This week our lesson focuses on Paul's injunction to the Galatians: "Friends, I beg you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are" Galatians 4:12.
For perspective, let's review briefly where our study has taken us thus far.
One gets the feeling in reading the opening chapter of Galatians that Paul was so anxious to get to the point of his letter that he skipped the usual commendations and after a brief salutation, he jumped into the topic at hand. The Galatian brethren, for whom he had labored in bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, had quickly turned away from the precious truth of righteousness by faith and reverted to a more comfortable religion that consists of conformity to certain outward constraints and ceremonies but frees the believer to live a life devoted to self under the guise of Christianity.
Identification with Christ in the crucifixion of self is no pleasant task to the natural heart. The Galatians figured that out. They found a more familiar path. Like a dog returning to its vomit (cf 2 Peter 2:21, 22), the Galatians returned to their life of rules—and exceptions—which they rationalized in light of their self-invented law-keeping. To Paul, obtaining assurance of salvation from keeping any law, whether moral or ceremonial, signaled a departure from the gospel of Jesus Christ and was evidenced by a return to "the weakand beggarly elements" of observing pagan holidays and rituals (Galatians 4:9, 10).
How did this happen?
After the Galatians had been converted by Paul's preaching of the cross, "the Pharisees which believed, knowing nothing of true faith and freedom which Christ gives, had come among the Galatians, with their perverted gospel, which was not the gospel at all, had confused them, and turned them from faith to works; from the Spirit to the flesh, as the means of justification, and the hope of salvation" (Studies in the Book of Galatians, A.T. Jones, p. 117).
The Galatians had lost their first love. "Righteousness by faith, true justification by faith, is righteousness and justification by divine, ever-living, present faith, 'and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.’”
"While the Galatians enjoyed this blessedness, its fruit appeared in the love which they showed to Paul. This love was the very self-sacrificing love of Christ--the abundant love of God shed abroad indeed in the heart, by the Spirit which they had received. Seeing the apostle in need of eyes, they would gladly have plucked out their own and given them to him, if such a thing could have been done.”
"But now, what a change! From that height of blessedness they are driven back into such a condition that he is obliged to appeal to them: 'Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?'”
"And this is yet the mark of the Galatian, wherever he may be—the mark of the man professing Christianity, but who is not justified by faith, who has not the righteousness of God which is by the faith of Jesus Christ. Whoever tells him the truth, in that becomes his enemy, and is so counted by him. This because he does 'not obey the truth:' he is not in the way of truth; he does not know the truth. Therefore, truth can not be to him the sole standard and the supreme test: only himself in his own personal preferences and ambitions, and his own self-righteousness, can be the standard. And whoever tells him the truth, especially if it be unpleasant, is counted as making a personal attack on him, and is therefore counted only an enemy.”
"But the man who is the Christian, who is, indeed and in truth, justified by faith of Jesus Christ; who lives by the faith of Jesus Christ; who is righteous only by the faith of Christ, and the righteousness of God, which is by faith—such a one will always count as his friend, or his brother, the one who tells him the truth. However far it may show him himself to be wrong, however directly he himself may be involved, yet he will thankfully receive the truth, whatever it may be, however it may come, and by whomsoever it may be told to him. This, because the truth is his whole and his only salvation. It is the truth which makes him free" (ibid., pp. 119, 120).
The Galatians had lost true faith and returned to works as a way of salvation, and it was this loss that caused Paul to plead with them as would a mother for her lost children.
When Paul had first won the Galatians to Christ, he did so by identifying with them in their occupations, their heartaches, their trials, their triumphs. He allowed Christ to love them through him until his own thoughts and feelings were toward them as if they were his own family.
Now Paul is pleading with them to return to Christ and to follow his own example and "become as I am."
To the worldly-minded, the life of service to which Paul was committed may seem undesirable.
Become as he was? What, exactly, would that entail?
Paul says, "To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now (1 Corinthians 4:11-13).
To the Corinthians as to the Galatians, Paul says, "Therefore I urge you, imitate me" (1 Corinthians 4:16).
The flesh seeks an easier way, a softer path.
Unrelentingly, Paul insists: "Become as I am." He experienced what it means to be "crucified with Christ," which freed him from self-concern. His life was bound up with the mission of Christ, "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 10:10). He had "determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians. 2:2).
"The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him," "But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, Christ the power of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men," "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:14; 1:23-25, 18).
The world is perishing. The Lord needs His church to see what Paul saw, to be moved by its message, and to become what he was, "a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men" (1 Corinthians 4:9). This final manifestation of the cross of Christ, written in our hearts and revealed in our lives, will "lighten the earth with his glory" (Revelation 18:1).
At the recent ASI National Convention held in Houston, Texas, an appeal was made for 20,000 Seventh-day Adventists to look for jobs and as the Lord opens doors to relocate to the Middle East North Africa Union as tent makers utilizing Paul's self-sustaining model. Paul enjoins us: "Become as I am."
Many of us have chosen comfortable, safe lives rather than risk the unknown, but I believe when the light of Jesus' love takes deeper root in our hearts, we will see a revived missionary spirit among us, and many will heed Christ's urgent plea to "go into all the world and preach the gospel;" and when it is preached "as a witness to all the nations," "then the end will come" (Mark 16:15, Matthew 24:14).