Brothers, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as you are: you have not injured me at all.
I. HE ASKS RECIPROCITY. "I beseech you, brethren, be as I am, for I am as ye are." Born a Jew, in accommodation to them he had taken up the Gentile position, i.e. in respect of freedom from Jewish ordinances. Let them, as brethren, show reciprocity. Let them give up their adopted Jewish practices and occupy the Gentile position along with him.
II. HE RECALLS WITH PLEASURE THEIR RECEPTION OF HIM.
1. Negatively. "Ye did me no wrong." He was free to confess that he had no ground of personal complaint against them.
(1) It was an infirmity of the flesh that was the occasion of the first of his two visits to them. "But ye know that because of an infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you the first time." This infirmity of the flesh is not mentioned by name, and has given rise to conjecture, with which subjective feeling has mingled. When the Church was persecuted, it was supposed to be persecution. The monks supposed it to be carnal thoughts. Luther supposed it to be a temptation of the devil. The language plainly points to a bodily malady. Regarding the first visit of Paul to Galatia we read, "And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden of the Holy Ghost to speak the Word in Asia." It may be understood that it was by means of the bodily malady that the Holy Ghost forbade his preaching in Asia and at the same time directed his way into Galatia. And it was while detained by the malady that he preached the gospel to the Galatians.
(2) His infirmity proved no hindrance to them. "And that which was a temptation to you in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but ye received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus." That which was in his flesh was a temptation to them. It was something which made trial of them. While it did not wholly silence him, it interfered with him as a public speaker. It might have led him to be despised or rejected (the latter word, literally "spit out," pointing to a more active form of contempt). It is a wrong thing to despise any one because of what God has made him; but want of good feeling might have led them to turn his infirmity into ridicule; or their ignorance as barbarians might have led them to think that he was spurned of the gods, and therefore to be spurned of them. Instead of yielding to the temptation, however, and throwing contempt upon him because of his infirmity, they received him as though he had been an angel sent to them from heaven; nay, they received him as though he had been Christ himself. Their Celtic emotionalism came out in the reception they gave him. It gave, as we have seen, a peculiar vividness to the message. It was as though Christ had been actually crucified before their eyes. So it threw a peculiar halo round the preacher. They warmed toward him and heaped kindnesses on him, as though it had been the Master himself.
III. HE CONTRASTS THEIR PRESENT WITH THEIR PAST FEELING TOWARD HIM. "Where then is that gratulation of yourselves? for I bear you witness, that, if possible, ye would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me." There was no more gratulation of themselves because by a singular providence Paul had found his way among them with the gospel. Their Celtic realism was gone. That realism had gone to a great length. If it had been possible they would have plucked out their eyes to have given them to Paul. This language seems to point to an affection of the eyes as the malady from which Paul suffered. This supposition agrees with the conditions. It was just such a malady as would interfere with his comfort and effectiveness as a speaker, while not reducing him to silence. It was just such an occasion as the Celtic nature would seize and work upon. To make the gospel messenger freer for his work, they would gladly have parted with their very eyes, to make up for his deficiencies. And it was only the impossibility of thus serving Paul that kept them back from the sacrifice. The thorn in the flesh, as following upon Paul being in the third heavens, and as pointing to something acute, agrees with the supposition of his being a sufferer from an affection of the eyes. Whether we interpret the words here as deriving point from a weakness of Paul's eyes or not, they are manifestly expressive of a very warm feeling toward him, which now seems to him to have fled.
IV. HE CONTRASTS HIS CONDUCT AND THAT OF THE FALSE TEACHERS TOWARD THEM.
1. His fidelity. "So then am I become your enemy, because I toll you the truth?" He had told them the truth on the occasion of his second visit. He had also been telling them the truth, with a certain sharpness, in this letter. That showed that he was no flatterer of them to gain his own ends. He did not believe in friendly relations being maintained unless on a basis of reality. Was it, then, a reasonable thing that he should be regarded by them as their enemy, as standing between them and their good, because he expressed himself according to the demands and under the restraints of truth? Was there any ground which could be stated for their change of feeling?
2. The dishonourableness of the Judaizing teachers. "They zealously seek you in no good way; nay, they desire to shut you out, that ye may seek them." He refers to the false teachers, whom, with a certain feeling of dignity, he does not name. They made the Galatians the objects of their zealous attentions. But they did not do this in a disinterested manner. Their object was to shut the Galatians out, i.e. to isolate them from Paul and the Christian circle, so as to become themselves the exclusive objects of the zealous attentions of the Galatians. They were thus mere flatterers, to gain their own ends. Instead of placing themselves under the restraints of truth, they gave themselves the licence of error. While condemning them on this ground, the apostle makes a twofold reservation.
(1) He is not to be condemned who makes others the objects of his zealous attentions in a good matter. "But it is good to be zealously sought in a good matter." We condemn those who would compass sea and land to make one proselyte. But it is to be borne in mind that the zeal is a good thing in itself. What is to be condemned is misdirected zeal. And what is to be commended is, not the want of zeal, but zeal intelligently directed toward the good, especially the highest good, of others. Let the soul be on fire with a desire to do good. Let there be a compassing sea and land, not to make proselytes, but to bring souls to Christ. And we are not certainly to resent, but to welcome, the zealous attentions of others in the matter of our salvation. We ought to be thankful that we are not let alone, but that there are those who care for our souls.
(2) He did not lay any claim to exclude others from seeking the good of the Galatians. "At all times, and not only when I am present with you." If others sought the real good of the Galatians in his absence, he had no feeling of jealousy toward them. On the contrary, he would bid them God-speed.
V. HE EXPRESSES A DESIRE TO BE PRESENT WITH THEM.
1. Affectionate address. "My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you." He addresses them, not as children, but, more tenderly, as little children, after the manner of John. He was not as a father to them (according to the conception here), but, more tenderly, as a mother. He had endured much in prayer and thought and service on their account. And he had thought that his motherly endurance had been rewarded in their spiritual birth. But it was as if he had been disappointed in them. And there was the recurrence of the same motherly endurance on their account. The object for which he endured was their spiritual birth. This is not thought of as the development of self, even of their true self. Nor is it thought of as a Pauline development, the accepting of a Pauline doctrine, the being recipient of Pauline influences. But it is thought of as the development of the Christ within them. Christians are those who have Christ as the Germ and Norm of their development.
2. Reason for his presence. "Yea, I could wish to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I am perplexed about you." He wished to be present with them, in the hope that he would be able to bring back the old relations between them. In that case he would be able to change his voice, to adopt a gentler tone, which was more congenial to him and would be more pleasant to them. Meantime, he could not be all gentleness, for his information led him to be perplexed about them. He had not given up all hope of them, but the fears he had sometimes made his voice to grate on them, as it was not pleasant to himself. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.