its truthfulness and impact. True gospel ministry doesn’t shy away from difficulties, but seizes them to promote the truth of the cross.

Finally, Paul demonstrates that true gospel ministry has the goal of spiritual formation. He contrasts, in the remaining verses, the goal of the false teachers and his personal goal for the Galatians. The false teachers seek self-promotion. Paul says it this way:

They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. (v. 17)

Paul, in contrast, is seeking that “Christ is formed” in them (v. 19). This is the ultimate goal, spiritual formation and conformity to the image of Christ. True gospel ministry is not about the minister but about the formation of spiritual disciples of Christ. This requires sincere investment in individuals, no program of formula can do this.

In all of this discussion we note the personal nature of true gospel ministry. It requires much of us who would serve and evangelize. It requires us to know others, care about them, and invest in them. It requires that our gospel ministry be part of who we are not simply a job or a duty. Paul models this well for us. As he spells out the true gospel he also spells out the true gospel ministry and invites us into self-evaluation. Do your methods and approaches to sharing the gospel call you to share yourself, to know and love others? If they don’t you need to reevaluate your approach. There is no program for spiritual formation, it requires personal care and discipleship. Like salvation itself, true gospel ministry must be personal.

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